With races suspended indefinitely in response to a spate of horse deaths at Santa Anita, a renewed effort began Thursday to inspect the racing surface, while park operators worked to evaluate safety procedures and protocols.
Santa Anita officials on Tuesday announced that they had retained the park's former track superintendent, Dennis Moore, to inspect the racing surface. The announcement came hours after a 4-year-old filly named Lets Light the Way was injured during training and had to be euthanized, becoming the 21st horse to die at the track since Dec. 26.
On Tuesday night, track officials announced an unprecedented suspension of all racing and training activities at the park in response to the deaths. Following the heavy rain that fell Wednesday, Moore and Mick Peterson of Racing Services Testing Lab began an effort Thursday to do "additional testing of the track to ensure track consistency and uniformity for both training and racing," according to Santa Anita officials.
"At the same time, Santa Anita is conducting a comprehensive evaluation of all existing safety measures and current protocols," according to a track statement.
According to track officials, Moore and Peterson asked track workers to begin "harrowing and aerating the track which has been saturated due to recent rains."
Moore and Peterson told track officials they do not have a timetable for when the testing will be completed.
Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of track owner The Stronach Group, said Wednesday: "As horse lovers first and foremost, we are deeply saddened by the losses experienced over the past several weeks. The loss of one horse is one too many. While we can't prevent every injury, we can't overemphasize that the health and welfare of the horses and jockeys is our top priority.
"The track will be closed for live racing and training until our outside experts confirm the soundness of the track and let us know that it is safe to resume racing," Ritvo said.
Late Thursday, Santa Anita officials announced that the inner training track at the facility will reopen Friday morning, noting that none of the horse deaths have occurred on that track. Moore and Peterson inspected the inner track and will monitor its condition when horses begin using it. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert hailed the decision to open the training track. ``Like all athletes, horses need to stay active, so this is a good decision for their overall health since it allows our horses to get out of their stalls and keeps them moving to aid their digestion,'' Baffert said in a statement released by the track. The San Gabriel Valley Tribune reported that the track's tentative plans don't call for racing to resume until at least March 28.
Track officials have not confirmed that report. Moore was Santa Anita's track superintendent until he retired in December. He is now track superintendent for Del Mar and Los Alamitos race tracks. The suspension of racing means some critical races that had been set for this weekend have been scrubbed and will need to be rescheduled.
Santa Anita was set to have five stakes races Saturday, including the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes, in which Game Winner -- who is undefeated in four starts and was named last year's champion 2-year-old colt -- was set to make his first 2019 start as he prepares for the Kentucky Derby.
Game Winner's stablemate, Improbable, is undefeated in three starts and was also set for his 2019 debut in the same race for trainer Bob Baffert. Other stakes races that had been set for Saturday were the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap, Grade 1 Frank E. Kilroe Mile, Grade 2 San Carlos Stakes and the China Doll Stakes.
One stakes race -- the Santa Ysabel Stakes -- was set for Sunday. Some animal-advocacy groups, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have called for a halt to racing at the track and for investigations into the trainers and veterinary records of the horses that have died.