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Santa Anita closed indefinitely (updated March 14)

An Open Letter about the Future of Thoroughbred Racing in California

What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking. It is unacceptable to the public and, as people who deeply love horses, to everyone at The Stronach Group and Santa Anita.

The sport of horse racing is the last great sporting legacy platform to be modernized. If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards.

Today, I’m announcing The Stronach Group will take the unprecedented step of declaring a zero tolerance for race day medication at Santa Anita Park and Golden Gate Fields. These Thoroughbred racetracks will be the first in North America to follow the strict International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) standards.

We have arrived at a watershed moment. The Stronach Group has long been a strong advocate for the abolishment of race-day medication, but we will wait no longer for the industry to come together as one to institute these changes. Nor will we wait for the legislation required to undertake this paradigm shift. We are taking a stand and fully recognize just how disruptive this might be.

This mandate encompasses a complete revision of the current medication policy to improve the safety of our equine and human athletes and to raise the integrity of our sport.

These revisions comprise best practices currently employed at racetracks around the world:

  • Banning the use of Lasix.
  • Increasing the ban on legal therapeutic NSAIDS, joint injections, shockwave therapy, and anabolic steroids.
  • Complete transparency of all veterinary records.
  • Significantly increasing out-of-competition testing.
  • Increasing the time required for horses to be on-site prior to a race.
  • A substantial investment by The Stronach Group in diagnostic equipment to aid in the early detection of pre-existing conditions.
  • Horses in training are only allowed therapeutic medication with a qualified veterinary diagnosis.

Additionally, it is time to address the growing concern about use of the riding crop. A cushion crop should only be used as a corrective safety measure. While we firmly believe our jockeys have not purposely been mistreating their mounts, it is time to make this change.

These modernizations are in addition to the previously announced commitment to the continued engagement of outside experts to regularly review our dirt, turf and synthetic courses for consistency, composition and compaction to create the safest racing surfaces in the world.

We will be continuing our daily conversations with industry stakeholders to further define these transformative guidelines. But make no mistake: these changes will be implemented. The time to discuss “why” these advancements must take place is over. The only thing left to discuss is “how.”

There are some who will take a stand and tell us that it cannot be done. To them we say “the health and welfare of the horses will always come first.” We also say ‘”not only can it be done, it is what we are doing.” Racing at Santa Anita and Golden Gate is a privilege, it is not a right.

Ultimately, we recognize the owners and trainers of these horses have the final responsibility to assess their fitness for racing and training. Our goal is to make every resource available to aid them in that determination. We are all in this together to make the horse the first priority.

Our COO, Tim Ritvo, has been a horseman for almost four decades. As he said, “The time has come for this industry to evolve. It must do so for the sake of the horses and the people who depend on this sport for their livelihoods. Moving to international standards will help to set the right foundation for racing and fairness. We love the sport of horse racing and want it to succeed today, tomorrow and long into the future.”

We’ve spoken with the California Horse Racing Board and they will be holding a meeting on March 21 at which the situation at Santa Anita Park will be addressed. In the interim, Chairman Chuck Winner told us he personally appreciates the initiatives that The Stronach Group announced today. The Chairman said, “The safety of horses and riders has been, is, and will be the primary concern of the CHRB. The CHRB has been working with The Stronach Group and the various stakeholders to achieve a common objective, which is the best possible conditions for the health and safety of our equine competitors.”

Organizations who advocate for animal welfare have also affirmed their support for these measures. Kathy Guillermo, Senior Vice President for PETA said, “PETA thanks Santa Anita for standing up to all those who have used any means to force injured or unfit horses to run. This is a historic moment for racing and PETA urges every track to recognize that the future is now and to follow suit.  This groundbreaking plan will not bring back the 22 horses who have died recently, but it will prevent the deaths of many more and will set a new standard for racing that means less suffering for Thoroughbreds.”

These initiatives are a seismic shift in how the sport has been conducted for centuries. We are pleased that Stuart S. Janney III, Chairman of The Jockey Club, which has long supported the Horseracing Integrity Act, said, “We applaud The Stronach Group for its announcement today to effect sweeping changes at Santa Anita, which would bring them on par with the strict standards seen in major international racing jurisdictions.”

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, has also voiced their agreement with these new changes. Joe Harper, CEO said, “Del Mar has and will continue to support discussions and implementation of measures that enhance the safety and welfare of our athletes. We are committed to working with Santa Anita, The Stronach Group and other industry stakeholders to continue to improve.”

We recognize this will impact our field size as horses and horsemen adjust to this new standard. There will be horses that will not be able to race because they have required medication to do so. For those horses, we are prepared to dedicate the capital required to rehabilitate, retrain, rehome and provide aftercare for them. They deserve nothing less.

We are taking a step forward and saying, quite emphatically, that the current system is broken. While the cause of the injuries on the racetrack might be varied, they have one thing in common: the industry has yet to do everything that can be done to prevent them. That changes today.

First and foremost, we must do right by the horse. When we do right by the horse, everything – everything – will follow.

Belinda Stronach
Chairman and President
The Stronach Group



ARCADIA, Calif. (March 11, 2019)–Santa Anita Park’s one mile main track reopened for limited training Monday morning as horses jogged and galloped from 5 a.m. to 10 a.m., with three interruptions for regularly scheduled renovations.

Additionally, Santa Anita’s six furlong inner training track was reopened for timed workouts, as 133 horses received official clockings for breezes at distances from two furlongs to six furlongs (three quarters of mile).

“Everything went well this morning,” said Santa Anita track consultant Dennis Moore, who has headed efforts into examining and refining the one mile surface since training and racing were suspended early last week.  “The main track is good.  All of the test data support what we experienced this morning and that is, it’s where it should be.”

As to when the one mile main track will reopen for workouts, Moore indicated that if all continues to go well with limited training, a return to timed breezes could come in the next day or two.

As for today’s workout activity on the inner training track, the clockings were modest in nature as three horses breezed two furlongs, the fastest being clocked at 26 seconds flat; 36.40 was the fastest of nine works at three furlongs; 48.40 was the fastest of 61 horses at four furlongs (half mile); one minute flat was the top time out of 54 works for five furlongs and 1:14.60 was the quickest of six works at six furlongs.

“I worked six horses on the training track and it’s great,” said veteran conditioner Vladimir Cerin.  “I’ve had 10 horses out on the main track and it really couldn’t be any better.  It’s so kind, you can’t hear the horses going by and all of my riders say they’re (the horses) getting a good hold of the surface.  We could work horses on it right now, no question.”

Today’s workouts were the first conducted under Santa Anita’s new training protocols, which require that all trainers intending to get timed workouts for their horses get permission for same 24 hours in advance. This has been instituted to allow time to review each horse’s racing and training history, and if necessary, physically examine horses in advance of these timed workouts. Additionally, each horse was observed going to and from the racetrack by a team of two track veterinarians.

While a return to live racing is expected in the near future, Moore and track officials will continue to evaluate the main track during and following morning training before any official decision with regard to a return to racing is made.


ARCADIA, Calif. (March 9, 2019)–Santa Anita’s one mile main track will reopen for limited training Monday morning at 5 a.m.  Closed for training and racing since this past Tuesday, training will be restricted to joggers and gallopers on Monday.  Three renovation breaks will be taken as regularly scheduled.  These breaks will be from 6 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., from 7:15 a.m. to 7:45 a.m., and from 8:30 a.m. to 9 a.m.

“Over the past four days, we’ve been able to do a great deal in terms of amending the soil and inspecting it,” said California-based trackman Dennis Moore, who has been charged with heading a group of track maintenance personnel that includes third-party experts investigating Santa Anita’s main track.  This group also includes representatives of the California Horse Racing Board.

Moore, who has 46 years of experience maintaining tracks in California and around the world, has been conducting extensive visual inspections of the one mile oval, as well as analyzing soil samples and test data generated by Dr. Mick Peterson, a third party consultant who serves as the director of the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Equine Program and is a professor of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering.

“I think the most important thing with this track right now is that we closely monitor compaction levels,” said Moore.  “With all the rain, and this is the case in any wet winter, the ‘fines,’ silt and sand, can change very quickly and that affects the clays as well.  Compaction, as well as dilution, of silt and sand, are all factors in the overall composition of the soil.

“More specifically, it’s been very helpful that we have not had any significant rain since this past Wednesday.  We’ve been able to harrow, roto-till and aerate the soil throughout each day in order to get a uniform track profile and that’s helped Mick in his efforts.  With all of this, the objective is to get the ideal composition throughout our six inch cushion.”

Peterson’s primary focus has been conducting testing that simulates the force and speed generated by the leading forelimb of a Thoroughbred running at full speed.  Utilizing what’s called an Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester, Peterson has gathered data that quantifies firmness, cushioning, grip and consistency from locations throughout the one mile surface.

“We’ve reviewed Mick’s research and it clearly indicates our cushion is right where it needs to be,” said Moore.  “We also acknowledge that things can happen even under perfect circumstances, but from everything we’ve been able to learn, this track is in outstanding condition and it’s ready for training.”

Santa Anita’s main track is expected to reopen to horses breezing for the purpose of receiving official workout times in the coming days.  Pending further testing and analysis of morning training, Santa Anita is expected to reopen for racing in the coming weeks.

Santa Anita Park announced new protocols yesterday with regard to training and racing, and these measures will be in-place Monday and in the days and weeks to come.


ARCADIA, Calif. (March 8, 2019)–As a thorough evaluation of Santa Anita’s main track continues, The Stronach Group (TSG) has announced several new safety and welfare measures which will be put in place when racing resumes at Santa Anita Park in the coming weeks.

“We’re looking forward to returning to normal, but it will be a new normal,” said Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer, TSG.  “The safety of our equine and human athletes remains our highest priority.  We need to work together and continue to create not only our own internal audits, but an open and honest dialogue with all of the stakeholders and evaluate best practices at other racetracks around the world.”

Moving forward, Santa Anita Park will require trainers to apply for permission to work a horse (a timed high-speed training exercise) at least 24 hours in advance.  This will allow track veterinarians to assist in identifying “at risk” horses through the evaluation of past performances, workout data and physical inspection.  Santa Anita has hired additional veterinarians to observe all horses entering and exiting the tracks each morning during training hours.

Santa Anita had previously announced a change to the morning training schedule to ensure a more orderly and safe process.  The first 15 minutes of training after the main track opens, and after each renovation break, are now exclusively reserved for horses working for an officially clocked time.  This will allow horses going at a faster pace to encounter less traffic, thus providing a safer environment.

TSG is also announcing the creation of a new position, Director of Equine Welfare, which will be held by an accredited veterinarian.  This person will be responsible for the oversight of all aspects of equine well-being and will lead a new Rapid Response team for injuries which will be tasked with conducting transparent investigations of all factors involving the injury, as well the communication of their findings to the racing and general public.

As has been implemented with great success at Gulfstream Park, Santa Anita will now institute a “House Rule” requiring complete transparency with regard to veterinary records.  This mandates that the veterinary records of a horse follow that horse through any trainer or ownership change, including a claiming race or private sale.

“This has worked very well at Gulfstream Park,” said Ritvo.  “There was some pushback from the trainers at first, but this is the best thing for the horse.  Now, everyone has bought into the process as they realize they are also on the receiving end of this information intended to understand the full medical history of that horse.”

TSG is strongly committed to working with the California Horse Racing Board and industry stakeholders in evaluating racetrack safety.  The goal is to establish a culture of health and safety throughout all of the racetracks, creating checks and balances, intervention strategies and working together to identify factors to help mitigate risk to horses and riders.  This includes the continued engagement of Dr. Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky and veteran trackman Dennis Moore, and other independent racetrack surface experts to continually review both the dirt and turf courses for consistency, composition and compaction, as well as the exploration of advancements in injury detection and prevention.

“Every one of us, from our Chairman and President (TSG) Belinda Stronach, to our employees, to every trainer and owner and person who works in the stable area, we all have deep, deep love for horses,” said Ritvo.  “It’s why we get up every day.  It’s all about the horses.  Human medicine is more advanced than equine medicine, so if there is new technology or equipment that will assist in increasing the ability to discover our pre-existing injuries, we’re going to invest in that technology and bring it to our horsemen.”


Arcadia, CA – March 7, 2019 – Starting Friday, March 8, 2019, Santa Anita will reopen its inner exercise track to all horses stabled on the grounds.  That track, about six furlongs (3/4 of a mile) in circumference, is inside both the one mile main track and seven furlong turf course at Santa Anita.  Since opening day there have been no catastrophic injuries sustained on it.

Veteran trackman Dennis Moore and Dr. Mick Peterson from University of Kentucky’s Racing Surfaces Testing Lab inspected the inner exercise track. After evaluating it extensively, Moore said he’s “happy with it”.  Once it reopens, they will closely monitor that track’s condition as horses stabled at Santa Anita Park begin using it.

“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,” said Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Use of the inner exercise track will be restricted to galloping or jogging only until further notice.


Arcadia, CA – March 7, 2019 – Highly respected California-based trackman Dennis Moore and Dr. Mick Peterson of Racing Services Testing Lab were at Santa Anita today to begin extensive testing of the one-mile main track.

Before the formal process of testing the one-mile track can begin, at the request of the consultants, Santa Anita personnel began harrowing and aerating the track which has been saturated due to recent rains.  Mr. Moore and Dr Mick Peterson from the University of Kentucky’s Racing Services Testing Lab have informed Santa Anita that they do not have a timetable for completion of the testing and evaluation. Officials representing the California Horse Racing Board were present to observe the process. 


       Arcadia, CA – March 6, 2019 – Highly respected track man Dennis Moore will begin extensive testing and a thorough review of the one-mile main track at Santa Anita tomorrow.

Mr. Moore and Dr. Mick Peterson of the Racing Services Testing Lab will do additional testing of the track to ensure track consistency and uniformity for both training and racing.  At the same time, Santa Anita is conducting a comprehensive evaluation of all existing safety measures and current protocols.

“As horse lovers first and foremost, we are deeply saddened by the losses experienced over the past several weeks. The loss of just 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,” said Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer, The Stronach Group, the owners of Santa Anita Park. “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.

Mr. Moore has more than 46 years of experience working with racing surfaces in CA and worldwide, served as Santa Anita Track Superintendent from 2014 until his retirement this past Dec. 31.  Currently employed as Track Superintendent at both Del Mar and Los Alamitos, Moore was chiefly responsible for providing Santa Anita with the “El Segundo sand” which was installed here to universal acclaim in 2014.  The son of a track superintendent, Moore grew up in racing, and in addition to his father, Bob, his brother Ron has also served in the same role at various tracks in California.

The Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory has been a pioneer in creating a Maintenance Quality System, which utilizes both daily measurements and enhanced techniques and technologies to manage racing surfaces with a goal of creating a consistent and safer racing surface.

Officials at Santa Anita Park have been in constant communication with the California Horse Racing Board and key stakeholders who fully support our decision to close the track while we conduct additional testing of the track, review current protocols and existing safety measures.   All horses who stable at Santa Anita will remain on site, and Santa Anita will remain open to the public for simulcast.


Grade I Santa Anita Handicap To Be Rescheduled

       Arcadia, CA – March 5, 2019 – The Stronach Group announced the closure of Santa Anita Park for live racing and training effective immediately while the one-mile main track undergoes additional extensive testing.

All stakes races scheduled for this upcoming weekend, including the Grade I Santa Anita Handicap, the Grade II San Felipe and the Grade II San Carlos will be rescheduled.

“The safety, health and welfare of the horses and jockeys is our top priority,” said Tim Ritvo, Chief Operating Officer, The Stronach Group. “While we are confident further testing will confirm the soundness of the track, the decision to close is the right thing to do at this time.”

The Stronach Group has been in constant communication with the California Horse Racing Board and numerous key industry stakeholders who are in full agreement with the decision to suspend racing and training.

The additional testing of the track will be lead by veteran Trackman Dennis Moore, expanding on the ground radar testing conducted earlier this week by the University of Kentucky’s Dr. Mick Peterson. Measures will include utilizing an Orono Biomechanical Surface Tester, a device that mimics the impacts of a horse running at full gallop allowing engineers to see how the track holds up. These test results will be evaluated to ensure track consistency and uniformity for both training and racing.

Further, The Stronach Group will be conducting a comprehensive evaluation of all existing safety measures and current protocols.


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