Clouded by the deaths of 21 horses in the past three months, Santa Anita Park will reopen its main track Monday for “limited training” and announced new protocols meant to curb the spike in fatalities.
Shut down since March 5, “Santa Anita’s main track will remain closed for live racing until outside experts let us know that it is safe to resume racing,” Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns the track, said in a statement.
The track canceled its biggest event of the year — the Santa Anita Handicap, which has a $600,000 purse, this past Saturday — as officials worked to figure out the cause of the deaths.
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Ritvo announced that an “equine welfare position” had been created for a veterinarian to oversee the well-being of horses and to work on their team that responds to horse injuries. The track has also hired more veterinarians to watch training and keep on eye on the horses' health.
Additionally, as animal rights activists claim horses are over-medicated and not given enough time to heal from injuries, Santa Anita announced a new “house rule” that requires “complete transparency of veterinary records to provide a full medical history” of each horse.
The changes come as Santa Anita, and the industry as a whole, faced questions about whether the sport is safe for horses.
The animal rights group PETA called for the track to be shuttered amid the deaths, and said in a statement that the new protocols are "a step in the right direction," but "don't go far enough."
PETA, for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wants to see stronger regulations on medicating horses and more oversight into animal treatment.
"These animals aren't machines to be driven mercilessly," the group said.
Ritvo said Santa Anita "can't overemphasize" that the health and safety of their horses, jockeys and exercise riders is their “top priority.”