Santa Anita racing shut down by health department amid coronavirus outbreak

Thoroughbred racing in Santa Anita Park was halted shortly before the first entry Friday by the Los Angeles County health department in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The move came after a hectic attempt by the Arcadia circuit to remain open to racing without crowds with only essential staff on site. No return date was announced.

“We continue to train and are in constant dialogue with the health department to see if there is anything we can do,” said Aidan Butler, California Racing’s acting executive director for the Stronach Group. “The health department sympathizes with us and we look forward to working with them to find a solution that is best for everyone.”

The series of events culminating in the closure began Wednesday morning when an environmental health specialist from the health department felt the runway should be shut down.

“Following our department’s assessment, live horse racing was considered a non-essential operation,” said a Los Angeles Times memo. “Horse racing should not proceed under the Health Officer Order.”

On Thursday, Butler sent an email to Edward Morrissey, the acting chief of the health services department, arguing that Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, the sister trail in Northern California, should remain open. Golden Gate is not closed.

The California Horse Racing Board met via teleconference on Thursday and was not trading for Santa Anita status despite pleas from animal rights activists to close the track in light of the pandemic. Activists have been calling for nearly a year to close the track due to the number of fatalities in horses, which has fallen sharply this year.

The CHRB cabled what was to come in a few hours Friday morning when it released a press release saying, “In this time of an extraordinary health crisis and pandemic, the [CHRB] relies on national, provincial and local health authorities to determine whether horse racing is considered essential for exemption from the on-site instructions provided by those authorities. “

LA County followed up and executed his order on Friday.

According to a news report from the health service on Friday, there have been six positive tests in Arcadia for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. There are no known positive points from job staff.

Butler’s arguments in his email to Morrissey on Thursday were similar to those of executives from the Stronach Group, Del Mar, and California’s thoroughbred owners at the CHRB on March 20.

“Most of the staff who take care of the horses are already on site,” said the letter, which was obtained by The Times through the California Public Records Act. “There are currently more than 1,000 people housed in the dormitories and rooms in the stables of Santa Anita and Golden Gate Fields, covering more than 100 acres of property in total. The number of essential staff required to race in the afternoon is much less than is necessary to keep the health and well-being or the horses safe in the morning.

“… We are facing a crisis that could lead to these horses being abandoned across the state leaving more than 1,000 people homeless.”

Santa Anita and Golden Gate donated all their winnings to those affected by the corona virus.

Horse racing was the last gambling sport that could continue after professional competitions and closing competitions. It was even thought that the sport would benefit because gamblers had no other sport to bet on. However, the extra cash bet was not a substitute for bets lost if there was no track presence or no bets between states.

“No one really thought this would be a big stroke of luck,” said Craig Fravel, chief executive for racing at the Stronach Group, before hearing of the closure. “I think anyone looking at it from that point of view misses the big picture. What we are trying to do is support the ecosystem responsibly. … We want to ensure that people follow all protocols and offer them the opportunity to pay their bills. ”

The fear is that without races in Santa Anita, owners may move their horses to the few remaining jurisdictions that were active and would never return to California, potentially causing the industry in the state to collapse. Thoroughbred racing continues in Gulfstream Park and Tampa Bay Downs in Florida and Oaklawn Park in Arkansas.

Racing will continue for the time being in California at Golden Gate Fields, Los Alamitos in Orange County, and Cal Expo, the only harness track in the country.

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