New Dirt Track at Santa Anita Under Close Watch

There has been one racing fatality following a breakdown in the first eight days of competition on Santa Anita Park's new dirt track, according to the California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) equine medical director Rick Arthur, DVM. Another death was attributable to a training accident.

In all, seven horses, including one on Jan. 6, have been removed from the Arcadia, Calif., track by van following races, according to a tally kept by the track. Arthur said on Jan. 6 that he's unsure of whether the horses were vanned off following dirt or turf racing, or whether the actions were taken due to injuries or other factors, such as pulmonary bleeding.

One horse reportedly was euthanized following its removal from the track after a $12,500 claiming race on Dec. 29, 2010. Arthur said the other fatality was a filly that died overnight after suffering internal injuries when she bolted during a gate-schooling exercise on the track during training hours Jan. 5 and collided with a pair of horses. The accident occurred near the inside rail of the clubhouse turn.

The meet began Dec. 26 with extremely fast times on the main track, but times have steadily returned to normal. In assessing the meet thus far, Arthur noted that track maintenance workers had been dealing with record rainfall since mid-December--more than 14 inches--and haven't had much opportunity to work with the surface's consistency.

"I think they are feeling their way with the (new) track," Arthur said of track maintenance superintendent Richard Tedesco and his crew. "I don't know if they are there yet. I don't think so. Because of all of the rain, they really didn't have a chance to experiment with it the way I am sure they would have liked."

There were just two racing-related fatalities during the entire 2009-10 racing season at Santa Anita, when racing was conducted on a Pro-Ride engineered synthetic surface which was installed in 2007. The decision to return to a main track composed of 90% sand and 10% clay was made in the off-season following complaints by horsemen who refused to hold the Oak Tree Racing Association meet at Santa Anita last fall due to safety concerns about the artificial surface.

"That's somewhat misleading," Arthur said of last year's fatality rate. "That was such an exceptionally safe year; everything just worked out. Richard Tedesco did a great job with that (synthetic) track, and I'm sure his guys are going to do a great job with this track, too."

Santa Anita president George Haines couldn't be reached for comment.

Originally published on

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Jack Shinar

Jack Shinar is a frequent contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine and is part of their Digital Media department.

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