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A California Racetrack Is Shutting Down "Indefinitely" After 21 Horses Died

Santa Anita Park has suspended races twice this year to inspect the condition of its tracks. Now it's shutting down indefinitely.

Posted on March 5, 2019, at 10:21 p.m. ET

Evers / AP

Santa Anita Park will shut down indefinitely after 21 horses died at the storied Southern California venue in the last 10 weeks, the park confirmed Tuesday, putting all races and training on hold until a thorough inspection of the track can be made.

The unprecedented announcement came after Lets Light the Way, a 4-year-old filly, was injured Tuesday during a training run and euthanized. The sudden spike of deaths has sparked protests outside the park and concern from the state's horse racing governing board.

The decision means the track will postpone the Santa Anita Handicap race that was scheduled for Saturday, and no training will be allowed Wednesday as the park looks to address nearly two dozen horse deaths since Dec. 26, spokesperson Mike Willman confirmed to BuzzFeed News.

Races had already been suspended this week, the second time this year, in anticipation of heavy rain, but were expected to resume Friday until they were suddenly put on hold after another horse death was reported.

In response to the latest death, a spokesperson for the California Horse Racing Board — which oversees the horse racing industry in the state — told BuzzFeed News it would also be "examining other options to prevent additional fatalities."

The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita and other tracks, notified the state agency it was considering shutting down in order to more fully inspect the condition of the tracks, a spokesperson said.

Santa Anita has twice closed its tracks after experiencing a particularly rainy season and, in light of the recent deaths, has brought in experts to examine the tracks' integrity.

The spokesperson did not provide details on what actions the board was considering, but said chair Chuck Winner asked that the issue be placed on the agenda for the board's next meeting.

Mark Ralston / AFP / Getty Images

Animal rights advocates protest at the Santa Anita Park.

Horse deaths are not uncommon in the world of racing, but the number of fatalities at the Arcadia park has drawn increased scrutiny after it doubled from the previous year.

Since Dec. 26 when the meeting opened, 21 horses have died. During the same period last year, 11 deaths were reported.

According to the Associated Press, seven of the 21 deaths occurred during races on a dirt track, while five happened on turf. Nine deaths occurred during training sessions on dirt tracks.

"My opinion is the problem is the bad weather," trainer Ron McAnally told the horse racing publication Blood Horse. McAnnally was the trainer for Lets Light the Way, which was euthanized Tuesday.

In February, Santa Anita Park reported it had received 11.5 inches of rain, which could substantially affect the condition of the tracks.

"Weather is the cause of all this," McAnnally told Blood Horse. "I loved that filly. I bought her at the sale — liked the way she walked. I feel as bad as anybody ... I wanted to cry when we had to put her down."

Santa Anita closed its main track for the day on Feb. 25 and the following morning to evaluate its surface following reports of the horses' deaths. That same week, the park deemed its track "one hundred percent ready" after it was examined by Mick Peterson of the University of Kentucky's Ag Equine Programs.

Racing was also canceled Thursday due to rain forecasts, with park officials stating they were "acting proactively in order to try to avoid most of the heavy rain." Santa Anita also announced it was bringing back its recently retired trackman Dennis Moore as a consultant to inspect its 1-mile track.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.