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Santa Anita Is Eyed as One of California's Biggest Redevelopment Sites After 27th Horse Death

Breeders’ Cup Board to Decide Whether Arcadia, California, Track Will Lose Major Event


A thoroughbred races at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California. Photo: Santa Anita Park

The death of a 27th horse at Santa Anita Park in less than six months is increasing pressure on the operators of the largest two-day event in U.S. horse racing, the Breeders' Cup, to shift venues and its projected $100 million in economic benefits from a 300-acre property that could become one of the largest redevelopment sites in the most populous U.S. state.

The loss of that event could be a blow for the Santa Anita track, which is already facing calls by animal rights groups to be permanently closed. That could create the development opportunity for the property in Arcadia, California, where local government officials have said they are open to putting other commercial businesses on the site.

River Derby, a 2-year-old colt that had not yet raced, was euthanized at an off-site clinic after suffering a fractured shoulder during training at Santa Anita, the park said in a statement. It’s the fourth death since May 17 after several weeks without a casualty at Santa Anita.

The track is scheduled to host the 2019 Breeders’ Cup World Championships Nov. 1-2, an event expected to generate as much as $100 million for the Southern California economy, according to several economic studies of prior Breeders' Cup events in Del Mar, California, and Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, which is also home of the famous Kentucky Derby.

The Breeders' Cup board is scheduled to meet in Lexington, Kentucky, during the last week of this month and is expected to consider whether Santa Anita will remain the host of this year’s event, Breeders' Cup chief executive Craig Fravel told a joint California Senate and Assembly hearing in Sacramento on May 22.

Barring any moratorium, racing is expected to continue at the Arcadia track for the next three Friday-through-Sunday weekends. Closing day is June 23.

Representatives for Santa Anita or its owner, the Aurora, Canada-based Stronach Group, did not immediately return requests for comment.

But the company announced that Santa Anita Park has delayed the release of a draft environmental report on an expansion and renovation of the track's north barn for up to three months while track management focuses on new procedures and safety standards to improve the health and safety of horses and jockeys, Peter Siberell, the director of community service and special projects for the track, said in a letter to Arcadia residents.

"Santa Anita and the Stronach Group remain committed to the track, the race meet and the projected project and we will continue to work closely with the city," Siberell said.

Calls to Close

The horse death is also bringing renewed calls to suspend or ban horse racing at the high-profile race track.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on May 30 announced his support for Senate Bill 469 by Napa Democrat Bill Dodd, which would authorize the California Horse Racing Board to suspend horse racing licenses to protect the health and safety of horses and riders.

"The recent horse fatalities in California are unacceptable," Newsom said in a statement. "We must hold the horse racing industry to account. If we can regulate horse race meets, we should have the authority to suspend licenses when animal or human welfare is at risk."

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein on May 27 called for a moratorium on racing after a third thoroughbred died in nine days, the 26th equine death in five months at the track at 285 Huntington Drive. Animal rights groups across the country also called for action at the facility, a major source of economic growth in Arcadia, a city near Pasadena in Los Angeles County.

"Derby River’s death at only 2 years old is yet another reason why people want to see an end to racing, but the least that must be done right now is for tracks to put scanning equipment in place to detect pre-existing leg and shoulder injuries and for measures to be taken to ensure that young horses aren’t seriously injured before their bones are even mature," Kathy Guillermo, senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, better known as PETA, said in a statement provided to CoStar News. "PETA has exposed that very young horses are often whipped into running faster than they will ever again run at these auctions, risking their lives and often ruining their health."

Derby River was sold at auction in Florida in March and PETA will be investigating the circumstances of the sale and injury that resulted in the horse’s death, Guillermo said.

Santa Anita’s current season is scheduled to run through June 23, with a report from a joint investigation by the California Horse Racing Board and the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office due shortly afterward.

Article by CoStar

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