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Santa Anita will keep signature furlong downhill turf course closed for fall meeting

Exercise riders and horses walk along the track during morning workouts at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.
Exercise riders and horses walk along the track during morning workouts at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Santa Anita will keep its signature 6½-furlong downhill turf course closed to sprints for its six-week fall meeting it was announced Thursday. The course has been closed to sprints since March 31 when Arms Runner was the 23rd of 30 fatalities at Santa Anita during its winter and spring meet.

Arms Runner suffered a fatal injury while crossing over the 80-foot portion of the course that is on the dirt before resuming running on the grass. Santa Anita closed the course to sprints after that fatality.

Santa Anita, when applying for a fall meet license, submitted paperwork that stakes races would be run on the downhill course. It received pushback from the California Horse Racing Board.

Madeline Auerbach, the vice-chairman of the CHRB, questioned the track over including 6½ furlong races in its stakes race schedule.

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“You’re presenting it like you are doing it, so are you or aren’t you?” Auerbach asked.

“As of this time we’re scheduling it as is,” said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, during the July meeting.“ We are looking at the exploration of coming back down the turf course on selective races. So, right now we’re putting it in the schedule.”

At the meeting, Ritvo agreed to revisit the issue over the CHRB safety concerns. Santa Anita made the decision on its own not to use the course without bringing it up again before the CHRB.

Steve Lym, vice president of racing, said while the course will not be used for sprints this meeting it’s on the table for the winter meeting.

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“This is just for the fall meet,” Lym told the Los Angeles Times. “I think we want to make sure everything is OK before we do more. We stopped running in case there are any safety issues. We’re just being super cautious to get through the fall meet.”

The course will be used for races 1 1/8 miles or longer where the horses are not running at a high speed when they go over the 80-foot dirt crossover.

In a recent unscientific poll in the Los Angeles Times horse racing newsletter, readers were 76% in favor of reopening the downhill course. Another 12% wanted it reopened conditionally, based on safety.

The fall schedule has 43 stakes, including 12 Grade 1s, although all but five of the Grade 1s are tied to the Breeders’ Cup, which is at the track for a record 10th time on Nov. 1-2.

Santa Anita is adding a 5½-furlong turf course, which will start on the dirt.

“We’ve cut a big gap in the rail so we can do that,” Lym said.

The last time Breeders’ Cup was at Santa Anita the Turf Sprint was down the hill at 6 ½ furlongs. In anticipation of the closure of the downhill course, the Breeders’ Cup had previously said the Turf Sprint would be five furlongs, as it has been in many other Breeders’ Cups at various tracks.

Opening day on Sept. 27 will have two Grade 1 races, the American Pharoah Stakes for 2-year-olds, which can be a major stepping stone for horses headed for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and then the Kentucky Derby trail. Game Winner, considered one of the best 3-year-olds this year, won the race last year.

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The other Grade 1 is the Chandelier Stakes, which is the filly equivalent of the American Pharoah. Also on opening day will be the Eddie D. Stakes, named for jockey Eddie Delahoussaye, who was known to be the king of the 6½ furlong downhill race. Now his name is tied to a five-furlong race.

On Saturday, Sept. 28, there are two other Grade 1s, the Rodeo Drive, a 1¼-mile turf race for fillies and mares, and the Awesome Again Stakes, which has been used as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Accelerate won the Awesome Again last year. California Chrome won the race in 2016.


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