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Santa Anita avoids shutdown over inconclusive coronavirus tests

Horses run onto the final stretch at Santa Anita.
Santa Anita Park avoided a potential shutdown Friday when six inconclusive coronavirus tests were later discovered to be negative.
(Joe Scarnici / Getty Images)

Santa Anita Park found itself squarely in the middle of questions about the reliability of coronavirus testing on Friday when six people had inconclusive tests, only to find out later that they were negative for the virus.

Rumors of an imminent shutdown started shortly after 6:30 a.m. when jockeys who showed up to work horses were sent home as the testing laboratory went about repeating tests that were inconclusive.

The number was originally thought to be substantially higher, but an examination of the list showed duplicates and confusion on the names of those tested. Of the six, two were jockeys and there was also at least one valet and one person in the racing office. The track, citing privacy laws, did not release their names.

Aidan Butler, executive director of California racing for Stronach Group, made the decision to close the track to jockeys during morning training, starting a flurry of rumors that the track would be shut down.

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“Testing is a bit of a moving target and I didn’t want to roll the dice with some of the inconclusives,” Butler said.

The coronavirus tests administered at the track look at two distinct gene regions. Tests that show a positive result for one of the regions negative for the other are considered inconclusive.

Jockeys had their weekly tests on Wednesday and the track received the results Thursday night. During the race week, jockeys live in trailers in the parking lot of Santa Anita, but at the conclusion of racing Sunday night they can go back to their homes.

“We do more testing than anyone and I’m proud that we do,” Butler said. “I made a promise we would make this the safest place you could possibly make it and I think we’ve done that. It proves that the protocols worked.”

Racing was to resume as planned at 1 p.m. on Friday.

The California Horse Racing Board passes a new rule limiting the number of times jockeys can strike a horse during a race.


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