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17 test positive for COVID-19 during Santa Anita Park meet

The first turn at Santa Anita Park, the racetrack that ended its meet Sunday.
The first turn at Santa Anita Park, the racetrack that ended its meet Sunday.
(Santa Anita Park )

Santa Anita, which completed its six-month race meeting on Sunday, had 17 people test positive for COVID-19, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.

The racetrack was added Monday to the agency’s list of nonresidential settings with five or more confirmed cases of the illness. The list includes grocery stores, restaurants and meat-processing facilities.

The agency cautions that the case count is “dynamic and may not reflect real-time investigation counts for these settings.”

The agency didn’t respond to a request for further details about the Santa Anita cases.

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Aidan Butler, acting executive director for California racing for the Stronach Group, said the number was for the entire meeting and counts people who list Santa Anita as their workplace and not just those who live there.

“There were only two cases [on the backstretch] where the people were interconnected, a husband and wife,” Butler said. “It’s not as if these things start at the track, they have to come from somewhere else. While you can always do better, we thought our safety protocols were very effective and prevented any kind of major outbreak.”

Santa Anita’s 2020 season began with a renewed focus on horse safety. It ended with no fans in attendance and worries about the coronavirus.

Butler said there was one trainer who tested positive, who said he got it from a family member. There was also an out-of-town jockey who tested positive and was never allowed on the grounds. No names were given, citing privacy laws.

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There are about 750 people who live near the stable area at Santa Anita and 300 more who come in from offsite.

Santa Anita shut down racing for spectators March 13, but did allow owners, invited guests and the media to attend the races. The following week, owners, media and all nonessential personnel were barred from the track.

The Health Department closed down racing March 27 but did allow training. Horses cannot be left in their stalls without almost daily exercise. The track argued that many more people were required to run training than the actual racing, but the Health Department didn’t budge. It takes fewer than 100 people to run a race card, including starters, safety personnel and track maintenance people.

Santa Anita remained closed to racing until May 15 when the Health Department gave the OK after the track installed trailers in the parking lot, where the jockeys lived from Thursday evening until after racing Sunday. They would be tested every Wednesday, the results were available Thursday and then, after additional screening, they were allowed on the track Friday morning.

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

Most tracks across the country closed amid the spread of the coronavirus, with the exception of Florida, Arkansas and a few small tracks. The New York tracks shut down early and reopened June 3 and pulled off the Belmont Stakes, the first leg of this year’s Triple Crown, on Saturday. Belmont has had 86 positive tests and one death since March 19. On Tuesday, Belmont reported the first day with no positive cases.

Santa Anita is the second major sports complex in the county on the agency’s list. Eighteen construction workers at the SoFi Stadium project in Inglewood are known to have tested positive for COVID-19, according to a count by The Times, as the stadium nears its first major event scheduled for August.


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