Nearly two dozen horse deaths forces temporary closure of California racing track

California

(NBC News) Santa Anita shut down its main racing surface for two days this week following a rash of horse deaths at the famed Southern California thoroughbred track.

Regularly scheduled workouts on the dirt were canceled on Monday and Tuesday, as officials examined the track for any problems with the soil in the wake of 19 equine deaths since Christmas. It will remain closed Wednesday.

A smaller training track, inside the main dirt and grass ovals and not used for racing, has remained open.

While deadly accidents are always a threat in horse racing, the number recently stands out. There were 10 horse deaths at Santa Anita in the same period of 2017-18, eight in 2016-17 and 14 in 2015-16, according to data from the California Horse Racing Board.

The track has endured unusually heavy rainfall, 11 1/2 inches in just the past two months, Santa Anita officials said.

Santa Anita officials hope to have the track cleared for workouts soon, with live racing to go off as scheduled on Thursday.

Of the 19 deaths, 11 have come in live racing and eight in morning workouts, according to state officials. And of the 11 live-racing deaths, six happened on the main dirt course and five on a turf track.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) issued a statement saying it “believes that there are innumerable problems with horse racing,” and that for this rash of horse deaths it blames medications which it says are given to race horses.

PETA had planned a protest on Wednesday but called it off, saying Santa Anita officials are taking their concerns seriously.

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