Coronavirus: Santa Anita hoping on-site ‘quarantine zone’ will enable restart

Horse Racing Santa Anita starting gate
Santa Anita: introducing strict coronavirus protocols in hope of a restart. Photo: Santa Anita

By Ray Paulick/Paulick Report

USA: Santa Anita officials are hoping to get word early this week from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the county’s Department of Public of Health on whether racing can resume at the venue.

Belinda Stronach, whose family’s company owns Santa Anita, and Aidan Butler, the executive director of California Racing Operations for the Stronach Group, met by video conference with Board of Supervisors chair Kathryn Barger and health department officials on April 16. 

They discussed a path forward to resume racing in a way that will not risk spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has killed more than 40,000 people in the United States in just over a month and has shuttered businesses around the world.

Santa Anita voluntarily closed its doors to the public on March 12, setting strict COVID-19 protocols and continued racing without incident until it received an order from the health department to cease operations on March 27.

The 1,700 horses stabled there are cared for by approximately 750 individuals who live in dormitories at the track, and the horses require daily exercise. But the revenue funding that helps pay the workers and feed the horses comes from racing, specifically the purse money derived from betting on the sport – currently via advance deposit wagering (ADW).

Without racing, the economic structure that supports those people and horses collapses.

Santa Anita has developed the most stringent protocols possible to fight the spread of coronavirus, including a requirement that jockeys – along with starting-gate personnel, racing officials and others – reside in on-site housing within a ‘quarantine zone’.

Butler said Santa Anita is looking to fence off an area on the 320-acre property to hold as many as 50 recreation vehicles (RVs) for jockeys and the other workers required to remain onsite.

Santa Anita is also asking for an independent, third-party Los Angeles County Health officer to provide supervision and monitoring – to be paid for by the track.

As was the case when racing was halted, non-essential personnel will not be allowed on-site. Gloves, masks and social distancing protocols will be required of grooms, outriders and others.

Letter to LA County officials from Santa Anita

Butler is hopeful the meeting and protocols will be looked upon favourably. “Our plan is not just a bunch of horse people coming up with an idea,” he said. “We’ve taken advice from infectious disease specialists, people with high expertise in this area, to make sure that our plan is one that we believe will absolutely work.”

Contributing to the protocols was Dr. David Seftel, MD, MBA, a current member of Stanford University’s COVID-19 task force and medical director at Golden Gate Fields. The latter track, also owned by The Stronach Group, was closed April 2 by order of the Alameda County Health Department.

“It’s very logical,” Butler said, “that if you can make it safer and don’t have any other risk, and in doing so you can help the economics of a business – with so many other businesses going by the wayside – it’s good for everybody if we are allowed to do this. Not just for the horsemen and fans but good for society in general that we can adapt to a problem and keep moving forward.

“We need to get racing again,” he added. “So many people’s livelihoods depend on it and the well-being of not only humans but horses depends on it. It’s a lot of moving parts but we are adamant that we can get it done and adamant that it will be extremely safe.”

• Reproduced by permission of Paulick Report

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