Racing resumes on Del Mar’s turf course without incident

By Joe Tash

Horse racing resumed over the weekend on the newly expanded turf course at Del Mar, after an eight-day closure imposed after four horses were fatally injured in separate incidents during races on the grass track.

No injuries were reported to horses or riders during races on Saturday, Aug. 9, and Sunday, Aug. 10, said Josh Rubinstein, executive vice president of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club, which runs the annual horse racing meets at the state-owned Del Mar Fairgrounds.

Rubinstein provided the update to the board of the 22nd District Agricultural Association at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 12. The 22nd DAA operates the fairgrounds, which includes the racetrack, for the state.

The fairgrounds has two horse racing tracks: a larger course with a synthetic surface, and the smaller turf course located inside the synthetic course. Last winter, the 22nd DAA spent $3.7 million to widen the turf course so that more horses could race at one time, and also to enhance safety, officials said at the time.

The newly widened course was used for the first time during this summer’s horse racing meet. However, officials took the unusual move of suspending all racing on the turf course after the spate of horse deaths.

Rubinstein said the turf course was judged safe by state regulators and representatives of trainers’ and breeders’ groups before it was used for racing.

“Everybody in the industry thought it was a safe course from Day One,” he said. As to the four horse deaths, he said, “We do think it was a statistical anomaly.”

Necropsies of the horses will take 60 to 90 days, and the results will be analyzed by the Thoroughbred Club and the state Horse Racing Board, Rubinstein said.

In all, eight horses have died at Del Mar this year: four on the turf course, one on the main course, and three from natural causes, Rubinstein said.

In the wake of the horse deaths, the club has eliminated shorter, faster “sprint” races, and also prohibited “claiming” horses from racing on the turf track. That means only the “best of the best” horses can race on the turf course this year, Rubinstein said.

Track officials also have instituted aggressive watering and aerating schedules to make the turf track softer, and are requiring four checks of every horse by a veterinarian before racing begins.

“Any horse that they have the slightest bit of concern about should be withdrawn from the race,” he said.

After this fall’s racing meet, track officials plan to replace the larger track’s synthetic surface with a natural dirt surface, Rubinstein said.