The California Horse Racing Board met in Del Mar Thursday, in its first meeting since the owners of Santa Anita Park announced a major realignment including the shutdown of Northern California’s Golden Gate Fields racetrack and the expansion of racing in Southern California.
In July, The Stronach Group announced that it was closing the Bay Area track at the end of the 2023 meet and transferring its horses to Southern California, resulting in increased field sizes and an additional day of racing at Santa Anita Park.
Company officials said then that they would be working in cooperation with industry participants including the California Horse Racing Board, Thoroughbred Owners of California, California Thoroughbred Trainers and Del Mar and Los Alamitos racetracks to develop their plan to relocate horses and employees to Southern California.
CHRB Vice Chair Oscar Gonzales, who chairs the CHRB Race Dates Committee, said in July that he hoped the meeting in Del Mar will “be an opportunity to share more information with the public.”
Additional details of The Stronach Group plan include:
- Over $1 million to support the relocation of horses, trainers, jockeys, backstretch employees and caregivers from Golden Gate Fields to Santa Anita Park as part of the consolidation of racing in Southern California, and to support the California breeding program.
- A new $4.5 million, all-weather synthetic track that will replace the existing training track at Santa Anita Park.
- A commitment to fund a portion of 2024 heath care premiums for Golden Gate Field employees.
- The creation of a job board accessible to backside employees to support the transition to Santa Anita Park.
- An investment of at least $500,000 over two years toward building a “state-of-the-art equine pool for hydrotherapy and horse exerciser, accessible to trainers at Santa Anita Park, that will help horses more easily recover from injury.”
- $23.2 million toward a backside barn improvement program.
The company said the move would also increase activity at San Luis Rey Downs, a private training track it owns in Bonsall, in San Diego County.
In addition to returning a fourth day of weekly racing to Santa Anita resulting in 26 extra race days, officials plan to invest $2.5 million into building a turf chute at the track.
“We are confident that this comprehensive package of important measures will not only bolster the racing, training, owner and fan experience at Santa Anita Park … but also support Northern California stakeholders through a challenging transition period, and lead the way with state and industrywide changes that will result in a healthier, competitive and sustainable future for thoroughbred racing in Southern California,” Stronach Group Chairwoman, CEO and President Belinda Stronach said in a statement.
Animal rights activists, who frequently protest at Southern California tracks calling for a ban on horse racing, were expected to address board members during the meeting’s public comment period.
The activists have pointed to the high number of horses who die annually from racing or training injuries. Stronach and CHRB officials say they’ve undertaken increased safety measures in recent years to bring those totals down.
Thirty horses have died from racing or training injuries at CHRB-sanctioned racetracks so far in 2023, including 11 at Santa Anita, eight at Los Alamitos and three each at Del Mar and Golden Gate Fields, according to CHRB data.
“Residents of Southern California will attend this CHRB meeting to express the growing public opinion that risking and taking horses’ lives for gambling is indefensible … especially with other available options for gambling that don’t use animals,” said Martha Sullivan of Kill Racing Not Horses.