(CN) – The Santa Anita racetrack in Southern California has indefinitely canceled its races after 21 horses have died at the track over the past two months.
Chief operating officer Tim Ritvo of The Stronach Group, which owns the racetrack, said races would be put on hold while they investigate the surfaces of the tracks.
“In whole, we feel confident in the track and we’re just being very proactive,” Ritvo said in a statement Tuesday. “We want to do all the testing that needs to be done. When we believe we’re in good shape, we’ll start to train over it again.”
The move comes just before two major races were scheduled to take place: the San Felipe Handicap, a prep race for the Kentucky Derby for 3-year-old horses and the Santa Anita Handicap for horses who are older.
The latest horse fatality occurred during training on Tuesday as 4-year-old Lets Light the Way was euthanized after injuring her right front leg.
Due to the light bone structure of horses’ legs, when they are broken, the pieces of bone are often shattered and bent into different shapes, making healing very improbable.
“Obviously, one horse is too many,” Ritvo said. “The recent rash is just horrible. We need to definitely take a step back and evaluate everything.”
Ritvo said it’s not certain if weather played a part in the deaths. The racetrack received 11.5 inches of rain last month, as well as cold temperatures.
“We think that (rain) could definitely contribute even though our experts are telling us not,” Ritvo said. “The tracks out here are built not for weather like that.”
The filly’s death on Tuesday was the ninth after sustaining an injury on the main dirt track during training. Five have died racing on the turf track and seven have died racing on the dirt track.
The racetrack said it hired Dennis Moore, a track expert “as a precautionary measure” to help investigate conditions of the racetrack.
“Moore, 69, who has more than 46 years of experience working with racing surfaces in California and worldwide, served as Santa Anita Track Superintendent from 2014 until his retirement this past Dec. 31,” the park said in a released statement Tuesday. “The son of a track superintendent, Moore grew up in racing and in addition to his father, Bob, his brother Ron has also served in the same role at various tracks in California.”
Park officials closed its track in Arcadia for a few days last week in order to investigate the soil. Animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals issued a statement last weekend, blaming the deaths on overworked horses.
“Twenty dead horses is 20 too many and the only responsible action is for the track to close immediately to stop this spiral of deaths,” PETA said. “The California Horse Racing Board and Santa Anita must do this now, and law enforcement must begin an immediate investigation of trainers and veterinarians to find out if injured horses were being forced to run.”
Santa Anita is one of the most renowned racetracks in the U.S. and is scheduled to host the Breeders’ Cup in November.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.