After 22 horse deaths at Santa Anita, race cancellations have ‘devastated’ workers, jockeys – Daily News

on Mar20
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The upheaval and race cancellations at Santa Anita Park have “devastated” workers there, wiping out paychecks for jockeys, trainers and a host of others while potentially jeopardizing the Derby and Breeder’s Cup, two of the track’s biggest revenue drivers.

Santa Anita officials have declined to discuss the fallout and repercussions felt by many employees.

The racetrack has been closed since March 5 in the wake of 22 horse deaths. Racing is scheduled to resume March 29 following 12 cancellations this month.

Jon Lindo, a Southern California radio personality and longtime thoroughbred owner, said the cancellations couldn’t have come at a worse time.

“The three weeks they missed was a time when Major League Baseball hadn’t started up yet,” he said. “It was a quiet time when they could have gotten a lot of business.”

To make up for lost time in the saddle, some jockeys have gone on to other venues, including Gulfstream Park in Florida, Keeneland in Kentucky and Oaklawn in Arkansas, he said.

No determination yet

Officials with The Stronach Group, the Canadian-based company that owns Santa Anita Park, have yet to determine the exact cause of the horses’ deaths.

Some experts have speculated heavy rainfall and an increase in business from other racetracks closed due to bad weather have contributed to poor track conditions in Arcadia.

Others, including People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals, suspect the deaths could be related to race-day medications that allegedly masked pre-existing injuries sustained by the horses.

Feeling the pain

Santa Anita’s parimutuel clerks, who man the windows where racing fans place their bets, are among the suspension’s casualties.

“This has been devastating to our members,” said Troy Tabak, business agent and southern vice president for Pari-Mutuel Employees Guild Local 280, which represents the workers. “Our crews have been reduced by 85 percent, so only 15 percent of them are working. And when they don’t work, they don’t get paid.”

About 50 parimutuel clerks are on duty during a typical day at Santa Anita, Tabak said, and that nearly doubles on weekends.

The closures have also reduced staffing at 23 satellite wagering sites at racetracks, sports bars, restaurants and fairground locations throughout Southern California, he said.

Jockeys, which number between 20 and 30 at Santa Anita, also are feeling the pinch.

“They are still out there staying fit and working the horses, but they’re not getting paid,” said Darrell Haire, a regional manager with Jockeys’ Guild, a Lexington, Ky.-based trade organization that represents the riders. “They only get paid when they run races.”

Track consultant Dennis Moore, left, seen earlier this week at Santa Anita Park, is being charged with solving and fixing why 21 horses have died at the track since Dec. 26. (Photo courtesy of Santa Anita).

While star jockeys earn millions of dollars, he said, most others are essentially squeaking by.

“On a national average, they make about $33,000 a year,” Haire said. “They go out there and risk their lives because they love it. They’re just trying to get to that higher echelon.”

Impact on the city

The city of Arcadia is losing thousands of dollars for every canceled race.

“We typically receive $5,000 to $7,000 per race day from Santa Anita,” said City Manager Dominic Lazzaretto.

The money comes from shared betting, which means Arcadia gets a percentage of what’s bet on any given day, he said.

Based on those numbers, the city will conservatively lose at least $60,000 in March.

A big money generator

Last year’s Santa Anita Derby drew 39,023 fans, an 8 percent increase over 36,155 the previous year, according to the track’s website. But that pales in comparison to what’s in the pipeline.

Santa Anita will host in early November the 2019 Breeder’s Cup World Championships, an event expected to generate as much as $100 million for Southern California’s economy.

It will mark the 10th time Santa Anita has hosted the event. The park set a two-day attendance record of 118,484 when it last hosted the cup in 2016.

There has been no talk of moving the Breeder’s Cup to date.

Changes made

Seventeen of the 22 horses that died were euthanized as a result of injuries sustained while training or racing on the main dirt track. Five others were injured on the turf course.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is investigating whether the horse deaths were the result of criminal wrongdoing.

Meanwhile, Stronach announced last week that it has banned race day medications at Santa Anita and at Golden Gate Fields, another racetrack it owns in Berkeley. The company additionally said a cushion riding crop should be used only “as a corrective safety measure.”

Company Chairwoman and CEO Belinda Stronach offered her thoughts in an open letter posted on Santa Anita’s website:

“What has happened at Santa Anita over the last few weeks is beyond heartbreaking,” she said. “If we expect our sport to grow for future generations, we must raise our standards.”

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