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Santa Anita to race less this winter in bad weather

HORSE RACING: NOV 02 Breeders' Cup

ARCADIA, CA - NOVEMBER 02: Horses parade to the post for the Breeders’ Cup Mile, at the Breeders’ Cup during the Breeders’ Cup on November, 2, 2019, at Santa Anita Park inArcadia, CA. (Photo by Cynthia Lum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DEL MAR, Calif. -- Santa Anita will race less, if at all, in inclement weather during its winter-spring meet that begins on Dec. 26, although what factors will decide whether racing occurs in such conditions haven’t been announced.

Led by new chairman Gregory Ferraro, the California Horse Racing Board approved Santa Anita’s racing license by a 5-0 vote Thursday, contingent on several restrictions.

More details will be presented at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 12.

Also postponed until next month was further discussion on the use of the riding crop.

“We don’t really know what the right answer is,” Ferraro said. “We need to find the right answer before we just jump into something.”

Several members of the public wanting to address the board on the riding crop issue grew angry when Ferraro wouldn’t allow it before taking a vote to table the item until next month. Wendy Mitchell, a new member of the board appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, voted against postponing the issue.

“This is definitely an issue we need to hear out. The optics on it are bad,” she said. “I don’t want to kick this can too far down the road.”

Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet is scheduled for 104 racing days through June 21 but will be reduced by 12 undetermined days as part of an agreement reached earlier this year.

“The whole idea is to protect safety and horses during inclement weather situations,” Ferraro said during the meeting held at Del Mar north of San Diego. “We won’t race or train or race on tracks deemed unsafe.”

Days lost to inclement weather could count toward the total, along with days canceled because of a lack of available horses to run, according to Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California racing operations for the track’s owner, The Stronach Group.

Last March, Santa Anita canceled racing for 13 days after a series of horse deaths during racing or training following nearly a foot of rain through the winter. During the break in racing, the main track underwent renovation and inspection.

Butler said the main track will be renovated starting Monday.

Butler told the board that Santa Anita is exploring the installation of a synthetic surface on the main track or the infield training track. However, he said no decisions have been made while track officials continue to study how the artificial surface would perform in Southern California’s extreme temperatures.

Santa Anita, as well as other major tracks in California, had a synthetic track in the past, but drainage problems arose during winter rains.

Other restrictions that are part of Santa Anita’s winter-spring meet license include not running claiming races worth less than $10,000, limiting short-term activity for horses injected with corticosteroids in fetlock joints, and not allowing 2-year-olds in 2020 to be treated with the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, which was announced earlier this year.

Earlier this year, The Stronach Group imposed tougher medication rules at Santa Anita to try to reduce fatalities. Ferraro warned that further medication policies are on the horizon.

Ferraro was elected board chairman and Oscar Gonzales was named vice chairman on Thursday.