LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As Santa Anita racetrack brings in experts to determine the cause of a spike in horse deaths, trainers are scrambling as the fate of a key Kentucky Derby prep race is up in the air.
Over the past two months, 21 horses have died at the storied California race track, and its left track officials flummoxed with why and how to solve the problem.
"In whole, we feel confident in the track, and we're just being very proactive," said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group, which owns Santa Anita. "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."
What's causing the spike remains a mystery. The deaths are being caused by injuries sustained to the horses during racing or training.
"It's definitely not a great backstory for horse racing," Horse Racing Nation CEO Mark Midland said. "I know the hope of everyone in horse racing is to get this solved as quickly as possible."
In all of 2017, Santa Anita saw 20 equine deaths across more than 100 days of racing, according to The Jockey Club.
"Last week, they didn't have training on the main track for two days while they did some diagnostics on it, and they couldn't find anything they thought was an issue," said Jay Privman, national correspondent for the Daily Racing Form.
Santa Anita has received about a foot of rain over the past month, significantly more than it normally does. But so far, it's unclear if that's the cause.
"Usually, when something like this happens, it's not that simple," Privman said. "There's usually other factors that come into play. Maybe there were horses that had pre-existing issues that weren't caught in time, because sometimes, they're hard to find."
In order to qualify for the Kentucky Derby, horses must qualify by accumulating points in prep races leading up to the first Saturday in May. Santa Anita hosts two such races in the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby. The San Felipe was scheduled for this weekend, but now it's unclear when or if that race will be run.
"For the horses that were scheduled to run in that race, or if the San Felipe is not run for two or three more weeks, let's say, then those horses are going to have to go elsewhere to earn points," Privman said.
It has created complications for trainers, as the Kentucky Derby is fast approaching.
"It's a little bit like if you took your NCAA bracket, and you closed down one of the eight regions, and those teams had to go to another region to play," Midland said.
On Wednesday, Santa Anita announced it was bringing back former track superintendent Dennis Moore to do testing on the track.
It's unclear when Santa Anita might reopening for racing or training.
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