07/31/2014 8:32PM

Del Mar cancels turf racing until Aug. 9


DEL MAR, Calif. – Del Mar has abandoned turf racing until Aug. 9 and will not conduct sprints or races for claimers on turf for the remainder of the summer meeting, the track announced on its website Friday.

The decisions were made after track and racing officials discussed options Friday, a day after a filly was seriously injured in a turf sprint on the troubled course.

Turf racing was canceled from Friday through Sunday after the filly Serious suffered sesamoid injuries in a turf sprint. Previously, four horses were euthanized as a result of injuries suffered in turf races July 17, July 25, and July 26.

In the hour after Serious was injured, track president Joe Harper said turf racing would not be held until Wednesday to allow evaluation and maintenance of the course through the weekend. On Friday, the date was pushed back to Aug. 9 to allow additional days of maintenance. Harper said the decision to cancel turf races this weekend was made in consultation with the California Horse Racing Board.

There is widespread concern that the turf course is too firm. The course is new, having been installed over the winter.

In the statement published on its website, Del Mar said it will reduce the number of scheduled turf races by 33 percent from 2013, that prerace inspections of runners will be enhanced, and that Dr. Mick Peterson of the University of Maine has been hired as a consultant.

In 2013, 94 of the 328 races run at the meeting were on turf, or 29 percent. Through Thursday, 30 of the 102 races at the current meeting were run on turf, or the same 29 percent.

“We are doing everything within our power to ensure a safe turf course,” Harper said in a statement. “Preparing to resume turf racing next week will allow our crews to perform additional safety measures.”

In the coming days, maintenance will be conducted to aerate the course and provide extensive watering to soften the surface. When racing does resume, the temporary turf rails will be set 24 feet from the permanent positions to give horses fresh ground on which to race. Turf rails were set 18 feet from the permanent positions for races Wednesday and Thursday.

This is the second consecutive weekend in which turf races have been abandoned for at least one day. Turf racing was canceled last Sunday following the injuries that occurred the preceding two days. After that cancellation, the course was aerated and extensively watered.

Earlier Friday, officials with the California Thoroughbred Trainers association called for the track to reduce the number of claiming races and eliminate turf sprints and turf workouts. Turf workouts are expected to continue on a once-a-week basis.

Turf racing is a vital part of the track’s stakes schedule, with 20 of the 43 stakes run on the course. Several important turf races have yet to be run, including the $250,000 John Mabee Stakes on Aug. 10, the $300,000 Del Mar Oaks on Aug. 16, the $250,000 Del Mar Mile on Aug. 24, and the $300,000 Del Mar Derby on Aug. 31.

Two $90,000 stakes scheduled for five furlongs on turf – the Daisycutter Stakes for fillies and mares Aug. 8 and the Green Flash Handicap on Aug. 13 – will be run on the Polytrack synthetic surface.

Five turf races were canceled from Friday through Sunday. Four turf races were held without incident Wednesday and earlier on Thursday’s program before Serious was injured.

Serious, a 4-year-old trained by Vince Smith, suffered sesamoid injuries during a five-furlong turf sprint. The injuries were considered grave, but the filly was sent to a veterinary clinic near Los Alamitos late Thursday to be evaluated. Harper said track veterinarian Dana Stead had advised that the filly be euthanized as a result of her injuries.

On Friday, several trainers questioned why Serious was allowed to start in the optional claimer. She won a $16,000 claimer for non-winners of three at Santa Anita in May and had not raced since finishing last of eight in a starter allowance at Los Alamitos on July 3.

“The horse should not have run,” said CTT president Jim Cassidy said. “She ran in a $16,000 claimer for non-winners of three. She hadn’t run since July 3, and she hadn’t worked since. That’s a red flag. Then they run it in an allowance race?”

Harper said he remains hopeful that the issues concerning the turf course can be remedied. The track averaged slightly fewer than three turf races a day at the 2013 meeting.

“I don’t think it deserves to be abandoned,” he said.