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by Brad Free of drf.com

Filly's death renews concerns about Santa Anita surface - HORSE RACING, – ARCADIA, Calif. – Hopeful, nervous anticipation that California racing is on its way back gave way to grim reality Thursday morning at Santa Anita Park.

A lightly raced maiden filly broke both front legs at the conclusion of a half-mile workout on the Santa Anita main track, just yards past the finish wire. When she was euthanized, she became the 22nd equine fatality at Santa Anita since the winter meet began Dec. 26.

The incident occurred despite a litany of newly instituted safety protocols, the suspension of racing for two weeks, and a Santa Anita main track that reopened early this week to positive reviews.

Princess Lili B was a 3-year-old filly bred, owned, and trained by veteran horseman David Bernstein, best known as the trainer of 1994 champion older male The Wicked North. On Thursday morning, after Princess Lili B was put down following a half-mile work in 53 seconds, Bernstein was understandably rattled.

“She was perfect,” Bernstein said. “The work was slow because she never works fast. She didn’t have a lot of talent, she was just kind of a horse. But she was my horse.”

The news hit hard. Voices were hushed on the racetrack apron and at Clocker’s Corner, where growing optimism was replaced with concern.

Santa Anita suspended racing for two weeks following a morning breakdown March 5. Recent developments suggested the worst was behind Santa Anita. Instead, things got worse.

“We’re devastated,” said Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of Santa Anita owner The Stronach Group. “It’s brutal. [Princess Lili B] showed no signs of being a ‘suspicious’ horse. And from all the reports, we think the track is in excellent condition.”

Though some grumbled that the main track was excessively slow, accompanying sentiment was that the surface was safe. Moments before Princess Lili B was injured, trainer Bob Baffert worked Kentucky Derby candidate Roadster. He went five furlongs in 1:02.60 without urging.

There were 112 workouts on the main track Wednesday and 75 workouts on the main track Thursday.

Even while a temporary screen was erected on the racetrack to shield onlookers from the grisly injury sustained by Princess Lili B, officials decided to allow training to continue.

“Maybe I will regret this later,” Ritvo said. “But that’s the decision I have to make. We think the track is in great condition. We have confidence in the track. Everybody has been bragging about it. So, we made a decision to continue to train. If we were to stop training at this point, then we would just never run again.”

Santa Anita seemed to be making the right moves in the wake of the spike in fatalities. Racing stopped for more than two weeks, and Friday, March 22, remains the tentative date of reopening. Santa Anita has not raced since March 3. In the interim, the track introduced a number of protocols designed to reduce the risk of injury.

Track maintenance crews and surface experts inspected, harrowed, and rototilled the main track in dry weather. With the surface deemed in top shape, it reopened this past Monday and Tuesday for light training and Wednesday for workouts.

For the first 15 minutes after a renovation break, the track is open only for horses conducting timed workouts. Furthermore, trainers are required to seek written permission 24 hours in front of a workout. The idea is to identify high-risk horses and postpone works pending further examination.

In the case of Princess Lili B, who ran on Feb. 18, there was no indication she was high-risk. Ritvo said: “She ran, worked back since, didn’t work in the mud, she didn’t run in the mud. She had no signs of being a ‘suspicious’ horse. If you didn’t let this horse work, you wouldn’t let any horse work.”

Earlier Thursday, the track seemed to dodge a bullet. An unidentified horse trained by Jeff Mullins fell down at 6:45 a.m. after working three furlongs. The horse was vanned off. The incident was unrelated to track surface, according to veterinarian Melinda Blue.

“She was working three-eighths, and she started getting wobbly,” Blue said. “She lost her air and went down with the rider. She was stunned.”

The horse stood up soon afterward, and Blue speculated that the horse might have a breathing problem. Blue treated the horse for shock, and the horse was somewhat agitated back at the stable, but indications were positive 15 minutes after the incident.

As of midday Thursday, workouts remained scheduled for Friday.

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