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Baffert rallies for return of live racing at Santa Anita

LOS ANGELES – Kentucky Derby-winning trainers Bob Baffert and Doug O'Neill joined horse racing advocates rallying outside a Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday in an effort to convince government officials to allow the resumption of live racing at Santa Anita.

Even behind a mask, the white-haired Baffert was easily recognizable as he carried a sign proclaiming, “We support horse racing.” His wife, Jill, toted one noting the economic impact of racing in California: $2.47 billion and 17,000 jobs.

O'Neill has previously helped stage rallies for backstretch workers outside Santa Anita to counter animal rights activists who have urged the end of racing in the state.

“It was very nice to see them there,” Oscar De La Torre said of Baffert and O'Neill. “It sends a very powerful message.”

De La Torre, an advocate for backstretch workers, organized the rally that included several horse owners. Their early-morning duties at the track prevented many workers from attending.

De La Torre said horse racing wasn't mentioned during the board's meeting in downtown Los Angeles.

“But I can guarantee you that they’re very aware that our community is active and committed to bringing back live racing to Santa Anita,” he said afterward.

The board met for the first time since Santa Anita submitted a proposal to the county detailing its plans should racing be allowed to resume. The Arcadia track had been racing without fans from March 12-27. That's when the county health department ordered a stop, saying the sport wasn't considered an essential business during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our equine athletes do not transmit the COVID-19 virus,” De La Torre said. “We have had zero reports of COVID-19 at Santa Anita and Los Alamitos, which has been running live racing unabated since the outbreak. That gives us a precedent that we can have live racing without spectators safely.”

Racing advocates were urged to file public comments before the meeting. Board chairman Kathryn Barger, whose district includes Santa Anita, said over 800 comments were received.

“We’ve put up a lot of great protocols,” said Santa Anita-based trainer Peter Eurton, who didn't attend the rally. “There’s no reason why in our eyes we can’t have safe racing and keep everyone healthy.”

De La Torre was encouraged by the board's unanimous passing of a road map to economic recovery for the county.

“We’re very hopeful that live racing at Santa Anita without spectators will be a part of that plan,” he said.

Santa Anita's stable area has about 1,700 horses and 750 workers who live and work onsite. Morning training has continued during the pandemic.

“Many of our workers are self-quarantined,” De La Torre said. “They live and work at Santa Anita.”

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