California can’t just close Santa Anita race track

Two more horses died over the weekend at Santa Anita Park in California, bringing the total number of horses to be euthanized there since the start of the racing season in late December to 29.

Why doesn’t California just close the famed racetrack down? It’s not that easy.

It needs the approval of the track operator

After the two most recent horse deaths this weekend, the California Horse Racing Board did ask Santa Anita Park to shut down for the rest of the season, which ends June 23, the Daily Racing Form reports.

But the board doesn’t have the authority under California law to shut down a racetrack without the approval of the track’s operator.

CNN has reached out to the racing board for comment but hasn’t yet heard back.

The Stronach Group, the entertainment and real estate company that owns Santa Anita Park, said despite the racing board’s request, the park in Arcadia, California, will finish its season.

“We are collectively working on behalf of everyone in the sport … to reform and improve racing every day,” Stronach Group said in a statement posted to the racetrack’s website. “After extensive consultation among all partners, Santa Anita Park will stay open through the end of its meet to see these reforms through.”

The state racing board can close the track after holding a public meeting, the Daily Racing Form reports. But it must give 10 days public notice first.

Doing so this late in the season means that even if the board was successful in shutting down the park, racing would only be stopped a couple of days before the end of the season.

The problem may be bigger than just one track

The 28th and 29th horses to be euthanized at the racetrack were Formal Dude and Trufallino, CNN affiliate KCAL reported. Formal Dude was a 4-year-old gelding that was injured in the 10th race on Saturday. Trufallino was a 3-year-old filly that was injured on Sunday and had to be put down.

Animal rights activists have called for races to be suspended at Santa Anita Park, one of the most famous horse racing parks in the United States. The track has instituted several safety measures and briefly closed the track.

Many have pointed to Southern California’s wettest winter in almost a decade, saying the rain has made the dirt track where most of the deaths occurred too soft.

Arcadia is an arid locale, especially in the summer, so treating the surface can be tricky. In preparation for storms, a sealant can be used to prevent the track surface from washing away, but when the rain stops, trainers complain the track is too hard.

While there’s been a lot of focus on track conditions, some experts said that is only part of the equation and that the industry needs to take a closer look at its training practices and the drugs that can be administered to horses.

Races are set to resume at Santa Anita Park on Friday.

CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this story.