The fire that consumed San Luis Rey on December 7th touched the hearts of everyone in the industry. Located in Bonsall just outside of San Diego, the training facility was destroyed during the sudden forest fires that spread throughout California. Forty-six horses lost their lives in the tragedy.
Tim Ritvo, the COO of The Stronarch Group, spoke to the media about the efforts to open the San Luis Rey property. “That’s our goal, on April 1, to have a full capacity of stalls available,” Ritvo said of the Stronach-owned training facility. Ritvo explained what the focus of the building teams has been and that, “The repair to the barns that were damaged is done, and the temporary barns [are built].”
Initially, the plan was to get San Luis Rey up and running by mid-February but those ambitious plans were revamped following a closer examination of the funds available and the work that was needed. There were 200 damaged stalls that remained but required much attention. “We felt we could have opened early, not with all the stalls, but to let people back into the two-hundred,” Ritvo continued. “We were convinced, from the stabling and vanning fund, that they couldn’t afford to keep all the tracks open—with Del Mar going, Santa Anita Park going, and San Luis Rey. They convinced us to slow up on bringing the horses back until everything was together.”
Spillover from the San Luis Rey tragedy has been handled mostly by Del Mar Racetrack, which has accommodated the surviving horses. However, with the spring fast approaching it was imperative that Del Mar clear space for their regular business operations. Outside of Thoroughbred races, the San Diego County Fair is a big event that requires space currently occupied by the San Luis Rey horses.
“We’ve been very open and transparent with all industry stakeholders that training can only happen here for so long,” Del Mar president Josh Rubinstein explained. “Events have been booked, there’s the fair, and a lot of lead-up to the fair. It’s our desire the folks are out of here by the end of March.”
The unbelievable support by Del Mar, which hosted the 2017 Breeders’ Cup as well, has also triggered belief that the southern California track could be open year round. “What it really makes me think about, though, is, why isn’t Del Mar open for year-round training? It’s doable,” noted trainer Peter Miller. “It would take some work, but it’s a doable situation that would bring outfits from around the country, that want to live and train at Del Mar all year.”
No matter what Del Mar does in future winters, the fact that they’ve gone out of their way to help fellow horsemen in a time of need should be recognized first and foremost. Folks will be eager to see San Luis Rey restored to standard, most importantly so that the survivors can return to their lives.