Barns damaged by the Dec. 7 fire at San Luis Rey Training Center

Barns damaged by the Dec. 7 fire at San Luis Rey Training Center

Jeremy Balan

San Luis Rey Set to Reopen in April

Training facility was decimated by a fire Dec. 7.

After the Dec. 7 fire that decimated San Luis Rey Training Center, resulting in the deaths of 46 horses and severely injuring multiple horsemen, the facility in Bonsall, Calif., is scheduled to reopen in early April, according to racing executives in Southern California.

The Stronach Group's chief operating officer, Tim Ritvo, said Feb. 22 the current target is to have San Luis Rey reopen April 1 with a capacity for just fewer than 500 horses. At the time of the fire, there were an estimated 450 horses on the grounds.

"That's our goal, on April 1, to have a full capacity of stalls available," Ritvo said of the Stronach-owned training facility. "The repair to the barns that were damaged (but not destroyed) is done, and the temporary barns (have been built)."

The new setup of temporary barns—replacing the nine destroyed in the fire—will be significantly different. Instead of rows of smaller barns, there will be two larger structures that will feature 130 stalls apiece.

Ritvo was initially ambitious in the aftermath of the fire that San Luis Rey could reopen quickly. He indicated San Luis Rey could be back up and running in two weeks, and then set a target in February. But he said representatives from the region's stabling and vanning fund convinced The Stronach Group from moving too fast to reopen.

"We felt we could have opened early, not with all the stalls, but to let people back into the 200 (undamaged stalls)," Ritvo said. "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."

When San Luis Rey reopens, it will be populated primarily by horses who were based there at the time of the fire and were relocated to Del Mar, which opened as a training facility in the aftermath of the blaze. Del Mar racing secretary David Jerkens said Thursday a total of 385 Thoroughbreds are stabled on the Del Mar backside, and 70 of those are relatively new 2-year-old arrivals.

Del Mar president Josh Rubinstein said Feb. 21 he'd like all the horses on the grounds to be out of the facility by March 31, because of the potential disruption to the horses from a car show at the Del Mar Fairgrounds April 6-9. The track officially closes for training April 13, and horses will be required to be off the grounds by April 15.

Del Mar Thoroughbred Club does not own the racetrack at Del Mar, which sits on the Del Mar Fairgrounds. The Del Mar Fairgrounds is operated by California's 22nd District Agricultural Association and runs a variety of non-horse racing events throughout the year, which are not conducive to training Thoroughbreds concurrently.

"We've been very open and transparent with all industry stakeholders that training can only happen here for so long," Rubinstein said. "Events have been booked, there's the (San Diego County) 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."

Rubinstein also said Del Mar's run as a training center has not come at a financial loss, because the costs have been in line with San Luis Rey's, and both are reimbursed through the stabling and vanning fund.

The most recognizable operation out of San Luis Rey in recent years has been that of trainer Peter Miller, and while he's encouraged by the efforts to get the training center back up and running, he also feels having Del Mar open for training year-round would be a benefit to the industry in Southern California.

"It's been great at Del Mar. The track has been fantastic and the 22nd Ag and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club have been amazing," Miller said. "What it really makes me think about, though, is, why isn't Del Mar open for year-round training?

"It's doable. 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."