ARCADIA, Calif. (AP) -- Santa Anita is postponing the opening day of its winter-spring meet by two days to Dec. 28 ahead of next week's forecast that calls for rain.
The Southern California racetrack announced its decision on Saturday. It will be the first time since 1973-74 that the meet doesn't open on its traditional date of Dec. 26. Santa Anita last opened on Dec. 28 in 1971.
A total of 37 horses have died at Santa Anita since last December, triggering intense scrutiny of the track and horse safety in the sport.
Aidan Butler, acting executive director of California operations for track owner The Stronach Group, says Santa Anita's commitment to safety takes priority. He says it was important to make the decision as early as possible for the horsemen, fans and employees.
The California Horse Racing Board supported Santa Anita's decision.
''We on the board indicated our concern for safety when we provided Santa Anita 12 flex days in its upcoming meet,'' CHRB chairman Greg Ferraro said. ''Those dark days will be determined by weather and safety conditions as the meet progresses. We are encouraged that Santa Anita, by canceling its first two days of racing, is placing the safety of horses and riders first.''
The stakes races scheduled for Thursday will be run next Saturday.
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella says track officials are doing the right thing by pushing back the races.
Last year's opening day drew 41,373 and set a record of over $20 million for all-time opening day wagering.
Live racing will be held next Saturday and Sunday, along with Jan. 1, and Jan. 3-5.