As horse racing returns to Del Mar, protesters spar over whether it should

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DEL MAR, Calif. – On the first weekend back for horse racing at Del Mar Racetrack, two small groups of competing protesters gathered outside of the facility Saturday at odds over whether the track should be operational.

“Why should this business be open when every other nonessential business is closed in the state of California right now?” animal activist Ellen Ericksen said.

The track, which has been the subject of similar protests in the past, had to shut down a weekend slate of races earlier this month after more than a dozen jockeys including Flavien Prat and Victor Espinoza tested positive for COVID-19. Racing resumed there this weekend with officials adding a new date on Monday to make up for the lost weekend.

But Ericksen argues that proper safety protocols are not being followed at the track, calling for it to shutter once again.

“The spread in our community here in San Diego is real,” she said. “They are superspreaders at this race track. It has been noted out here and I have pictures to document it that they are not a contained place as the race track says.”

Officials from the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club pushed back against protesters’ claims with a spokesman saying that “extremists continue to misrepresent what is happening at Del Mar.”

“With guidance from experts such as Dr. Ghazala Sharieff, Chief Medical Officer of Scripps Health and the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency, we have implemented strict protocols to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of our workforce, our athletes and our neighbors,” the club said in a statement.

They added, “Del Mar continues to be one of the safest racetracks in the U.S. for both our horses and the hard working people who care for them every day.”

Another group or protesters — who said they work for the track — were on hand Saturday siding with racing officials, and arguing the benefits of the facility remaining open.

“If there’s a ban on horse racing, all of these people lose housing,” worker advocate Oscar Delatorre said. “They live here at the race track. [If] they lose their jobs, they lose their medical benefits.”

The meet at Del Mar is slated to conclude on Labor Day, Sept. 7.

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