By Marty Graham
SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - The Del Mar horse track in Southern California has suspended racing through this weekend on its new turf course after a thoroughbred was badly injured and eight other horses died in the last two weeks, race officials said.
The unusually high number of horse deaths at the track just north of San Diego has threatened to detract from its popularity as a destination for summer revelers.
This is the second suspension this week of the turf course at the sunny, coastal race track, which attracted over 42,000 people for the July 17 opening day of its summer season despite declining horse racing attendance nationwide.
Racing at Del Mar will be held this weekend on a synthetic Polytrack surface, organizers said.
Officials stopped racing on the new turf track on Sunday while a crew watered and tended to it. Racing resumed on Wednesday and then a four-year-old horse named Serious suffered a bad leg injury on Thursday, officials said.
Serious had a broken bone in her foreleg that led track veterinarians to recommend euthanizing her, but the owner decided to transport the injured horse to Los Alamitos in Orange County, said California Thoroughbred Trainers Association President Jim Cassidy.
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club spokesman Mac McBride confirmed the track was suspending races on the turf course through this weekend and going back to work on its grass and fences. The racetrack's management in a statement expressed sorrow and concern for the horses hurt on the track.
Since the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club began its summer season on July 17, five horses were catastrophically injured while racing and were later euthanized, with four of them hurt on the track's new turf course, officials said. Two other horses died after being injured while training or exercising, and one died of heart failure, they said.
Cassidy, who trains between 20 and 25 horses at Del Mar, said he does not believe the turf course is the problem. One factor may be that some of the horses had little preparation for that level of competition, which placed them at greater risk of injury, he said.
"The media is blaming the course so the management has to do something," he said.
Del Mar opened in 1937 with backing from Hollywood figures such as Bing Crosby and Pat O'Brien, and is known for attracting many visitors with only a passing interest in horse racing.
On average, three race horses die each day at the nation's 97 race tracks, said Kathy Guillermo, a vice president at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Sandra Maler)