Churchill Downs Racing Activity to Resume in September After Comprehensive Safety Evaluation

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Churchill Downs, the iconic home of the Kentucky Derby, is set to resume its live horse racing calendar from September 14.

In June, the operator suspended racing meets at the venue and moved them to Ellis Park. That’s after a series of 12 equine fatalities in a one-month period, including two over the Kentucky Derby weekend.

Following an expansive safety review involving regulator the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC), the track has now taken up a number of new safety measures, including extra surface testing and a new internal safety committee.

“We are excited to resume live racing again at Churchill Downs,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of track owners Churchill Downs Incorporated, or CDI, in a company statement.

“Our commitment to safety remains paramount as we enter this September meet, and our participants, fans, and the public can be assured that we will continue to investigate, evaluate, and improve upon every policy and protocol.”

Safety Enhancements and Infrastructure Upgrades

The internal safety review, conducted in collaboration with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, led to several key enhancements to ensure equine safety.

The operator conducted a “comprehensive evaluation of existing safety protocols and a thorough assessment of industry best practices,” said the statement.

Those new protocols include additional new surface maintenance equipment and a commitment to doubling the frequency of surface testing.

Meanwhile, “additional resources will be added to CDI’s highly qualified veterinary team to provide extra monitoring and specialized care for horses, and to assist in pre-race inspections and entry screening,” the press release said.

The operator says it will continue to work with industry experts using the latest data and advanced analytic techniques to better predict at-risk horses.

A new safety committee will be established, consisting of horsemen designees, racetrack employees, and veterinarians. This committee will be encouraged to openly discuss concerns and observations and provide real-time feedback on areas of improvement.

Looking to the Future

Now that the unfortunate equine deaths are hopefully behind them, Churchill Downs can focus on its upcoming meet and its wider gambling investments.

California’s Santa Anita racetrack has proved that upgraded safety procedures do work. After temporarily shutting from 2019 to 2021 because of an excess in horse deaths, a wide-ranging safety review in the state has seen fatalities decrease by 55%.

At the set-to-reopen Churchill Downs, tickets are now on sale for a 40-day meet during the fall. The September meet runs through October 1, while the Fall meet runs through November 26.

Churchill Downs may also finally be able to be involved in the wider legal sports betting market in its own home state. Kentucky legalized sports betting back in March, and is gearing up for a September launch

In July, the KHRC approved its new rule set, and the market opened for license applications, with a confirmed launch date of September 7 for retail sportsbooks and September 28 for mobile offerings.

There is no new word on a potential launch for a Churchill Downs sportsbook so far. However, back in July, the operator confirmed its intentions to do so.

“All of our facilities throughout the state were designed with this possibility in mind,” it said it a statement at the time.

Caesars Sportsbook and BetMGM have both confirmed their license applications for Kentucky sports betting.

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