Churchill Downs Temporarily Suspends Racing After Horse Deaths

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Churchill Downs, the home of the famous Kentucky Derby horse race, announced late on Friday it is suspending all racing from June 7 to at least July 3.

The rest of its ongoing Spring Meet races will be held at Ellis Park in Kentucky.

The closure comes after an investigation into a recent spate of equine fatalities at the Louisville racecourse did not provide adequate answers. It will now close for nearly a month while operator Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) conducts a “top to bottom review”.

No Discernable Pattern

Some 12 horses have died at Churchill Downs since April 27. That included two horse deaths during the undercard race on Derby Day, May 6.

Both the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority conducted investigations into the track’s safety procedures.

“No single factor has been identified as a potential cause and no discernable pattern has been detected to link the fatalities,” said an official statement from CDI.

“In an abundance of caution, and in alignment with a recommendation from HISA, CDI has elected to relocate the meet in order to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all safety and surface protocols and integrity measures.”

Churchill Downs senior leadership also commented on the issue. “The team at Churchill Downs takes great pride in our commitment to safety and strives to set the highest standard in racing, consistently going above and beyond the regulations and policies that are required,” said CDI CEO Bill Carstanjen in the company statement.

Inoperable and Unrecoverable

Just a day before announcing suspension of racing, the operator also announced a range of new safety measures.

However, it seems that came too late for health and safety regulators, who recommended the suspension, and sadly, two horses who had to be euthanized over the weekend.

Lost in Limbo and Kimberley Dream both sustained “inoperable and unrecoverable” injuries after racing at Churchill Downs on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

That brings the total to 12 horse deaths in a month.

“It is with absolute dismay and sorrow that we report this highly unusual statistic,” a statement from the operator said.

Although an initial investigation “concluded that the surface is consistent with prior measurements from Churchill Downs in past years,” such a sharp rise in equine injuries and deaths must be down to something.

New Safety Measures

CDI vowed they “will not allow these equine fatalities to be in vain.”

During suspension, various new safety measures will be looked at. This could include new sampling from horse fatalities, and more in-depth racing restrictions on horses with prior injuries, including eligibility standards.

Horse racing safety measures are a proven way to reduce horse fatalities during racing. In the 2019 race season, one US racecourse, Santa Anita in Arcadia, CA, saw 30 horses die before it shut down for a month to review its procedures. Because of the pandemic, it did not reopen until 2021.

Since then, horse deaths during racing have fallen 55% at California racetracks.

Officials will be hoping for a similar level of success in reducing dangers for horses racing at Churchill Downs.

“We are troubled by this recent string of fatalities. It is extremely inconsistent with the outcomes we have experienced over the years. with the reputation we have developed over the decades and with the expectations we set for ourselves and owe our fans,” said a CDI statement.

“We are committed to doing this important work and updating the public with our developments.”

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