Churchill Downs cancels races after 12 horses died in six weeks
Churchill Downs has suspended racing activities at the track for the remainder of the 2023 Spring Meet following the deaths of 12 horses in the past six weeks.
Live racing will take place this weekend on June 3-4 as scheduled, but after Sunday’s activity the track will go dark.
The Spring Meet, which runs through July 3, will be moved to Ellis Park after multiple emergency meetings in Louisville this week.
The races from next Wednesday to Friday have been canceled and will not be made up. Ellis Park will take over the rest on June 10.
A move has been made to conduct a top-to-bottom review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of the deaths at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
Churchill Downs suspended racing activities for the remainder of the Spring Meet
Racing will take place as scheduled on June 3rd and 4th, but the track will then go dark
The announcement comes after 12 horses have died at the track since April and officials have yet to identify a match between the deaths.
A Friday afternoon release stated that no single factor has been identified as a possible cause for the fatalities or the pattern detected, but it decided to move the encounter “with great caution.”
“What has happened at our track is deeply distressing and absolutely unacceptable,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Inc. in the press release.
“We need to take more time to look at all the details and circumstances from the top down so that we can further strengthen our surface, security and integrity protocols.”
The races at Ellis Park have the same terms and purse money as Churchill Downs, while trainers and jockeys receive an allowance for extra expenses, WLKY said.
The Ellis Park meeting was scheduled to begin July 7 and run through August 27, but is now expanding with Friday’s announcement.
The move comes a day after track inspector Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit convened this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
The head of the federally established oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it might recommend pausing the meeting and that Churchill Downs accept that recommendation.
The Horse Racing Supervisory Authority and Churchill Downs had each announced additional health and safety measures on Thursday.
Earlier Thursday, Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts over a rolling eight-week period and impose exclusion standards for underperforming horses.
Seven horses were dead before the Kentucky Derby held in Louisville
The twin announcements came just before the Churchill Downs spring meeting resumed after several days of meeting at an emergency summit convened by HISA to investigate the disturbing spate of deaths.
All but two deaths have been attributed to racing or training leg injuries. The other two have unknown causes, but all are under investigation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and HISA.
The summit included the KHRC, HISA and Churchill Downs.
HISA called the dialogue productive in its release, adding that the summit’s conclusions have been shared directly with key stakeholders to inform next steps.
“While no clear or specific pattern emerged, HISA welcomes the Churchill Downs efforts announced earlier today to minimize the risk of horse fatalities,” the release added.
In addition, HISA said Alina Vale, a specialist in equine forensics, will thoroughly review all sections performed on covered horses. Vale performed post-mortem assessments as an official veterinarian for the California Horse Racing Board following a spate of fatalities in Santa Anita in 2019.
Other Churchill Downs initiatives include pausing incentives such as starting bonuses for trainers and purse payouts to each race finisher, with payouts limited to the top five finishers. Churchill Downs officials say they will continue discussions with riders to determine how to allocate funds.
A release from Churchill Downs stated that California-based equine surgeon Ryan Carpenter presented trainers and vets with information and tools about advanced interventions for certain injuries. Will Farmer, the medical director at Churchill Downs, said it was “a duty” to provide information from someone who has recently had similar problems in California.
He said in the release that long-term equine welfare decisions should come first. “It is imperative that all available, trained and informed options can be efficiently, confidently and thoroughly communicated to owners.”
Cox said during the meeting that he “listened a lot” and left it at that.
Saffie Joseph Jr. was suspended by Churchill Downs ahead of the Kentucky Derby following the shocking deaths of two of his horses within 71 hours of each other
“I think Churchill is trying to dot every i’s and cross the t’s,” the trainer said during an NTRA conference call. “A lot of things have happened since the meeting started and hopefully we’re coming to the end now.”
The Churchill Downs lockout measure affects the loss of horses by more than 12 lengths in five successive starts. They cannot race at Churchill Downs until they are approved by Farmer to return.
Seven horses died in the days leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6, including two on the undercard. Five horses have since died, including two 7-year-olds last weekend from similar leg injuries.
HISA’s veterinary teams reviewed information and analysis on Tuesday. Moore began a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs training and racing surfaces on Wednesday.