Equine deaths stop in ‘tracks’ Churchill Downs


Churchill Downs to suspend race operations Image: Kentucky Derby, Steve Ryan, CC BY-SA 2.0

The owner of Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky (US), the racetrack that hosts the Kentucky Derby, is set to temporarily suspend all racing operations at its legendary namesake track to review protocols in the wake of a series of horse deaths, the company announced on June 2nd.

‘CNN’ stated that according to Churchill Downs Incorporated, all racing operations at the Louisville racetrack will be suspended from June 7th through the remainder of the Spring Meet, which was scheduled to run to July 3rd.

The 1,65,000-capacity Churchill Downs is a horse racing complex located on Central Avenue in South Louisville, Kentucky, United States, famed for hosting the annual Kentucky Derby. It officially opened in 1875 and was named for Samuel Churchill, whose family was prominent in Kentucky for many years.

The Kentucky Derby is an American Grade I stakes race run at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, US. The race is run by three-year-old Thoroughbreds at a distance of one and a quarter miles, the first time horses in the field race that distance. Colts and geldings carry 126 pounds and fillies 121 pounds.

Louisville (US)-based the Churchill Downs Incorporated is the parent company of Churchill Downs. The company has evolved from one racetrack in Louisville, Kentucky, to a multi American-Statewide, publicly-traded company with racetracks, casinos and an online wagering company among its portfolio of businesses.

‘CNN’ further stated that the company said that an expert review concluded that the racetrack’s surface is consistent with that of past years and that there is no clear factor linking the deaths yet.

A news release sent out by the company read, “The Churchill Downs Racetrack has seen an unusual number of horse injuries over the previous month resulting in 12 equine fatalities. Following a thorough internal review and concurrent investigations conducted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (‘KHRC’) and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (‘HISA’), no single factor has been identified as a potential cause and no discernible pattern has been detected to link the fatalities.”

Lexington (US)-based the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is the State agency responsible for regulating horse racing in the US State of Kentucky. The agency was established in 1906, making it the oldest State racing commission in the United States.

Lexington (US)-based the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) was created to implement, for the first time, a national, uniform set of integrity and safety rules that are applied consistently to every Thoroughbred racing participant and racetrack facility.

The rules and regulations drafted by HISA’s Racetrack Safety and Anti-Doping and Medication Control Standing Committees are designed to enhance the safety and wellbeing of both the horse and the rider while ensuring the integrity of the sport for the benefit of the industry, fans and bettors. A safer, fairer sport will also be a more popular sport for generations to come.

The Churchill Downs and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority chose to conduct the intensive review in collaboration with the national experts.

Commented Bill Carstanjen, head honcho of Churchill Downs Incorporated, “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. What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable. Despite our best efforts to identify a cause for the recent horse injuries, and though no issues have been linked to our racing surfaces or environment at the Churchill Downs, we need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

The rest of the Spring Meet will take place at the nearby Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky, starting June 10th. The Ellis Park is also owned and operated by the Churchill Downs Incorporated.

The 6,000-capacity Ellis Park is a thoroughbred racetrack near Henderson, Kentucky (US), just South of Evansville, Indiana.

Continued Carstanjen, “In addition to our commitment to providing the safest racing environment for our participants, we have an immense responsibility as the economic engine of the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky which provides jobs and income for thousands of families every day. By relocating the remainder of the meet to Ellis Park, we are able to maintain this industry ecosystem with only minor disruption. We are grateful to the Kentucky horsemen for their support, resiliency and continued partnership as we collectively work to find answers during this time.”

On June 1st, Churchill Downs announced new safety initiatives, including an increase in health screenings for racehorses and restricting horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period.

The racetrack will also establish ineligibility standards for horses that finish 12 or more lengths back in five consecutive races, Churchill Down announced.

A total of 12 race horses have died at the racetrack since March 30th, many of them euthanized after suffering injuries while racing.

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