Churchill Downs, HISA issue statements on racehorse fatalities

After the recent deaths of seven Thoroughbred racehorses at Churchill Downs, horsemen, officials and the public are left with more questions than answers. All of the fatalities occurred between opening night of Kentucky Derby week and May 6, the day of the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby (won by Mage).

After the recent deaths of seven Thoroughbred racehorses at Churchill Downs, horsemen, officials and the public are left with more questions than answers. The fatalities occurred in the 10 days leading up to the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6.

In the latest incidents, two horses sustained severe injuries during the Derby day race card at this iconic Louisville, Kentucky racetrack. According to a statement from Churchill Down officials, “Chloe’s Dream suffered a right knee fracture in Race 2 at the top of the first turn. Freezing Point incurred a left front biaxial sesamoid fracture in Race 8 midway down the backstretch.

“In the interest of pursuing the most humane treatment for each horse, the owner, trainer and private veterinarian, in consultation with a board-certified equine surgeon, made the difficult decision to euthanize. We express our most sincere condolences to those connections who cared for and loved Chloe’s Dream and Freezing Point. 

‘A sobering reminder’

“It is with the utmost sadness that we report these tragic fatal injuries,” the track’s statement continues. “Churchill Downs is unwavering in our commitment to the health and well-being of equine safety. The equine fatalities leading to this year’s Kentucky Derby are a sobering reminder of the urgent need to mobilize our industry in order to explore every avenue possible and effectively minimize any avoidable risk in the sport. 

“Despite our determination to continually improve upon the highest industry standards, there is more to be done and we will rigorously work to understand what caused these incidents and build upon our existing data, programs and practices to better understand what has been incredibly difficult for us to witness and accept this week. 

No discernible pattern

“While each incident reported has been unique, it is important to note that there has been no discernible pattern detected in the injuries sustained,” track officials maintain. “Our track surfaces are closely monitored by industry experts to ensure their integrity. Each horse that participates in racing at Churchill Downs must undergo multiple, comprehensive veterinarian exams and observations to ensure their fitness to race.

Churchill Downs is home to the annual “Run for the Roses,” the Kentucky Derby
[Getty image]

“From here, we will fully and actively work with the Kentucky Horseracing Commission (KHRC) and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) to thoroughly investigate each incident to determine, to the degree possible, any underlying health or environmental causes and apply those learnings to continue to improve the safety of this sport. Together, we all want what is best for the horses.”

The statement goes on to say: “While we believe the incidents leading to this year’s Derby are anomalies, they are unacceptable and we remain steadfast in our commitment to safety and integrity.”

Earlier in the week, Churchill Downs had announced the indefinite suspension of trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. after the “highly unusual sudden deaths” of two horses trained by him at Churchill Downs. Again, however, officials have yet to establish a common thread between all of the equine fatalities. At press time, they were reportedly still awaiting necropsies on all the affected animals.

HISA commitment

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority also released a statement on May 6 regarding this tragic streak at one of America’s most famous racetracks:

“HISA mourns the losses of Chloe’s Dream and Freezing Point alongside their connections and the entire racing community. HISA’s mission is to vigorously protect the safety of our horses and riders. The Racetrack Safety Program has been in effect since July 2022 and requires thorough pre-race veterinary inspections to ensure every horse is fit to race and holds every track to rigorous safety and maintenance standards.

“Churchill Downs has been cooperating with HISA since its inception and is in full compliance with our rules and processes,” HISA officials maintain. “On the morning of each race, every horse undergoes a hands-on inspection and is observed in motion outside their stall. A team of Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) regulatory veterinarians also views each horse in the paddock, during the post parade and as they approach and load into the starting gate.  If a horse is deemed unfit to race by the regulatory veterinarians, it will be scratched, as was the case in a number of circumstances this week. Both Chloe’s Dream and Freezing Point passed all inspections without incident.

Surface declared safe

“Additionally, Churchill Downs retained Mick Peterson, Director of the Racetrack Safety Program at the University of Kentucky and the preeminent racetrack surface expert, to ensure safe and consistent conditions across racing and training surfaces,” the HISA statement continues. “Peterson was previously retained by HISA as part of its national accreditation process, and we are confident in his ability to identify potential issues at play. Dr. Peterson has assured both HISA and Churchill Downs that the racing surface is safe.

“HISA is in constant communication with the KHRC as it leads investigations into the recent fatalities, and has already initiated its own, fully independent, investigation. HISA will share more details as they are available.”

The horses who died during the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby were: Chloe’s Dream; Freezing Point; Parents Pride; Chasing Artie; Wild on Ice; Take Charge Briana; and Code of Kings.

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