June 1, 2023 — Over the past several days, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) in Lexington, Kentucky, has undertaken multiple measures to better understand the circumstances surrounding the recent spate of equine fatalities at Churchill Downs. The national organization seeks to work with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) and Churchill Downs to mitigate additional risk to the horses and riders competing at Churchill Downs moving forward.
Emergency summit called
As of June 1, there had been 12 horse deaths at the famed Louisville, Kentucky racetrack since March 30, according to Churchill Downs Incorporated. On Tuesday, May 30, HISA convened a Veterinary Summit with its counterparts at Churchill Downs and the KHRC to thoroughly review all veterinary information available and conduct additional analyses.
Those discussions continued through May 31 with ongoing engagement between the veterinary
teams. Specifically, the Summit included robust discussion of three different points of intervention with
regard to racing injuries: 1) injury management, 2) preventing at-risk horses from racing via veterinary
scrutiny, and 3) preventing at-risk horses from entering.
Additional safety measures
The dialogue was productive, and conclusions from the Summit have been shared directly with key
stakeholders to inform next steps. While no obvious or specific pattern emerged, HISA said it welcomes
Churchill Downs’ efforts announced on June 1 to minimize risk of equine fatalities and is
implementing the following additional measures:
- Effective with Saturday’s entries, HISA’s Director of Equine Safety and Welfare will conduct an
additional layer of post-entry screening. HISA’s rule 2142 (Assessment of Racing Soundness)
requires post-entry screenings of previous pre-Race inspection findings of entered Horses to
identify Horses that may be at increased risk for injury. The review includes past performances,
lay-ups (more than 60 days without a timed workout or race), last 30 days medical history,
previous injury and lameness diagnostics, intra-articular corticosteroid injections, previous
surgery and other individual Horse risk factors.
- HISA has directed the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU) to collect blood and hair
samples for all fatalities involving Covered Horses. The results from such collections will be used
to facilitate investigations into the cause of such fatalities. The data collected by HIWU in
connection with Covered Horse fatalities will also be used to track relevant statistics and trends
in connection with fatalities.
- HISA has appointed Dr. Alina Vale, an equine forensics specialist, to conduct an additional
thorough review of all necropsies performed on Covered Horses. Dr. Vale has conducted several
postmortem reviews as an official veterinarian for the California Horse Racing Board, including
participating in the review following a spate of equine fatalities at Santa Anita in 2019.
Additionally, Dennis Moore began his analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces
yesterday. That review is ongoing; Moore’s conclusions will be shared publicly once his review is
HISA continues to urgently seek additional answers to more clearly identify the causes of these recent fatalities as well as tangible interventions to prevent them in the future. All options remain on the table, and HISA will continue to vigilantly monitor events at Churchill Downs moving forward.
About the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority
When the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was signed into federal law, it charged the Horseracing
Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with drafting and enforcing uniform safety and integrity rules in
Thoroughbred racing in the U.S. Overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), HISA is implementing, for the first time, a national, uniform set of rules applicable to every Thoroughbred racing participant and racetrack facility.
HISA is comprised of two programs: the Racetrack Safety Program, which went
into effect on July 1, 2022, and the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program, which went
into effect on May 22, 2023. The Racetrack Safety Program includes operational safety rules and national racetrack accreditation standards that seek to enhance equine welfare and minimize equine and jockey injury. The Program expands veterinary oversight, imposes surface maintenance and testing requirements, enhances jockey safety, regulates riding crop use and implements voided claim rules, among other important measures.
The ADMC Program includes a centralized testing and results management process and applies uniform
penalties for violations efficiently and consistently across the United States. These rules and
enforcement mechanisms are administered by an independent agency, the Horseracing Integrity and
Welfare Unit (HIWU), established by Drug Free Sport International (DFS). HIWU oversees testing,
educates stakeholders on the Program, accredits laboratories, investigates potential ADMC violations
and prosecutes any such violations.