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Churchill Downs Tightens Race Rules To Stem Horse Injuries

Written By Derek Helling on June 2, 2023 - Last Updated on January 23, 2024
horses with jockeys take part in race as churchill downs announces new safety standards

The amount of scrutiny for horse racing tracks in the United States could not be much higher than it currently is. Amid that state, perhaps the most high-profile track in the country has added more rules governing its races.

Churchill Downs announced new safety measures on Thursday. The new standards involve the federal agency responsible for regulating horse racing as other governmental forces have taken interest. Ultimately, the results on the track will decide whether these changes are sufficient.

Churchill Downs, HISA announce new measures

Earlier this week, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) met with representatives at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. Members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission also took part in the meetings along with veterinary and track experts.

The purpose of the meeting, according to a release from HISA, was “to better understand the circumstances surrounding the recent spate of equine fatalities at Churchill Downs.” As a result of those discussions, Churchill Downs and HISA are introducing three new measures.

  1. HISA staff will conduct additional post-entry screenings of horses that participate in races at Churchill Downs
  2. HISA staff will collect blood and hair samples from all horses that require euthanasia during or after racing
  3. Dr. Alina Vale will conduct a review of horse necropsies for the HISA

In addition, renowned track expert Dennis Moore is currently performing a safety assessment of Churchill Downs’ tracks. Churchill Downs plans to share the results of Moore’s assessment when he finishes. The Associated Press reports that Churchill Downs is taking other measures as well.

  • Limiting horses to four starts at the track within eight weeks
  • Pausing incentives like trainer start bonuses
  • Limiting payouts to the top five finishers of each race
  • Making horses who lose by 12 lengths or more in five consecutive starts ineligible for racing until Medical Director Will Farmer performs an evaluation

The parties hope these changes will help prevent future horse fatalities. Should that not prove to be the case, more extreme measures could be ahead.

New rules come amid Congressional inquiry

In May, 16 members of Congress sent a letter to HISA inquiring about what the agency was doing to try to cut down on the number of equine fatalities. This move by HISA regarding Churchill Downs seems to be a direct response.

One of the questions the letter posed involved HISA’s investigation of fatalities at Churchill Downs specifically. Thus, HISA can point toward these measures in response to that inquiry. However, the mention of these actions could be insufficient to belay more oversight if those fatalities persist.

The “spate of equine fatalities at Churchill Downs” that HISA referred to definitely have been the most high-profile. They are not isolated incidents, though. Other tracks, including the Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland, have also seen horse deaths recently.

Should there be more at Churchill Downs, pressure could be on HISA to take even more drastic steps. If it feels it is warranted, HISA technically has the authority to suspend racing at tracks like Churchill Downs. That would probably be a last resort.

Should these measures fail to affect change, though, regulators might be hurling toward last resorts.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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