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Churchill Downs Moves Rest Of Meet To Ellis Park In Wake Of Horse Deaths

Written By Katarina Vojvodic on June 5, 2023
Kentucky Derby entrant works out at Churchill Downs which has suspended horse racing after deaths

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) will suspend its racing operations beginning June 7 and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park. The home of the Kentucky Derby will conduct a review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse deaths in May.

Although expert testing raised no concerns, the officials decided to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.” Racing continued at Churchill Downs through Sunday before moving to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky.

Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run until Aug. 27. It will now expand with Friday’s announcement. Ellis Park will resume horse racing on June 10.

As recommended by HISA, Churchill Downs introduced new measures

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) and Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) conducted a thorough internal review and concurrent investigations.

No factors have been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a news release.

As a result, Churchill Downs and HISA introduced three new measures, in collaboration and consultation with nationwide experts:

  1. HISA staff will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury.
  2. HISA’s Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.
  3. Dr. Alina Vale will perform a review of horse necropsies for the HISA

Churchill Downs said it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period. And impose ineligibility standards for poor performers.

The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses. It will limit purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Moreover, the track will make horses who lose by at least 12 lengths in five consecutive starts ineligible for racing. At least until Medical Director Will Farmer makes an evaluation.

Churchill Downs will take more time to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review

Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI, said via the company’s news release last week:

“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 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.”

Carstanjen continued: “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.”

Kentucky Horsemen’s Association president questions the relocation

According to the Associated Press article, Rick Hiles questioned the move, mainly because there was no evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface was the problem.

Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, said:

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses. However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns. Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

Photo by Charlie Riedel / AP Photo
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Katarina Vojvodic

Katarina Vojvodic is a lead writer for PlayUSA who lives in Toronto. Vojvodic provides coverage of the US gambling industry with a focus on US online casinos. Previously, she covered Ontario’s online gambling industry for PlayCanada.com. Vojvodic holds a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Belgrade. Outside working hours, she can be found near the water with her husband and their two kids.

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