Kentucky Derby Races Moved As Investigation Into Horses’ Deaths Intensifies
A different track will be used for the Kentucky Derby moving forward, as an investigation takes place in Churchill Downs, the home of the said Derby.
Last Friday, Churchill Downs issued a statement stating federal and state regulators will continue to investigate the deaths of 12 thoroughbreds in recent weeks.
Over the weekend, races still took place at Churchill but will move to Ellis Park, another Churchill Downs-owned racetrack in Henderson, Kentucky, for the upcoming weeks.
Two horse deaths on May 6 started the streak of deaths during the undercard of the Kentucky Derby.
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Experts brought in by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority so far have not found a conclusive pattern.
“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” said Bill Carstanjen, the chief executive of Churchill Downs.
Despite having “no issues linked with the racing surfaces,” the company still relocated the races, even though dirt and grass surfaces appear consistent with previous measurements and have not raised any concerns.
Carstanjen further remarked, “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.”
Lisa Lazarus, the chief executive of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, said in a statement that the authority recommended to Churchill that it cease racing.
There are plenty of opinions on Churchill’s plans to move the race, as some trainers also criticized other recent precautions added.
Rick Hiles, the president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, issued a statement in response:
“Horsemen question the purpose of this unprecedented step, especially without conclusive evidence that there is a problem with the racetrack at Churchill Downs. We all want to find solutions that will improve the safety of 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.”
On Wednesday, a longtime California track superintendent Dennis Moore, looked at the Churchill race track surfaces and offered “an independent analysis of the dirt and turf courses’ suitability” for being used in horse racing.
On Thursday, rules were set at Churchill Downs to discourage trainers from running unsound horses, as these will also be enacted at Ellis Park moving forward. Money incentives are now also only for “the top five finishers” and “will no longer offer incentives to trainers who start horses in its races or pay purse money for first place through last place,” according to a statement from the company.
The statement stated further, “Horses also will be allowed only four starts during a rolling eight-week period and horses that are beaten by more than 12 lengths in five consecutive starts will be ineligible to race until the equine medical director approves their return to racing.”
These “bonus policies” were intended to provide “fuller fields for the betting public,” as these changes in Churchill could make an impact on the horsemen’s decision-making.
The director of equine safety and welfare for the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, met with Churchill Downs veterinarians and vets from the state of Kentucky last week to “review necropsies, toxicology reports, and veterinarians’ and trainers’ notes on the deaths.”
These reviews are currently “ongoing” and the causes of death for the Churchill horses are still unknown.
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