Panel finds no single factor in horse deaths at Churchill Downs
Horse racing’s federally created oversight panel found no single cause of death among 12 horses at Churchill Downs this spring, but recommends further action and analysis to mitigate risk at the home of the Kentucky Derby, according to a report released Tuesday.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) report also suggested improved veterinary screening and the creation of a blue-ribbon committee to study synthetic surface options throughout the sport.
The report comes two days before the start of Churchill Downs’ fall September meet and follows the June 7 suspension of racing to conduct an internal safety review. The spring meet was shifted to Ellis Park in western Kentucky.
That move came in the aftermath of seven horse deaths in the days leading up to the 149th Derby on May 6 — including two on the undercard — and five more in the weeks afterward. HISA immediately convened an emergency summit and recommended pausing the meet after consulting industry experts, veterinarians and trainers.
Among the findings in HISA’s report:
— An independent review by track surface expert Dennis Moore found no correlation between Churchill Downs’ racetrack surface and the fatal injuries some horse sustained. Moore’s analysis determined no “major issue” in its makeup, condition or maintenance and said the metrics were consistent with previous years. Moore recommended screening the existing cushion and any new material using a slot desk screen.
— There were no discernible patterns in the locations where horses died or were injured. The injuries occurred at several locations on the dirt and turf surfaces.
— Necropsies revealed no single cause or identifiable pattern of the horses, and none tested positive for banned substances.
HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a release that the organization is making “ambitious recommendations” to “ensure everyone involved in the sport acts, first and foremost, in the best interest of the horse. Racing can and must do better.”
The historic track announced in July that industry experts found no issues with the racing surfaces but it implemented its own improvements, including new track surface maintenance equipment and additional monitoring and equine care. A release added that additional resources would go to track veterinarians for specialized horse care to assist in pre-race inspections and entry screening.
Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in July that racing would resume this fall with no changes and called the deaths “a series of unfortunate circumstances” in an earnings call with CDI investors.