Churchill Downs suspends all racing operations after ‘unusual’ number of horse injuries, 12 deaths

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Churchill Downs announced Friday it will suspend all racing operations after an “unusual” number of horse injuries and 12 deaths occurred at the Louisville, Kentucky track since April 27. The suspension will run from June 7 to July 3, so Churchill Downs will move the rest of its Spring Meet to Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky. 

After a series of concurrent investigations by Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, “no single factor has been identified as a potential cause and no discernable pattern has been detected to link the fatalities,” according to a statement from the track. The racetrack’s surface has also been deemed “consistent with prior measurements” from previous years and thus “has not raised concerns.” 

Still, Churchill Downs is suspending operations to review its safety and surface protocols to identify the concerning trend’s cause.

“The team at Churchill Downs takes great pride in our commitment to safety and strives to set the highest standard in racing, consistently going above and beyond the regulations and policies that are required,” Churchill Downs Incorporated CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement. “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.” 


A day before Churchill Downs announced it would suspend racing operations, the famed track and HISA introduced a series of new safety measures. Those changes include the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit collecting blood and hair samples for all fatalities involving covered horses and Churchill Downs restricting horses to four starts over a rolling eight-week period. Churchill Downs also added “ineligibility standards for poor performance,” so horses that lose a race by more than 12 lengths in five consecutive starts will be barred from competing again until approved by the equine medical director.

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