No clear reason for ‘cluster’ of 2018 horse deaths at Churchill Downs

The Breeders' Cup is a World Championship, but the truth is the home court belongs to North...
The Breeders' Cup is a World Championship, but the truth is the home court belongs to North America. And most of the stars warming up at Churchill Downs know this place well.
Updated: Mar. 12, 2019 at 7:54 PM EDT
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In September, four different thoroughbreds died in four different races during a four day stretch at Churchill Downs.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - California’s Santa Anita track is open again for limited training but not racing.

Officials shut down operations last week after 21 horses suffered fatal injuries in less than 3 months.

The investigation is ongoing, but so far a clear cause has not emerged.

The case appears to be headed toward the same conclusion reached at a recent investigation at Churchill Downs.

In September, four horses suffered fatal injuries in four different races, over four consecutive days.

The investigation took months, but now no one can say why so many horses died in such a short period of time.

“These injuries, when they occur are multi-factoral,” Dr. Mary Scollay, Equine Medical Director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said. “You’re never going to find one thing and say ‘a-ha that’s it.’”

Dr. Scollay described a methodical search for clues.

All four horses suffered what is called a Suspensory Apparatus Failure, a fracturing of bones or rupturing of soft tissue in the lower leg.

It is horse racing’s most common fatal injury.

Scrutiny of medical records, pre-race exams, high speed exercise histories, postmortem exams and drug tests turned up nothing unusual.

There were also interviews with jockeys, vets and trainers.

“I don't know that any of them missed an opportunity to make a decision that would have changed an outcome,” Scollay said.

All horses were injured in the final turn, between the 3/8ths and 1/8th mile markers, racing's most common place for injuries.

An inspection of the Churchill Downs track also revealed nothing unusual.

“I haven’t found the answer yet in this cluster of injuries, what could have been done either on an individual horse basis, or on a more global perspective,” Scollay said. “But I am far from done in trying to understand how we can make a difference to keep these horses safer.”

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