Churchill Downs, Keeneland embark on joint safety initiative

Churchill Downs, Keeneland embark on joint safety initiative

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Churchill Downs has teamed up with Keeneland Racetrack to address safety issues that have haunted the horse racing industry.

The two racetracks are trying to make race day safer for thoroughbreds at their tracks amid scrutiny of the industry following several on-track deaths across the country.

“This is the first time where we could come out with another racetrack and bring forth some very meaningful changes to the way our horses are examined on the racetrack to help ensure their safety,” Churchill Downs Inc. Equine Medical Director Dr. William Farmer told WAVE 3 News. “It’s just another layer of safety that we’re rolling out.”

A change the two tracks are making is banning the race-day use of Lasix in all 2-year-old races. Another change includes both tracks having mandatory veterinary inspections before workouts and races.

“These veterinarians are very involved already in these horses that are on the backside in the care that they give on a normal basis,”. Farmer said, “but this is specifically targeting both high-speed work, so when they come to work out, and as well as the races.”

He said Kentucky racetracks have constantly been adding new precautions. This is yet another.

"In Kentucky, the horses are already examined the morning of race day by the Kentucky Horseracing Commission,” Farmer explained, “but this is just an additional layer of security."

Tracks across the country like Santa Anita have been scrutinized for their on-track deaths. Farmer said it's important to look at changes they've made, too.

“[Our safety plan] varies just a little bit from how they do it, just based on where we are, how our horsemen function, how their horsemen function,” he said, “but some of the stuff they’ve already instituted. There are a lot of different safety aspects that we want to incorporate into racing, and as a racetrack operator, we have the fortunate ability to be able to enact some of those. It’s really important that we try to strive toward consistency.”

Some local animal rights groups have praised the move by Churchill and Keeneland but want other tracks to get on board as well.

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