Horse fatalities at Churchill Downs 8 times worse than similar period

Horse fatalities at Churchill Downs 8 times worse than similar period
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 4:12 PM EDT|Updated: May. 15, 2023 at 4:15 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - The numbers are as baffling as they are alarming. Eight dead horses at Churchill Downs so early in the season is unheard of in recent years.

“Eight deaths in this short, punctuated period is a serious problem,” Wayne Pacelle, Animal Wellness Action president said.

By the time the starting bell rang in the 149th Kentucky Derby, seven horses had already died at Churchill Downs’ spring meet. An eighth horse fatality on Sunday brought even more urgency to demands for change.

“They really need to bear down and figure out what happened,” Pacelle said, “with each of these horses and are the remedial actions the track leadership can take to prevent a recurrence of these problems.”

Questions of how eight horses could die at Churchill Downs before May 15 ripple throughout horseracing. In the same time period, only one horse died at Churchill Downs in the three previous years combined. The unexplained spike provokes unflattering comparisons to a 2019 spate of fatalities at Santa Anita when 37 horses died in a year.

“Just because it has a great reputation in the field, and hosts the marquee race in the United States,” Pacelle said, “doesn’t mean that it’s immune to some of the larger dynamics that are contributing to on track deaths of horses.”

Investigations by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Horse Racing Safety Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) search for answers from the bluegrass to tracks across the country.

The Churchill fatalities is the first big challenge for HISA. Created by Congress to enforce uniform rules throughout racing, HISA will review medical and racing records of the individual horses, track conditions and the history of fatalities at Churchill Downs.