Churchill Downs testing track after nine horse deaths

Churchill Downs confirmed to WAVE news that the Director of AG Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky, Dr. Mick Peterson, was at the track Tuesday to “ru
Published: May. 24, 2023 at 11:26 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Churchill Downs confirmed to WAVE news that the Director of AG Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky, Doctor Mick Peterson, was at the track Tuesday to “run additional diagnostics” on it.

”What we’re doing is we’re retesting because we want to make absolutely sure there’s nothing that’s unusual about the track right now,” Peterson said.

This comes after nine horses have died at the track since a week before the Kentucky Derby.

About a month before the Derby, Peterson was at the downs, running tests on the track.

He compared it to a pre-flight check up. He was back on Tuesday to run more tests to what he said was out of an abundance of caution.

“We’re going through and doing the comparison back for four years which we need to know,” Peterson said.

The nine horses are Wild On Ice, Take Charge Briana, Code of Kings, Parents Pride, Chasing Artie, Chloe’s Dream, Freezing Point, Swanson Lake, and Rio Moon.

All the incidents happened between April 27th and May 14th. Some happened on turf, others on the main track.

“There have been the current concerns with these catastrophic injuries,” Peterson said.

Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers sent this statement to WAVE:

“We commissioned Dr. Mick Peterson, the director of the Ag Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky’s department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering who is widely considered the world’s foremost racing surfaces researcher, to perform additional diagnostics on our main track.

He and his team were onsite last month in advance of Derby Week and we invited him back on Tuesday. The results of engineering analyses and tests in April were consistent with previous testing. We’re awaiting the results and analysis of his Tuesday visit.

Injuries are multifaceted, and so far, there has been no discernable pattern detected in the recent injuries sustained.”

“This retest, we’re going back and comparing it to not just to our pre-meet inspection, we’re also comparing it to last year and the last three years to make sure that there’s nothing that’s changed over time,” Peterson said.

They use a machine that mimics the leg of a thoroughbred at a gallop to test the surface.

They also take samples from seven locations, use ground penetrating radar, and check if the crossfall and the super elevations in the turns is consistent.

Peterson said so far, they haven’t seen anything wrong with the track.

“Churchill Downs has been a leader in this since the very beginning. We’ve been working with them since 2008 in these measurements on a regular basis,” Peterson said.

He said they do the tests to try and make every track as consistent as possible for the horses.

As for identifying what’s actually dangerous, Peterson said they don’t know. However, what they do know, that consistency is key.

“You need to know if your horse is fit and be able to recognize if the horse is off on a particular day,” Peterson said. “And so by having a track that’s consistent from day, the trainer has additional information and can make better decisions.”