No ‘smoking gun’ in thoroughbred deaths at Churchill Downs

The HISA report said there was “no causal relationship between the racetrack surface at Churchill Downs and the equine fatalities.”
Published: Sep. 12, 2023 at 5:18 PM EDT
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - An independent investigation into the spring spike of horse fatalities at Churchill Downs is inconclusive.

The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority could not pinpoint what caused the death of 12 horses at Churchill in one month.

“Horses dying is not OK,” Lisa Lazarus, HISA CEO said. “No one in the industry thinks it’s OK. And we’re going to do better as an industry, and I think we’ve made a very significant step forward today.”

Lazarus said the Churchill Downs investigation revealed that equine deaths are “multifactorial” and require a broader approach.

“There are so many different factors that coming together that can create a risk,” Lazarus said. “We have a really significant and real opportunity to tackle all of those factors and make real progress. If you look historically at kind of where we’ve been, and where we are now, we have been making progress repeatedly over the past few years.”

Churchill Downs responded to the HISA report released Tuesday.

“We appreciate the diligent investigation and analysis from the team at HISA,” the statement said. “We have already implemented several of the recommendations listed in the report, as well as additional internal key safety enhancements in time for the opening of our September Meet. Churchill Downs will continue to explore and invest in initiatives that support equine safety as our highest priority.”

The HISA report said there was “no causal relationship between the racetrack surface at Churchill Downs and the equine fatalities.”

Also said in the report was that there was “not a clear pattern in medical histories or injury profiles” of the horses. With the fall meet due to start on Thursday, there was no recommendation to stop racing at Churchill Downs.

HISA’s investigation however found an “increased risk profile for some of the horses due to the frequency and cadence of their exercise and racing schedules.”

“There was not one singular factor, a smoking gun, that caused the spate of fatalities,” Lazarus said. “But that doesn’t mean we didn’t learn a lot from the investigation because we did.”

Created by Congress to promote safety and provide oversight in horse racing, HISA will develop a new plan for studying more subtle potential causes of equine fatal injuries, with no promises that the problem will be fully solved.

”You know, I can’t make guarantees about percentages and numbers,” Lazarus said. “But I can tell you that our goal will always be to get to zero.”