Churchill Downs moves race meet to Ellis Park in wake of 12 horse deaths
In an unprecedented move, Churchill Downs will move its current spring/summer meeting to Ellis Park in the wake of 12 horse deaths since April 27. The legendary track made the announcement Friday afternoon after agreeing with a recommendation from the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) that conducting a top-to-bottom review of all safety protocols should be the first priority. Racing will continue at Churchill Downs this weekend.
The move to sister property Ellis Park, some 134 miles west of Louisville in Henderson, Ky., will happen on Saturday of next week. The same races that were originally scheduled will be run. The Churchill Downs meeting was scheduled to go until July 3, all of which will now be run at Ellis Park, including the Stephen Foster Handicap on July 1.
News of the move was first reported by horseracingnation.com.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has reached out to the California Horse Racing Board for help in the spike of recent horse deaths at Churchill Downs.
Churchill Downs has been the focus of horse fatalities since the Kentucky Derby when in the week-and-a-half before the race nine horses died and five more were scratched mostly because of potential health issues. Since then, three more have died.
HISA called emergency veterinarian meetings earlier this week and brought in Dennis Moore, the longtime Southern California track superintendent, to inspect the Churchill Downs track.
Churchill also instituted a few measures to try to mitigate the possibility of deaths. It cut the purse structure so that only the top five runners in a race would earn money, under the idea that marginal horses would not be entered. It also restricted horses to no more than four races in eight weeks, a mostly symbolic move as so few horses try and accomplish that, especially at Churchill Downs.
And, it restricted horses that have lost five consecutive races by at least 12 lengths to not running unless prior permission has been obtained from the equine medical director. This is likely in direct response to the death of Kimberley Dream, who lost her last five races by 19, 32 ½, 14 ½, 31 and 33 lengths.
Dr. Jeff Blea, equine medical director of the California Horse Racing Bard, did not address the situation with this horse specifically, but told The Times that horses with those past performances would “be a significant concern, [and] raise a red flag.”
Bob Baffert wins the Hollywood Gold Cup for a record ninth time with Defunded, but a spike in horse racing deaths remains a problem for the sport.
“The team at Churchill Downs takes great pride in our commitment to safety and strives to set the highest standard in racing, consistently going above and beyond the regulations and policies that are required,” said Bill Carstanjen, the chief executive of Churchill Downs, in a news release. “What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable. Despite our best efforts to identify a cause for the recent horse injuries, and though no issues have been linked to our racing surfaces or environment at Churchill Downs, we need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”
Churchill Downs is one of the few racetracks that refuses to allow its fatality totals to be made public through the Equine Injury Database, a flawed accounting system that only counts racing, not training or other, deaths.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission also does not provide a website that allows the public to track horse fatalities, such as California and New York.
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