Churchill Downs Adds Safety Measures After Spike In Horse Deaths

Written By Steve Schult on June 2, 2023
Churchill Downs safety standards

The home of the Kentucky Derby is adding new safety initiatives to help protect its horses in the future.

Churchill Downs, the most famous Kentucky horse racing venue, announced Thursday it was adding three new measures.

There was a recent surge in horse deaths at the Louisville Track, leading up to the Kentucky Derby. As a result, representatives of the track had an emergency meeting with the Horserace Integrity and Safety Authority.

Churchill Downs targets its own incentive structure

After meeting with HISA, Churchill Downs made changes that altered the incentive structure for horses, owners and trainers.

These are the new safety measures:

  • A pause on trainer start bonuses and purse payout allocations to every race participant
  • New ineligibility standards for poor performances
  • Only four starts allowed per horse during a rolling eight-week period

All of these measures reduce or remove any reason for a trainer to allow the horse to race with a health concern.

Previously, the team was paid if the horse raced. Now, the horse must finish in the top five spots for the team to earn part of the purse. Therefore, the track removed the financial incentive for a trainer to run even a slightly compromised horse.

Additionally, a horse is ineligible to race until cleared by a medical professional if it loses by 12 lengths in five consecutive starts.

A horse struggling to keep up with the field this often is presumably more likely to have a health problem than one keeping up with the pack.

Regulators add moves of their own

Those three additions were made by the track itself. But HISA and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will implement changes as well.

After reviewing information regarding the recent deaths with veterinary teams, regulators are adding two more changes.

They will have a post-entry screening of pre-race inspection findings. This should help identify horses who are at a greater risk of injury.

Secondly, they are having an independent track superintendent review Churchill Downs’ surface.

“HISA continues to urgently seek additional answers to more clearly identify the causes of these recent fatalities as well as tangible interventions to prevent them in the future,” HISA said in a statement. “All options remain on the table, and HISA will continue to vigilantly monitor events at Churchill Downs moving forward.”

Since March 30, Churchill Downs reported 30 horse deaths at the track. Officials called this a “highly unusual statistic.”

Churchill Downs races temporarily moved to Ellis Park

Churchill Downs announced Friday afternoon that while these changes are being implemented, they would be moving their next slate of races to Ellis Park. Ellis Park is also owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

The races scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday will still be held in Louisville. However, the remaining races will be moved to the Henderson track. The races will be held at Ellis Park until the end of the current meet is over on July 3.

Photo by AP / Julio Cortez
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Steve Schult

The Managing Editor of PlayKentucky, Steve Schult is a veteran of the gambling industry with more than a decade of experience covering the space. After earning his journalism degree from Marist College, the New York native began covering high-stakes poker tournaments and the U.S. gambling industry for various outlets. Following stints as a writer for Card Player Media, Bluff Magazine and the World Series of Poker, Schult joined Catena Media and has managed coverage for a handful of states.

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