The owner of Churchill Downs, the racetrack that hosts the Kentucky Derby, is set to temporarily suspend all racing operations at its legendary namesake track to review protocols in the wake of a series of horse deaths, the company announced Friday.
According to Churchill Downs Incorporated, all racing operations at the Louisville racetrack will be suspended from June 7 through the remainder of the Spring Meet, which was scheduled to run to July 3.
The company said that an expert review concluded that the racetrack’s surface is consistent with that of past years and that there is no clear factor linking the deaths yet.
“Churchill Downs Racetrack has seen an unusual number of horse injuries over the previous month resulting in 12 equine fatalities,” the company said in a news release. “Following a thorough internal review and concurrent investigations conducted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (‘KHRC’) and Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (‘HISA’), no single factor has been identified as a potential cause and no discernible pattern has been detected to link the fatalities.”
Churchill Downs and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority chose to conduct the intensive review in collaboration with national experts.
“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,” Bill Carstanjen, CEO of Churchill Downs Incorporated, said in the 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.”
The rest of the Spring Meet will take place at nearby Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky, starting June 10, the release said. Ellis Park is also owned and operated by Churchill Downs Incorporated.
“In addition to our commitment to providing the safest racing environment for our participants, we have an immense responsibility as the economic engine of the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky which provides jobs and income for thousands of families every day,” Carstanjen continued. “By relocating the remainder of the meet to Ellis Park, we are able to maintain this industry ecosystem with only minor disruption. We are grateful to the Kentucky horsemen for their support, resiliency and continued partnership as we collectively work to find answers during this time.”
On Thursday, Churchill Downs announced new safety initiatives, including an increase in health screenings for racehorses and restricting horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period. The racetrack will also establish ineligibility standards for horses that finish 12 or more lengths back in five consecutive races, Churchill Down announced.
A total of 12 race horses have died at the racetrack since March 30, many of them euthanized after suffering injuries while racing.