No identifiable relationship between deaths of 12 horses at Kentucky racetrack, investigation says

CNN  — 

An investigation into 12 horse fatalities at the famed horse racing track Churchill Downs found no causal relationship between the horse deaths and the track, but the report cited concerns about increased risk for some horses due to the frequency and cadence of their exercise schedules.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) launched the investigation in the spring of 2023 to find the causes of the breakdowns, prevent further injury, and determine whether conditions at the famed track in Louisville, Kentucky, contributed to the death of the 12 horses, the report said.

HISA describes the deaths at Churchill Downs, famous as the site of the Kentucky Derby, as “a sober reminder of the complexity and difficulty of the mission, and ultimately a moment of reckoning for the sport and HISA’s role within it.”

After the 12 deaths in the spring, HISA advised moving the remaining spring races to Ellis Park in Evansville, Indiana, so additional investigation could be conducted at Churchill Downs before competition resumed. At the time, the authority said it was “deeply concerned by the unusually high number” of horse deaths and called for an “emergency veterinary summit.”

HISA hired racetrack expert Dennis Moore to determine the conditions of the track. He examined the main dirt racetrack for several days and analyzed factors including the cushion depth, moisture content, surface grades, and material composition.

Moore found the relevant metrics remained consistent with prior years.

“The metrics did not indicate a correlation between the track surface and the equine catastrophic injuries sustained during the race meet,” according to Moore’s findings.

The report also reviewed the location of the injuries on the racetrack to discover any patterns, but the study did not yield “any insightful information,” and no discernible pattern.

Dr. Alina Vale also examined the results of the necropsies, a term often used for autopsies of animals, and determined there was no identifiable pattern in the reports that pointed toward a single causal factor of the fatalities. No prohibited substances were found in any of the 12 horses, Vale said in the report.

Another veterinary expert, Susan Stover of the University of California at Davis, found that all 12 horses had run more races in their career than the average racehorse.

Although the investigation found no causal relationship between the racetrack surface and the fatalities, “analysis of training histories did indicate an increased risk profile for some of the horses due to the frequency and cadence of their exercise and racing schedules.”

The investigation listed the causes of the death for the 12 horses. Four horses suffered fractures sustained in racing on the dirt track, two fractures sustained in racing on the turf track, two soft tissue injuries sustained in racing on the dirt track, two cases of exercise-associated sudden death, one traumatic paddock injury, and one fracture sustained in training on the dirt track.

The findings of this report were shared with Churchill Downs before the resumption of the racetrack this month, according to the investigation.

“HISA has shared recommendations on track surface testing and maintenance with Churchill Downs and offers additional procedural improvements for the tracking and reporting of injuries to better inform the development of additional rules.”

In a statement provided to CNN, Churchill Downs said they’ve implemented several of the recommendations from the HISA report.

“We appreciate the diligent investigation and analysis from the team at HISA,” Darren Rogers, senior director of communications at Churchill Downs, 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 track plans to resume racing on September 14.

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