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Churchill Downs moves remaining live racing dates to Ellis Park in wake of 12 equine deaths at the track

Churchill Downs Incorporated has suspended racing operations at its Louisville racetrack beginning June 7 through the remainder of the Spring Meet, scheduled to run to July 3.

Live racing at Churchill Downs was held as scheduled this weekend on Saturday and Sunday, but the remainder of the race meet will be relocated to Ellis Park Racing & Gaming in Henderson, beginning on Saturday, June 10.

Churchill Downs Racetrack has seen an unusual number of horse injuries over the previous month resulting in 12 equine fatalities. 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 discernable pattern has been detected to link the fatalities.

Churchill Downs racing dates moved to Ellis Park, following 12 horse deaths at Louisville track.

Diagnostics testing of the racetrack by experts have not raised concerns and the experts have concluded that the surface is consistent with prior measurements from Churchill Downs in past years.

Even though the investigations and expert reports have indicated no surface issues, Churchill Downs executives decided, in an abundance of caution, and in alignment with a recommendation from HISA, to relocate the meet in order to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all safety and surface protocols and integrity measures in collaboration and consultation with nationwide 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,” said Bill Carstanjen, CEO of CDI. “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.

“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. 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.”

Ellis Park traditionally hosts a summer race meet in Kentucky scheduled from July 7 to August 27, 2023. New safety initiatives announced by Churchill Downs last week will remain in effect for the remainder of this meet at Ellis Park. Those include limiting horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period, pausing incentives, limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

According to news reports, the move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington and at the Louisville track.

The KHRC granted HISA oversight of racetrack safety.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, issued a statement questioning the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” his statement said. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

Investigations into the causes of the deaths are continuing.

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