Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority finds no single factor in equine fatalities at Churchill Downs

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) released a report on Tuesday, saying its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 12 equine fatalities that took place at Churchill Downs Racetrack in April and May 2023, found no single factor led to the deaths.

HISA’s investigation evaluated three primary factors: 1. the potential role of Churchill Downs’ racetrack surfaces in the breakdowns, 2. veterinary records including the necropsies of each of the 12 horses and 3) any potential rules violations or procedural deficiencies that may have contributed to the fatalities.

Despite extensive investigation and analysis, HISA did not identify any singular explanation for the fatalities at Churchill Downs. The absence of a singular explanation underscores the urgent need for further action and analysis to mitigate risk stemming from several factors potentially contributing to equine fatalities.

Churchill Downs in Louisville. (Photo from Kentucky Today)

“HISA’s most important mission is to protect the health and wellbeing of the horses participating in Thoroughbred racing,” said HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus. “The events at Churchill Downs, Laurel Park, and Saratoga Race Course this spring and summer, were a sobering reminder of the complexity of that mission. We must create a culture of safety and an ecosystem of care that takes into account all factors contributing to equine fatalities. And it is the responsibility of all racing participants to do their part. That is why HISA is making ambitious recommendations and further mandates to ensure everyone involved in the sport acts, first and foremost, in the best interest of the horse. Racing can and must do better.”

Those recommendations include:

• A data analysis effort where HISA will work with top data analytics companies to explore critical questions facing the sport. The sophisticated data analysis, made possible by uniform reporting requirements under HISA, will yield new, actionable insights into factors contributing to equine fatalities.

• Creation of a Blue-Ribbon Committee to work toward the study and ultimate introduction of more synthetic surface options in Thoroughbred racing.

• Improved veterinary screening and diagnostic procedures including:

• Making PET scans more accessible to racetracks across the country.

• Conducting a research study to examine the causes of exercise-associated sudden deaths.

• Further use of wearable technology as an injury detection tool.

• An examination of whether there are any other equine fitness tools worthy of investment and deployment.

Additional recommendations are detailed at HISA’s Strategic Response.

The full Spring 2023 Churchill Downs Equine Fatalities report is also available online.

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