LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Churchill Downs will limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for continued poor performance in the wake of the recent deaths of 12 horses at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
Other safety initiatives announced by Churchill Downs on Thursday include pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and purse payouts to every race finisher, with payouts limited to the top five finishers. Churchill Downs officials say they’ll continue talks with horsemen to determine how to allocate funds.
The measures take effect immediately and follow a special meeting between Churchill Downs officials and horsemen based at the track and its trackside training center. Horse racing’s federally created oversight authority had convened an emergency summit this week with Churchill Downs and Kentucky’s racing commission to examine the troubling spate of deaths. All but two deaths have been attributed to racing or training leg injuries. The other two are from unknown causes, but all are being investigated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA).
A release from Churchill Downs stated that California-based equine surgeon Ryan Carpenter presented trainers and veterinarians with information and tools about advanced interventions for certain injuries. The Churchill Downs’ equine medical director, Will Farmer, said there was “a duty” to offer information from someone who experienced similar challenges recently in California.
He said in the release that decisions regarding the long-term well being of horses must be first and foremost. “It is imperative that all available, educated and informed options can be efficiently, confidently and thoroughly relayed to the owners.”
Louisville-born trainer Brad Cox said he did “a lot of listening” at the meeting and left it at that.
“I think Churchill is trying to dot every I and cross every T,” Cox said during a NTRA teleconference. “It’s been a lot of stuff happening since the meet began and hopefully we’re kind of coming to the end of this.”
The ineligibility measure impacts horses losing by more than 12 lengths in five consecutive starts. They cannot race at Churchill Downs until approved by Farmer to return.
Seven horses died in the days leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6, including two on the undercard. Five horses have died since then, including two 7-year-olds last weekend from similar leg injuries.
Churchill Downs is scheduled to resume its spring meet on Thursday night.
HISA veterinary teams reviewed information and analysis on Tuesday. Track superintendent Dennis Moore began a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ training and racing surface on Wednesday.
Cox said he felt comfortable training at Churchill Downs and added, “I feel it’s a safe surface.”