Racing will be suspended at Churchill Downs as an investigation takes place to try to determine what caused the unexplained death of 12 horses in the past 5 weeks.
Racing will be moved to a different Kentucky racetrack, the company said in a statement on Friday.
Live horse racing will continue at the home of the Kentucky Derby on Saturday and Sunday and move next week to another Churchill Downs-owned racetrack, Ellis Park, in Henderson, Ky. The Churchill meet was to have ended on July 3 before moving on to Ellis Park for the traditional summer race meet scheduled from July 7 to Aug. 27.
Experts brought in by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority to examine the spate of horse deaths — two of which occurred on the undercard of the Kentucky Derby on May 6 — thus far have been unable to detect a pattern in the deaths.
Diagnostics of the racetrack have not raised concerns and dirt and grass surfaces appear consistent with measurements from Churchill Downs in past years. Still, the company said it was relocating the meet even though it said, “no issues have been linked to our racing surfaces.”
“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” said Bill Carstanjen, the chief executive of Churchill Downs Inc. “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.”
Lisa Lazarus, the chief executive of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, said in a statement that the authority recommended to Churchill Downs that it cease racing because the cause of the deaths hasn’t been determined and therefore it isn’t clear what changes to make.
Horse racing is not a widely popular sport, and a few weeks in spring, when the Triple Crown is run, is the only period when it attracts much notice on a national level, as even non-fans enjoy the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.
While animal activists have been pushing for a cessation of racing, some trainers have expressed their unhappiness with Churchill Downs’ plans to move the meet. They also criticized other recent precautions implemented at the track as an overreaction.
“Horsemen question the purpose of this unprecedented step, especially without conclusive evidence that there is a problem with the racetrack at Churchill Downs,” said Rick Hiles, the president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, in a statement. “We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses. 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.”