The commission found no single factor in the deaths of horses at Churchill Downs. Further examination is suggested

A report from the federally created horse racing oversight board found no single cause of death among 12 horses at Churchill Downs this spring, but it recommends further action and analysis to mitigate the risks at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

A federally created horse racing oversight board has found no single cause of death among 12 horses at Churchill Downs this spring, but is recommending further action and analysis to mitigate risks at the home of the Kentucky Derby, according to a report released Tuesday.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) report also proposed improving veterinary inspection and establishing a Blue Ribbon Committee to study options for synthetic surfaces across the sport.

The report comes two days before the start of the Churchill Downs fall meet in September, and comes after racing was suspended on June 7 for an internal safety review. The spring meet was moved to Ellis Park in Western Kentucky.

The move followed the deaths of seven horses in the days leading up to the 149th Derby on May 6 – including two on the undercard – and five more in the weeks that followed. HISA immediately held an emergency summit and recommended that the meeting be paused after consulting industry experts, veterinarians and trainers.

Although Tuesday’s report identified no single factor in any of the areas, HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a later Zoom call that the investigation revealed several factors.

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“For this reason, we need a multifaceted and multifaceted response,” Lazarus said, adding that “the death of horses is not acceptable.”

“We have a really big, real opportunity to address all of these factors and make real progress. If you look historically and kind of where we’ve been and where we are now. We’ve made progress time and time again over the years, but we just need to do better and make more progress faster.”

Among the findings of the HISA report:

– An independent review by track surface expert Dennis Moore found no relationship between the race track surface at Churchill Downs and the fatal injuries suffered by some horses. Moore’s analysis did not identify any “significant issue” with its installation, condition or maintenance, and said metrics were consistent with previous years. Moore recommended screening the existing pad and any new material using a desk screen opening of less than a quarter-inch to filter out items such as rocks. Churchill Downs has asked HISA to conduct a compliance review after its fall 2023 meeting.

– There were no clear patterns in the locations where horses died or were injured. The injuries occurred at several locations on the dirt and grass surfaces of Churchill Downs.

Autopsies did not reveal a single cause or specific pattern for the horses, and no positive results for banned substances were confirmed.

— HISA has not consistently received timely death notices, autopsy or injury reports from several jurisdictions including Kentucky, as required by the organization’s rules. He urged the improvement and inclusion of training injury reviews.

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The HISA investigation revealed a variety of injuries among the deceased horses but found that four fractures occurred while racing on the dirt track and two others on turf. There have been two cases of sudden exercise-related deaths and soft tissue injuries during dirt racing.

Veterinarian Susan Stover’s analysis of high-speed exercise recognized an increased risk of injury due to repetitive injuries resulting from overuse and high-intensity exercise without proper rest.

Asked whether horses were being worked too forcefully, Stover said: “I don’t think we know that at the moment, but certainly the data from the Churchill review suggests that this needs further study.”

The historic track announced in July that industry experts had found no problems with the racing surfaces, but had implemented their own improvements, including new equipment for track surface maintenance and additional monitoring and care of the horses. A statement added that additional resources will be allocated to track veterinarians to care for specialized horses to assist with pre-race inspections and entry checks.

Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen said in July that racing would resume this fall without any changes and called the deaths “a series of unfortunate circumstances” in an earnings call with CDI investors.


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