Horses Dying at Churchill Downs

Jun 8, 2023Freezing Point

I am an avid horse race fan, at least for those that complete the Triple Crown series in horse racing. The Triple Crown starts with the Kentucky Derby at 1.25 miles in length and is followed by the Preakness Stakes (May 20, 2023) is slightly shorter than the Kentucky Derby course and lastly the Belmont Stakes which is 1.5 miles in length is slated for June 10, 2023.

Churchill Downs

This prestigious title is only open to the best over three-year-old racehorses. Of course, winning all three races is not easy.  A scant thirteen horses have been fortunate enough to take this title to date. The very first horse to do so was Sir Barton in 1919 and the last was Justify in 2018. All were exceptional horses.

Sir Barton 1919

Justify 2019

Something troubling has occurred at Churchill Downs of late. In the past six weeks, twelve horses have died. Seven at Churchill Downs just days before the Kentucky Derby. The track is temporarily shut down pending how and why this happened. Races scheduled to be conducted at Churchill Downs will be moved to Ellis Park in Henderson, Kentucky.

Ellis Park Race Track

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission along with the newly established Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority will be investigating this situation. The University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory in Lexington will be assessing the cause of these deaths. Thus far their tests have been inconclusive.

Toxicology tests from Parents Pride who collapsed in her sixth race of this year do not show any prohibited substances and all allowable medications were within the limits of acceptable while she was at Churchill Downs. She fell on her side and her legs appeared to be weak, especially the rear legs. Her breathing was labored. She died on the track!

Parents Pride 2023

Upon veterinary review postmortem, no gait abnormalities were noted pre-race or during any pre-race exams and warmups for Parents Pride. Mild to moderate changes in her heart, lungs, and brain were noted in the necropsy report. As such there was no definite cause of her death.

Three-year-old Take Charge Brianna was on her twelfth start for 2023 on May 2nd when she suddenly fell when her back legs slipped underneath her. On the scene, veterinary care was administered, and determined that a joint between the cannon bone and pastern called the fetlock had separated. She was euthanized. Postmortem toxicology tests showed she was also within the allowable limits on her medications and there was no trace of prohibited substances in her system.

Take Charge Brianna 2023

Colt, Freezing Point, was the next to go down. He was three years old and succumbed to an injury to his left foreleg. He was euthanized after viewing the radiographs showing that he had fractured his front left sesamoid bone. These bones are critical to the suspension of the horse’s feet and allow them to properly move. A ligament also ruptured adding to the injury. Again, postmortem testing did not reveal any anomalies in drugs or medications.

Freezing Point 2023

Some are pointing fingers at the various states that allow horseracing. Each state has its own rule and race regulations. Thus far there are thirty-eight states that allow horse racing. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority or HISA as they are called was created to set forth some uniformity of rules for this sport.

This is not a new tragedy, but one that has been repeated to some degree in the past few years. For example, in 2019 there were forty horses that died at the Santa Anita track in California. In review, there was no one person who was deemed responsible for this incident. However, this did prompt some to consider reforming the rules and regulations and unifying them across the thirty-eight participating states.

Santa Anita Race Track 2023

As more is known about these truly untimely horse deaths, I will try to inform you of what is found out and how it is impacting this special industry. Until then we must wait to see what changes.







Photos courtesy of Getty Images


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