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Tuesday, April 23, 2024
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Churchill Downs Suspends Race Operations Amid Safety Crisis

  • Dramatic step arrives in the wake of ugly spate of equine fatalities.
  • Policy changes aimed at discouraging trainers from running unsound horses.
Matt Stone/Courier Journal /USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs is suspending race operations at the famed racetrack for nearly a month, marking the most dramatic response yet to an ongoing crisis in which 12 horses have died there in the last two months. 

Live racing from June 7 until at least July 3 – representing the remainder of the Churchill Downs Spring Meet – will be moved to Ellis Park Racing & Gaming in Henderson, Ky., another Churchill Downs Inc.-owned facility. 

Scheduled races on Saturday and Sunday were still held at Churchill Downs. But the four-week suspension arrives as track officials and equine experts continue their search for the cause of the deaths.

“Despite our best efforts to identify a cause for the recent horse injuries, and though no issues have been linked to our racing surfaces or environment at Churchill Downs, we need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review,” said Bill Carstanjen, Churchill Downs Inc.’s president.

The suspension of race operations – following last week’s emergency summit by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) – adds to a series of newly imposed health and safety measures at Churchill Downs, including additional post-entry screening of horses, a restriction on horses to four starts in a rolling eight-week period, ineligibility standards on poor-performing horses, and a limit on purse payouts to top-five finishers.

Those measures – aimed at discouraging trainers from running unsound horses – will also apply at Ellis Park.

Despite the ongoing safety issues, the 2023 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs still drew an announced crowd of 150,335 and generated a record-level betting handle of $288.7 million last month.

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