Four horse deaths in 4 days sparks investigation at Churchill Downs

Four horses suffered fatal injuries in four separate races at Churchill Downs in September.
Four horses suffered fatal injuries in four separate races at Churchill Downs in September.(WAVE 3 News)
Updated: Sep. 25, 2018 at 10:01 PM CDT
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LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - An investigation is underway into a series of thoroughbred deaths at Churchill Downs.

From Thursday, Sept. 20 through Sunday, Sept. 23, four horses suffered fatal injuries in four separate races.

Necropsies of all the horses have been ordered and findings should be complete within two weeks, Dr. Mary Scollay, the Equine Medical Director for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said.

According to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database, in 2017 there were 1.74 fatalities per 1,000 starts in North America on tracks like the one at Churchill Downs.

“Four fatalities in four days is highly unusual,” Scollay said. “We will do a methodical review of the horse’s exercise history, pre-race exam findings, our observations of the horses at all points of contact.”

Mick Peterson, Ag Equine Programs Director at the University of Kentucky, was called to Churchill to inspect the dirt track on Monday. He said he conducted a visual inspection and examined daily data on track conditions. No problems were found.

“We're not seeing anything that stands out at this point,” Peterson said, “and we were just making sure there were no other issues with drainage.”

Churchill Downs will host the Breeders Cup in November.

Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers released this statement:

“Safety is always a topic of great importance to us, and we place the highest priority on the health and welfare of our equine and human athletes. These recent incidents have been unfortunate, and we’ll continue to monitor. We utilize third-party experts such as renowned Dr. Mick Petersen to provide additional engineering analysis and testing of our surfaces. He was onsite before the start of our September Meet and visited again on Monday, and, on both occasions, reaffirmed that we have a safe racing surface.”

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