A look at what’s being done to try and keep horses from dying while racing

All of these deaths have people asking, is there a problem with the track? Is it an issue with how the horses are treated? Or something else altogether?
Published: May. 27, 2023 at 11:21 PM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - A total of 12 that have died at Churchill Downs since stables opened on March 30.

Churchill downs said Kimberley Dream was running in the first race on Saturday when she hurt her left front leg.

A veterinarian said it was so bad they couldn’t operate on it, so they had to euthanize the filly.

In race seven Friday afternoon, Lost in Limbo buckled, fell and got an injury similar to Kimberley’s Dream. He also had to be put down.

All of these deaths have people asking, is there a problem with the track? Is it an issue with how the horses are treated? Or something else altogether?

No one knows why so many horses are dying at Churchill Downs. Some people might blame the track and others might allege drugs.

On Tuesday, Churchill Downs brought in renowned researcher Dr. Mick Peterson to retest the track. Peterson is the director of the AG Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky’s department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering, and the Executive Director of the Racing Surfaces Testing Lab.

Peterson was there a month before the Derby, to do what he compared to a pre-flight check.

“You know, when you’re sitting there in the plane waiting for them to get through that long list, they don’t say, ‘Ah it’s okay, we’ll go anyway. We’ll see if it’ll work,’” Peterson said in an interview on Wednesday. “We do this a month to six weeks before the start of the race meet.”

They test for consistency around the track, dirt samples, and more.

After all the horse deaths at Churchill, they were there to check that the track hadn’t changed from previous tests.

“It’s out of an abundance of caution,” Peterson said. “Right now we’re not seeing anything, but if we do, the goal is to fix it.”

Peterson said they don’t know what’s actually dangerous but they hope the tests improve horse safety.

“And now, thanks to the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act, we’re able to expand what we’re doing beyond these first-tier tracks, these kind of gold standard tracks like Churchill downs,” Peterson said.

The current iteration of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Act was passed last December and went into effect on Monday.

Marty Irby helped craft it and get it passed.

“There’s several aspects to this,” Irby said. “You have safety regulations that have to do with track surfaces, with whipping and things like that. And then you have the anti-doping regulations that would prohibit the use of all drugs within a day or so of the actual race.”

Irby, who is a senior advisor at the Animal Wellness Foundation, doesn’t know why horses are dying at Churchill. But he says in the past, drugs have played a big part in horse deaths everywhere.

Specifically a drug called Lasix, which causes a horse to shed off water weight and makes them lighter and run faster.

Irby said it causes the bones to become weaker over time and causes fractures, which trainers and vets mask by numbing the pain.

“And they’re running horses on unsound legs because they’re numb and can’t feel the pain,” Irby said. “And in many instances, those are the horses we see break down, break a leg on the track and having to see be euthanized.”

Irby hopes the new safety regulations will eventually get deaths out of horse racing.

“We would not tolerate the death of an athlete in any other sport,” Irby said. “And the only reason that these deaths are tolerated is because they’re horses and they’re not humans.”

After yet another death, Churchill Downs released a statement addressing the deaths and all concerns.

You can read the full statement here.