Churchill Downs, home of Kentucky Derby, suspends racing after 12 horses die

Churchill Downs announced Friday it was suspending racing as safety measures are reexamined following the deaths of a dozen horses at the famed track in the past month.

The track’s parent company, Churchill Downs Incorporated, said in a statement that the remainder of its Spring Meet would be moved to another Kentucky venue it owns, Ellis Park Racing & Gaming in Henderson. The season ends July 3.

On June 11, the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in Elmont, New York, will wrap up the Triple Crown races for 2023.

Racing at Churchill Downs was expected to cease after the weekend’s races and then continue at Ellis on June 10, the track said.

The track, home of the Kentucky Derby, reported on May 27 that two more horses had died. They were the 11th and 12th horses to die during the spring season.

The venue probed track surface conditions, but found no red flags. And there have been probes by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority.

“No single factor has been identified as a potential cause and no discernable pattern has been detected to link the fatalities,” Churchill Downs Incorporated said in its statement Friday.

Churchill Downs ahead of the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6, 2023 in Louisville.
Churchill Downs ahead of the 149th running of the Kentucky Derby on May 6, 2023 in Louisville.Michael Reaves / Getty Images

The parent company said it wanted to suspend racing in order to see if safety measures are working.

“Even though the investigations and expert reports have indicated no surface issues, CDI has elected to relocate the meet in order to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all safety and surface protocols,” it said.

Animal welfare organizations decried the deaths and urged tracks to improve conditions.

“It should be a top priority for Churchill Downs and all other tracks to make horse welfare their top priority,” Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, said in a statement just ahead of the Kentucky Derby in May.

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