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UPDATE: Four horses die, two injured, at Churchill Downs in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby

Horses race on the track at Churchill Downs.
J. Tyler Franklin
/
LPM
Horses race on the track at Churchill Downs.

In the past week, four horses have died at Churchill Downs including a Kentucky Derby qualifier. Two more were pulled from their races due to injuries Wednesday.

Last updated at 11:14 a.m. Thursday

Racing is a dangerous sport for horses. More than 7,200 horses nationwide have died due to race injuries between 2009 and 2021, according to the Jockey Club. In 2021, 366 horses died from racing injuries.

Wild on Ice, who was 15th on the leaderboard and poised to compete in this weekend’s Kentucky Derby, was euthanized after a training injury last Thursday.

Three more horses have died in just the first two days of races at Churchill Downs since then. Parents Pride collapsed and died on opening night after her race, and both Chasing Artie and Take Charge Briana died Tuesday. Take Charge Briana fell on the turf course and was euthanized on the track.

On Wednesday, two more horses were pulled from their races and “vanned off” due to injuries, according to horse racing statistics company Equibase. If a horse’s injuries are severe enough, it is euthanized at the secondary location. That Khenny was injured in Race 3, and Loot the Moon was hurt in Race 5.

According to the Daily Racing Form, those horses have returned to their barns and their injuries are not believed to be life-threatening.

Churchill Downs released a statement Wednesday acknowledging the multiple deaths over the past week. They characterized the string of deaths as “highly unusual” and “unacceptable.”

“We feel a tremendous responsibility to our fans, the participants in our sport and the entire industry to be a leader in safety and continue to make significant investments to eliminate risk to our athletes,” the statement read. “We have full confidence in our racing surfaces and have been assured by our riders and horsemen that they do as well.”

The release came out at about the same time as Race 5, when Loot the Moon was injured.

Churchill Downs did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the two horses injured Wednesday.

Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based Animal Wellness Action, said in a statement that he is especially concerned about racehorse breeding practices and dangerous track surfaces. He said all tracks should make horse welfare a top priority.

“Multiple horse deaths at Churchill Downs in the week preceding the running of the Kentucky Derby should be distressing to anyone interested in the well-being of horses and the reputation of the horse-racing industry,” Pacelle wrote in the statement. “The dead horses were juveniles, and they should not be dying at this clip.”

All four of the horses who died in the past week were four years old or younger. Kristin Voskuhl, a spokesperson for the Public Protection Cabinet which includes the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said they are aware of the incidents and are looking into them.

"The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is actively investigating the recent and tragic racing and training fatalities in Kentucky," KHRC said in a statement Thursday morning. "The KHRC is committed to the health and safety of every horse and rider and will follow the robust investigative procedures in place for issues of safety and racing integrity. As appropriate, musculoskeletal and sudden death necropsies will be performed at the University of Kentucky. Both types of necropsy are complete post-mortem examinations. Musculoskeletal necropsies focus on a known injury, while sudden death necropsies are broader in scope."

This story has been updated with additional information.

Sylvia is the Capitol reporter for Kentucky Public Radio, a collaboration including Louisville Public Media, WEKU-Richmond, WKU Public Radio and WKMS-Murray. Email her at sgoodman@lpm.org.