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UPDATE: Twelfth horse dies at Churchill Downs since beginning of spring season

J. Tyler Franklin
Twelve horses have died at Churchill Downs this spring season.

Kimberley Dream was euthanized after sustaining an injury to her left front leg at Churchill Downs Saturday. Lost in Limbo was vanned off and euthanized after falling during his race Friday.

As Lost in Limbo, a 7-year-old gelding, approached the finish line in Churchill Down’s seventh race Friday, he tripped and threw his jockey before rolling several times. In a video that was shared by the animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA, Lost in Limbo can be seen struggling to stand after his fall.

In a similar injury, Kimberley Dream ruptured a ligament in her front leg and was euthanized after the first race at Churchill Downs Saturday.

Lost in Limbo and Kimberley Dream were the 11th and 12th horses to die after sustaining injuries at the prestigious racetrack since late April.

Five horses died in a little over a week before the Kentucky Derby, two died on the day of Derby, and five have died since. The majority of the horses were euthanized after sustaining severe injuries during their races like Lost in Limbo and Kimberley Dream did.

Racing is a dangerous sport for horses. According to the Jockey Club, more than 7,200 thoroughbreds have died nationwide due to race injuries between 2009 and 2021. In 2022, about 1.25 horses died out of every 1,000 starts.

So far this season, Churchill Downs has hosted roughly 160 races as of Friday, according to the online calendar. With an average of eight horses running in each race, that’s just over 1,200 starts since late April. Of the 12 horses that have died this season, nine succumbed due to injuries sustained during racing.

Churchill Downs spokesperson Darren Rogers said in a statement that the statistic is “highly unusual.” They had commissioned Mick Peterson, the director of the Ag Equine Programs at the University of Kentucky, to run diagnostic tests on the track May 23. He also examined the track in advance of Derby Week. Rogers said the most recent test came back normal and did not show any inconsistencies with previous testing.

All of the horses have been taken to the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostics Lab for necropsies. Rogers said they are also working with the Jockey Club to review the deaths of each horse to try and find a pattern.

“We have been rigorously working since the opening of the meet to understand what has led to this spike and have yet to find a conclusive discernable pattern as we await the findings of ongoing investigations into those injuries and fatalities,” Rogers said in a statement.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission said earlier this month they are investigating the recent racing and training fatalities at Churchill Downs. Rogers said Churchill Downs is working with the commission and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority as they conduct their investigations.

This story was updated.

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

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