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UPDATE: Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, Churchill Downs announce safety measures

Creative Commons
The entrance of Churchill Downs.

As the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority continues to investigate Churchill Downs, it announced Thursday additional health screenings and more data collection at the track. Earlier that day, Churchill Downs said it is putting in place new safety measures, including limiting the number of races a horse can run and removing some incentives to start a horse.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority imposed additional safety measures at Churchill Downs Thursday as it continues to investigate a surge in horse deaths at the racetrack. Since late April, 12 horses have died from injuries they sustained there. Churchill Downs has said the number of deaths is “highly unusual.”

The horseracing authority added another layer of health screenings for horses. It also requested blood and hair samples for horses who die at the track and appointed an equine forensics specialist to review all of the horses’ necropsies.

The safety authority held an emergency veterinary summit Tuesday and launched an investigation of Churchill Downs. It also requested an independent analysis of the track’s racing surfaces and conditions and sent its director of equine safety and welfare, Dr. Jennifer Durenberger, to observe and oversee the veterinary care of the racehorses.

Churchill Downs also announced several new safety precautions as its spring season continues after a special meeting between track officials and horsemen Thursday morning.

Churchill Downs spokesperson Darren Rogers said the track will no longer incentivize trainers and horse owners just for starting or finishing a race. Only the top five finishers will be rewarded. The track will also restrict the number of races each horse can run to four starts over an eight week period. Poor performance in past races can also make a horse ineligible to run.

At the Thursday morning meeting, Dr. Ryan Carpenter, a California-based equine surgeon, also spoke about advanced surgical interventions for certain equine injuries in place of euthanasia, as long as it's in the long-term interest of the horse. Many of the horses who died at Churchill Downs this season were euthanized after severe leg injuries.

“Any decision must be made first and foremost with the long-term well-being of the horse in mind,” said Dr. Will Farmer, the equine medical director for Churchill Downs, in a statement. “It is imperative that all available, educated and informed options can be efficiently, confidently and thoroughly relayed to the owners.”

The safety authority’s analysis of the track surfaces is ongoing and the authority said “all options remain on the table” as they continue their investigation.

This story was updated.

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.

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