Churchill Downs Relocates Spring Meet to Ellis Park for Safety Review Following Horse Fatalities

In response to the tragic deaths of 12 horses at the Kentucky Derby venue, Churchill Downs has made the decision to suspend racing operations temporarily and transfer the remaining races of its spring meet to Ellis Park. The aim is to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of safety protocols and track surfaces, ensuring the well-being of horses.

Although no specific cause or pattern has been identified, the relocation is being implemented as a precautionary measure. Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen expressed his deep concern and strong disapproval of the incidents, emphasizing the need for a thorough review of all aspects related to surface integrity, safety measures, and overall protocols.

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs until Sunday, after which it will be shifted to Ellis Park, a racing and gaming facility owned by CDI in Henderson, Kentucky. Originally scheduled to commence on July 7, the meet at Ellis Park will now start earlier, on June 10, and extend until August 27.

The decision to relocate the meet follows an emergency summit organized by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), which involved the participation of track superintendent Dennis Moore. Moore conducted an independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces, providing valuable insights. The summit, held in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track, also involved representatives from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

In conjunction with the relocation, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has granted HISA oversight of racetrack safety and has imposed limits on Kentucky Thoroughbred Development Fund purses, restricting them to the top five finishers. The announcement reinforces HISA’s commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of horses during races.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that thorough expert testing found no concerns and confirmed that the track’s surface adhered to previous measurements. However, the decision to relocate aligns with HISA’s recommendation to temporarily suspend the meet in order to allow for further investigation.

HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus expressed gratitude for Churchill Downs’ cooperation and thoughtfulness during these challenging circumstances, reiterating their shared commitment to finding answers and ensuring the safety of horses at the venue in the near future.

Carstanjen emphasized that the relocation of the spring meet to Ellis Park would cause minimal disruption to the industry ecosystem. He also expressed gratitude to Kentucky horsemen for their support in the ongoing efforts to uncover the causes behind the horse fatalities.

While some, such as Rick Hiles, the president of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the relocation, citing the lack of conclusive evidence regarding the track’s surface as the cause, Carstanjen asserted that such measures are essential to improve safety for horses.

In light of recent events, both Churchill Downs and HISA have implemented additional safety and performance standards. HISA will conduct enhanced post-entry screening of horses to identify those at a higher risk of injury, while also collecting blood and hair samples from all deceased horses for thorough investigation. Churchill Downs, on the other hand, has immediately imposed limitations of four starts within an eight-week period for each horse and eligibility criteria for underperforming horses. Furthermore, the track has temporarily paused certain incentives, such as trainer start bonuses, and will now distribute purse payouts to the top five finishers exclusively.

By relocating the spring meet and implementing these measures, Churchill Downs and HISA aim to prioritize the safety and well-being of the horses participating in races, while proactively addressing any potential risks or concerns.

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