The deaths of four horses at Churchill Downs in the space of a week have cast a cloud over Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
The 149th edition of the Kentucky Derby will be run on Saturday, launching US flat racing’s annual Triple Crown treble that also includes the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore and Belmont Stakes in New York.
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But the deaths of the horses Wild on Ice, Take Charge Briana, Chasing Artie and Parents Pride in the last week have cast a dark shadow over the event.
“While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable,” a statement from the iconic course in Louisville, Kentucky, said.
“We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed.
“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.”
Wild on Ice was entered to run the Kentucky Derby but was euthanized last week after suffering a left hind leg injury during training last Thursday.
The gelding, trained by Joel Marr, walked onto the horse ambulance and was taken to an equine hospital where he was euthanized.
On Tuesday, three-year-old filly Take Charge Briana, trained by Wayne Lukas, broke down during a race on Churchill Downs’ turf track and was euthanized.
The same day, five-year-old gelding Chasing Artie collapsed and died shortly after finishing a race.The horse was trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. and owned by Ken Ramsey.
Three days earlier filly Parents Pride, also trained by Joseph and owned by Ramsey, was pulled up in the stretch and collapsed and died on the track.
Ramsey told Horse Racing Nation on Wednesday that a preliminary necropsy report on Parents Pride “couldn’t find anything wrong”.
“The preliminary report on Chasing Artie was similar,” Ramsey continued.
“So, I don’t know what happened to them, but it’s very perplexing that the two deaths were so similar, and that both of them were fit and healthy before the race.”
Joseph told USA Today he was “shattered” by the deaths and had ordered blood work on every horse in his barn as well as tests of their feed.
“We have to get through it and figure out what’s the reason,” he said. “I don’t think it’s just bad fortune. For it to happen twice? We’re going to see. I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. I’d love to have closure. But you just have to go through protocol.”
On Wednesday, two horses were pulled up in races at Churchill Downs and were taken from the track in ambulance vans.
But Churchill Downs said in the statement they did not believe the footing was a concern.
“We have full confidence in our racing surfaces and have been assured by our riders and horsemen that they do as well,” the statement said.