Outrage as two more horses euthanized ahead of Kentucky Derby, toll rises to seven
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY: Two horses reportedly died shortly before the Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 6, at Churchill Downs, bringing the number of horse fatalities at the track to seven prior to the $3M race. The latest deaths are notably a major blow to the sport which facing backlash due to a slew of doping suspensions and breakdowns.
Chloe's Dream, a three-year-old gelding, sustained an injury in the second race of Saturday's premier event. The horse was carried away in an equine ambulance with a right front knee injury and later euthanized. "He just took a bad step out there," trainer Jeff Hiles told The Associated Press, adding, "They could do the same thing running in the field as they could on the track. So it's very unfortunate. That's what we deal with." The second horse to be euthanized was three-year-old colt Freezing Point after pulling up in the Pat Day Mile Stakes.
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Six horse deaths and counting
"The pre-Derby death toll is still mounting. It's now six and counting," PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo told the Daily Mail before the news of Freezing Point's death emerged. "Although PETA appreciates that the Kentucky state veterinarian exercised caution by scratching the Derby favorite, we called for the closure of the track so stronger protocols could be put in place. Churchill Downs should have listened," she added.
"Transparency is an important component of our commitment to safety and accountability in horse racing," a statement from Churchill Downs on Wednesday read in part. "We share the concern of our fans who have questions about the recent equine fatalities at Churchill Downs Racetrack and we extend our sincere condolences to those who love and cared for these horses. While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable," it added.
They continued, "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. We have full confidence in our racing surfaces and have been assured by our riders and horsemen that they do as well."
A series of new anti-doping and medication rules are scheduled to go into effect on May 22 after being enforced by a central governing body of the sport. "There's something going on," Pat Murtha, who was attending his first Derby, told AP, adding, "They need to find out, and set some rules and regulations to protect these animals."
Event marred by past instances
It's worth noting that a number of trainers have faced consequences in recent years. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, a two-time Triple Crown winner, has nearly completed a two-year ban issued by Churchill Downs Inc. Medina Spirit, one of his star horses, won the 2021 Derby but failed a post-race drug test. The horse was immediately disqualified and Baffert was punished.
The industry was previously shaken when over 30 horses died at California's Santa Anita racetrack in 2019, leading to more safety norms. In 2011, Kentucky Derby-winning trainer Rick Dutrow had his license revoked by New York officials for a decade after regulators found syringes loaded with unauthorized medication on a desk in his barn. Dutrow only re-opened his stable last month.
Forte, a pre-race favorite, was notably scratched just hours before the hotly anticipated Derby on Saturday, thereby reducing the field to 18 hours for the 1 1/4-mile race. Around 150,000 spectators descended on Churchill Downs to wager and watch the Derby with post time at 6.57 pm ET.
The latest spate of horse deaths included prime Derby contender Wild On Ice. Meanwhile, Saffie Joseph Jr, who trained two of the deceased horses, was indefinitely suspended by the track, albeit investigators are yet to establish a cause for his horses' deaths. Earlier this week, four other horses were scratched including Practical Move, Lord Miles, Continuar, and Skinner. Lord Miles was Joseph's Derby horse. Practical Move and Skinner reportedly had fevers and Continuar was not in peak condition, per the Daily Mail.