Churchill Downs Suspends Operations After 12 Horses Die in 5 Week Span at Historic Track
Horsephotos/Getty Images. Pictured: Malathaat races toward the finish line to win the 2021 Kentucky Oaks at Churchill Downs.
Churchill Downs announced Friday that it's suspending operations indefinitely after 12 horses have died on the historic race track over the past five weeks.
The Louisville track — which annually hosts the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks — made the move amid pressure from regulators and those across the equine industry.
The full suspension came mere days after stringent new measures were instituted in an attempt to solidify horse safety. The track said Thursday it would no longer incentivize trainers to race at all costs by only providing profits to each race's top five finishers. Prior, every horse competing received some sort of payment.
The track also said it would only allow horses four starts per every rolling eight-week window, and that horses beaten by more than 12 lengths in five consecutive starts would be ineligible to race until a medical director approved.
Races through Sunday will be hosted at the track. All races afterward will move to Ellis Park, which is about two hours away.
The most recent horse to die at the track, a 7-year-old named Kimberley Dream, passed last Saturday. She was making her 61st start in a race with a $40,000 purse, despite not having been competitive in her five most recent starts (losing by 19 to 33 lengths each time). The mare broke down and had to be euthanized.
The earliest the track intends on returning is July 3, the company said in a statement Friday.
"By relocating the remainder of the meet to Ellis Park, we are able to maintain this industry ecosystem with only minor disruption," Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in a statement. "We are grateful to the Kentucky horsemen for their support, resiliency and continued partnership as we collectively work to find answers during this time.”