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Churchill Downs announces new safety measures after series of horse deaths

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Churchill Downs, host of the famed Triple Crown horse race the Kentucky Derby, announced new safety initiatives as an ongoing investigation continues into a series of horse deaths at the track.

Officials will continue to hold thoroughbred races as planned but said they would pause “track-based incentives such as trainer start bonuses and purse pay-out allocations to every race finisher through last place.”

Other initiatives, to go into effect immediately, include restricting horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period. The racetrack will also establish ineligibility standards for horses that finish 12 or more lengths back in five consecutive races.

There have been 12 horse deaths at the facility since March 30, according to Churchill Downs Incorporated, which owns the track and others in several states.

On Tuesday, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority – the national organization overseeing integrity and safety within thoroughbred racing – held an “emergency veterinary summit,” which included members from Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to review all available information related to the deaths.

As the probe continues, authority CEO Lisa Lazarus said, “Everyone is committed to seeing what is happening and stopping it to the extent it can be stopped.”

The authority said in a news release Thursday “no obvious or specific pattern” has emerged so far in its probe into the recent deaths at the Louisville track.

It said it will implement several measures, including an increased number of health screenings of race horses to minimize risks and a review of the death examinations of horses, in addition to the racetrack’s initiatives.

The track said equine surgeon Dr. Ryan Carpenter “provided educational information and tools to trainers and practicing veterinarians about advanced interventions that can be considered for certain equine injuries.”

“Any decision must be made first and foremost with the long-term well-being of the horse in mind,” Dr. Will Farmer, the equine medical director for Churchill Downs Incorporated, said 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 said an expert has begun his analysis of the Churchill Downs’ racing surfaces. The facility has a 1-mile dirt course and a 7/8-mile turf track.

The current racing session ends July 3.

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