The deaths of four horses in the days leading up to Saturday’s Kentucky Derby have cast a pall over the famed Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Two horses — Parents Pride and Chasing Artie – died with no cause of death determined, according to a news release from Churchill Downs on Wednesday.
Parents Pride died Saturday after a collapse. Chasing Artie died Tuesday after a similar collapse.
Devastated to hear that Chasing Artie collapsed and died after the 8th race at Churchill Downs. These were taken at @keeneland before and after his victory in the Palisades Turf Sprint back in ’21.
His death comes on the heels of a similar tragedy on Saturday involving a filly. pic.twitter.com/07UqTgrMLt
— Leila Elliott (@_Leila_Elliott_) May 3, 2023
Two other horses — Take Charge Briana and Derby entrant Wild on Ice — suffered injuries and were euthanized, the release said.
Wild On Ice and his trainer Joel Marr a few weeks ago. You could tell this horse meant a lot to him and his barn. Tough loss this close to the big race 💔 pic.twitter.com/5ctoNhMhzD
— holly (@kyholmarie) April 27, 2023
Necropsies are being conducted on all four animals.
“While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs said in its statement. “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.”
And that turf course…looks great but ???
— JoltusManus (@JoltusManus) May 4, 2023
Saffie Joseph Jr., who trained Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, said the turf at the track, which is new, is not to blame, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.
“We’re going to have to figure out, ‘What’s the reason?’” he said. “I don’t think it’s bad fortune. It’s not about that, to happen twice. … I don’t have an answer right now. I wish I did.
“Something’s not right. These horses, it wasn’t because of injury. They left the gate and didn’t even try and then dropped down. … Theories aren’t going to help. We need facts.”
Joseph said what took place defies the odds.
“This is something that doesn’t happen. I’m shattered, basically, because I know it can’t happen. The odds of it happening twice is in the trillions. I run almost 4,000 horses and it’s never happened. It doesn’t make sense,” he said, according to WDRB-TV.
Joseph said a review of all the data on Parents Pride and Chasing Artie found no cause for their collapses and deaths.
“When you don’t know something, that’s when it worries you the most,” he said. “And we don’t have a reason. We can’t find a reason. … We pulled all the blood work last night and all the bloods came back good. Nothing’s showing.
“We’re sending all the tests. We’re testing everything, hay, feed, supplements, just to see if there was, like, anything on our part. … A lot of questions run through your head, but if you think too much, you can drive yourself insane.”
Lisa Lazarus, CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, said the organization will investigate the deaths, according to The Associated Press.
“When horses die unexpectedly, we all suffer, but we take comfort in the tools and practices we have collectively developed to investigate contributing factors and deploy those learnings to minimize future risk,” Lazarus said. “HISA also intends to conduct its own in-depth analysis of the fatalities and will share those findings once the full investigation is complete.”
Kentucky Horse Racing Commission spokeswoman Kristin Voskuhl said the group is “looking into” the four deaths, according to the Courier-Journal.
Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, an animal rights group, said, “Multiple horse deaths at Churchill Downs in the week preceding the running of the Kentucky Derby should be distressing to anyone interested in the well-being of horses and the reputation of the horse-racing industry,” according to WDRB.
“The dead horses were juveniles, and they should not be dying at this clip,” Pacelle said. “We remain especially concerned about breeding practices that value speed over bodily integrity and about track surfaces that may be putting the animals and the jockeys at risk of life and limb.”
Joseph said the deaths were not due to negligence.
“We’re in a position right now that is not a nice position to be in. We don’t have the answer. And that’s what — that’s what we need to get the answer,” he said.
“We’ve had them get hurt. That’s different. … I’ve never had a horse like this, of something internally in [a] race? No. Basically it’s mind-boggling. I mean, in a race, twice in three days and the first two runners, like, I mean, the same owner? It’s mind-boggling.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.