For many fans, the Kentucky Derby is much more than just a horse race.
It’s a chance to be seen, wear outlandish hats and generally party it up (not to mention the innumerable bets placed on the derby itself).
For trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., the 2023 Kentucky Derby has been anything but a party — and it looks to only be getting worse for him.
Four horses have died in the days leading up to Saturday’s race at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Two of the horses, Take Charge Briana and Derby entrant Wild on Ice, were euthanized after injuries, a standard, if tragic, response to bad horse injuries.
On Wednesday, a news release from Churchill Downs painted the other two deaths as anything but standard.
“Since Opening Night of Kentucky Derby Week, two horses trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. have died suddenly of cause yet to be identified: Parents Pride on Saturday and Chasing Artie on Tuesday,” the statement read.
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 sustained musculoskeletal injuries from which they could not recover: Wild on Ice last Thursday while training on dirt and Take Charge Briana during a turf race on Tuesday,” it said. “Wild on Ice was transported to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for care, but both were ultimately euthanized for humane reasons.”
The racetrack was not content with just naming Joseph.
“While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable,” the release said. “We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed.”
Insult was added to insult for Joseph, however, with the news Thursday that he was being suspended “until further notice.”
Churchill Downs Inc. announced the trainer’s indefinite suspension in a news release.
“The suspension prohibits Joseph, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Joseph, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all CDI-owned racetracks,” the track said.
The release noted that Lord Miles, a horse that Joseph trained, was being pulled from Saturday’s big race.
Lord Miles is so ✨ regal ✨#KyDerby pic.twitter.com/wQ8kuov4Jy
— Kentucky Derby (@KentuckyDerby) May 2, 2023
“CDI’s decision follows the highly-unusual sudden deaths of two horses trained by Joseph at Churchill Downs Racetrack: Parents Pride on Saturday and Chasing Artie on Tuesday,” the statement read. “Lord Miles, trained by Joseph, has been scratched from Saturday’s 149th running of the Kentucky Derby.”
Bill Mudd, president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Inc., also offered his thoughts.
“Given the unexplained sudden deaths, we have reasonable concerns about the condition of his horses, and decided to suspend him indefinitely until details are analyzed and understood,” Mudd said. “The safety of our equine and human athletes and integrity of our sport is our highest priority. We feel these measures are our duty and responsibility.”
“The safety of our equine and human athletes and integrity of our sport is not something we leave to chance. We feel these measures are our duty and responsibility,” said Bill Mudd, President and Chief Operating Officer of CDI.
Full statement: https://t.co/rkux4sCJ2c https://t.co/UudjA6y7sM
— Churchill Downs (@ChurchillDowns) May 4, 2023
Joseph, for his part, blasted Churchill Downs for its decision to suspend him and Lord Miles.
“Most definitely I am a scapegoat,” Joseph said Firday, according to WDRB-TV. “I’m the scapegoat. They’ve had more deaths this week, and here is Saffie, this is the problem.
“Trust me, it’s hard enough that our horses have their issues. But the reality of it is that I run 3,800 horses in the races, and I’ve never had horses that die from that issue before.
“They’ve had injuries but never from something that was unknown. It’s unknown what caused it. The tests for the first one hasn’t shown anything. I mean, the results with all the bloods, we haven’t seen anything, so we don’t know what’s going on. They don’t know what’s going on. And the commission doesn’t know what’s going on.
“The commission has found nothing wrong so far. I mean, people all can attest, and here we are with no known answers. and yet Churchill issues this suspension. It’s like, how could you do that? I mean, how can you do that? It’s one reason — they’ve done it to try to save their image.
“I mean, it’s sad.”
Today, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission scratched Lord Miles from the Kentucky Derby, and all other horses trained by his trainer, Saffie Joseph Jr., until further notice. Churchill Downs has also suspended Joseph.
We went to Joseph’s barn, and this was his reaction: @WDRBNews pic.twitter.com/pGYF0chgk9
— Conroy Delouche (@ConroyDelouche) May 4, 2023
Joseph expressed similar sentiments before his suspension.
“Something’s not right,” he said, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal. “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.”
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.