Churchill Downs Relocates Upcoming Races Following Deaths of 12 Horses

Grant Mitchell
By:
Grant Mitchell
06/06/2023
News

Highlights

  • Two more horses were injured leading to their euthanization
  • This was sportsbooks’ most successful year for betting on the Kentucky Derby
  • Upcoming events have been moved out of Churchill Downs

Horse race betting has been put on a momentary pause following the deaths of 12 horses at Churchill Downs.

Known as the venue of the legendary Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs has suspended all events so that it can review safety features and procedures. The remainder of the Spring Meet, which had been held at Churchill Downs and does not conclude until July 3, has been moved to Ellis Park Racing & Gaming in Henderson.

A full-scale investigation is coming to discern the cause of the recent deaths.

A troubling trend

An announcement by Churchill Downs Incorporated, which owns the namesake racing track, confirmed the impending probe into the track’s facilities and safety standards.

“Churchill Downs Racetrack has seen an unusual number of horse injuries over the previous month resulting in 12 equine fatalities,” read a statement. “Following a thorough internal review and concurrent investigations conducted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission ("KHRC") and Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority ("HISA"), no single factor has been identified as a potential cause and no discernable pattern has been detected to link the fatalities.”

According to Cydney Henderson of USA Today, Lost in Limbo and Kimberley Dream suffered “inoperable and unrecoverable” injuries at Churchill Downs and needed to be euthanized. They were the 11th and 12th horses to have died or suffered injuries leading to death on-site since training stables reopened on March 30.

Seven horses died during the build-up to the Kentucky Derby on May 6. Two others, Chloe’s Dream and Freezing Point, also suffered devastating injuries during races that led to euthanization.

Chloe’s Dream took a tumble during the first turn of Race 2 and injured its knee in the process. Freezing Point came up gimpy on the backstretch of Race 8 with what was later diagnosed as a left front biaxial sesamoid fracture. 

Two horses that died were trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., who has since been suspended from competing at Churchill Downs. The host company cited “reasonable concerns about the condition of his horses” as the reason for phasing him out of future events.

General affects

Animal advocate groups are imploring Churchill Downs to improve its conditions to help the safety of the horses.

“It should be a top priority for Churchill Downs and all other tracks to make horse welfare their top priority,” said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, in a statement ahead of the Kentucky Derby.

So, how does all of this affect legal sports betting? Aside from future races taking place at new venues, it is very popular that future races, and even the Kentucky Derby, look different next year. There is also an outpouring of pressure to get rid of horse races entirely.

To say that horse betting, specifically the Kentucky Derby, can be very lucrative would be putting it mildly. 2023 marked the first time that the famed race resulted in a betting handle of over $400 million as Churchill Downs reported $412 million in total bets from all sources. 

Kentucky also just legalized its sports betting market on March 31 and will be on high alert when it comes to preserving the integrity and operating standard of its local sporting attractions. That is not to say that foul play is expected to be found during the investigation, just more of a general sentiment.

Online sports betting in most American states includes the opportunity to bet on horse racing events across the country. But until the situation at Churchill Downs is resolved, the crown jewel of that enterprise will be out of action.

Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself in his up-to-the-minute reporting on the latest events in the industry. A member of Virginia Tech’s 2021 graduating class, he has quickly put together an impressive portfolio since moving to the professional world full-time. Grant’s favorite sports to cover are basketball and both types of football (American and soccer), and he is pushing written, audio, and video content. He has been employed by companies as highly regarded as Forbes and continues on a great trajectory in the industry. When he’s not on the clock, you can find Grant at the gym, looking for adventures, or hanging out with his family.