Churchill moves remainder of meet to Ellis Park after HISA weighs in

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: June 3, 2023

Churchill Downs announced it will transfer the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park, also owned by Churchill Downs Inc., due to ongoing concerns after a cluster of equine fatalities. The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority the same day said it recommended to CDI that racing at Churchill be “temporarily suspended to allow for additional comprehensive investigations into the cause of recent equine fatalities at the track.”

“The team at Churchill Downs takes great pride in our commitment to safety and strives to set the highest standard in racing, consistently going above and beyond the regulations and policies that are required,” CDI Chief Executive Officer Bill Carstanjen said June 2 in a release. “What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable. Despite our best efforts to identify a cause for the recent horse injuries, and though no issues have been linked to our racing surfaces or environment at Churchill Downs, we need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.

“In addition to our commitment to providing the safest racing environment for our participants, we have an immense responsibility as the economic engine of the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky which provides jobs and income for thousands of families every day. By relocating the remainder of the meet to Ellis Park, we are able to maintain this industry ecosystem with only minor disruption. We are grateful to the Kentucky horsemen for their support, resiliency and continued partnership as we collectively work to find answers during this time.”

Churchill offered racing June 3-4 after it made the announcement. In addition, the Kentucky track will remain open for daily training. The Churchill at Ellis Park meet begins June 10 and will dovetail with the regular meet at the western Kentucky track.

HISA in a release said investigations conducted by HISA, CDI and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to date have not revealed any obvious or specific pattern connecting the recent deaths of 12 Thoroughbreds at Churchill.

“Given that no cohesive explanation has been identified for this unusually high number of fatalities, HISA has recommended that racing be temporarily suspended to allow time to more clearly identify the factor(s) contributing to these fatalities as well as tangible interventions to prevent them in the future,” HISA said.

HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said the entity made the decision to recommend to CDI that it temporarily suspend racing at Churchill while additional reviews continue.

Dennis Moore, track superintendent at Santa Anita Park, which is owned by 1/ST Racing (The Stronach Group), completed his HISA-commissioned review of the Churchill main track and reviewed data collected by Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory and Churchill staff. The HISA release said more reported “there were no primary areas for concern and has verified that the various track metrics analyzed are consistent with previous years.”

The metrics were cushioning, the cushion layer, daily measurements, surface grade and composition.

Photo courtesy of Coady Photography/Churchill Downs