HISA announces initiatives geared toward reducing equine fatalities

By: Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association

Posted: Sept. 12, 2023

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority Sept. 12 announced a series of proposed or mandated initiatives and reforms geared toward significantly reducing equine fatalities. The announcement was part of a release that noted a HISA investigation and analysis “did not identify any singular explanation” for a series of equine fatalities during the Churchill Downs spring meet earlier this year.

HISA said its strategic response to reduce equine fatalities was motivated by the causes of and circumstances surrounding recent clusters of equine fatalities, including those during the recent Saratoga Race Course meet. The recommendations include:

  • A robust data analysis effort in which HISA will work with top data analytics companies to explore critical questions facing the sport. The application of sophisticated data analysis, made possible by uniform reporting requirements under HISA, will yield new, actionable insights into factors contributing to equine fatalities.
  • The creation of a blue-ribbon committee to work toward the study and ultimate introduction of more synthetic surface options in Thoroughbred racing.
  • Making PET scans more accessible to racetracks across the country
  • Conducting a research study to examine the causes of exercise-associated sudden deaths
  • Further use of wearable technology as an injury detection tool
  • An examination of whether there are any other equine fitness tools worthy of investment and deployment
  • Several additional recommendations, including robust proposed changes to HISA Racetrack Safety rules

The full list of equine safety initiatives is available here.

HISA’s investigation at Churchill evaluated three primary factors: the potential role of the Churchill racing surfaces in the breakdowns; veterinary records including the necropsies of each of the 12 horses; and any potential rules violations or procedural deficiencies that may have contributed to the fatalities. HISA said the absence of a singular explanation “underscores the urgent need for further action and analysis to mitigate risk stemming from several factors potentially contributing to equine fatalities.”

The HISA report on Churchill Downs is available here.

“HISA’s most important mission is to protect the health and well-being of the horses participating in Thoroughbred racing,” HISA Chief Executive Officer Lisa Lazarus said in the release. “The events at Churchill Downs, Laurel Park and Saratoga Race Course this spring and summer were a sobering reminder of the complexity of that mission.

“We must create a culture of safety and an ecosystem of care that takes into account all factors contributing to equine fatalities. And it is the responsibility of all racing participants to do their part. That is why HISA is making ambitious recommendations and further mandates to ensure everyone involved in the sport acts, first and foremost, in the best interest of the horse. Racing can and must do better.”