Regulators add horse screening measures after Churchill summit

Regulators add horse screening measures after Churchill summit
Photo: Carlos J. Calo / Eclipse Sportswire

Over the past several days, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority has undertaken multiple measures to better understand the circumstances surrounding the recent spate of equine fatalities at Churchill Downs in hopes of working with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Churchill Downs to mitigate additional risk to the horses and riders competing at Churchill Downs moving forward.

On Tuesday, May 30, HISA convened a veterinary summit with its counterparts at Churchill Downs and the KHRC to thoroughly review all veterinary information available and conduct additional analyses. Those discussions continued through yesterday with ongoing engagement between the veterinary teams.  Specifically, the summit included robust discussion of three different points of intervention with regard to racing injuries: injury management, preventing at-risk horses from racing via veterinary scrutiny, and preventing at-risk horses from entering.

The dialogue was productive and conclusions from the summit have been shared directly with key stakeholders to inform next steps. While no obvious or specific pattern emerged, HISA welcomes Churchill Downs’ efforts announced earlier today to minimize risk of equine fatalities and is implementing the following additional measures.

Effective with Saturday’s entries, HISA’s director of equine safety and welfare will conduct an additional layer of post-entry screening. HISA’s rule 2142 (assessment of racing soundness) requires post-entry screenings of previous pre-race inspection findings of entered horses to identify horses that may be at increased risk for injury. The review includes past performances, lay-ups (more than 60 days without a timed workout or race), last 30 days medical history, previous injury and lameness diagnostics, intraarticular corticosteroid injections, previous surgery and other individual horse risk factors.  

HISA has directed the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit to collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities involving covered horses. The results from such collections will be used to facilitate investigations into the cause of such fatalities. The data collected by HIWU in connection with covered horse fatalities will also be used to track relevant statistics and trends in connection with fatalities.

HISA has appointed Dr. Alina Vale, an equine forensics specialist, to conduct an additional thorough review of all necropsies performed on covered horses. Dr. Vale has conducted several postmortem reviews as an official veterinarian for the California Horse Racing Board, including participating in the review following a spate of equine fatalities at Santa Anita in 2019.

Additionally, Dennis Moore began his analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces yesterday. That review is ongoing; Moore’s conclusions will be shared publicly once his review is complete.

HISA continues to urgently seek additional answers to more clearly identify the causes of these recent fatalities as well as tangible interventions to prevent them in the future. All options remain on the table, and HISA will continue to vigilantly monitor events at Churchill Downs moving forward.

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