Churchill Downs, the world’s largest and most famous horse racetrack, recently announced a new “safety initiative” aimed at preventing catastrophic injuries on the track. The new protocols come in response to a rash of on-track incidents that led to the euthanization of 12 horses, causing outrage among animal lovers.
Horses Limited to Four Starts in Eight Weeks
The new safety measures, which take effect immediately, include limiting horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period. This new rule aims to limit how often the animals are pushed to their maximum potential to prevent injuries.
Consequences for Non-Competitive Horses
In addition to the four-start limit, Churchill Downs will now impose consequences for horses that are not competitive. Horses that are beaten by more than 12 lengths in five consecutive starts will be ineligible to race at Churchill Downs until they receive a clean bill of health from approved veterinarians.
Changes to Incentives
Churchill Downs will also pause “track-based incentives such as trainer start bonuses” for all who finish races. Instead, the track will only pay out the top five finishers, encouraging trainers to prioritize the safety and well-being of their horses over winning at all costs.
Churchill Downs Equine Medical Director Dr. Will Farmer emphasized that any decision regarding the horses must prioritize their long-term well-being. He stated, “It is imperative that all available, educated, and informed options can be efficiently, confidently, and thoroughly relayed to the owners.”
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) held an emergency meeting to investigate the recent wave of deaths and the condition of the track. HISA continues to monitor the situation closely and will evaluate any additional next steps as appropriate.
Churchill Downs has a long history of hosting prestigious horse races, including the Kentucky Derby, and has seen some of the most famous horses in history race on its 1 1/4 mile track, such as Secretariat, Seabiscuit, Seattle Slew, and American Pharoah. However, the track is now taking a vital step towards ensuring the safety and well-being of the horses that race there, implementing new protocols that prioritize their health over all else.