Churchill Downs Suspends Racing Operations to Prioritize Safety and Well-being of Horses
The Churchill Downs track, renowned for hosting the Kentucky Derby, has been marred by a distressing series of horse fatalities in recent times. In response to these tragic incidents, Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) has taken the difficult decision to suspend racing operations and relocate the Spring Meet.
On June 2, CDI announced that it would suspend racing operations at Churchill Downs Racetrack beginning June 7, 2023. The remaining Spring Meet will be relocated to Ellis Park Racing & Gaming in Henderson, Kentucky, which CDI acquired in September 2022.
The decision to suspend operations was made after an internal review and investigations conducted by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA). Despite extensive investigations, no single cause or pattern has been identified for the horse fatalities.
Diagnostics testing conducted on the racetrack found no concerns, and the track's surface was consistent with previous measurements. However, as a precautionary measure and in alignment with HISA's recommendation, CDI decided to relocate the meeting to conduct a comprehensive review of safety protocols and integrity measures in collaboration with experts.
What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable. 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.
The decision to relocate the Spring Meet to Ellis Park was aimed at minimizing disruption to the Thoroughbred industry in Kentucky. Ellis Park, known for its summer race meet, will now host the remainder of the Spring Meet starting on June 10. The safety initiatives introduced by Churchill Downs earlier will remain in effect during the meet at Ellis Park.
While some, including the Kentucky horsemen, supported the decision to relocate the meet, there were voices of skepticism. Rick Hiles, the president of the Kentucky Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, highlighting the lack of conclusive evidence that the surface at Churchill Downs was responsible for the fatalities. Hiles emphasized the importance of finding solutions that improve safety for horses while also considering the use of therapeutic medications to reduce the risk of injuries.
In a separate announcement made at the beginning of May, Churchill Downs revealed that it expected a significant increase in adjusted EBITDA for Kentucky Derby Week. The race saw impressive metrics, with the Kentucky Derby Day program reaching the highest recorded number at $288.7 million and total program earnings of $412 million for the week.
Churchill Downs' decision to suspend racing operations and relocate the Spring Meet to Ellis Park reflects their commitment to prioritizing the safety and well-being of the horses. By conducting a comprehensive review and collaborating with experts, they aim to strengthen safety protocols and ensure the highest standards are met. The industry and fans alike will be closely watching as Churchill Downs works to address these concerns and make improvements for the future.