An investigation into the dramatic rise in deaths at Churchill Downs surrounding the Kentucky Derby was released Tuesday with a very familiar answer: We don’t know what happened.
The Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) published its 197-page report on Churchill Downs, filled with graphs, charts and all the trappings of a thorough investigation. The only thing missing was a degree.
“The lack of a clear explanation for the recent horse fatalities at several racetracks across the country is extremely frustrating for Thoroughbred racing as a whole, for fans and the public, and also for HISA,” the report said. “Consequently, action must be taken to respond to what we know and what we don’t know for the benefit of Thoroughbred horses.”
Seven horses died at Churchill Downs in the ten days leading up to the Kentucky Derby, two of them on Derby day. Two other horses died before the race but not before training, were suspended at the legendary Louisville track and moved to Ellis Park in Kentucky, two hours away. The move was made on the recommendation of HISA.
HISA recommended several measures, including the superficial formation of new committees. The six-point plan consists of the following recommendations:
– Create a track surface advisory group.
– Create a “Blue Ribbon” committee to look at more racing on synthetic surfaces.
– Collaborate with industry leaders to create more data sources that lead to academic and predictive analytics to determine the causes of fatal horse accidents.
—Additional veterinary protocols through preliminary examinations.
– Explore changes to veterinary protocols.
– Enforce rules for death and injury reporting and autopsies. California and New York have led the way, while Kentucky has kept much of this information secret.
“Of course it would be easier if we had clear evidence and a clear answer, and you could focus all your resources on this one problem,” said Lisa Lazarus, head of HISA. “Still, the fact that it is multifactorial gives us a chance, so we can’t just give up on it.
“Racetracks, breeders and consignors all need to get behind real change. Even if one factor would have been simpler, it offers the opportunity to make a truly comprehensive assessment. Nothing is off the table and no interest group can refuse to participate.”