Following 12 horse deaths, when will racing return to Churchill … – Courier Journal

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Big hats emerged, bets placed and bourbon persistently poured for five weeks surrounding the one-mile oval track.
And 12 horses died.
That dirt track went silent this week.
For the first time in history, racing at Churchill Downs was suspended for the deaths of its athletes.
Time ticked on.
No gates swung open.
No bugle called horses to the post.
No gambler won a dollar.
Three days of racing were canceled by the track. The remainder of the Spring Meet was relocated to Ellis Park in Henderson.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission approved that move.
So with racing stopped in Louisville, what do those in the industry want to see in order for racing to return?
That answer is as elusive as the reasons for the deaths of the Derby dozen.
More: Racing at Churchill Downs has been paused, but training at the track continues
Of those The Courier Journal spoke with, no horseman, horseman’s group, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) – a newly formed federal agency tasked with increasing safety in the sport – or even the track itself had a concrete answer.
There was no gold standard, plan or benchmark they hoped would be met to ensure that racing is returned to the track in September.
That’s in part because nobody knows what caused the big problem in the first place.
In the end, the decision to move the rest of the Spring Meet, as well as the decision to return to racing in September is up to one entity: the track itself.
“This is a company decision that we pull all the pieces together,” said Dr. Will Farmer, the equine medical director for Churchill Downs who is tasked with overseeing the safety of horses at all nine tracks owned by CDI.
“By having additional time between now and September, we’re able to do a top-to-bottom review of what’s been done and look for new things we can do to make sure we’re addressing and covering all of our bases to ensure we have the most consistent surface possible – and without the stresses of race day operations.”
HISA also believes the suspension of race-day operations at the track will allow Churchill to make sure “no stone is left unturned.” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said the agency is hoping to have its own independent investigation done ahead of the September race dates.
“Churchill has really been as cooperative and as keen to figure out if there’s anything wrong with the track,” Lazarus said. “I’m satisfied they’re going to do that.
“We will look at certainly the results of that (internal) investigation, but there is no magic number because it’s not purely science. It’s a mix of science and information and judgment calls.”
But just like HISA only recommended that Churchill Downs suspended racing, it does not have the authority to tell the track whether or not to resume racing in the fall.
More: Horse racing suspended at Churchill Downs: Here’s what to know about move to Ellis Park
Before announcing the move to Ellis Park, Churchill Downs released new regulations for horsemen and horses.
Eric Hamelback is CEO of the National HBPA, a national organization that includes owners, trainers and backstretch personnel. Hamelback hopes all safety measures are reviewed, including veterinarian evaluation standards and even a third review of the track surface for uniformity.
“Trying to sway public perception is not a reason to create regulations,” Hamelback told The Courier Journal. “I know track ownership will be doing additional testing (of the track surface), and I would hope much of that evaluation will be done from a more independent assessment.”
For Dale Romans, a longtime trainer and Louisvillian, the answer is time.
“We just have to go through this summer of training and not have any odd injuries that happen to horses,” Romans said. “And if we don’t then we should be good for September.”
Kentucky’s Thoroughbred Association is also an organization that includes owners, trainers and those in the racing industry. KTA executive director Chauncey Morris said “Churchill Downs, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and HISA are responsible stakeholders. When they give the green light, it will include demonstration to trainers and owners that conditions are safe.”
There was no consensus among the more than a dozen owners, trainers and horsemen that The Courier Journal spoke with. Some have concerns about the track. Others say they have zero.
The one common denominator in the dozen deaths − even the three that weren’t breakdown related − is they all happened under the twin spires.
“All we can do is fairly assess the racetrack, and continue to monitor the necropsy reports – and I’m going to bet there’s no common evidential piece that connects them,” Hamelback said.
For Maggi Moss, an owner who has run horses at Churchill Downs (by her count) for 18 years, she felt comfortable racing there right now.
“Some of the best trainers in North America are at Churchill Downs,” she said. “They’re there 24/7. It means nobody is more intimately with their horses than esteemed trainers who have their hands on these horses 24/7. I had zero problems. Zero.”
Why?
“We have 23 tracks running right now,” she said. “Do they not have breakdowns? Of course, they do, with far less regulatory authority. I don’t want any breakdowns at any racetracks, but I have to be more comfortable at Churchill because I know the scrutiny is far more than at other racetracks.”
One example of those increased regulations is before a horse ever races at the Kentucky track, it undergoes evaluations by four veterinarians.
For the last month, one veterinarian has had no rest: Dr. Will Farmer.
“It has been incredibly stressful to try and work with HISA, the KHRC and our track experts to take a fine-tooth comb to everything we have got in place currently to make sure there is nothing we missed or any loophole within our protocols that can be identified,” Farmer said.
So, what needs to happen for racing to return to Churchill Downs?
Nothing.
Reach Stephanie Kuzydym at skuzydym@courier-journal.com. Follow her for updates on Twitter at @stephkuzy.

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