An investigation into the dramatic rise in deaths at Churchill Downs around the Kentucky Derby was released on Tuesday with a very familiar answer — we don’t know what happened.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) released its 197-page report on Churchill Downs, filled with graphs, charts and all the trappings of a thorough examination. The only thing it lacked was a conclusion.
“The absence of a singular explanation for recent equine fatalities at several racetracks across the country is extremely frustrating for the entire sport of thoroughbred racing, for fans and the public, and also for HISA,” according to the report. “Consequently, action must be taken in reaction to what we know and what we do not know, for the welfare of thoroughbred horses.”
Seven horses died at Churchill Downs in the 10 days leading up to the Kentucky Derby, two on Derby day. Two more horses died before racing, but not training, was suspended at the iconic Louisville track and moved to Ellis Park, two hours away in Kentucky. The move was made at the recommendation of HISA.
HISA recommended several actions, including the perfunctory forming of new committees. Its six-point plan is composed of these recommendations:
—Create a track surface advisory group.
—Create a “blue ribbon” committee that would look at having more racing on synthetic surfaces.
—Work with industry leaders to create more data sources that will lead to academic analysis and predictive analytics to help find the causes of horse fatalities.
—Additional veterinary protocols through advance screenings.
—Explore changes to veterinary protocols.
—Enforcing rules around fatality and injury reporting and necropsies. California and New York have been leaders in this, while Kentucky keeps much of this information under a cloud of secrecy.
“Obviously, if we had one smoking gun, one clear answer, that would be simpler and you can put all of your resources dealing with that one issue,” said Lisa Lazarus, head of HISA. “That being said, the fact that it is multifactorial gives us an opportunity so we can’t just kick the can down the road.
“Race tracks and breeders and consigners all have to be behind real change. Even though one factor would have been easier, it gives the opportunity to give a really comprehensive review. Nothing is off the table, and no stakeholder group can decline to participate.”