Churchill Downs Emphasizes Safety Ahead of 2019 Kentucky Derby

Initiatives include building an equine medical center and quarantine facility on the Louisville, Kentucky, racetrack’s backside, hiring an equine medical director, and more.

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2019 kentucky derby
Churchill Downs announced initiatives to improve horse and human safety protocols and procedures ahead of the 2019 Kentucky Derby, taking place May 4 at the Louisville racetrack. | Photo: Churchill Downs

Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) announced April 18 initiatives to improve horse and human safety protocols and procedures ahead of the 2019 Kentucky Derby, taking place May 4 at the Louisville racetrack

Initiatives include:

  • Investing $8 million to build a state-of-the-art equine medical center and quarantine facility and make related capital improvements on the racetrack’s backside. The equine medical center, which is slated to open in March 2020, will be used for every-day equine therapeutic purposes as well as immediate and advanced onsite care in the event of injury. Churchill Downs will also have a temporary equine medical center in place for the 2019 Kentucky Derby. The quarantine facility will allow international horses to fly directly to Kentucky and eliminate long van rides when racing at Kentucky venues. It will also provide a facility for isolating, monitoring, and treating horses suffering from contagious equine diseases.
  • Advocating for reforms to race-day medication practices. Furosemide (marketed as Salix and often referred to as Lasix) is the only race-day medication permitted in U.S. horse racing. While furosemide’s therapeutic use is the subject of debate with recognized equine experts and veterinarians on both sides, Churchill Downs supports 1)Eliminating race-day furosemide for 2-year-old horses by 2020 and in all stakes races beginning in 2021; and 2) immediately reducing the maximum dosage from 10 cc to 5 cc for all horses who race at U.S. tracks. Churchill Downs will advocate in the strongest possible terms with Kentucky regulators and the regulators of other U.S. racing jurisdictions to achieve this result; CDI said it is their intention to run the 2021 Kentucky Derby without the permitted furosemide use.
  • Creating an independent national Office of Racing Integrity (ORI). Churchill Downs will work with other industry leaders to immediately form and fund a new organization dedicated to developing and sharing best practices and research in horseracing. The national organization will also advocate with state regulators for fair, robust, and uniform industry regulation to better protect horses, jockeys, trainers, owners, fans, and the betting public. The organization said it will announce an executive leader for the organization and its initial membership in the coming weeks.
  • Adopting of international standards for crop use. While the low-impact riding crop is an essential aid to safe horsemanship, CDI said its use should be humane and limited to safety, course correction, and responsible encouragement. Once Kentucky regulators update the applicable regulations, we will immediately adopt the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA) model rules that govern the use of the low-impact riding crop worldwide. Additionally, CDI said it will advocate for the IFHA model rules in all U.S. racing jurisdictions.
  • Formalizing concussion protocol to maximize jockey safety. While Churchill Downs has a proven record of delivering immediate care to riders via onsite doctors and nurses, we are taking additional steps to formalize our concussion policies. This includes more thorough jockey education, baseline concussion testing, onsite evaluation after a fall, and additional return-to-ride requirements.
  • Hiring an equine medical director to oversee horse safety and care at all CDI properties. This position will be responsible for implementing and enforcing all equine safety protocols and procedures, investigating and documenting all safety incidents, and collecting and analyzing race data in order to implement evidence-based best practices across Churchill Downs’ properties. The equine medical director will also be externally focused on better educating owners, trainers, and other racing industry participants about safety practices.
  • Installing camera surveillance. Over the next three years, Churchill Downs will greatly expand camera surveillance across the approximately 55 acres of backside operations, including the installing of 24-hour surveillance cameras in every barn, stall, and common area to better ensure the physical safety and security of horses, personnel, and visitors.
  • Advocating for additional equine mediation reforms. Churchill Downs will advocate immediately with applicable regulatory authorities for increased withdrawal times for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids so horses can be more adequately evaluated during pre-race veterinary examinations. Additionally, CDI said it will continue its financial support and advocacy for high-quality drug testing as well as the Racing Medication and Testing Consortium’s mission to extend its accreditation program to measure not only the capabilities of testing labs but to also verify what testing is being performed.
  • Contributing to industry research. Churchill Downs is committing an additional $100,000 in financial support to fund key scientific research projects geared toward improving racehorse safety and welfare, particularly with respect improving treatment options for joint and leg injuries.

These measures will build upon Churchill Downs’ “Safety from Start to Finish” program, which launched in 2009 and is updated each year, CDI said

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