Churchill Downs announced that trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. has been suspended after two horses trained by him died in the last week.
In a statement, Churchill Downs called the deaths of Parents Pride on Saturday and Chasing Artie on Tuesday “highly unusual” and “sudden.”
Churchill Downs also said that Lord Miles, a horse trained by Joseph, has been scratched from Saturday’s run. Miles was considered somewhat of a long shot with 30-to-1 odds to win earlier this week.
“Given the unexplained sudden deaths, we have reasonable concerns about the condition of his horses, and decided to suspend him indefinitely until details are analyzed and understood,” said Bill Mudd, president of Churchill Downs Inc. “The safety of our equine and human athletes and integrity of our sport is our highest priority. We feel these measures are our duty and responsibility.”
Besides the two horses trained by Joseph that died, two other horses sustained musculoskeletal injuries and were euthanized.
According to Churchill Downs, Wild on Ice died April 27 after training on the dirt track, and Take Charge Briana died Tuesday after training on the turf track.
None of the horses that died were due to race in the Kentucky Derby.
While Churchill Downs officials called the deaths “completely unacceptable,” they believe the track is safe for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
“We have full confidence in our racing surfaces and have been assured by our riders and horsemen that they do as well,” Churchill Downs said.
However, the animal welfare activist group PETA says Churchill Downs should close in the wake of the recent deaths.
“The track should close down immediately to put safety protocols in place, including reviewing all veterinary records and medications, observing workouts, and, as PETA recommended years ago, installing standing CT imaging equipment to detect injuries,” PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said. “Dirt and turf tracks should be replaced with synthetic surfaces, which statistics have long shown to be the safest. Horses should not be dying for human entertainment.”
Among the three most popular surfaces, dirt courses, like the one the Kentucky Derby uses, have the highest rate of fatal injuries, according to the Equine Injury Database.
Churchill Downs has both a dirt and turf track.
In 2021, there were 1.51 fatal injuries for every 1,000 starts on dirt. On turf tracks, there were 1.25 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts. Synthetic turf had 0.75 fatal injuries per 1,000 starts, the Equine Injury Database reported.
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