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Kentucky Derby horse death investigation, explained: Why horses were dying at Churchill Downs during 2023 race week

Seven horses died in the span of a week leading up to the 2023 Kentucky Derby, and two more passed away on Derby Day. Churchill Downs investigated into what has led to the deaths.

Five of the horse deaths’ causes were made public. Wild on Ice and Take Charge Briana were both injured on the track and were euthanized. Code of Kings broke his neck in a saddling paddock and euthanized on April 29. Chloe’s Dream was taken off the track in an ambulance after a leg injury on Saturday and later euthanized, and Freezing Point’s death was announced shortly after he pulled up injured during the Pat Day Mile. 

The first death was Wild on Ice in the week before the Kentucky Derby. The 3-year-old Texas-bred gelding had won three of five races and came into the Kentucky Derby ranked 15th in points standings. On the Tuesday before the weekend, it was also announced that Take Charge Briana, a 3-year-old filly, had been euthanized as well.

It was later reported that one week prior to the Kentucky Derby, Code of Kings flipped three times and was reportedly bleeding from his mouth, leading to the 3-year-old gelding being euthanized, according to the Courier Journal.

Derby Day’s death of Chloe’s Dream occurred after the horse took an awkward step on the first turn of the day’s second race. That led to even more speculation about the track conditions at Churchill Downs. 

But what has advanced the investigation is the most recent deaths, those of Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, where the cause of death was not immediately known.

MORE: Horses, odds, expert picks & more for 2024 Kentucky Derby

Here’s what you need to know about Churchill Downs’ 2023 investigation into the deaths of the four horses.

Kentucky Derby horse death investigation

In a statement released, Churchill Downs said it was working with regulators to investigate the deaths of the horses. The statement was released when the only reported deaths were those of Wild on Ice, Take Charge Briana, Parents Pride and Chasing Artie. It said in the release that while the series of deaths was “highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable.”

“We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed,” Churchill Downs said in the statement. “We feel a tremendous responsibility to our fans, the participants in our sport and the entire industry to be a leader in safety and continue to make significant investments to eliminate risk to our athletes.”

The statement clarified that both Wild on Ice and Take Charge Briana died after injuries while training. Wild on Ice sustained an injury training on dirt while Take Charge Briana was hurt during a turf race. The two horses were both evaluated, and the decision was made for them to be euthanized “for humane reasons.”

However, per the Associated Press, there was no cause of death listed for Parents Pride or Chasing Artie, both of which are trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. Both horses collapsed on the track and died over the past week, and Joseph said blood work did not find anything that could immediately be viewed as the cause.

“When you don’t know something, that’s when it worries you the most,” Joseph said, per the AP. “Something is wrong. A lot of thoughts run through your head, but you can drive yourself insane. But I’m very uneasy right now. It’s not something I would wish on anybody.”

It was later reported Joseph was suspended indefinitely by Churchill Downs following the deaths of Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, according to CNN.

The day after the Kentucky Derby, Churchill Downs released another statement explaining that the seven horse deaths this year have been a “sobering reminder” of the important in minimizing risk in horse racing.

The statement said there is “more to be done” as Churchill Downs looks into what might have caused the deaths.

“While each incident reported has been unique, it is important to note that there has been no discernible pattern detected int he injuries sustained,” the statement read. “Our track surfaces are closely monitored by industry experts to ensure their integrity. Each horse that participates in racing at Churchill Downs must undergo multiple, comprehensive veterinarian exams and observations to ensure their fitness to race.”

Churchill Downs will not be the only organization conducting an investigation. Horse Integrity and Safety Authority CEO Lisa Lazarus told the AP that her organization intends to investigate the deaths of the four horses and share results once the probe has concluded.

“When horses die unexpectedly, we all suffer, but we take comfort in the tools and practices we have collectively developed to investigate contributing factors and deploy those learnings to minimize future risk,” Lazarus said.

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