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4 horses die at Churchill Downs in the days leading up to Kentucky Derby

Four horses have died after running at Churchill Downs since Thursday as the famed track prepares to host the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reported Wednesday that three horses died in two days of spring racing since the season started. Parents Pride collapsed and died after racing Saturday. Chasing Artie died under similar circumstances after racing Tuesday.

Both were owned by Ken Ramsey, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. and ridden by Luis Saez, the Courier-Journal reports. Mark Partridge, who manages Ramsey Farms, confirmed their deaths to the Courier-Journal.

Churchill Downs has seen multiple horse deaths in recent days and the cause of two of them remains unknown. (Jamie Rhodes/Reuters)
Churchill Downs has seen multiple horse deaths in recent days and the cause of two of them remains unknown. (Jamie Rhodes/Reuters)

Take Charge Briana was euthanized Saturday after sustaining what Daily Racing Forum reports was a "catastrophic" injury during competition. She was owned by Willis Horton Racing and trained by D. Wayne Lukas, the Courier-Journal reports.

A fourth horse — Wild on Ice — was euthanized Thursday after breaking his hind leg during training. His jockey, Ken Tohill, pulled him up while he was galloping on the back stretch. He was preparing to run in the Derby. He was owned by Frank Sumpter.

Churchill Downs released a statement addressing the deaths.

"While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable," the statement reads. "We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed."

Cause of death for 2 horses remains a mystery

The deaths of the horses trained by Joseph don't appear to be injury related. The causes are still pending necropsies, the Courier-Journal reports. Joseph told the Courier-Journal that bloodwork and labs came back normal for both horses and that their team is testing the horses' feed and supplements for irregularities.

"We’re going to have to figure out, ‘What’s the reason?’" Joseph said. "I don’t think it’s bad fortune. It’s not about that, to happen twice. ... I don’t have an answer right now. I wish I did.

"Something’s not right. These horses, it wasn’t because of injury. They left the gate and didn’t even try and then dropped down. … Theories aren’t going to help. We need facts."

Joseph is a renowned trainer whose horses produced 174 wins and more than $10 million prize money in 2022. He trains Lord Miles, who's slated to start from the 19th gate in Saturday's Kentucky Derby. Joseph told USA Today that plans to race other horses this weekend are in jeopardy as the causes of death for Parents Pride and Chasing Artie remain unclear.

“When you don’t know something, that’s when it worries you the most,” Joseph told USA Today. “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.”

Past horse deaths at Churchill Downs, elsewhere

Churchill Downs has a history of racing-related horse fatalties. The Courier-Journal reported in 2019 that the track's death rate of 2.73 per 1,000 starts in 2018 was the second-highest among 25 tracks that publicly reported horse fatalities. Its rate of 2.42 per 1,000 (43 total deaths) from 2016 through 2018 was 50% higher than the national average over the same timeframe, per the report.

Racing related horse deaths aren't unique to Churchill Downs. Per Jockey Club data cited by the Courier-Journal, more than 7,200 horses died from racing injuries from 2009-21.