Four horses die in Kentucky before iconic derby

·2-min read

Four horses have died in the week leading up to the running of the 149th Kentucky Derby in Louisville, casting a pall over this year’s occasion of the iconic race.

One of the horses that died was supposed to be on the track on Saturday: Wild On Ice suffered an injury to one of his hind legs last Thursday and was taken to a hospital where he was euthinised. The horse, which won the Sunland Derby earlier this year, was just three years old.

The loss of Wild On Ice is a bitter blow for trainer Joel Marr, who has never before had a horse race in the Kentucky Derby, and for jockey Ken Tohill, who would have become the oldest jockey to ride a horse in the event.

But while Wild On Ice was the highest-profile horse to die following a race at Churchill Downs in recent days, he was far from the only horse. On Tuesday, a three-year-old filly named Take Charge Briana was also injured during a race and euthanised, while Chasing Artie, a five-year-old, and Parents Pride, a four-year-old filly, both collapsed and died on the track.

Chasing Artie and Parents Pride have the same owner and trainer, Ken Ramsey and Saffie Jones Jr. Mr Ramsey told Horse Racing Nation that both horses were fit before taking to the track and called the manner of their deaths “perplexing.” Mr Joseph has a horse running in Saturday’s Derby as well.

Churchill Downs issued a statement on Wednesday saying that while the string of deaths is “highly unusual,” it is also “completely unaccetable.”

“We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed,” the statement read. “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. We have full confidence in our racing surfaces and have been assured by our riders and horsemen that they do as well.”

The sudden deaths of horses is a long-running issue in horseracing, but different states have different reporting requirements around horse deaths. California and New York both have thorough reporting requirements and keep databases of all injuries and deaths. Kentucky has neither.

Lisa Lazarus, CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, told the Associated Press that her organisation intends to conduct its own “in-depth analysis” of the deaths and publicly share its findings.

“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,” Ms Lazarus said.