LOS ANGELES — Kentucky considers itself the cradle of horse racing in the United States. It has the most important race and the largest breeding facilities but is dealing with an unwelcome crisis — the deaths of racing thoroughbreds. So, where does it look for advice? California.
Jamie Eads, the newly appointed executive director of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, called her counterpart at the California Horse Racing Board, Scott Chaney, over the weekend after Churchill Downs suffered its 11th and 12th fatalities in the last 30 days.
The two spoke Tuesday with the major topic being the post-entry panel that California uses to screen horses that possibly shouldn’t be racing.
“She generally wanted to know about our experiences in 2019,” Chaney said. “It stemmed from something [equine medical director] Jeff Blea said about how a horse that had the past performances like the one in Kentucky would have been flagged. She wanted to know how the post-entry panel worked and who was on it.”
On Saturday, Kimberley Dream, a 7-year-old mare, was euthanized after suffering a life-ending injury. She had lost her five previous races by a total of 130 lengths. Blea told The Los Angeles Times that a horse with those past performances would raise “significant concerns, [and] raise a red flag.” Kentucky does not have a post-entry review panel.
The conversation came on the same day Lisa Lazarus, chief executive of the Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority, had a call with about 40 media members. HISA is conducting an investigation into the deaths at Churchill Downs, including bringing in Dennis Moore, the long time track superintendent at Santa Anita and Del Mar, to examine the safety of the Kentucky track. Among what he possibly will examine is the equipment used to prepare the track and if it is up to date.
Lazarus said that if HISA recommended that the track be shut down, she would expect Churchill Downs to comply. She did not know, however, if HISA has that authority.
Chaney was on the first California post-entry panels when he was a steward.
“We scratched five to eight horses every card,” Chaney said. “That was the experience [in 2019]. But through time, horsemen learned criteria and risk factors. We saw the behavior of the licensees start to change. They were no longer entering high-risk horses. Now, it’s very rare for the panel to scratch a horse or if they have a question they call for a vet to look at the horse.”
California has reduced fatalities by 55% since 2019.
Churchill Downs will resume racing Thursday and continue until July 3. Meanwhile, the national spotlight will switch to Elmont, N.Y., where the Belmont Stakes will be run June 10.