Churchill Downs Inc., the parent company of the racetrack, tells BourbonBlog.com that it s transferring its current spring-summer racing meet to Ellis Park. The races are scheduled to continue as usual this weekend on Saturday and Sunday at Churchill Downs before the remainder of the meet is moved. This decision comes as a reaction to increasing pressure from federal regulators and the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA).
After a series of twelve horse deaths within five weeks since March 30, 2023, many euthanized after falling victim to racing injuries, Churchill Downs will mark a significant shift for Churchill Downs, considering the historical prominence of the racing event.
While the racing office promised assistance with travel to Ellis Park, located 134 miles west of Churchill Downs via Interstate 64 in Henderson, Kentucky, the condition book of the racing meet will remain the same.
The Reason Behind The Move
The decision to relocate the meet arose as a response to the recent fatalities and concerns surrounding the track’s safety. Despite expert investigations revealing no surface issues at Churchill Downs, the track’s management decided to conduct a comprehensive review of all safety, surface protocols, and integrity measures in consultation with nationwide experts.
The series of horse deaths, starting with the Kentucky Derby contender, Wild On Ice on April 27, has been deeply upsetting and unacceptable for all involved, according to CEO of Churchill Downs Inc., Bill Carstanjen.
In a situation where no discernable patterns or common causes for the deaths have been identified, a pause in the racing activities became an imperative measure to undertake a thorough investigation and strengthen safety protocols.
HISA, supporting the move, stated, “Given that no cohesive explanation has been identified for this unusually high number of fatalities, we have recommended that racing be temporarily suspended to allow time to more clearly identify the factor(s) contributing to these fatalities as well as tangible interventions to prevent them in the future.”
Impact and Future Expectations
Despite the unprecedented step of relocation, the aim is to maintain the industry ecosystem with minimal disruption. New safety measures including restrictions on the number of races per horse within a specific period, and limitations on entry for runners failing to finish within a certain distance of the winner in their last five starts, will be retained at Ellis Park.
The summer meet at Ellis Park, traditionally scheduled from July 7 to August 27, will be the first under the company’s banner since Churchill Downs Inc. acquired Ellis Park for $79 million in 2022.
The relocated meet from Churchill Downs, originally scheduled to run through July 3, will resume on June 10 at Ellis Park. Several races, including the Matt Winn (G3) on June 11, the Chicago (G3) on June 24, and the July 1 card featuring the Stephen Foster, will be held at the new location.
The Stephen Foster Stakes is a Grade I American Thoroughbred horse race for horses aged three and older over a distance of 11⁄8 miles and holds a purse of $1 million.
While the relocation marks an extraordinary moment in modern racing, it mirrors the industry’s commitment to prioritizing horse safety and wellbeing above all. Churchill Downs Inc. tells us they remain dedicated to finding solutions that will enhance safety and provide the safest racing environment for all participants.
We will continue to follow this story on BourbonBlog.com
All images provided by Ellis Park and Churchill Downs