Churchill Expresses Concern After Deaths of Two Saffie Joseph Horses

Saffie Joseph Jr. | Sarah Andrew photo

After four equine fatalities suffered on the track over five days at Churchill Downs, the track issued a statement Wednesday saying that they share the concern fans had expressed over the past week, and would continue to “press for answers.”

Kentucky Derby hopeful Wild On Ice (Tapizar) suffered a fatal hind-end injury on April 27 after a work at Churchill and was later euthanized. Take Charge Briana (Curlin) broke down in the fifth race over the Churchill turf course Tuesday. While there would appear to be no connection between those two, it is the deaths of Parents Pride (Maclean's Music) and Chasing Artie (We Miss Artie), both owned by Ken Ramsey and trained by Saffie Joseph, Jr., that have drawn attention.

Parents Pride was the 2-1 second choice in the eighth race on opening day, April 29, when, according to the Equibase chart, he “went wrong between horses at the five sixteenths pole, was pulled up in upper stretch, and got vanned off.” Chasing Artie collapsed and died after finishing last as the 9-2 third choice in Tuesday's eighth race.

“Transparency is an important component of our commitment to safety and accountability in horse racing,” reads the statement. “We share the concern of our fans who have questions about the recent equine fatalities at Churchill Downs Racetrack and we extend our sincere condolences to those who love and cared for these horses.

“Since Opening Night of Kentucky Derby Week, two horses trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. have died suddenly of cause yet to be identified: Parents Pride on Saturday and Chasing Artie on Tuesday. Two other horses sustained musculoskeletal injuries from which they could not recover: Wild on Ice last Thursday while training on dirt and Take Charge Briana during a turf race on Tuesday. Wild on Ice was transported to Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital for care, but both were ultimately euthanized for humane reasons.

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

Joseph had entered Accomplished Girl (Street Boss) in Wednesday's Mamzelle Overnight Stakes at Churchilll, but she was scratched from the race.

The trainer, who is scheduled to saddle Lord Miles (Curlin) in Saturday's Derby, along with six other horses on the card, told Sports Illustrated's Pat Forde on Wednesday that he was considering scratching them as well while he waited for necropsy reports from the two who died.

“I don't know what we're going to do,” Joseph told SI. “I have to decide whether we're going to scratch them or not. I'm very uneasy right now.”

The Churchill statement continued, “Each horse was transported to the University of Kentucky Veterinary Diagnostics Lab for complete necropsies. We continue to press for answers and are working with regulators to conduct swift and thorough investigations. The safety and well-being of horses is a critical issue for which everyone in the industry shares responsibility; however, we will continue to take every measure to ensure that we are providing the safest possible environment for horses on our property.”

Since Churchill released the statement, two additional horses were pulled up and vanned off the track on Wednesday. In Wednesday's third race, That Khenny (Khozan), the 7-2 second choice, was prompting the pace when he “went wrong nearing the five-furlong pole, was pulled up around the turn, dismounted and untacked in the vicinity of the five-sixteenths pole, and got vanned off,” according to the Equibase chart. The race was a one-mile dirt race for $12,500 claimers. Trainer Genaro Garcia reported that the horse was back at the barn, and appeared to be okay.

Two races later, in the fifth race, a six-furlong race on the dirt for $10,000 claimers, Loot the Moon (Dialed In) was also pulled up and vanned off. “Loot the Moon laid off of the pace two wide, tucked to the inside entering the turn, but sustained an injury in upper stretch, was pulled up in midstretch and got vanned off,” the chart reads. Trainer Darren Miller reported that the horse was “comfortable standing and taken back to the barn.”

Daily Racing Form also reported that Code of Kings (Empire Maker) flipped several times in the paddock before the 10th race on Saturday night, and was later diagnosed with a broken neck and euthanized at Rood and Riddle.

“There is nothing more important to HISA than the welfare of both horse and rider,” said HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus. “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. HISA's Racetrack Safety Program mandates that we work alongside state regulators and racetrack operators to protect our equine and human athletes. We are in contact with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Churchill Downs to support their processes. HISA also intends to conduct its own in-depth analysis of the fatalities and will share those findings once the full investigation is complete.”

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