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Churchill Downs, Keeneland among leading horse racing organizations to launch safety coalition

KyForward staff

The nation’s leading Thoroughbred racing organizations on Tuesday announced the creation of an industry-led effort to unify and enhance existing protections and work together to develop new reforms to ensure the safety of the sport’s equine and human athletes.

Partnering together under the name Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, the group seeks to create and implement a series of significant safety, medication, operational and integrity guidelines across Thoroughbred racing to ensure the well-being of horses and jockeys and increase transparency and accountability.

The coalition is composed of organizations that have individually led efforts to modernize the sport, and are now using their combined resolve, expertise and resources to advocate for enhanced safety measures throughout Thoroughbred racing.

A full list of these measures can be found here.Coalition founding members include Breeders’ Cup Limited, Churchill Downs Inc., Keeneland Association Inc., the New York Racing Association Inc. (NYRA), Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and The Stronach Group. Together they represent more than 85 percent of graded stakes racing in America.


“We are passionate about these animals and this sport, and we are committed to working with our partners to ensure that together we are making sound and responsible decisions on behalf of our athletes, our fans and the racing community,” said Kevin Flanery, President of Churchill Downs Racetrack. “Many of us have taken concrete action at our own tracks and are individually working with regulators and lawmakers in our states to enhance safety protocols. The Thoroughbred Safety Coalition will help drive these needed reforms across the nation.”

Churchill Downs, Inc, recently announced plans to buy Turfway Park in Florence and invest $150 million, which includes the $46 million purchase price, in upgrades.

“Thoroughbred racing is steeped in tradition and we want the sport to live on for generations to come, and that is only possible with all of us working together to ensure that the safety and well-being of our athletes is our top priority,” said Drew Fleming, President and CEO of Breeders’ Cup Limited.

The coalition will adopt best practices and set stricter guidelines for allowable medications, enact standards for crop use, encourage greater transparency and tracking of veterinarian exam records, and commit to the creation of new positions to implement and enforce these reforms.


“Protecting the health and welfare of our athletes is a complicated question that requires a multi-faceted approach. That’s why we are implementing significant measures across the sport – from the quality of our track surfaces to ensuring horses are fit to run each and every time through medication reforms and enhanced veterinary examinations. There is no single solution and we are committed to finding the right answers, wherever that may lead us,” said Bill Thomason, President and CEO of Keeneland Association Inc.

Members say the announcement of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition is just a start – but an important one – and all are committed to making the sport safer.

“The Thoroughbred Safety Coalition presents an opportunity for the sport to adopt a set of best practices with a unified approach to equine safety,” said David O’Rourke, CEO and President of NYRA. “We look forward to advancing these efforts, communicating directly with the public and broadening the coalition in the coming weeks and months.”

The industry has been under increased scrutiny since a spike in the number of horse deaths at Santa Anita Race Track, owned by The Stronach Group, began late last year.

Since Dec. 26, there have been 36 horse deaths at Santa Anita alone.

Provided photo

With all eyes on Santa Anita during the recently completed Breeders’ Cup World Championships, it appeared the track would complete the two days of racing without a fatality. Those hopes were dashed, however, when Mongolian Groom suffered a fatal breakdown near the end of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the last race of day two.

“The Thoroughbred horse racing industry has reached a watershed moment where unprecedented reforms touching all areas of the sport must continue to be advanced and implemented,” said Craig Fravel, Chief Executive Officer, Racing, The Stronach Group. “The Thoroughbred Safety Coalition represents a step toward greater accountability and transparency to put horse and rider safety and care at the forefront.”

Del Mar, in Southern California, had not seen a single horse death in 2019 until two thoroughbreds died and another was injured on Nov. 10, within a 90-minute window, at the Bing Crosby meet.

“California racing has embraced progressive reforms over the last several years and we are pleased to join this group today to help push forward similar reforms in other jurisdictions in the US,” said Josh Rubinstein, President of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. “It is critically important that we work together to create the highest levels of safety, integrity and accountability at our tracks and it is also our responsibility to more proactively help the public understand the extensive steps we take to promote a safer environment for our human and equine athletes.”

Those interested in learning more about the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition or in receiving updates can click here.

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