By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
On June 2, Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, suspended horse racing upon the recommendation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority after 12 horses died in a span of a few weeks at the track.
Just 10 days prior the Authority finally gained the power to fully enforce the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, landmark legislation that passed in 2020. After the recent spate of horse deaths, the Authority recommended that Churchill Downs suspend racing and conduct an extensive safety review. Remarkably, the track heeded this call.
We are determined that this be just the first of many such racing industry moves that prioritize horse safety and welfare. This moment is the culmination of years of advocacy and collaboration with forward-thinking industry leaders. Despite repeated attempts by some industry outliers to block these reforms, the Authority can finally fully enforce the HISA’s racetrack safety and anti-doping measures. Trainers with records of horse fatalities and drug violations who have remained seemingly untouched by the scandals that surround them may finally come to reckon with the penalties they deserve.
But the Authority still faces obstruction within the industry, most notably from the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, which has filed lawsuit after lawsuit to block the changes the HISA seeks to make.
In listening to the Authority and stepping up to halt operations and prioritize horse safety, Churchill Downs has done the right thing. This act of responsibility and transparency is a step toward reforming horse racing, but more needs to be done.
No more lives can be lost. Nothing can bring back those 12 horses who perished at Churchill Downs, nor the hundreds who have died over the years in accidents at tracks across the country that may have been prevented. Anyone obstructing reforms that put animal welfare first in horse racing cares not at all for the equines that make the sport possible. To laud these horses and yet see their injuries and deaths as a mere cost of doing business is a truly brutal way to treat these animals.
As the final race of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, approaches this weekend, we are insisting that horse racing should not be a matter of life or death.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.