News and STORIES

New Safety Reforms Come to Keeneland, Churchill Downs

Author: Don Mckee
Published: Friday February 28, 2020
On Feb. 27, Keeneland and Churchill Downs announced that the Kentucky race tracks will undergo major reforms in training and racing policies. They will be implemented to strengthen safety protocols. 

The tracks will require veterinary inspections before workouts and race entry. They also have enhanced their reporting and transparency requirements for both trainers and attending veterinarians.

Race-Day Lasix Ban

This year will also see the ban of race-day use of furosemide (Lasix), the anti-bleeding medication. It will be banned in all 2-year-old races at the Kentucky tacks, and it comes from the medication phaseout that was cleared last year by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. 

The Lasix ban will begin with the 2020 spring meet, opening April 2 at Keeneland. That is then followed by the 2020 spring meet at Churchill Downs beginning April 25.

It will go in effect with the opening of the stable areas at both Keeneland and Churchill Downs. The two tracks released a joint release stating that trainers and attending veterinarians must agree to certain conditions to participate at the tacks. 

The first condition is that for a trainer to enter a horse in any race, the horse must first be found fit to race by the attending veterinarian during the three days leading up to entry.

The second condition is that a trainer cannot work a horse until the horse is found fit to work by the attending veterinarian during the five days leading up to the work.

Protocol in California

The new reforms are partly based on the safety and veterinary protocol that was enacted in California following equine fatalities at Santa Anita Park last winter and spring. Horses at the track are required to have frequent veterinary evaluations and must be approved for workouts.

Eoin Harty is the president of California Thoroughbred Trainers. They race at Santa Anita and other jurisdictions, including Kentucky.

Many of the trainers on the Kentucky circuit declined to comment on the new reforms. However, trainer Mike Maker came out in support of the initiatives.

"Anything that proves a safer environment for these athletes and gives the public a better perception of this wonderful sport is a bonus in my book," he said. "If it saves one horse from injury, it should be deemed a success."

Harty said that the regulations can be nuisances, but trainers are becoming used to them in California.

"It's a pain in the ass, to be honest. But it's probably a necessary evil. It forces you to have an extra look at your horse," he said. "Nobody can afford to have an avoidable injury on the racetrack. If this is what it takes — or one of the things that it takes — then so be it."

Since the introduction of the initiatives, California has had a decline in the rate of catastrophic injuries. 

Other measures being implemented at Churchill Downs and Keeneland include the requirement of trainers and attending veterinarians to inform the equine medical director at the appropriate racetrack and the KHRC of any changes in health after an examination. 

All of the horses at Keeneland and Churchill Downs will undergo veterinary inspections by the tracks' equine medical directors.

The new initiatives will also be applied to the horses stabled at The Thoroughbred Center near Lexington and the Churchill Downs Trackside Training Center near Louisville. 

According to a joint statement by Keeneland president and CEO Bill Thomason and Churchill Downs Racetrack president Kevin Flanery, "These meaningful reforms further advance our commitment to create the safest possible environment for racing and training. Racetracks, horsemen, and the veterinary community share a responsibility for the welfare of our human and equine athletes and to promote the sport for generations of fans to come."