From the HISA Media Team:

HISA Releases Findings of Churchill Downs Investigation and Announces Critical Initiatives to Reduce Equine Fatalities

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) today released a report detailing the findings of its investigation into the circumstances surrounding the 12 equine fatalities that took place at Churchill Downs Racetrack from April 27 – May 27, 2023. HISA also announced a series of proposed (and in some cases, mandated) initiatives and reforms aimed at significantly reducing equine fatalities.

HISA’s investigation evaluated three primary factors: 1) the potential role of Churchill Downs’ racetrack surfaces in the breakdowns, 2) veterinary records including the necropsies of each of the 12 horses and 3) any potential rules violations or procedural deficiencies that may have contributed to the fatalities. The full report outlining HISA’s findings is available here.

Despite extensive investigation and analysis, HISA did not identify any singular explanation for the fatalities at Churchill Downs. The absence of a singular explanation underscores the urgent need for further action and analysis to mitigate risk stemming from several factors potentially contributing to equine fatalities.

“HISA’s most important mission is to protect the health and wellbeing of the horses participating in Thoroughbred racing,” said HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus. “The events at Churchill Downs, Laurel Park and Saratoga Race Course this spring and summer were a sobering reminder of the complexity of that mission. We must create a culture of safety and an ecosystem of care that takes into account all factors contributing to equine fatalities.  And it is the responsibility of all racing participants to do their part. That is why HISA is making ambitious recommendations and further mandates to ensure everyone involved in the sport acts, first and foremost, in the best interest of the horse. Racing can and must do better.”

HISA’s strategic response to reduce equine fatalities were motivated by the causes of and circumstances surrounding recent clusters of equine fatalities and are laid out in full here. These recommendations include:

  • A robust data analysis effort in which HISA will work with top data analytics companies to explore critical questions facing the sport. The application of sophisticated data analysis, made possible by uniform reporting requirements under HISA, will yield new, actionable insights into factors contributing to equine fatalities.
  • The creation of a Blue-Ribbon Committee to work toward the study and ultimate introduction of more synthetic surface options in Thoroughbred racing.
  • Improved veterinary screening and diagnostic procedures including:
    • Making PET scans more accessible to racetracks across the country
    • Conducting a research study to examine the causes of exercise-associated sudden deaths
    • Further use of wearable technology as an injury detection tool
    • An examination of whether there are any other equine fitness tools worthy of investment and deployment

Several additional recommendations, including robust proposed changes to HISA’s existing Racetrack Safety rules, are detailed here.

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About the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority

When the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act was signed into federal law, it charged the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with drafting and enforcing uniform safety and integrity rules in Thoroughbred racing in the U.S. Overseen by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), HISA is implementing, for the first time, a national, uniform set of rules applicable to every Thoroughbred racing participant and racetrack facility. HISA is comprised of two programs: the Racetrack Safety Program, which went into effect on July 1, 2022, and the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program, which went into effect on May 22, 2023.

The Racetrack Safety Program includes operational safety rules and national racetrack accreditation standards that seek to enhance equine welfare and minimize equine and jockey injury. The Program expands veterinary oversight, imposes surface maintenance and testing requirements, enhances jockey safety, regulates riding crop use and implements voided claim rules, among other important measures.

The ADMC Program includes a centralized testing and results management process and applies uniform penalties for violations efficiently and consistently across the United States. These rules and enforcement mechanisms are administered by an independent agency, the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU), established by Drug Free Sport International (DFS). HIWU oversees testing, educates stakeholders on the Program, accredits laboratories, investigates potential ADMC violations and prosecutes any such violations.