HISA chief: Churchill Downs would pause racing if needed

The head of horse racing's oversight authority believes Churchill Downs would accept a recommendation to pause racing if necessary as an emergency summit convenes to examine the deaths of 12 horses over the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority CEO Lisa Lazarus noted that while the federally created board doesn't have the authority to close Churchill Downs, it can make that recommendation.

"I've had some very multiple long conversations with top-ranked executives at Churchill Downs over the weekend, and they are really committed to doing the right thing," Lazarus said Tuesday during a virtual news conference just ahead of the summit with Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

"My strong view is that if we were to make a recommendation to Churchill Downs to shut down racing, that they would accept that recommendation."

Churchill Downs' spring meet is scheduled to resume on Thursday evening.

HISA called for the emergency summit in Lexington, Kentucky, on Monday to review information and conduct additional analysis. Veteran track superintendent Dennis Moore will conduct an independent analysis of the track's racing and training surfaces, and HISA equine safety and welfare director Jennifer Durenberger will provide on-site oversight of the horses.

Seven horses died from training or racing injuries at Churchill Downs leading up to the 149th Kentucky Derby on May 6, including two on the undercard. Wild On Ice was the first to be euthanized on April 27 with a leg injury suffered after training. Five have died since then, including 7-year-olds Lost in Limbo and Kimberley Dream over the weekend.

Lazarus said the summit would examine factors such as Churchill Downs' track surface, veterinary oversight and misuse of medications with horses. Tuesday's session will focus on veterinary issues with an examination of six months of medical records, she added.

As for Churchill Downs' track surface, Lazarus said there was no reason for concern following previous analyses conducted by Mick Peterson, director of the University of Kentucky's racetrack safety program. HISA requested a second opinion from Moore as "a second set of eyes" to ensure confidence in that decision, Lazarus added.

"We believe that the situation calls for additional scrutiny on the surface just to make sure that nothing's being missed," she said.

HISA announced hours after the Derby that it was communicating with the KHRC as it investigated the initial horse deaths that cast a shadow over the marquee race. Lazarus said the urgency to conduct a summit became clearer as the numbers added up and required something more comprehensive.