At Churchill Downs, Humans Failed the Horses Again

The modestly bred Mage rumbled down the stretch to win this year’s Kentucky Derby on Saturday at 15-1 odds. Castellano, one of the most admired gentlemen in his profession, finally won at the only big race where victory had eluded him. And Delgado, like Castellano a native of Venezuela, was standing in the winner’s circle that he had dreamed of being in as a boy.

But their accomplishments were eclipsed by the death of seven horses at Churchill Downs in the lead-up to the Derby. Four horses were scratched because of veterinarians’ concerns about their health. A fifth was scratched because, well, the Lords of Churchill were suspicious of the trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. after two of his horses collapsed and died following races.

Officials declared their racetrack safe and suspended Joseph indefinitely from competing in the Derby or at any other tracks owned by Churchill Downs Inc.

After two more horses, on the Derby undercard, suffered fatal injuries and were subsequently euthanized, it was clear that this was not all Joseph’s fault.

So whose fault was it?

Long after the Derby was over and the lights were going out on a tragic day, first, Churchill Downs, then the newly minted Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, released statements with the same message: It wasn’t them.

What Next?

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