Lazarus Outlines HISA Approach To Churchill Deaths

May 12, 2023

Lisa Lazarus. (HISA Photo)

HISA Release

Lisa Lazarus, the CEO of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA), released an open letter to industry participants, addressing the measures HISA plans to implement concerning the fatalities during the first week of the Churchill Downs meet leading up to and including Kentucky Derby day. 

Fellow racing participants,

I wanted to take a minute of your time to share an update on HISA’s role related to the events of last week along with a perspective on what’s to come.

Our first priority is to support efforts to better understand, to the degree possible, the root causes of the deaths last week at Churchill Downs.

Here’s what you can expect from the team at HISA and our counterparts at the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) in the coming weeks:

The KHRC is leading an Equine Catastrophic Injury Review to investigate the circumstances of and potential contributing factors to each of the fatalities that occurred. The investigations are already under way, and involve, at a minimum, interviews with the horses’ connections and security personnel and review of the horses’ racing, training, veterinary and pre-race exam inspection records as well as video surveillance. This is in addition to the mandatory necropsies that will be performed to further inform our collective understanding of the circumstances as outlined by HISA’s Racetrack Safety Program. All findings will be submitted to HISA upon the completion of the review.

HISA will conduct its own, independent investigation of each fatality to inform whether additional steps need to be taken. HISA’s investigation will include the following:

  • A review of the records pertaining to each horse which died, including the necropsy report, Vets’ List history, past performances, exercise history, treatment records, pre-race inspection, and video records;
  • A review of Churchill Downs equine fatality rates from the recent period, the same period the year prior, and the most recently concluded year; as well as training fatality data;
  • A review of racetrack maintenance records, surface measurements, and testing data;
  • Interviews with the Regulatory Vet, Attending Vet, track management officials, and other relevant third parties.

HISA’s findings, including the determination of whether any rule violations occurred to refer for potential enforcement proceedings, will be made public following the investigation’s conclusion.

The findings associated with these investigations will also be recorded and aggregated along with other industry-wide data for in-depth analysis to eventually establish a baseline for determining with greater clarity factors that may contribute to risk of injury.

While these changes take time and do little to address the immediate and pressing concerns we share as an industry, we have operational safety rules in place that by most accounts are making a difference. And soon, we’ll take another critical step toward an improved, more modern sport when the Anti-Doping and Medication Control (ADMC) Program resumes on May 22 under the Horseracing Integrity and Welfare Unit (HIWU).

For the first time in the storied history of Thoroughbred racing, there will be one set of uniform, consistent rules across all racing jurisdictions. Under the ADMC Program there will also be greater efficiency for all participants and real consequences for those who seek to break the rules for their own benefit and to the detriment of the horses under their care. The rules also create a rational, fair system for adjudicating penalties and taking into account environmental and other accidental contamination.

There is no doubt that the combination of the Racetrack Safety Program and the ADMC Program will make our sport safer for the horses entrusted to our care.

As we move forward from this collective low, I hope it is together, united with a renewed commitment to what matters most: the safety of our horses and our riders. We owe it to them to get this right. And we owe it to them to do it now.

Yours in racing,
Lisa Lazarus

"Nice work and well said Jon."

Ryan McCarthy @RMcCarthy1 View testimonials