The heritage of the Kentucky Derby precedes itself, regarded as one of the most prestigious equestrian events; thousands flock to Churchill Downs each May. Spectators don extravagant attire, as per Derby custom, of loud suits, ties, and incredibly voluptuous head ware. The entirety of the amounted race lasts two fleeting minutes as horses sprint around the 1.25-mile hippodrome. The jockeys and horses compete in preliminary races prior to the Kentucky Derby, dubbed “the road to the Kentucky Derby,” to accumulate points and a spot in the race. Horse owners consciously select sires and mares to breed for Thoroughbred colts’ most advantageous gene pool to acquire a chance at qualifying. The tradition commenced in 1875 when Merriwether Lewis Clark Jr. (explorer William Clark’s grandson) drew inspiration from England’s Epsom Downs. Clark Jr. raised funds and developed Churchill Downs with the intent of it emerging as a gathering place for society’s elite. The Derby exceeds its intent. Annually, wealthy horse owners, celebrities, royalty, and even notorious criminals have attended the event.
Yet, a series of misfortunes befell the 149th Kentucky Derby this past May. Eight Thoroughbred horses died in the week leading up to the race. All the colts/fillies sustained injuries that threatened their performance and were claimed untreatable.
Freezing Point (Snowball): Randy Gootzeit, Snowball’s grief-stricken owner, relays the devastating impact of Snowball’s death on her life. After taking a hiatus from horse racing to pursue a degree in physical therapy, Gootzeit returned to the racetrack only to have her tentative hopes crushed. Snowball sustained a left ankle injury and was later euthanized.
Wild on Ice: During training at Churchill Downs, Wild on Ice injured his left hind flank while performing a practice race on the track. Upon examination by the veterinarian and owner Frank Sumpter, the decision to euthanize Wild on Ice due to future discomfort/structural problems was made.
Code of Kings: Three nights before the opening call of the Kentucky Derby, a nearby DJ booth’s light show caught the attention of Code of Kings. As a result of the strobe lights, he flipped three times in the padlock. On his third flip, his neck broke, and his trainer, Tim Glyshaw, and the on-site veterinarian euthanized him after his injuries proved too dire to heal.
Parent’s Pride and Chasing Artie: Saffie Joeseph Jr. trained both Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, and now mysterious circumstances have led to Joespeh’s indefinite suspension from all Churchill Down events. Within three days of each other, the two horses were euthanized. An investigation is underway at the Univeristy of Kentucky’s Veterinary Diagnostic Lab to find the causes of death.
Take Charge Brianna: She fell while racing down the stretch at Churchill Downs, and the medical staff had to euthanize her on the racetrack.
Chloe’s Dream: On the day of the Kentucky Derby, Chloe’s Dream fatefully took a wrong step after starting the second race at Churchill Downs. Later she was euthanized after sustaining an injury to her right knee.
Rio Moon: During a practice run, he also contracted a severe injury to his left foreleg and was later euthanized.
The “highly unusual” death toll at the Kentucky Derby alarms many Thoroughbred owners and spectators about the safety level of Churchill Down’s tracks and the morality of the horses’ treatment. In lieu of the series of horses that died, investigators are determining the causes behind these unhappy incidents to hopefully enact measures to prevent future events similar to those at this melancholy 2023 Kentucky Derby.