Triple Crown Spotlight: Churchill Downs


With only two days remaining before the 147th Kentucky Derby and the start of the 2021 Triple Crown, we are shining the spotlight on Steering Committee member Churchill Downs ahead of the annual Run for the Roses.

Churchill Downs has a strong track record as a leader in equine safety. As a founding member of the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition, the organization played an integral part in elevating the issue of safety by joining forces with other industry leaders to advocate for uniform safety and integrity reforms. Churchill Downs has been critical to adoption of the Coalition’s platform, which now includes 32 reforms, by providing valuable time, expertise and resources. The organization has also proactively pursued enhanced safety policies by enacting specific House Rules and by working in close collaboration with the state racing commission to expand safety protocols throughout the state of Kentucky.

In 2020, Churchill Downs and Keeneland banned the use of race-day Lasix in all 2-year-olds, mandated veterinary inspections prior to workouts and race entry, and enhanced requirements for trainers and attending veterinarians reporting on horse fitness. Churchill Downs also banned Lasix on the 2021 Road to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks meaning only horses that ran stakes races without the use of race-day Lasix were awarded points. Notably, this year marks the first time the Kentucky Derby itself, as well as the entirety of the Triple Crown, will be conducted without the medication. And as part of the Coalition, Churchill Downs supported the passage of the monumental Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, which will provide nationwide safety and integrity standards.

Just last week, Churchill Downs released equine safety and welfare protocols for both the Derby and the Oaks while reemphasizing its ongoing “Safety from Start to Finish” program. The track worked closely with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) to put in place enhanced safety and security protocols in addition to existing state laws and track policies. As a part of those protocols, Thoroughbreds competing in the Derby and Oaks will be closely monitored by Churchill Downs and 14 KHRC veterinarians before, during, and after trainings. Additionally, pre-race exams will be performed starting at 6:00 am ET on race day and no medications will be permitted within 24 hours of the race. A full list of protocols regarding equine safety, jockey welfare, racing integrity, medication rules and patron safety can be found here.

“Through our work with the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition and as an industry leader, we take pride in working hard every day to promote safety,” said Mike Ziegler, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Churchill Downs Racetrack.  “We are continuously evaluating what policies we can put forth to further protect those under our care, in collaboration with our industry counterparts, veterinarians, state racing commissions, and legislators among many others.”

Churchill Downs has also made important investments to ensure that every horse is fit to race before setting foot on the track. In 2019, Churchill Downs hired Dr. William Farmer, DVM as equine medical director to direct the implementation and enforcement of all equine health and safety policies at tracks owned by Churchill Downs Incorporated. Dr. Farmer, a former official veterinarian for the California Horse Racing Board, is also one of three veterinarians that help inform and advise the Coalition on reforms to take up and adopt by lending his expertise and experience. Additionally, Churchill Downs invested $8 million in an Equine Medical Center and Quarantine Facility in 2020 for every-day and advanced onsite care and committed $100,000 of additional financial support to fund research around treatment options for joint and leg injuries.

“Churchill Downs’ commitment to equine safety is impossible to ignore,” said Dr. William Farmer, Equine Medical Director, Churchill Downs Incorporated. “I’m incredibly proud to be part of this team, working to raise the bar for safety standards across the industry and putting the health of our horses above all else.”

Last year, Churchill Downs debuted a new 20-horse starting gate at the 146th Kentucky Derby, which was held in September without spectators due to the pandemic. The 65-feet wide starting gate was first announced in February 2020 and was designed by Steriline Racing to deliver a clean start for all competitors and enhance the safety of both horse and rider. After a successful launch last year, the starting gate returns to the track this year to be used for the second time ever in the Derby.

In addition to playing a leading role in equine safety and the broader racing industry, Churchill Downs is an active member of the Louisville community. Amid the pandemic, Churchill Downs hosted a Norton Healthcare Vaccine Clinic for community members to help those who are eligible receive vaccinations. Churchill Downs also debuted new programming for Derby Week that included “Champions for Change” on Tuesday, April 27 to celebrate Black Horsemen in Thoroughbred racing and a commitment to increased diversity and inclusivity in the sport of horse racing. The event featured partner organizations also dedicated to this shared goal and Churchill Downs donated over $200,000 to those nonprofits to help support those efforts. Additionally, Churchill Downs announced the Derby Equity and Community Initiative a partnership with Kentucky Derby Festival and Humana, Inc. The initiative is a combined effort to incorporate equitable programming into the Derby season with the intention of directing economic impact and ensuring a sense of belonging to Louisville communities that have encountered a lack of access to those opportunities and the spirit of the Derby season.  

Tune into the 147th Kentucky Derby on Saturday, May 1st as the 20 best three-year-old’s in the sport step up to the gate at Churchill Downs to compete in “The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports.”