Horse’s death latest black eye for Churchill Downs

Cross-posted from USA Today

In this May 3, 2014, file photo, fans watch a race on a large video screen before the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. A racehorse died Thursday, May 22, 2014, at Churchill Downs after a freak fall that the trainer blamed on the sound of a starting gate bell blaring on the track's new sound system. The 5-year-old mare Never Tell Lynda was walking toward the paddock on the dirt track when she reared, twisted and fell, hitting her head, said her trainer, Kenneth Wirth. Wirth later said the horse was spooked by what Wirth thinks was the sound of a starting gate bell coming from a commercial on Churchill's massive new video board. The system includes 750 speakers. Photo: Charlie Riedel, AP
In this May 3, 2014, file photo, fans watch a race on a large video screen before the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky. A racehorse died Thursday, May 22, 2014, at Churchill Downs after a freak fall that the trainer blamed on the sound of a starting gate bell blaring on the track’s new sound system. The 5-year-old mare Never Tell Lynda was walking toward the paddock on the dirt track when she reared, twisted and fell, hitting her head, said her trainer, Kenneth Wirth. Wirth later said the horse was spooked by what Wirth thinks was the sound of a starting gate bell coming from a commercial on Churchill’s massive new video board. The system includes 750 speakers. Photo: Charlie Riedel, AP

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — When California Chrome crosses the finish line in the Belmont Stakes next month, win or lose, his bid for a Triple Crown will be over and horse racing will begin its annual retreat from the mainstream.

For once, that could come as a relief to the people who run Churchill Downs.

Their biggest weeks of the year are the run up to and right after the Kentucky Derby, which California Chrome won back on May 3.

But it’s been a rough stretch for the track’s image, the latest issue being the death of a horse Thursday in a fall on the track that her trainer immediately blamed on the sound system attached to Churchill’s vaunted new video board.

BIG BOARD, BIG COMPLAINTS

The debut of the world’s biggest HD video screen — the “Big Board,” Churchill dubbed it — and its 750-speaker sound system were the track’s biggest bragging point going into Derby week.

Towering 170 feet over the backstretch, the high-definition, $12 million video screen is bigger than three basketball courts, bigger than any single panel of the giant display hanging above the field at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.

Smitten by the close-up view of the action it gives those in the infield and the grandstand, many fans loved it right away.

Some trainers and jockeys didn’t.

The day before the Derby, jockey Rosie Napravnik called the speakers “overwhelming” minutes after she won the Kentucky Oaks aboard Untapable. Napravnik said it didn’t seem to affect her horse, however, and several trainers have said they haven’t had problems with the speakers.

On Thursday, 5-year-old mare Never Tell Lynda was walking toward the paddock on the track when she reared, twisted and fell, hitting her head, said her trainer, Kenneth Wirth. The horse was startled by what Wirth thinks was the sound of a starting gate bell coming from a commercial on the video board.

“We teach horses to break from that,” he said. “And you’ve got it on a loud speaker that everybody in a two-city block can hear. Well, what’s she going to do? She thinks she’s supposed to take off. And that’s what she did. And when she did, she lunged and she lost her balance and went down.”

Track officials extended their condolences after the horse was euthanized, called the accident extremely rare and said they were still gathering the facts.

Wirth said the sound system was “way too loud” at the time of the accident.

“The only thing you can blame is the music,” Wirth said. “They’ve got to do something about it. … The horses are the main thing here.” Read more »

4 thoughts on “Horse’s death latest black eye for Churchill Downs”

  1. With the coming of the Chance of a Triple Crown winner after all these years, is excitement of the awesome kind,my heart sings with anticipation ,,first and foremost i pray for every Thoroughbred Racing that day or any other day crosses the Finish line safely and soundly, and also want every precaution to be taken for safety for all !!!!!

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    1. Well said Arlene! The organization should put way more effort into ensuring the welfare and safety of the racehorses. Without the horses, they wouldn’t be making all those millions of dollars. Making such an effort is the least the industry can do for them. Also, if California Chrome’s trainer and owners are people who play by the rules and put the horses’ welfare before their monetary gain, I hope he wins. I want genuine, reputable individuals to set a good example for those who race.

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      1. Thank You Starry, I say this with true conviction , and belief that there truly is a better way !!! and it is not condemning Racing !!!!! Oh also I rarely if ever make a bet , I cannot bet on what I Love, but when one i want wins, you would surely think I did !!!!!!

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  2. When this happens my heart is broken, without knowing or being there to access the circumstances, to me this sounds like a horrible accident that will tear your heart apart but accident can and will happen, I cannot condemn Racing it houses thousands of Horses , where in the hell would they go if there wasnt Racing !!!!?????? 85% of trainers and owners Absolutely Love their Horses , and take excellent care of them, give them food and Vet care , even before they themselves eat !!!!!! Its the other 15% that need to be ousted ………… I know I owned thoroughbreds, I loved each one of them with all my Heart, and took care of them exactly like they were my children ……. not one ever entered the Race Track to jeopardize themselves or any other Horses or Jockeys, this is how it is suppose to be !!!!! Many things need to be corrected, address them do all that can be done to make it safer place !!!!!

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