Racehorse death hours before Preakness prolongs sporting woes seen at Churchill Downs

Baltimore, Maryland — Death clouded the Preakness Stakes site on Saturday, as did the Kentucky Derby site two weeks ago: A horse was euthanized after injuring itself in an undercard race at Pimlico, spoiling yet another great day Triple Crown for a sport already reeling after more than half a dozen deaths at Churchill Downs.

Black barriers were wedged into the dirt road to shield the eyes of gasping onlookers as 3-year-old colt Havnameltdown – trained by Hall of Fame suspension comeback Bob Baffert – was shot down because of what a team of veterinarians have called an “unresectable” left front leg injury. All the while, 2Pac’s “California Love” blared from field speakers at what’s supposed to be an annual one-day celebration of thoroughbred racing.

The grim scene, which included jockey Luis Saez being carried on a stretcher to an ambulance which took him to hospital, took place just over five hours before Derby champion Mage was scheduled to participate in the Preakness in pursuit of the Triple Crown. Baffert’s horse, National Treasure, was considered Mage’s biggest challenger in the unusually small field of seven.

Baffert said he and his team were devastated by Havnameltdown’s death.

“It’s a shock to everyone in our stable who loves and cares for these horses every day,” Baffert said on Twitter. “Hanvameltdown was obviously pretty badly hit coming out of the gate. We don’t know if that contributed to the injury, but we’ll be fully transparent with whoever looks into this terrible accident.”

Examinations are underway to determine the causes of the deaths of seven horses over a 10-day period at Churchill Downs in late April and early May before the Derby, as well as a more recent eighth death at the Louisville track.

With horse racing deaths in the United States at their lowest level since they began being tracked in 2009, adding another to the track hosting a Triple Crown race will only intensify internal and external review of the industry. Those on the inside said they accepted the realities of horse deaths on the trail while acknowledging there was still work to be done to prevent as many as possible.

In that vein, new national rules on drugs and doping are set to come into force on Monday. The federal Horse Racing Integrity and Safety Authority, which already regulated racetrack safety and other measures, will oversee drug testing requirements for horses that should standardize the sport across national.

Before that, Mage is lucky with a Preakness victory to become the first horse to make it to the Belmont Stakes with a chance of winning a Triple Crown since Baffert’s Justify in 2018.

Baffert has horses racing the Preakness weekend for the first time in two years after returning from a ban stemming from the failed drug test of 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit. The trainer has been unable to enter horses into the Derby for the past two years as part of a decision by Churchill Downs.

He also couldn’t have any of his horses in the Preakness or the Belmont last year due to a related 90-day ban in Kentucky enforced by Maryland and New York.


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