Code of Kings suffered a broken neck Saturday when, as trainer Tim Glyshaw told the Daily Racing Form, the maiden 3-year-old gelding became fixated on party lights at a DJ booth positioned near the Churchill Downs paddock and flipped.
Then as he was being unsaddled, he flipped again.
Then as he couldn’t get settled, he flipped a third time.
DRF reported Code of Kings bled from his mouth before he was rushed to an equine clinic where he was eventually euthanized.
It’s possible Code of Kings could have been frightened by something before a race during a quiet weekday with few spectators paying attention. But this event seemed totally avoidable and should lead to changes at Churchill Downs moving forward.
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This is supposed to be the week every year where the best of horse racing is showcased to the nation in the running of the Kentucky Derby.
But the desire to max out entertainment value seems to be interfering with keeping the horses as safe as possible. Churchill Downs should reconsider the human element involved and potentially limit backside tours in the mornings and what added distractions for horses are allowed to surround the paddock area.
Short of shutting down horse racing completely, deaths are going to occur. Doesn’t mean anybody wants them to or there is a callousness involved, it’s just the nature of leg and hoof injuries on horses can’t be fixed with a cast and a walking boot.
Mike Repole, the co-owner of Saturday’s morning-line favorite Forte, said it’s the “worst part of the game,” but acknowledge the reality that some deaths can’t be prevented.
“It happens because they're competitive athletes that are working as hard as they can,” Repole said. “And one bad step. One bad step. One bad step. Done.”
Take Charge Briana and 2023 Kentucky Derby contender Wild On Ice were euthanized in the past week due to injuries suffered at Churchill Downs. And trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was suspended by Churchill Downs on Thursday after two of his horses mysteriously collapsed and died after racing for reasons that are still unknown.
What happens on the track is wildly unpredictable. What happens leading up to that doesn’t have to be. That’s why it’s so important to control the kind of environment the horses will be around.
Hearing the alarm blare on the backside Thursday morning — twice — from a horse getting loose is not the sound of safety.
Hundreds of people populate the backside during Derby week through organized tours or riding the coattails of someone who has reason to be there. It seems innocent enough and to an extent the access helps pique interest in the sport. But it comes at a cost.
The horses aren’t used to seeing or hearing so many people invade their territory. Some get nervous because of it.
Kentucky Derby contender Verifying caused one of the alarms Thursday when he broke loose on the track. Trainer Brad Cox said it had nothing to do with the horse being spooked by the crowd.
That wasn't the case for All Tell Me Nolies, a 2023 Kentucky Oaks contender, on Thursday morning. She forced her exercise rider to slide off and had her handler on a pony not turned her loose, trainer Peter Miller said she could have flipped over.
All Tell Me Nolies caused the other alarm to ring out after breaking free and got what Miller downplayed as a “tiny, little scratch” after she clipped a car parked near her barn. But it could have led to a Kentucky Oaks scratch or much worse had she not been corralled.
"She seems like she could have gone either way," Miller said, "but it looks like we dodged the bullet."
Miller described the filly as “jumping out of her skin,” but he also added the crowds of people may have factored into her reaction.
“The amount of people and traffic and everything else also contributes to it,” Miller said. “She can be a little high-strung and nervous.”
Nervous horses and an unknowing crowd form a potentially volatile mix every time.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Churchill Downs horse deaths 2023: Making Kentucky Derby week safer