Two more horses died in the hours before 15-1 shot Mage won the Kentucky Derby Saturday, increasing this week’s death count at Churchill Downs to seven.
The alarming number of horse deaths cast a shadow over the 149th edition of the world’s most famous race.
Chloe’s Dream, a 3-year-old gelding that ran on the Derby undercard, was hauled away by a van and later euthanized Saturday morning.
Freezing Point, a 3-year-old colt, was then pulled from the Pat Day Mile race just hours before the start of the main event. The horse later received a lethal injection.
A total of five horses were also suspended from the Kentucky Derby.
The deaths during Derby week have increased the scrutiny of the sport as it continues to deal with doping suspensions.
The ongoing issues within the sport have also caught the attention of people attending the Derby.
“It’s concerning, and I hope they’re quickly trying the best they can to correct whatever’s going on,” said Michael Freeze, who dressed up as a jockey. “They need to do whatever is best for the horses and the sport in general.”
Mage had only one victory in three previous races before holding off 9-1 shot Two Phil’s in the stretch. The colt, who didn’t race as a 2-year-old, ran 1¼ miles in 2:01.57 under Javier Castellano.
The 45-year-old Hall of Fame jockey, who hasn’t been as in demand lately, snapped an 0-for-15 skid in the Derby. He and trainer Gustavo Delgado are from Venezuela.
“I never give up,” Castellano said. “I always try hard to do the right thing. It took me a little while to get there. I finally got it.”
Mage joined Canonero II as Derby winners with Venezuelan ties. Canonero II won the Derby and Preakness in 1971.
“Turning for home, he had a lot of heart,” Castellano said. “He’s a little horse with a big heart.”
Two Phil’s was second and 4-1 favorite Angel of Empire was third in front of a crowd of 150,335 on a warm and partly cloudy day at Churchill Downs.
The first death happened one week ago when Wild on Ice was injured while training. The horse was transported to an equine hospital in Lexington, where he later was euthanized.
Two horses also died last Saturday. Parents Pride, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., was pulled up in the stretch, but ultimately died on the track.
Code of Kings flipped twice at a later point in the paddock and injured his neck. Take Charge Briana and Chasing Artie were reported dead on Tuesday. Chasing Artie was also trained by Joseph and was able to finish her race, but she collapsed near the winner’s circle.
Churchill Downs issued a statement on the four deaths.
“While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable,” the statement said.
“We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed. We feel a tremendous responsibility to our fans, the participants in our sport and the entire industry to be a leader in safety and continue to make significant investments to eliminate risk to our athletes. We have full confidence in our racing surfaces and have been assured by our riders and horsemen that they do as well.”
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission along with Churchill Downs later suspended Joseph indefinitely as it investigates the nature of the deaths.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.