Fatal morning accident raises questions
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - A gruesome accident involving two unraced horses Monday morning at Churchill Downs resulted in the death of one of the horses, delayed workouts for several runners in the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby, and prompted discussion over whether too many horses are being allowed on the track immediately after the mid-morning renovation break.
The accident involved Dr. Rap, a 3-year-old colt trained by David Carroll, and Rasberry Kiss, a 2-year-old filly trained by Ken McPeek. Dr. Rap was adjacent to the starting gate, which is positioned at the top of the stretch during training hours, when he threw jockey Tony Farina and sped straight down the stretch. He crashed into Rasberry Kiss, who was standing inside the sixteenth pole amongst a large group of horses who were about to begin gallops. They crashed in a sickening thud and initially lay entangled.
Both horses were removed from the track in horse ambulances and transported to equine clinics in Lexington, Ky. There was a 25-minute training delay to remove the two stricken horses.
Rasberry Kiss, who was sent to Rood and Riddle, was euthanized due to her injury, a broken hip, based on the recommendation of Rood and Riddle's Dr. Larry Bramlage, McPeek said.
Dr. Rap was being evaluated at Hagyard-Davidson-McGee clinic for an injury to his right shoulder, Carroll said. Carroll said X-rays were clean.
"He either has nerve damage or a severe bone bruise," Carroll said. "If they say he'll never race again but can be a show horse, I'll take that."
Exercise rider Larry Lague, a former jockey who was on Rasberry Kiss, was going to have X-rays to see if he had broken a foot, McPeek said. Farina was not injured.
There were about 10 Derby and Oaks horses on the track at the time of the incident.
Both Chocolate Candy, with jockey Mike Smith, and Join in the Dance, ridden by Angel Cordero Jr., were in the midst of their works when the horn sounded, signaling a loose horse. Both horses completed their drills.
"Fortunately, it was isolated to the outside," said Todd Pletcher, the trainer of Join in the Dance. "It could have been worse. There were a lot of high-caliber horses out there working in a short amount of time."
Pletcher said he thought it might be wise for Churchill Downs to close the track earlier for the renovation break and then allow only Oaks and Derby runners on the track for the first few minutes after the track re-opens.
"This morning's incident is the perfect opportunity for Churchill Downs to realize they need to do this," Pletcher said. "Just for 10 minutes after the break. It would be a great idea. It would be great for the Oaks and Derby horses and safer for the horses of every caliber."
Jim Gates, general manager of Churchill Downs, said Pletcher's idea is "not something we'd be opposed to in the future."
"We have never gotten together and discussed this specifically," Gates said. "People work horses every day, and trainers have their own personal preferences. Some like to work early, some like to go after the break. But after what happened this morning, I suspect we will have discussions. We are always looking to make the Derby horses more comfortable."
Although Derby horses like Friesan Fire and Pioneerof the Nile got in their works just before the accident, Rachel Alexandra, the heavy favorite for Friday's Kentucky Oaks, had her work affected by it.
Just as jockey Calvin Borel was ready to have Rachel Alexandra break off nearing the half-mile pole for the filly's final prerace workout for the Grade 1, $500,000 Oaks, the loud horn signaling a loose horse sounded. Borel alertly eased his mount toward the outside fence, gathered her up, and eventually rode her back to a gap and off the racetrack.
Some 30 minutes later, Rachel Alexandra drilled a half-mile in a bullet 46.40 seconds.
"Calvin actually was getting in a few fast strides there before the horn went off," trainer Hal Wiggins said. "We walked her back, loosened the girth, and just walked her around the barn for a while. You really worry about a horse tying up [cramping] in a situation like that, but she's got such a good mind on her, she was walking around there like nothing had happened. Her disposition helped her a whole lot.
"I was a lot more upset about it than she was."
- additional reporting by Marty McGee