Kentucky Derby operators suspend trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. after ‘highly unusual’ racehorse deaths

(CNN) The company that operates the famous Kentucky Derby has suspended racehorse trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. indefinitely following what it calls two “highly unusual” horse deaths – meaning one of its other horses can’t run as scheduled in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.

Churchill Downs Inc.’s decision on Thursday comes after two horses, both trained by Joseph, died suddenly of what officials said were unknown causes at the company’s namesake racetrack in Louisville on Saturday and Tuesday.

Joseph’s suspension means Lord Miles, another horse he trains, was withdrawn from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby – the first leg of the coveted Triple Crown – the company said.

“The suspension prohibits Joseph, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Joseph, from entering horses in races or requesting pit occupancy at any CDI-owned racetracks,” said Churchill Downs Inc. . THURSDAY.

“CDI’s decision follows the highly unusual sudden deaths of two horses trained by Joseph at Churchill Downs Racecourse: Parents Pride on Saturday and Chasing Artie on Tuesday,” the company’s statement read.

“Given the sudden unexplained deaths, we have reasonable concerns about the condition of his horses and have decided to suspend him indefinitely until the details are analyzed and understood,” Bill Mudd, president and chief executive, said Thursday. of the operation of the CDI.

“The safety of our equine and human athletes and the integrity of our sport is our top priority. We consider these measures to be our duty and our responsibility,” he added.

Parents Pride and Chasing Artie were among four horses that died at Churchill Downs in five days.

The other two died after sustaining musculoskeletal injuries, track officials said. Wild on Ice, a Derby competitor, was injured in training on April 27, and Take Charge Briana was injured in a race on Tuesday. Both were “euthanized on humanitarian grounds”, according to Churchill Downs.

After learning of his suspension, Joseph told CNN affiliate WDRB he believed Churchill Downs was treating him unfairly.

“I am the scapegoat,” he told the WDRB on Thursday. “They’ve had more deaths this week, and here comes Saffie, that’s the problem. Believe me, it’s bad enough that our horses have their problems.

“But the reality is…I’ve never had horses die from this issue before. They’ve had injuries but never from anything unknown. It’s unclear what caused it.”

Before the suspension was announced, Joseph told CNN on Thursday that he was “uncomfortable and broken” by the deaths of the horses he trained.

“At the moment, I don’t know why this happened, which makes us uncomfortable,” Joseph said.

“People who don’t come to the track don’t see the passionate care of these horses,” he said.

Joseph told CNN at the time that the death investigation had found “no significant findings yet.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong title for Bill Mudd. He is President and Chief Operating Officer of Churchill Downs Inc.

CNN’s Homero DeLaFuente contributed to this report.

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