These Details About Kentucky Race Horse Deaths Were Secret, Until Now Friday, Jun 28 2019 

In most other major racing states, officials readily share names and details of the thoroughbred race horses that die after racing-related injuries.

Now, Kentucky has taken a step toward greater transparency and joined those states, in the wake of a Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting story about the state’s secrecy, and an appeal to the state attorney general.

Provided by Bill Willoughby

Kinley Karole, a 3 yo filly, was euthanized at Churchill Downs this May during her first race.

This week, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission gave KyCIR a list of the names of the dead race horses since 2010, along with the tracks where they last raced, the dates they died or were euthanized and details about the horse’s injury.

The commission has withheld other details it keeps in its internal data, such as a horse’s age at death, owners and trainers. The horse racing commission has cited a law about competitive disadvantages in denying access to some of these details.behind the data,

Using the new information from the state and publicly available racing data, we’ve created our own database: the most comprehensive information we can find on Kentucky thoroughbred horse racing deaths.

The below data is downloadable, and compiled from state data and Equibase searches. It does not include fatalities that occurred during training or related to injuries sustained in training.

If you see a story idea in here, we’d love to hear it. Contact reporter Caitlin McGlade at (502) 814-6541 or

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With Race Horse Deaths Under Scrutiny, Kentucky Keeps Details Secret Tuesday, Jun 4 2019 


A still image from a video of Kinley Karole’s first, and last, race on May 16, 2019. The filly was euthanized.

It was Kinley Karole’s first race, ever.

On a Thursday nearly two weeks after the Kentucky Derby, the crowd at Churchill Downs was sparse. The 3-year-old filly came out of the gate slow. For the first minute, she trailed far behind the pack.

When she started to catch up, her back leg snapped.

Dennis Trusty, a regular bettor at Churchill Downs, lurched away from his spot close to the rail, punched a wall and stormed down to the paddock. Too painful to watch.

He was certain the filly would be euthanized from the way her leg bent backwards.

“I knew what happened; it’s just I wanted to be sure what happened,” he said.

He scanned social media, checked industry blogs. Nothing.

If Kinley Karole had died in other states with major races, her death would become public record. Officials from California, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland and New York share which horses die, where and when. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission largely keeps that secret, saying state law protects the business interests of their trainers and owners.

The Courier-Journal in March reported that 43 thoroughbreds had died at Churchill Downs since 2016. Last month, The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting requested records that would further detail the circumstances of those deaths: race horse necropsies filed by veterinarians, and data the state submits to an industry database that tracks race horse death and injuries.

The commission refused to release the data, calling the submissions “drafts,” which would exempt them from disclosure under Kentucky’s Open Records Act. The commission also said state law makes veterinarians’ relationships with clients confidential.

Officials did agree to release the death reports, which include medical descriptions of the horses’ problems and the track conditions. But the commission redacted other key information: name, age, sex, time and date of death, race number, the track name and the owner’s name.

Shawn Chapman, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s deputy general counsel, cited a Kentucky state law that protects competitive information from disclosure in refusing to turn over details from the necropsies.

He said releasing that information could put trainers and owners at a competitive disadvantage. He declined to answer additional questions.

Susan West, a spokesperson for the Public Protection Cabinet, which oversees the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, said in an emailed statement that other states keep the names of injured and dead horses confidential too. She did not specify which states.

West also noted that the agency will confirm the deaths of specific horses when asked; she confirmed that Kinley Karole died after that race at Churchill Downs last month.

But the horse racing commission’s position on open records makes it harder for the public to hold accountable some of the racing industry’s biggest players, said Amye Bensenhaver, with the Kentucky Open Government Coalition.

“In establishing these impediments to access, they are tipping the balance in favor of the industry rather than the public’s right to know,” Bensenhaver said.

New York, home of the Belmont Stakes, takes the opposite approach.

When New York-based trainer Robert Barbara’s horse, Tommy T, died at the Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, the details were entered into a publicly available database maintained by the New York State Gaming Commission.

The database says Tommy T broke a leg bone on January 27 and was euthanized on the track.

Barbara told KyCIR that he doesn’t feel at a disadvantage simply because anyone can go online and see how many of his horses died or got injured in New York.

Besides Tommy T, Barbara has lost two other horses since 2016 and had a few others that incurred injuries.

“If it’s out there, it’s out there,” Barbara said. “If people go to the internet and see this stuff, and see that I’ve had five horses break down in two years or whatever, and another guy that has the same record as me never had a horse break down, will it mean something to somebody? I guess. Does it bother me? No, it doesn’t. It is what it is.”

In Other States, Horse Fatality Details Freely Shared

A spate of deaths at Santa Anita Park in California recently sparked widespread scrutiny on fatalities and health impacts of various drugs administered to race horses.

Track fatalities in Kentucky are on the rise: they nearly doubled from 23 in 2017 to 38 in 2018, according to statistics in veterinary reports obtained through a public records request.

Mary Scollay, the racing commission’s equine medical director, declined an interview with KyCIR. She instead asked for emailed questions but did not respond.

In February, Scollay told the Paulick Report, a race industry trade publication, that she couldn’t find much that stuck out about the horses that died.

She noted the only commonality among the dead was their age: the horses dying are younger than usual.

The age group most at risk for fatal injuries is shifting to 2 and 3-year-olds rather than 3 and 4-year-olds, according to the Paulick Report story. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission blacked out the ages of the horses that died in the records provided to KyCIR.

The public should be able to independently look for trends, Bensenhaver said.

“We have to have access to these records to enable us to assess at every level how these responsibilities are being discharged; how seriously [state officials] are undertaking this effort to expose what the problem is.”

Officials from other major racing states interviewed by KyCIR all said basic details and the identities of horses that die are not confidential.

A spokesman for Maryland’s racing commission handed over a list of all horse racing deaths in 2018, with dates, locations, injury types and horse names, after a phone call. An official from California, too, quickly turned over names of the dead from Santa Anita Park.

The spokesman said names and dates of death at other tracks, as long as the deaths were not under investigation, would be available after submitting a public records request.

In Arkansas, a state official with the Arkansas Racing Commission said the agency would share the details, although they didn’t respond to a public records request prior to publication.

Several state officials remarked that they release details because they value transparency.

“Absolutely. we’re 100 percent transparent when it comes to the information … Horse name, trainer, the track, what kind of race …. It should be made public,” said Mickey Ezzo, projects manager for the Illinois Racing Commission.

A spokesman from New York’s gaming commission, which launched its injury and death database in 2009, wrote in an email that the racing community widely accepts the transparency.

Officials from other states said they seldom hear complaints for sharing.

“Not one,” said Ezzo, from the Illinois Racing Commission. “I’ve been doing this for 20 years and never gotten any complaints from horsemen when that information was released to the public.”

The Jockey Club, which is the thoroughbred breed registry for thoroughbreds in North America, encourages race tracks to post their death and injury statistics. Only Keeneland and Turfway Park in Kentucky share their statistics; Churchill Downs does not. A Churchill Downs spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Jockey Club President James Gagliano said his website does not publish information on individual cases but he couldn’t understand how Kentucky could argue that identifying horses that die and where they died would create competitive disadvantages.

“I really question the wisdom of a statement like that,” Gagliano said. “These are facts and there is nothing wrong with reporting the facts.”

‘Went Wrong’

Even in the midst of the nationwide controversy over horse deaths, Kinley Karole’s death two weeks after the Derby didn’t make the news.

The only place it was reported was on Patrick Battuello’s anti-horse racing website, Battuello scours the internet for information. Churchill Downs’ daily racing chart, posted to a major bettor website, said the filly “went wrong entering the lane, was pulled up and vanned off.”

Some states’ racing charts just say horses were euthanized. But not Kentucky’s, according to Battuello’s research. “Went wrong,” he says, is code for euthanized.

Caitlin McGlade

Larry Demeritte trains horses at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington. He lost a horse in May when she broke her leg during a race at Churchill Downs

Larry Demeritte, who trained the three-year-old filly who recently died at Churchill Downs, didn’t have any problem putting it plainly: Her leg “snapped off,” he said.

“It was ugly. I couldn’t even go look at her. It was just too painful to see.”

Demeritte trains 10 horses at his stables at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, surrounded by rolling green hills and white fences. He said he bonds with each of his horses; that they all have their own quirks, their own way of expressing themselves to him.

He patted his chest as he searched for the words.

“That’s like one of your kids you just lost … People don’t know,” he said. “These animals we spend more time around them than we do ourselves, our families.”

It hurt, but Demeritte doesn’t think it should be a secret.

If Kentucky shared horse death data like other states do, Demeritte said, he wouldn’t see it as a competitive disadvantage. In fact, he thinks encouraging more transparency could help.

“I would like to see that people trust us more in the game,” he said. “The more secretive you are, people always say, there’s something shady about it.”

Correction: The Paulick Report, an industry trade publication, was misspelled in a previous version of this story.

Reach reporter Caitlin McGlade at (502) 814.6541 or

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Kentucky Horse Tracks Paid For Their Own Video Gambling Regulations Tuesday, Apr 30 2019 

Public domain

Stock photo of casino gambling

When gamblers bet at the chirping, neon-glowing machines that stretch across Kentucky’s gambling parlors, they depend on a state commission to ensure they’re winning — or losing — fair and square.

The commission that oversees gambling depends on a consulting firm for advice about ensuring these systems, known as “historical horse racing” terminals, run legally and accurately. But when it comes to testing machines, records show the state’s regulatory commission let the tracks themselves fund and oversee the consultant’s work.

From 2012 to 2017, a consultant hired by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission tested gaming machines at three gambling parlors associated with race tracks. But the horse racing commission was largely out of the loop from there: Keeneland, Ellis Park, Kentucky Downs and two machine manufacturers paid more than $845,000 for testing services with virtually no direct oversight from the horse racing commission, according to a review by the office of the Auditor of Public Accounts.

The commission didn’t even have copies of the invoices from New Jersey-based Gaming Laboratories International until it gathered them for the auditor.

The horse racing commission also asked the tracks to pay about $26,000 for the cost of the consultant’s work drafting new regulatory restrictions. The auditor’s office said he couldn’t find any law that allowed that arrangement.

Michael Fagan, a former assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Missouri, said the relationship between the tracks and the state regulators appears problematic.

“Most people who thought it through would recognize this is not a way to run a railroad, so to speak,” said Fagan, who specialized in gambling cases. “The industry that is supposed to be regulated is buying its own regulator.”

Representatives of Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs declined to comment because ownership and management of both parks have changed since the payments in question. Keeneland did not respond to requests for comment. Churchill Downs operates historical horse racing systems, but it uses a different contractor for testing services and was not included in the auditor’s review.

Steve May, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s director of pari-mutuel wagering and compliance, refused to be interviewed by the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting. He said in an email that the commission has addressed concerns raised by the auditor.

Kevin Mullally, vice president of government relations for Gaming Laboratories International, said in an emailed statement that the auditor’s report alleges no wrongdoing by his firm, “because there has not been any.”

“The race tracks have had no influence over GLI’s regulatory consulting work or compliance testing work, nor has there ever been an attempt to do so,” Mullally said.

He added that the issue raised in the auditor’s October letter is “over one year old” and he thought it had been resolved.

According to the auditor’s review, GLI raised concerns about the horse racing commission’s regulatory structure. In an internal memo, the commission acknowledged that its consultant recommended an analysis of its own regulatory structure — “to ensure they are providing the oversight necessary to ensure the integrity of the [historical horse racing] system.”

Commission’s Decisions ‘Out Of The Ordinary’

The terminals look like Las Vegas-style slots with themes including patriotism, monkeys or murder mysteries, but state officials have concluded they can be considered “pari-mutuel wagering.”

The machines are powered by old horse race data and gamblers bet in a pool against each other instead of against the house. Players can use horse race data to influence their winning odds, though many simply let the machine do the work and wish for good luck.

Only race tracks are allowed to host the machines, which the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission governs just as its charged with regulating live horse races.

In total, the commission handed the race tracks and manufacturers the responsibility for nearly $900,000 in payments to GLI. Most of those payments were for testing: a legal arrangement, according to the auditor’s office.

The auditor’s office reviewed the horse racing commission’s contract with GLI after its office received what it called “concerns.” Chris Hunt, general counsel for the state auditor’s office, called the commission’s actions “out of the ordinary.”

“The commission here kind of stepped aside and had the vendors work directly with the race tracks,” Hunt said.

In a letter released in October, Auditor of Public Accounts Mike Harmon said the issues began with the contract itself. The horse racing commission “circumvented the procurement process” when, in 2015, it renewed Gaming Laboratories International’s contract for three years instead of one, as the original agreement required.

The state should have overseen the work associated with that contract, Harmon said, even if it wasn’t paying the consultant’s bills.

Asking the tracks to pay for their own regulations also raised questions for Harmon.

“We find no authority in state statute or administrative regulation for the Commission to pass the costs of drafting regulatory language for testing requirements down to the tracks,” Harmon wrote.

It is unclear what that language might say. The commission denied a records request from KyCIR for the proposal because those regulations still haven’t been enacted, and are considered a draft.

May, the horse racing commission’s compliance director, said in response to emailed questions that the regulations dealt with technical requirements.

Former commission employees made the decision to pass consulting costs to the tracks, he said.

“So I do not know why this decision was made,” May said.

The consulting work occurred in 2015, and May became compliance director the following year. The current executive director, Marc Guilfoil, has worked at the commission for decades and ordered the tracks to make the payments, records show.

An email from 2015 shows Guilfoil emailed the three tracks and asked them to promptly pay the roughly $26,000 tab for drafting new regulations.

“As you will recall, we spoke to you at the end of 2014 about contracting with GLI to provide consulting services on the regulation of historical horse race wagering, including drafting technical standards and revising our regulatory scheme,” Guilfoil said in the email. “We informed you that GLI had estimated approximately $25,000 for the contract and that the cost would be assessed to each track approved to offer [historical horse racing]. Please find the attached invoice from GLI.”

Guilfoil did not respond to requests for comment.

May said that, in response to the auditor’s letter, the commission has set up a quarterly schedule to review invoices and other information required by the contract. He said the commission reimbursed the tracks for consulting costs, as Harmon suggested.

But KyCIR requested proof of that reimbursement in January — and still hasn’t received copies of the checks. The horse racing commission first said it didn’t have the records, referring reporters to the Finance and Administration Cabinet. But that cabinet said it didn’t have any records, either.

Hunt, the attorney at the auditor’s office, was surprised to hear that.

“That sounds bizarre to me, frankly,” Hunt said.

KyCIR then asked the commission if it had any documentation of the payment. The racing commission provided KyCIR with check numbers, but said it had no copies.

No Legislative Action Yet

It’s common for entities being regulated to work closely with the state on rules that govern their work, said Noel Isama, a senior policy analyst for the Sunlight Foundation, a national nonprofit organization advocating for open government. But he said governments should avoid the potential for the industry to dictate its own rules.

“The whole idea of regulation sometimes is to help an industry stop from being the worst version of themselves or stop them from being overzealous or too enthusiastic about their own interest and causing further harm,” Isama said.

The state legislature has yet to weigh in. The horse racing commission directly legalized the machines in 2010 by creating administrative regulations for them.

That year, the race tracks and the Kentucky Department of Revenue sought confirmation from a Franklin County Court judge that the machines were legal. The Family Foundation, a conservative advocacy group that opposes gambling, challenged the state.

During the years the court battle raged on, thousands of the terminals cropped up in gambling parlors associated with horse racing tracks around the state, raking in millions for the racing industry.

Judge Thomas Wingate ruled in the state’s favor in 2018. The Family Foundation is appealing.

Rep. Adam Koenig, a Republican from Erlanger, said the lack of legislative action makes it harder to determine whose responsibility it is to ensure the gambling machines run legally.

“Given the lack of direction in the statutes, it is hard for me to complain about anything else in the (auditor’s) letter that the horse racing commission is doing,” said Koenig, who is chair of the House Standing Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations, which oversees racing matters.

“The Auditor is doing his job in looking out for the Commonwealth and the taxpayers, but short of any direction from the Legislature, the horse racing commission is doing the best they can.”

One bill, co-sponsored by Koenig in 2017, would have authorized the commission to charge the industry an annual licensing fee to pay for administrative costs. It also would have required machine makers, distributors or race tracks to pay for testing services.

The bill never made it to a House vote.

Koenig said the Family Foundation’s powerful lobbying has blocked efforts from him and other legislators to establish legislative ground rules for the machines.

The Family Foundation’s attorney, Stan Cave, said the foundation opposed such legislation because it would have interfered with its court battle — and “legalized the corrupting practice of interested private parties paying hundreds of thousands of dollars to a regulatory agency’s consultant.”

State Sen. Julie Raque Adams, a Republican from Louisville, said the commission’s arrangement with Gaming Laboratories International raises red flags and warrants a critical look from lawmakers. Adams is on the Senate Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee that oversees racing issues.

“Things can be skewed depending on who is paying for it,” Adams said. “I think we need to dig in a little deeper and see what kind of information we’re getting back. Is it truly holistic in its approach or does it weigh in favor of the tracks?”

Contact Caitlin McGlade at or (502) 814-6541. Contact Becca Schimmel at (270) 745-3629 or

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