Pegasus World Cup goes entirely medication-free as purses drop

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The fourth annual Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream Park will go entirely medication-free as the purse falls from $9 million to $3 million. The G1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational will also be run entirely drug-free and its purse will decrease from $7 million to $1 million.  Also new in 2020, neither race will have an entry fee.

The Stronach Group will donate 2 percent of the purses to Thoroughbred aftercare, which will contribute to rehabilitating and rehoming former racehorses.

Both races will run on Saturday, January 25, 2020 at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Florida on NBC Sports from 4:30-6 p.m. ET.

The Stronach Group, which heads the Pegasus World Cup and owns Gulfstream Park, announced the changes on Sunday. This comes a month and a half after the group, which also owns Santa Anita, saw Mongolian Groom break down during the Breeders’ Cup Classic at the historic track in Arcadia, California. The decision to make both races medication-free comes in the wake of public backlash over drug use in the sport, particularly the anti-bleeding medication Lasix, and attempts at reform across the country.

Tim Layden: Racing’s turbulent year continues

“The Pegasus World Cup Invitational Series has always been about innovation,” Stronach Group President Belinda Stronach said in a press release. “The new and exciting medication-free format, along with giving back to horse care, showcases the leadership our industry is taking together to evolve beyond past achievements to create a more modern, sustainable and safer sport.”

Despite aggressive reforms at Santa Anita earlier this year, 37 horses died in less than 12 months at the track. In November, industry leaders, including Stronach, launched the Thoroughbred Safety Coalition. One of the coalition’s main pillars of reform was medication, testing and the horses’ overall wellbeing. The six founding members emphasized their hope that the industry will follow suit.

“Running the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational medication-free is a stepping stone to what will be the eventual phase out of the use of race day medications for all graded stakes races by 2021 and puts this event squarely in line with the changing culture of our sport,” Stronach’s chief vet Dr. Dionne Benson said in a press release. “The health and safety of our athletes, equine and human, are our top priority.”

Horses 4 years and older are eligible to compete in the Pegasus World Cup, but the event will remain invitation-only. Though this year’s entry fee has been waived, it has fluctuated over the years, peaking as high as $1 million in the past. The series was launched in 2017, initially only offering the Pegasus World Cup Invitational on dirt.

In 2019, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational and Turf Invitational were the two richest races in North America. Due to the purse decrease, the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic regains the top spot.

Watch the Pegasus World Cup on NBC, and the NBC Sports app on Saturday, January 25 from 4:30 p.m. ET to 6 p.m. ET.

Churchill Downs moves meet to Ellis Park to examine protocols following 12 horse deaths

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Michael Clevenger and Erik Mohn/USA TODAY NETWORK

Churchill Downs will suspend racing and move the remainder of its spring meet to Ellis Park in order to conduct a “top-to-bottom” review of safety and surface protocols in the wake of 12 horse fatalities the past month at the home of the Kentucky Derby.

No single factor has been identified as a potential cause for the fatalities or pattern detected, according to a release, but the decision was made to relocate the meet “in an abundance of caution.”

“What has happened at our track is deeply upsetting and absolutely unacceptable,” Churchill Downs Inc. CEO Bill Carstanjen said in Friday’s release. “We need to take more time to conduct a top-to-bottom review of all of the details and circumstances so that we can further strengthen our surface, safety and integrity protocols.”

Racing will continue at Churchill Downs through Sunday before shifting to the CDI-owned racing and gaming facility in Henderson, Kentucky. Ellis Park’s meet was scheduled to start July 7 and run through Aug. 27 but will now expand with Friday’s announcement.

Ellis Park will resume racing on June 10.

The move comes a day after track superintendent Dennis Moore conducted a second independent analysis of Churchill Downs’ racing and training surfaces as part of an emergency summit called this week by the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) with the track and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Meetings took place in Lexington, Kentucky, and at the Louisville track.

The head of the federally created oversight agency suggested ahead of the summit that it could recommend pausing the meet and that Churchill Downs would accept that recommendation.

Churchill Downs’ release stated that expert testing raised no concerns and concluded that the surface was consistent with the track’s prior measurements. Even so, it chose to relocate “in alignment” with HISA’s recommendation to suspend the meet to allow more time for additional investigation.

“We appreciate their thoughtfulness and cooperation through these challenging moments,” HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus said in a statement. “We will continue to seek answers and work with everyone involved to ensure that horses are running safely at Churchill Downs again in the near future.”

Carstanjen insisted that relocating the remainder of the spring meet to Ellis Park would maintain the industry ecosystem with minor disruption. He also said he was grateful to Kentucky horsemen for their support as they work to find answers.

Rick Hiles, the president of Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, questioned the move, especially since there’s no conclusive evidence that Churchill Downs’ surface is the problem.

“We all want to find solutions that will improve safety for horses,” Hiles said in a statement. “However, we need to discuss allowing trainers and veterinarians to use therapeutic medications that greatly lessen the risk of breakdowns.

“Drastic steps, such as relocating an active race meet, should only be considered when it is certain to make a difference.”

The latest development comes a day after Churchill Downs and HISA each implemented safety and performance standards to address the spate of deaths.

HISA will conduct additional post-entry screening of horses to identify those at increased risk for injury. Its Integrity and Welfare Unit also will collect blood and hair samples for all fatalities for use while investigating a cause.

Churchill Downs announced it would immediately limit horses to four starts during a rolling eight-week period and impose ineligibility standards for poor performers. The track is also pausing incentives, such as trainer start bonuses and limiting purse payouts to the top five finishers instead of every finisher.

Forte works out, waits for Belmont Stakes clearance


NEW YORK — Forte, the early Kentucky Derby favorite who was scratched on the day of the race, worked out in preparation for a possible start in the Belmont Stakes on June 10.

Under regular rider Irad Ortiz Jr., Forte worked five-eighths of a mile for Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher. It was the colt’s second workout since being scratched from the Derby on May 6.

“It seems like he’s maintained his fitness level,” Pletcher said. “It seems like everything is in good order.”

Forte was placed on a mandatory 14-day veterinary list after being scratched from the Derby because of a bruised right front foot. In order to be removed from the list, the colt had to work in front of a state veterinarian and give a blood sample afterward, the results of which take five days.

“There’s protocols in place and we had to adhere to those and we’re happy that everything went smoothly,” Pletcher said. “We felt confident the horse was in good order or we wouldn’t have been out there twice in the last six days, but you still want to make sure everything went smoothly and we’re happy everything did go well.”

Pletcher said Kingsbarns, who finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby, will miss the Belmont. The colt is showing signs of colic, although he is fine, the trainer said.

Another Pletcher-trained horse, Prove Worthy, is under consideration for the Belmont. He also has Tapit Trice, who finished seventh in the Derby, being pointed toward the Belmont.