Two horses die due to racing injuries before Kentucky Derby

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Two more horses died in races at Churchill Downs on Saturday -- making it seven in all in recent days -- and early Kentucky Derby favorite Forte was scratched with an injury in another series of blows to a sport already reeling from doping suspensions and breakdowns.

Chloe's Dream, a 3-year-old gelding, and Freezing Point, a 3-year-old colt, were injured in their races on the Derby undercard, becoming the sixth and seventh horses to have died at Churchill Downs in recent days.

"It's a very difficult subject to touch upon," said Ramiro Restrepo, part of the ownership group for Kentucky Derby-winner Mage and a blood stock agent. "I'm sure there's going to be some investigations done as to the reason behind that, and hopefully that provides a few more answers."

In a statement issued Saturday night, Churchill Downs Incorporated said "there has been no discernable pattern detected in the injuries sustained."

Chloe's Dream suffered a fractured right front knee while leaving the first turn during Saturday's second race, and Freezing Point pulled up inside the 6-furlong marker with a left ankle injury during the eighth race -- the Pat Day Mile.

"We express our most sincere condolences to those connections who cared for and loved Chloe's Dream and Freezing Point," Churchill Downs' statement said. "It is with the utmost sadness that we report these tragic fatal injuries. Churchill Downs is unwavering in our commitment to the health and well-being of equine safety."

Chloe's Dream was taken off in an equine ambulance with a right front knee injury and was euthanized, trainer Jeff Hiles confirmed to The Associated Press.

"He just took a bad step out there," Hiles said. "They could do the same thing running in the field as they could on the track. So it's very unfortunate. That's what we deal with."

Freezing Point suffered a left front biaxial sesamoid fracture in the Pat Day Mile and was euthanized, trainer Joe Lejzerowicz told the AP. He said Fort Bragg, who finished third, slammed into Freezing Point during the race.

"He just got bumped in the backstretch," Lejzerowicz said. "He never took a bad step or bobble. He had a big heart."

Two of the horses that died earlier this week were trained by Saffie Joseph Jr. He was indefinitely suspended by the track, although investigators have yet to determine causes for the deaths of his horses.

"The equine fatalities leading to this year's Kentucky Derby are a sobering reminder of the urgent need to mobilize our industry in order to explore every avenue possible and effectively minimize any avoidable risk in the sport," Churchill Downs said in its statement.

"Despite our determination to continually improve upon the highest industry standards, there is more to be done and we will rigorously work to understand what caused these incidents and build upon our existing data, programs and practices to better understand what has been incredibly difficult for us to witness and accept this week."

Lord Miles, the horse that was trained by Joseph, also was scratched from the Kentucky Derby.

Besides Joseph's horses, Derby long shot Wild On Ice and 3-year-old filly Take Charge Briana broke down with musculoskeletal injuries during training or racing earlier this week at Churchill Downs. Both were euthanized.

"All I can say is we do our best to take care of our horses. We treat them better than we treat our children. And we have full confidence in the soundness of our horse," Restrepo said. "We've been training here for two weeks, and he actually has been flourishing at this racetrack."

Churchill Downs said in its statement that it would work with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) and the Horse Racing Integrity Authority to investigate each of the incidents.

The decision to remove Forte from the Kentucky Derby was made after a Saturday morning workout. Forte galloped on the track and then jogged outside the barn, with trainer Todd Pletcher and co-owner Mike Repole seen meeting with a state racing commission veterinarian afterward.

Forte was the fifth scratch from the Derby in the run-up to the $3 million race for 3-year-olds.

Repole said state veterinarians were concerned about a bruised right foot on Forte. The horse had stumbled on the track during a workout Thursday, although Pletcher had downplayed it publicly.

"We did X-rays. We brought in vets. The state vets came in, and they watched him every single day," Repole told FanDuel TV. "He's fine. He probably needs a couple more days [to recover]."

Pletcher told ESPN that Forte might race in the Preakness Stakes on May 20.

Repole Stable also tweeted about the withdrawal, writing, "I'm so sorry Forte."

Forte, who is on a five-race winning streak, had been listed as the 3-1 morning-line favorite to win the Derby and was at 4-1 before he was scratched. Tapit Trice and Angel of Empire were both listed at 9-2 odds after Forte's withdrawal.

It is the first time that as many as five horses had been pulled from the race since 1936. Practical Move, Continuar and Skinner joined Lord Miles in being scratched earlier in the week.

The Kentucky Derby was run with 18 horses -- the smallest field since the 2020 Derby, which was run in September because of the coronavirus pandemic and featured just 15 horses.

Jockey Irad Ortiz Jr. had been scheduled to ride Forte but instead was aboard Cyclone Mischief for the Derby.

This is another late scratch for Pletcher and Repole, whose horse Uncle Mo was scratched the day before the 2011 Derby because of a gastrointestinal infection when he was the second choice on the morning line.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.