LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs suspended trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. indefinitely on Thursday after the sudden death of two of his horses, while Lord Miles, trained by Joseph, was scratched from the Kentucky Derby.
The suspension prohibits Joseph, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Joseph, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all Churchill Downs Incorporated racetracks.
The decision comes after the deaths of two of Joseph’s horses — Parents Pride on Saturday and Chasing Artie on Tuesday — at Churchill Downs. Investigators have yet to find any cause.
“Given the unexplained sudden deaths, we have reasonable concerns about the condition of his horses, and decided to suspend him indefinitely until details are analyzed and understood,” Bill Mudd, president and chief operating officer of CDI, said in a statement. “The safety of our equine and human athletes and integrity of our sport is our highest priority. We feel these measures are our duty and responsibility.”
Earlier Thursday, Joseph, a 36-year-old third-generation trainer, said he was questioned by investigators from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and Churchill Downs and that “they found no wrongdoing on our part.”
Joseph received permission from the KHRC to scratch five horses from races on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, according to the Daily Racing Form. He already had scratched one on Wednesday. He told reporters earlier in the day that he scratched any horse that had been in contact with the two that died out of an abundance of caution.
Lord Miles arrived from Florida; the two dead horses had been at Keeneland in Lexington.
Joseph said investigators examined his barn, checked the horses’ veterinary records and took blood samples from each of his horses, which showed nothing abnormal. The feed, hay, straw and supplements used by the horses were checked, too.
The deaths are the first for Joseph, who came to Florida in 2011 after training in his native Barbados.
“It crushes you,” he said. “It knocks your confidence, it makes you doubt everything.
“There’s two ways: You can run away from it and pretend it didn’t happen or you could face it and find out what we can do.”
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 at Churchill Downs. Both were euthanized.
Joseph said the first necropsy done on his horse didn’t reveal a cause of death.
“We’re living on unknown terms right now, so that’s the uneasy part,” he said.
The industry was rocked in 2019, when more than 40 horses died at Santa Anita in California. As a result, a raft of safety reforms were enacted that have spread around the country.
“The horses get great care and we do our best to prevent these kind of things, but they still happen,” Joseph said. “A lot of times in those sudden deaths you never get answers.”