Horse trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was suspended indefinitely Thursday after the sudden deaths of two horses during Kentucky Derby week, Churchill Downs Incorporated — which owns the racetrack at which the Derby takes place — announced Joseph Jr.’s suspension in a public statement.
Bill Mudd, President and Chief Operating Officer of Churchill Downs, said “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.”
The suspension bars Joseph Jr. and any of his employees from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all racetracks owned by Churchill Downs. The racetrack also announced in the statement it was withdrawing Lord Miles, another horse trained by Joseph Jr., from Saturday’s schedule race.
This year’s Kentucky Derby Week has been overshadowed by the deaths of four horses within the span of several days. While the horses trained by Joseph Jr. died suddenly, two more horses were euthanized this week due to irreparable injuries. Churchill Downs Racetrack called the deaths “highly unusual” and “completely unacceptable.”
More than 7,200 horses died between 2009 and 2021 from racing-related injuries, leading animal welfare activists to condemn what they see as the potential cruelties of the sport. Still, four deaths during a single Kentucky Derby Week, which takes place every May in Louisville, Kentucky, have owners, trainers, and activists asking questions.
Saffie Joseph Jr.’s public record as a horse trainer indicates this is not his first suspension nor were this week’s deaths the first time horses under his supervision have died.
In 2022, two horses trained by Joseph Jr. died during races in New York State, according to the state’s horse fatalities database. One appears to have collapsed during a race on November 10, while another was euthanized after a leg injury on August 10, according to the database.
In 2023, the Pennsylvania Horse Racing Commission fined him $500 and suspended him for 15 days after another horse under his supervision tested positive for gabapentin, an illegal pain reliever, according to the racing commission database. Joseph Jr. is appealing the ruling, according to the database.
The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, long-awaited legislation that aims to regulate racetrack safety as well as anti-doping and medication standards, is due to take effect on May 22 after a series of delays, the Associated Press reported. Its Antidoping and Medication Control program will instate consistent rules and standards for testing across states and racetracks.