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Horse dies in freakish accident at Churchill Downs

Associated Press

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A racehorse died Thursday at Churchill Downs after a freak fall that the trainer blamed on the sound of a starting gate bell blaring on the track's new sound system.

The 5-year-old mare Never Tell Lynda was walking toward the paddock on the dirt track when she reared, twisted and fell, hitting her head, said her trainer, Kenneth Wirth. She died before the first race of the day at the track that's home to the Kentucky Derby.

A heartbroken Wirth later said the horse was spooked by what Wirth thinks was the sound of a starting gate bell coming from a commercial on Churchill's massive new video board. The system includes 750 speakers.

"We teach horses to break from that," he said. "And you've got it on a loud speaker that everybody in a two-city block can hear. Well, what's she going to do? She thinks she's supposed to take off. And that's what she did. And when she did, she lunged and she lost her balance and went down."

The fall was not witnessed by any of the track veterinarians, but staff rushed to her aide, said Will Farmer, chief racing veterinarian for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

"It was quickly evident that this horse was in the process of expiring," he said. "To ease her suffering, one of our veterinarians euthanized her."

A necropsy will be performed on the horse, but the clinical signs matched the trainer's description, Farmer said.

Wirth said the mare was being schooled, meaning she was not entered in the race but was doing a walk-through to prepare her for future races.

A Churchill Downs spokesman said the "extremely rare" schooling accident was heartbreaking.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with her connections," said track spokesman Darren Rogers. "We're currently gathering facts and talking with people about what might have led to Never Tell Lynda's accident. ... The health and safety of our human and equine athletes remains our highest priority."

Wirth said the sound system was "way too loud" at the time of the accident.

"The only thing you can blame is the music," Wirth said. "They've got to do something about it. ... The horses are the main thing here."

The video board looming over the backstretch has become a new bragging point for Churchill.

The track's newest landmark made its debut in the days leading up to the Kentucky Derby this spring. Towering 170 feet over the backstretch, the high-definition, $12 million video screen is bigger than three basketball courts.

The horse's death is the latest in what's been a tough stretch for Churchill Downs this spring.

The famed track drew criticism from some of its fans for taking a bigger cut of the money bettors place on its races. The decision came after Kentucky lawmakers rejected the racing industry's latest effort to add slot machines to generate more cash to boost prize money for horse owners.

Hall of Fame jockey Ron Turcotte, who rode Secretariat to Triple Crown glory, said he skipped this year's Derby after being snubbed by the track's management. Turcotte, who is paralyzed, said he couldn't get a parking spot during his last Derby Day visit, and then couldn't even get into the track to watch last year's race. The track said any snub was the result of a "communication breakdown."

Then, Steve Coburn, co-owner of this year's Derby and Preakness winner, California Chrome, lashed out at Churchill Downs after the Preakness, which is held at the Pimlico Race Course in Maryland.

"Churchill Downs needs to call Maryland to get a lesson in hospitality," Coburn said. "These people right here, they've treated us like royalty."

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Craig May 22 2014 at 6:28 PM

A real sport would be to put the horse on the owner's back and race around the track.

Flag Reply +100 rate up
47 replies
crankybytch May 22 2014 at 6:34 PM

Stop expoiting these animals for entertainment and profit!

Flag Reply +101 rate up
45 replies
blkcel00 May 22 2014 at 6:40 PM

I absolutely HATE horse racing. Another beautiful horse gone because humans use them for sport.

Flag Reply +99 rate up
28 replies
me May 22 2014 at 6:13 PM

What is the decibel level of the sound system at Churchill Downs? Why 750 speakers? Could the noise level be above the level appropriate for having no hearing protection. EPA needs to look into this. So does OSHA

Flag Reply +99 rate up
15 replies
npnozie May 22 2014 at 6:14 PM

People leave these loving, beautiful living creatures alon! You want sport do it your self. How selfish can you beeeee?Beautiful HORS died. WHY? Because of heart less people!

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25 replies
sswe324 May 22 2014 at 6:38 PM

4200 horses die every year worldwide in horse racing... I feel so terrible about the loss of this wonderful animal

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24 replies
aimstreasurer May 22 2014 at 6:40 PM

I am not a bleed-heart liberal but have always felt that horse racing was, as many have noted, a selfish indulgence for the well-to-do with only necessary benefits accruing to the animals. Shame on those that glorify this so-called "sport." "Sport," hell, sport implies competition between willing opposing teams/individuals.

Flag Reply +81 rate up
14 replies
poppiscw May 22 2014 at 6:42 PM

Pu9t a saddle on yourself, whip the **** out of you, now, how does that feel. stupid. You should be so ashamed of yourselves

Flag Reply +79 rate up
5 replies
grahamatty May 22 2014 at 6:37 PM

that loudspeaker system is offensive
and tooooooo loud
they play rock music wayyyy too loud
hopefully this will get the management's attention......

Flag Reply +63 rate up
2 replies
roseyoungstewart grahamatty May 22 2014 at 7:01 PM

they do not play rock music at churchill downs.

Flag Reply +10 rate up
4 replies
henry_bevis grahamatty May 22 2014 at 7:15 PM

It does not matter where you are the music is always to loud.

Flag Reply +28 rate up
6 replies
xst0nahx May 22 2014 at 6:09 PM

poor poor horse..BAD CHURCHHILL DOWNS..

Flag Reply +42 rate up
4 replies
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