Horse dies in freakish accident at Churchill Downs

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Horse dies in freakish accident at Churchill Downs
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome reacts as groomer Raul Rodriguez, right, gives him a bath after a jog on the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Holding the colt is exercise rider Willy Delgado, left. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome reacts as he gets a bath after a jog on the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome jogged the wrong way around the track with exercise rider Willy Delgado aboard for the first time since his big win at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday morning, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome reacts as groomer Raul Rodriguez, right, gives him a bath after a jog on the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. Holding the colt at left is exercise rider Willy Delgado. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome reacts as groomer Raul Rodriguez gives him a bath after a jog on the track at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Wednesday, May 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Garry Jones)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: Jockey Victor (C) Espinoza celebrates with the trophy in the winners circle after guiding California Chrome #5 to win the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: Victor Espinoza celebrates in the winners circle after riding California Chrome #5 to victory in the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: California Chrome #5, ridden by Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line to win the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: California Chrome #5, ridden by Victor Espinoza, crosses the finish line to win the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: Calofirnia Chrome crosses the finish line to win the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: Calofirnia Chrome crosses the finish line to win the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Victor Espinoza celebrates as he rides California Chrome to victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Horses run during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Victor Espinoza rides California Chrome to a victory during the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)
A horse goes for a morning workout at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. The 140th Kentucky Derby will be run on Saturday at Churchill Downs. The scheduled post time is 6:24 p.m. EDT. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: Gary Stevens looks on atop Candy Boy #18 during the post parade prior the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Ashley Cebak and Tami Purcell wear hats before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Fans pause as the national anthem is played before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
A woman makes her way to the track before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Spectators wear colorful pants before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Fans make wagers before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A man looks over a racing program before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
A woman makes her way to the track before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
A race horse is lead out to the track for a race before the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 3, 2014, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
Leo Castelli, New York gallery owner, cheers on the horse named after him by a friend as he watches the Kentucky Derby on TV from his West Broadway gallery, then he throws his hands up as the horse comes in fourth in the race. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)
Sandy Cousins, of Fond du Lac, Wis., wears horseshoe glasses while waiting for the 138th Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs, Saturday, May 5, 2012, in Louisville, Ky. The Run for the Roses draws them to Churchill Downs. But what race goers wear is as much a spectacle in itself. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: A spectator flips through a program prior to the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: A general view of atmosphere at GREY GOOSE Lounge at 140th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Grey Goose)
LOUISVILLE, KY - MAY 03: A spectator puffs on a cigar prior to the 140th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on May 3, 2014 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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By BRUCE SCHREINER
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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