New Communications Command Center at Churchill Downs

With maintaining the integrity of horse racing being of paramount importance, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, the Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs have agreed to the establishment of a Communications Command Center at the track which will be in operation for the upcoming World Championships on 4-5 November. As the name suggests, the new policies relate to communication between veterinarians, stewards and other race day officials, as well as to the allocation of responsibilities among these parties.

The Churchill Downs Communications Command Center will be staffed by an employee of the KHRC, and this KHRC representative must be an accredited steward. The center will monitor all radio communication between the veterinary team and track personnel, as well as simulcast, on-track feeds and television broadcasts. A race-day steward will be required to be in the paddock as horses are saddled. To ensure that race participants can identify the veterinary team, both the KHRC and Breeders’ Cup team members will be required to wear uniforms clearly marked “VET TEAM”. Other measures to be instituted will be advance meetings with the Jockeys’ Guild to discuss protocols for on-track veterinary team and pre-race communications, and the inclusion of Jockeys’ Guild representatives and accredited stewards at a pre-event television production meeting.

The new policies being instituted by the KHRC, Breeders’ Cup and Churchill Downs, are in response to the controversy surrounding the participation of Life At Ten in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic. Considered to be one of the favorites for the race, Life At Ten was slow out of the starting gate and failed to complete the race. It was later discovered that jockey John Velazquez realized before the race that the filly was not in top form, telling the ESPN reporter that she had not warmed up as she normally did. Unfortunately, the jockey did not bring this to the attention of race stewards or on-duty veterinarians. Had he done so, popular opinion has it that Life At Ten would most likely have been scratched, and punters would not have been left feeling cheated. The conclusion of the investigation into the matter determined that the Life At Ten incident was as a result of a breakdown in communication and lack of clarity as to responsibilities, rather than intentional wrongdoing. With the new Communications Command Center and all race-day personnel aware of their individual responsibilities, this type of incident is unlikely to be repeated.