A racehorse died at Kentucky’s Churchill Downs racetrack, killed by a freak accident after being startled, the owner says, by the track’s new sound system.
Trainer Kenneth Wirth reported that Never Tell Lynda, a five-year-old mare, was near the paddock when she suddenly reared, twisted in the air, then fell striking her head. The horse was seriously injured from its fall and was soon euthanized on the track.
Wirth said that the horse fell just as the new sound system blared the starting gate bell startling the horse.
The trainer said that the horse may have been confused and startled by hearing the sound of the starting gate bell being played in a commercial appearing on the track’s giant new video board. The system was unveiled this year and features 750 speakers.
“We teach horses to break from that,” Wirth said of the starting bell sound. “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.”
Never Tell Lynda was being trained to get used to the walk to the gate and was not scheduled to race when the commercial played on the video screen.
Authorities and track veterinarians report that the injuries on the horse’s remains are consistent with the trainer’s account of the accident.
The new $12 million, high definition video screen sits 170 feet above the backstretch and is reportedly bigger than three basketball courts.
The track is now coming under criticism for not taking account of how easily startled racehorses can be as it planned the new announcement/video system.
Adam Himmelsbach, a columnist for The Louisville Courier-Journal, scolded the track saying they should have known better.
Himmelsbach said the glaring new sound system was an accident waiting to happen. “But this should never have been an issue in the first place. They should have known better. They should have been prepared. At Churchill Downs, they know horses. They know what bothers them,” the columnist wrote.
Longtime trainer Dale Romans agreed saying, “They want something startling for people to see, but startling is what bothers the horses. If you had sound that was gradually getting higher, it’d be different. I’d rather my horse listen to a rock concert than one real quick blast of sound. They get scared, and they want to get away from it.”
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