A spokesman for Churchill Downs said the track is gathering facts and conducting interviews in an effort to ascertain the circumstances leading to the death of a horse en route to the paddock for schooling prior to the first race May 22.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, trainer Kenneth Wirth said the 5-year-old mare Never Tell Lynda reacted to the loud sound of the bell of a starting gate that was broadcast as part of a commercial on the new massive viedo screen over the track's loudspeaker system. Upon hearing the loud sound, Wirth said, the mare reared, twisted, and fell, apparently hitting her head on the ground.
Never Tell Lynda was shipped by Wirth from the Churchill training center to be schooled in the paddock prior to the first race.
Wirth told the newspaper that he initially did not believe Never Tell Lynda had hit her head, but then he saw that she was in distress. Members of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission's veterinary staff did not witness the incident but arrived shortly thereafter to euthanize the injured horse, according to the Courier-Journal.
"We teach horses to break from that," The Associated Press quoted Wirth as saying. '"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 sound system includes 750 speakers, according to A.P.
"It was quickly evident that this horse was in the process of expiring," said Will Farmer, chief racing veterinarian for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. "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.
"The Churchill Downs racetrack family is overcome and saddened by Never Tell Lynda's tragic schooling accident Thursday afternoon," the track said in a statement. "It's heartbreaking, and we know how much these horses mean to the people who love and care for them.
"This was an extremely rare schooling accident and losing a competitor like Never Tell Lynda is never easy or acceptable. Our thoughts and prayers are with her connections, and we extend our deepest sympathy to trainer Kenny Wirth and everyone at the stable for their loss.
"We're currently gathering facts and talking with people about what might have led to Never Tell Lynda's accident on the way to the paddock prior to the first race. The health and safety of our human and equine athletes remains our highest priority."
The Courier-Journal reported that Barbara Borden, the commission's chief state steward, said stewards have received other complaints regarding the new speaker system being too loud in some areas.
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.''
Another trainer, Dale Romans, said he hasn't seen any of his horses become startled by Churchill's sound system.
"It's one of those things, you try to think of everything," he said. "They just didn't think of this happening."
Romans said the track needs to "step up, do what's right and fix it" to prevent similar tragedies.
"We can't bring her back,'' he said of Never Tell Lynda. "All we can do, in her sacrifice, is to make sure that it never happens again."