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Racing to resume at Churchill Downs Thursday despite mystery around horse deaths

“I think if it did happen again, it would be devastating for horse racing in Kentucky, and be devastating for Churchill."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — He raced at Ellis Park and won at Ellis Park, but all that time Neil Pessin’s horses trained at Churchill Downs.

“I never left Churchill, I stayed here all summer,” Pessin said.

The move to finish out the Spring Meet at the track in Henderson, Kentucky came after 12 horses died at Churchill Downs.

Those deaths remain a mystery even after a lengthy investigation.

The Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) released a comprehensive report Tuesday, concluding that there was no clear pattern explaining what caused the catastrophic breakdowns.

“You always hope that there is something that you can pinpoint on,” Pessin said while adding he wasn’t surprised with the investigation’s findings.

The 12 horses broke down on both the turf and dirt tracks, as well as at different spots on and around the track.

According to the report, the injuries were also mostly different, there was no evidence of doping, and no consistencies could be gleaned from the necropsies.

HISA announced it’s currently investigating the unusual string of horse deaths at Saratoga Race Course.

“It has happened before, and unfortunately it’ll probably happen again, but hopefully not where I’m racing,” Pessin said.

The trainer has no reservations about safety at the track.

“If I had any concerns whatsoever, I would not run.”

FOCUS has learned that the track was retested and cleared.

Pessin is now on a new committee, comprised of trainers and riders, which will relay any concerns about track conditions to those in charge at Churchill.

“We’ll start meeting twice a week when the meet’s on,” Pessin said. “We’re looking for consistency, that’s all we want, we don’t want it too fast one day, too deep another day.”

The committee was created as a result of the tragedies at the track.

Pessin warns the track can’t afford to go through that again.

“I think if it did happen again, it would be devastating for horse racing in Kentucky, and be devastating for Churchill,” he said.

Pessin isn’t any more anxious though.

“To be on edge about a horse going out and getting hurt means that you think there’s a problem, and right now I don’t think there’s a problem, so I’m not on edge about it.”

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