[Updated] After 2 Recent Horse Deaths, Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. Suspended 'Indefinitely,' Lord Miles Scratched From 149th Kentucky Derby

May 4, 2023 at 12:18 pm
Animal advocates urge Churchill Downs to remove Saffie Joseph Jr. horses after deaths of two of Joseph's other horses at Churchill Downs this week.
Animal advocates urge Churchill Downs to remove Saffie Joseph Jr. horses after deaths of two of Joseph's other horses at Churchill Downs this week. Adobe stock

LEO reported this story in May, 2023. Saffie Joseph Jr. was reinstated by on Friday, June 30. Update: Churchill Downs Incorporated (CDI) has announced the suspension of Lord Miles trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. "until further notice." Effective immediately, suspension bars Joseph Jr. (or any trainer employed directly or indirectly by Joseph Jr.) from entering horses in any races or applying for stall space at any CDI-owned racetrack.

This decision comes after the unexplained deaths of Parents Pride and Chasing Artie. Both horses died at the track on Tuesday. As a result of this decision, Lord Miles has been scratched from the 149th Kentucky Derby field.

“Given the unexplained sudden deaths, we have reasonable concerns about the condition of his horses, and decided to suspend him indefinitely until details are analyzed and understood,” said Bill Mudd, President and Chief Operating Officer of CDI in a statement released in the evening of Thursday, May 4. “The safety of our equine and human athletes and integrity of our sport is our highest priority. We feel these measures are our duty and responsibility.”

Updated: 5:05 p.m

A Washington D.C.-based animal protection group, Animal Wellness Action, is urging Churchill Downs to scratch the horse Lord Miles from this year’s Kentucky Derby. The group claims that Lord Miles’ trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. should not be allowed to race another horse after the loss of two other horses, Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, this week for causes that have yet to be explained. 

Joseph Jr. has been allowed to scratch two other horses from races Thursday, May 4, and Friday, May 5. He has seven entries listed in races for Derby Day on Saturday, May 6, including Lord Miles.

In a statement released this week, Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rodgers wrote, “While a series of events like this is highly unusual, it is completely unacceptable. We take this very seriously and acknowledge that these troubling incidents are alarming and must be addressed.”

The group issuing the request for Joseph’s removal from the Derby claims it would be “reckless and wrong-headed” for Churchill Downs to allow Lord Miles to run in the Derby. Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, said, “Two horses he trained have dropped dead without explanation at Churchill Downs, and, in any fair assessment of his performance, he’s lost the privilege of running a horse in this year’s Derby.”

Pacelle added, “If their words have practical applications, then Churchill Downs must protect Lord Miles and keep him out of the starting gate and out of competition.” 

Citing data from the Jockey Club (an organization that works to improve thoroughbred breeding and racing), Animal Wellness Action said that the four deaths at Churchill Downs this week have added to 7,200 other deaths by horses from race injuries nationwide between 2009 and 2021. In addition to Joseph Jr.’s two horses' unexplained deaths this week, two other horses at Churchill Downs suffered musculoskeletal injuries and had to be euthanized, despite receiving treatment since the start of the spring meet.

LEO reached out to the group to ask about the other seven horses that are scheduled for Saturday’s races. 

“Our concern naturally extends to all of Mr. Joseph Jr.’s horses,” said Joseph Grove, director of public relations and host of the Animal Wellness Action podcast. “But we know that the pressure to bring in a winner in the Run for the Roses creates a heightened temptation to push horses in the race to their absolute maximum performance abilities. Sometimes, as we have seen repeatedly over the years, the impassioned quest for this particular victory entails employment of means ultimately detrimental to the animal’s wellbeing.”

LEO has also reached out to Saffie Joseph Racing and to Churchill Downs but has yet to receive a response. We will update the story as more information becomes available.

Joseph Jr. told the New York Times on Wednesday, “This is something that doesn’t happen. I’m shattered, basically, because I know it can’t happen. The odds of it happening twice is in the trillions. I run almost 4,000 horses and it’s never happened. It doesn’t make sense.”