The company operating the famed Kentucky Derby has indefinitely suspended racehorse trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. following what it calls two “highly unusual” horse deaths – meaning one of his other horses cannot run as planned in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Churchill Downs Inc.’s decision Thursday comes after two horses, both trained by Joseph, died suddenly from what officials have said are unknown causes at the company’s namesake racetrack in Louisville on Saturday and Tuesday.
Joseph’s suspension means Lord Miles, another horse that he trains, has been scratched from Saturday’s Kentucky Derby – the first leg of the coveted Triple Crown – the company said.
“The suspension prohibits Joseph, or any trainer directly or indirectly employed by Joseph, from entering horses in races or applying for stall occupancy at all CDI-owned racetracks,” Churchill Downs Inc. said Thursday.
“CDI’s decision follows the highly unusual sudden deaths of two horses trained by Joseph at Churchill Downs racetrack: Parents Pride on Saturday and Chasing Artie on Tuesday,” the company’s statement reads.
“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,” Bill Mudd, CDI president and chief operating officer, said Thursday.
“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,” he added.
Parents Pride and Chasing Artie were among four horses that died at Churchill Downs in a five-day stretch.
The other two died after suffering musculoskeletal injuries, track officials said. Wild on Ice, a Derby contender, was hurt while training April 27, and Take Charge Briana was injured in a race on Tuesday. Both were “euthanized for humane reasons,” according to Churchill Downs.
After learning of his suspension, Joseph told CNN affiliate WDRB that he believed Churchill Downs was treating him unfairly.
“I’m the scapegoat,” he told WDRB on Thursday. “They’ve had more deaths this week, and here is Saffie, this is the problem. Trust me, it’s hard enough that our horses have their issues.
“But the reality of it is that … I’ve never had horses that die from that issue before. They’ve had injuries but never from something that was unknown. It’s unknown what caused it.”
Before the suspension was announced, Joseph told CNN Thursday he was “uneasy and broken” over the deaths of the horses he trained.
“Right now, I don’t know why this has happened, which makes us uneasy,” Joseph said.
“People who don’t come to the track don’t see the passionate care of these horses,” he said.
Joseph told CNN at that time the investigation into the deaths had found “no significant findings yet.”
Correction: A previous version of this story gave the wrong title for Bill Mudd. He is president and chief operating officer of Churchill Downs Inc.
CNN’s Homero DeLaFuente contributed to this report.