Citing an “abundance of caution,” Churchill Downs closed its turf course for the duration of its fall meet, scuttling two Grade 2 turf races.

Winning Impression-CD Turf Fatal
A fatal injury to Kentucky Derby runner Winning Impression prompted Churchill Downs officials to close the track’s turf course for the duration of its fall meet. (Image: Coady Photography/Churchill Downs)

The move was in the offing, considering the track announced Nov. 14 it would move all turf races to the main track through Nov. 22. This came after a fatal injury to Winning Impression in a Nov. 12 turf allowance race. The graded-stakes placed gelding stepped wrong at the finish line and suffered a severe leg injury as jockey Joe Rocco Jr. pulled him up.

Churchill Downs’ Turf Proves Problematic

Winning Impression, who finished 12th in this year’s Kentucky Derby, was euthanized after veterinarians determined the damage to his sesamoid bone was too extensive. It was his first turf race, and the last turf race run at Churchill Downs this season.

“Out of an abundance of caution, there will be no turf racing at Churchill Downs through the remainder of the meet because the course has not satisfactorily responded to this fall’s climate,” read a statement in the track’s overnights. “Grass racing will resume next spring when the conditions become more optimum. As a result, there will be no turf entries taken for races scheduled to be run on turf from Nov. 25-29. All scheduled turf races in the condition book during this time period will be transferred to the main track and entries taken for the same conditions will be dirt only.”

Surface Switch Puts Stakes Status Under Review

This means two $100,000 Grade 3 races: the Nov. 26 Cardinal and Nov. 27 River City, go on hiatus this year. It also meant last Saturday’s Mrs. Revere Stakes moved to the main track. That necessitated a downgrade from Grade 2 to Grade 3 and automatic review by the American Graded Stakes Committee.

Fall is a hard season on the track’s turf course. The cooler weather in Louisville causes the turf to retain more moisture, which leads to more divots as 1,200-pound horses chew up the turf. In turn, those divots create potential leg-breaking minefields for any horses unlucky enough to step in one. The turf’s poor root structure this fall added to the course’s stress.

Churchill Downs ran 14 turf races this meet, compared to 26 last fall.

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