In the end there was a happy winner. Jockey Javier Castellano had needed 16 attempts. Now he celebrated his first victory at the Kentucky Derby as an outsider on horse “Mage”. “I never give up, I always try. It took a while before I finally made it,” said a satisfied Castellano.

The Venezuelan couldn’t smile away at the unusual series of deaths that overshadowed the 149th edition of the traditional horse race. In the past ten days, seven horses died during the supporting program of the event.

A brief overview: On April 27, “Wild on Ice” injured his hind legs in training and was then put to sleep. On April 29th, the official opening night, “Parents Pride” collapsed after a race. Another horse broke its neck on the same day. Last Tuesday, “Chasing Artie” collapsed after a race and “Take Charge Briana” was euthanized after a “fatal racing injury.” On Saturday, two horses suffered serious injuries in the pre-race to the main event and had to be put down as a result.

“We are deeply saddened to report these tragic deaths,” Churchill Downs, host of the event and namesake of the racecourse, said in a statement. “The deaths are a sobering reminder that there is an urgent need to sensitize our industry to effectively minimize any avoidable risk in sport.” According to Churchill Downs, there is no apparent connection between the deaths. The incidents would be thoroughly investigated to “determine underlying health or environmental causes and use these findings to further improve safety in this sport.”

There are allegations against trainer Saffie Joseph Jr., since two of his horses collapsed with “Parents Pride” and “Chasing Artie”. He was suspended indefinitely from Churchill Downs. The organizer spoke of “highly unusual” cases, Joseph himself was “devastated” by the death of his animals.

The concentration of deaths also sparked a discussion about the conditions of animal husbandry. The animal protection organization Peta, for example, criticized Churchill Downs as a “battlefield”. According to Peta, animals should not be used for entertainment purposes. Lobby group Animal Wellness Action called for “horse welfare to be a top priority”.

The Kentucky Derby was the prelude to the so-called “Triple Crown”, the combination of the three most important races in the USA. The other events will take place on May 20th in Maryland and on June 10th in New York.