Multiple Grade I winner Rock Fall, a leading contender for the Breeders' Cup Sprint, was euthanized Saturday morning after suffering fatal fractures in both front legs following a workout over Keeneland's main track.
Rock Fall was the fourth horse — and third on the main track — to suffer a fatal injury during racing or training hours at Keeneland's Fall Meet that began Oct. 2.
Rock Fall had completed the work in company, going 5 furlongs in 1:02.80 when he suffered his injury. The exercise rider was reported to be OK, according to Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, which was slated to stand Rock Fall at stud upon his retirement.
Last Saturday, multiple graded stakes winner Skyring was euthanized after being pulled up with a fracture in the Grade I Shadwell Turf Mile. Earlier on that same card, stakes winner Shore Runner fatally broke down in the stretch of the Grade III Woodford Stakes on the main track. And the following morning, stakes winner Tacticus was euthanized after suffering a fatal leg fracture while training over the main track.
"Just very saddened by the event and feel horrible for everyone involved," Rock Fall's trainer Todd Pletcher said. "He was on a tremendous win streak. He had a terrific career and year, just a terrific horse to be around."
Owned by Stonestreet Stables, Rock Fall had won seven straight races. The son of Speightstown was 5-for-5 in 2015 and was coming into the Breeders' Cup off back-to-back wins in the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt at Saratoga and the Grade I Vosburgh at Belmont.
Since removing its synthetic Polytrack surface and going back to dirt beginning with the 2014 Fall Meet, there have been three fatalities during races on Keeneland's main track. The other two happened during the 2014 Fall Meet.
When The Jockey Club released fatality statistics from the Equine Injury Database for the five-year period from 2009 to 2013, Keeneland's synthetic surface was shown to have a race-related fatality rate of 0.33 per 1,000 starts for 2013 — well below the overall average of 1.90 for all contributing tracks.
Rogers Beasley, vice president of racing for Keeneland, said the track has its surface tested by Mick Peterson, executive director Racing Surfaces Testing Laboratory, before every meet.
"We talk to our horsemen, trainers, and jockeys all the time. They have all expressed complete confidence in our surface," Beasley said. "The safety of our horses and our riders always remains our top priority.
"While we're extremely saddened by (the breakdowns), we continually remain vigilant and do our work. ... We're going to continue to monitor and continue to look at everything possible — more than once, because safety is our commitment. But the horsemen and jockeys I've talked to have all expressed great confidence in our surface."
When asked if he had concerns about Keeneland's main track, especially leading up to the venue hosting the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 30 and 31, Pletcher said he was confident officials are doing all they can to maintain a safe surface.
"I think any time you have more than one breakdown it concerns everyone," Pletcher said. "I'm sure Keeneland is doing everything they can to ensure the track is as safe as possible."
Jerry Crawford, whose Donegal Racing owns Travers Stakes winner Keen Ice, said Saturday that his concern over what has transpired at Keeneland has solidified plans to keep Keen Ice at Churchill Downs in his preparation for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
"Nobody has more respect for Keeneland than I do, but it's pretty hard not to be concerned right now and saddened by what has happened over there," Crawford said.
Trainer Charlie LoPresti, who stables at Keeneland year-round, said he has had "no problems" with Keeneland's main track.
"I thought it was so good this summer that I used it on (two-time Horse of the Year) Wise Dan the whole time," said LoPresti, who added that all of his horses who have raced over the main track have "come back good."