A racehorse died Thursday at Churchill Downs after a freak fall that the trainer blamed on the sound of a starting gate bell blaring on the track's new sound system attached to the racetrack's vaunted new video board.
A heartbroken Wirth later said the horse was spooked by what he thinks was the sound of a starting gate bell coming from a commercial on the track's ear-blasting speaker system.
Churchill Downs recently debuted the world's biggest HD video screen — the "Big Board," as it has been dubbed — and boasted about its 750-speaker sound system going into Derby week.
Towering 170 feet over the backstretch, the high-definition, $12 million video screen is bigger than three basketball courts and larger than any single panel of the giant display hanging above the field at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys.
"We teach horses to break from that," he said. "And you've got it on a loud speaker that everybody in a two-city block can hear. Well, what's she going to do? She thinks she's supposed to take off. And that's what she did. And when she did, she lunged and she lost her balance and went down."
The fall was not witnessed by any of the track veterinarians, but staff rushed to her aid, said Will Farmer, chief racing veterinarian for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
"It was quickly evident that this horse was in the process of expiring," he said. "To ease her suffering, one of our veterinarians euthanized her."
A necropsy will be performed on the horse, but the clinical signs matched the trainer's description, Farmer said.
Wirth said the sound system was "way too loud" at the time of the accident.
"The only thing you can blame is the music," Wirth said. "They've got to do something about it... The horses are the main thing here."