Update (June 21, 2023): PETA has obtained e-mails revealing that Excursionniste, the Thoroughbred who was euthanized after shattering his leg at Belmont Park, had allegedly been injured just a week before the race—a fact that trainer Mark Hennig failed to reveal in media statements, in which he claimed the horse was “clean-legged.” One e-mail exposed that prior to Excursionniste’s breakdown during the last race on Belmont Stakes Day, his right front ankle was apparently sore and he was not consistently putting weight on it.
An e-mail sent following Excursionniste’s death stated that his fracture was a “freak accident”—but this breakdown was likely no accident. His trainers should have known that forcing him to race on a potentially sore leg could be extremely dangerous and even possibly life-threatening.
PETA filed a complaint with the New York State Gaming Commission naming both Excursionniste and a second horse also trained by Hennig, Mashnee Girl, who died the day after, alleging that Hennig violated rules prohibiting fraud or misrepresentation and action detrimental to racing.
The fatal injuries of Excursionniste and Mashnee Girl on Belmont Stakes weekend capped a deadly 2023 Triple Crown season. Twelve horses died at Churchill Downs in the weeks surrounding the Kentucky Derby, and one horse died at Pimlico on Preakness Stakes Day.
Update (June 12, 2023): After two horses trained by Mark Hennig—Mashnee Girl and Excursionniste—died within 24 hours of each other at Belmont Park, PETA has uncovered information about one of them that changes the whole story. Mashnee Girl, whose left front leg shattered on the track on June 11, had sustained a fracture to her right front leg in 2020!
PETA immediately shared this information with the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority, alleging that Belmont Park didn’t adequately protect the mare. Mashnee Girl’s injury history, subsequent surgery, and yearlong layoff should have at least prompted enhanced scrutiny and physical examination of the Thoroughbred. The New York Racing Association, which runs Belmont Park, also failed to disclose to the public that a horse whose sesamoid bone was held together by a screw, was allowed to race at top speed.
Hennig twisted the facts to suit his own purposes, stating publicly that he didn’t know what happened and that neither Mashnee Girl nor Excursionniste had been on a veterinarian’s list—a safeguard for horses who have an increased risk of injury—but surely Mashnee Girl had been in 2020.
Additionally, a simple CT scan—which PETA called on the New York State Gaming Commission to require—would likely have detected possible injury or vulnerability to the leg that Mashnee Girl fractured on June 11.
Update (June 11, 2023): Mashnee Girl died in the first race at Belmont Park on June 11, less than 24 hours after the death of Excursionniste in the last race on Belmont Stakes day—both had the same trainer, Mark Hennig.
Two dead Thoroughbreds in two days with the same trainer on the same track means one thing: Belmont Park is failing to protect horses. Like Churchill Downs, Belmont must suspend racing immediately to avoid the same bloodbath. Anything less makes Belmont complicit in the fatalities.
–PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo
Update (June 10, 2023): Another horse used for racing died in the 13th race at Belmont Park this evening.
— PETA (@peta) June 11, 2023
“Racing couldn’t manage to keep all horses alive for even one Triple Crown day this year. Belmont Park did not do enough to prevent Excursionniste’s death. PETA urged the New York Racing Association and the New York State Gaming Commission to require CT scans for all horses racing today in order to screen for preexisting injuries, which are present in 90% of these fatalities. They refused. The racing industry is digging its own grave—as well as this horse’s.”
–PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo
Update (June 8, 2023): Due to the dangerous air quality in New York, races and training were canceled at Belmont Park today, following an urgent call from PETA. Because of smoke from wildfires in Canada, the current conditions are reportedly considered “the worst in the northeast in more than 20 years”—but races at Belmont Park are slated to continue tomorrow.
📷: Andrew Capone pic.twitter.com/f9fJ9vuE06
— Horse Racing Nation (@HR_Nation) June 8, 2023
Belmont Park already ranks among the deadliest racetracks in the U.S. Allowing horse racing to continue in these conditions, including the arduous 1.5-mile Belmont Stakes, is foolhardy and dangerous. People are being advised to stay in, and all outdoor activities have been canceled. Yet the governor still wants Thoroughbreds to run at breakneck speed in this air.
The horses won’t be wearing masks, and they’ve already been breathing in smoke and particulates for the past several days. They won’t have had a chance to clear their lungs. PETA is urging the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority and the New York Racing Association to cancel the races until conditions are safe for the animals they claim to care about.
Stay tuned for more updates on the deadly 2023 Triple Crown racing season.
Update (June 7, 2023): PETA is calling on the New York Racing Association and the New York State Gaming Commission to cancel all horseracing and training in the state on Thursday, June 8, and potentially this weekend due to smoke and the dangerous particulate level. The safety of the horses must come before profit and tradition, even if it means postponing the Belmont Stakes.
If the air in New York is unsafe for humans, it will be worse for horses running at top speed. Finger Lakes Gaming & Racetrack, Penn National Race Course, and Delaware Park have already announced closures today.
Update (June 2, 2023): Progress! Following an urgent plea from PETA, Churchill Downs has suspended all racing on the recommendation of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. The authority is continuing its investigation into the deaths of 12 horses there over the past month. But this isn’t cause for celebration just yet—although PETA is relieved that horses won’t be dying at Churchill Downs, all races have been moved to Ellis Park. We must not let horse racing authorities just shift the problem elsewhere. Horses are dying at all tracks—and the racing industry isn’t doing enough to stop it.
Update (May 30, 2023): On the heels of the death of Kimberley Dream—the 12th horse to die at Churchill Downs during the 2023 Triple Crown season—the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority (HISA) has launched an investigation into the recent deaths at the track. PETA rushed a letter to HISA CEO Lisa Lazarus urging her to suspend all racing and timed workouts at the track until the investigation is complete.
It’s likely that one or more factors are contributing to the fatalities. Whether it’s medication masking preexisting injuries, tired horses with a recent history of multilength losses who are being forced to run, illegal drugging, issues with track surfaces, inadequate or underused veterinary exams, the absence of screening technology, or a combination of these and other issues, it’s clear that Churchill Downs is not currently safe for Thoroughbreds. It makes little sense to investigate the cause or causes for the deaths while continuing to risk the lives of dozens of other horses. Stay posted for more updates on this deadly 2023 Triple Crown racing season.
Update (May 27, 2023): Kimberley Dream is now the 12th horse to die at Churchill Downs since April 27. She was euthanized after rupturing a ligament in her front leg. One day prior, on May 26, Lost in Limbo became the 11th horse to die at the track after he crashed nose-first and lay heaving in the dirt. Churchill Downs is complicit in these deaths for not shutting down the track in order to implement lifesaving changes recommended by PETA.
Lost in Limbo should have been scratched (eliminated) before the race when he threw the jockey riding him and took flight, but he was remounted and forced to run. It’s not clear whether a veterinarian examined him after he broke free.
CEO Bill Carstanjen needs to stop hoping things will get better, be a leader, and take action now. If he won’t, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission needs to do it for him.
—PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo
PETA’s exclusive video shows the fatal fall—watch now and take action.
Update (May 24, 2023): Ahead of the Belmont Stakes—the last of the Triple Crown races and New York’s biggest racing day of the year—PETA is asking New York officials to get serious about preventing horses from dying. On the heels of nine horses’ deaths at Churchill Downs and after a Bob Baffert–trained horse sustained a fatal injury at Pimlico Race Course on Preakness Stakes day, PETA urged the New York State Gaming Commission to mandate CT scans of all Belmont Stakes entrants and, if possible, all other horses racing that weekend.
Ninety percent of horses who suffer catastrophic breakdowns have preexisting injuries, which CT scans would pick up, at the site of the bone break. Ninety-nine horses reportedly died last year on New York tracks, including 46 at Belmont Park, which ranks among the deadliest venues in the nation.
Installing CT equipment is the least that the racing board could do to help prevent horses from sustaining fatal injuries.
Update (May 22, 2023): In race six on the Preakness Stakes day, Thoroughbred Havnameltdown sustained a shattered bone and was euthanized on the track. That makes ten horses who have died at Triple Crown tracks since the week before the Kentucky Derby, with another race still to go.
Bob Baffert should get an Oscar rather than the Preakness trophy for acting like Havnameltdown had never had any problems.
Now, the horse is dead, and Baffert’s career should be too! pic.twitter.com/rLUrCJErZQ
— PETA (@peta) May 22, 2023
Records show that Havnameltdown, trained by Bob Baffert, had received medication for soreness in his legs in April.
Bob Baffert should get an Academy Award rather than the Preakness trophy. He acted on Saturday as though he had no idea how Havnameltdown could have shattered a bone at Pimlico. He stated, “We never had an issue with him,” and further suggested that the bump to the horse out of the gate may have contributed to the injury. But California records show that in April, Havnameltdown was administered a powerful corticosteroid injection in his leg joints, an indicator of extreme soreness. The horse is now dead—and Baffert’s career should be, too. The racing industry tolerates him at its own peril.
—PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo
Originally posted on May 19, 2023:
The deadly race for the Triple Crown—which consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes—is underway, leaving a trail of dead horses in its wake. Eight horses have died at Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby: Thoroughbreds Freezing Point and Chloe’s Dream, who both died on Derby Day; Code of Kings, who broke his neck in a paddock before a race; Wild On Ice, who was euthanized after sustaining a bone fracture while training for the Kentucky Derby; Parents Pride and Chasing Artie, who both collapsed on the track and died after races; Take Charge Briana, who was euthanized after sustaining an injury during a race; and Rio Moon, who was euthanized after breaking his leg during a race.
Enough is enough.
Rio Moon is the EIGHTH horse to DIE at #ChurchillDowns in just over TWO WEEKS. Horses aren’t safe at this track! Get the deaths to zero or bury this "sport" once and for all! pic.twitter.com/1TV5MGcfwA
— PETA (@peta) May 15, 2023
Churchill Downs claims that it is determined to “continually improve upon the highest industry standards.” If this statement were true, the company would have shut down its track so that stronger protocols could be implemented to protect horses—like PETA asked.
On the heels of the deaths at Churchill Downs, PETA’s renewing our call for racetracks to enact more protections for horses, including replacing dirt tracks with high-quality synthetic ones, installing CT equipment to detect injuries before horses get on the track, and banning all medications two weeks before a race.
The horse racing industry continually profits off forcing horses to run. Trainers often push them beyond their limits and subject them to cocktails of legal and illegal drugs intended to mask injuries and artificially enhance performance. When the horses can no longer be exploited, they’re “retired”—which, for many of them, means they’re sent to slaughterhouses.
Real sports don’t have body counts.
Tell Racetracks to Adopt PETA’s Protections for Horses
It doesn’t matter who makes it across the finish line first—there are no winners in horse racing. While this activity will always be cruel to horses—because no animal deserves to be exploited for entertainment—racetracks should at least do the bare minimum by implementing the changes that PETA has suggested. If the industry can’t get the number of deaths down to zero, the “sport” should be buried.
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