© Cheryl Ann Quigley/Shutterstock.com

Taking Down the Triple Crown: PETA Forces Horse Racing to Change Course

Issue 1|Winter 2024

As he sprinted at breakneck speed, the Thoroughbred’s ankle shattered and he crashed face-first into the dirt. He tried to get up, then fell back, while Churchill Downs track workers hurried to shield onlookers’ view of the grim scene by erecting a portable screen. They forced the suffering horse to his feet, broken leg dangling, and goaded him into a van. He would be destroyed for the sake of a race.

Behind the Screens

His name was Lost in Limbo. But PETA won’t let anyone forget the horrific death he endured, an ordeal we captured on video – or the deaths of 14 other horses in the weeks surrounding the 2023 Triple Crown season. Injuries, drugging, and deaths are routine and must end.

Just days after Lost in Limbo’s death, PETA returned to Churchill Downs with our own screen – a giant mobile billboard that looped footage of the gelding’s fatal fall for all to see. Thanks to this and PETA’s other relentless exposure, the media coverage of 2023’s Triple Crown season wasn’t about “who won” but rather “who died.” PETA is working hard to show what happens behind the screens and demanding changes to protect horses. And the industry is being forced to respond.

Lost in Limbo

A Day at the Disgraces

Imagine if Olympic sprinters sustained gruesome, fatal injuries. Horses like Lost in Limbo are frequently pushed hard in training and racing but aren’t given sufficient time to recuperate. Instead, to keep them running, they’re injected with powerful drugs to mask their pain and injuries so that they can run on regardless.

The deadly results of this greedy business were on full display in 2023: In addition to Lost in Limbo, 11 other horses died at Churchill Downs in the weeks surrounding the Kentucky Derby, one horse died at Pimlico Race Course on Preakness Stakes day, and two died at Belmont Park during the Belmont Stakes weekend, including Excursionniste, who was euthanized after shattering his leg. PETA uncovered e-mails revealing that he had been injured just a week before the race, despite his trainer’s claims that he was “clean-legged.” We’ve filed a complaint with New York officials.

Happy endings are rare for horses forced to race, even for “winners.” An estimated 8,000 former racehorses are shipped to Canada or Mexico every year to be slaughtered for meat. And an undercover PETA investigation exposed that hundreds of American Thoroughbreds are sold to the South Korean racing industry. When they’re no longer profitable, off they go to slaughter – and our investigators found that they were killed right in front of each other, a terrible trauma.

© Cheryl Ann Quigley/Shutterstock.com

Giving Horses a Leg Up

Given the mounting death toll at Churchill Downs, PETA called for racing and timed workouts to be suspended. In an unprecedented move, track owners agreed, and the fatalities ended. We’re also demanding that dirt tracks be replaced with synthetic surfaces – which statistics have shown to be less dangerous – and that CT imaging equipment be installed at tracks to detect injuries. Studies show that 90% of horses who experienced catastrophic breakdowns had preexisting bone microdamage. CT scans could catch these injuries and save horses’ lives.

Here’s another way we’re reducing the suffering: At PETA’s insistence, the horse racing industry launched the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (TAA) to help fund retirement programs instead of shipment to slaughter. We also conceived a first-of-its-kind technology for horse racing wagering terminals – a pop-up screen that asks bettors to donate a portion of their winnings to the TAA. It’s now in use.

Our work is helping enormously: The number of Thoroughbred foals born each year has dropped by half, attendance at racetracks is dwindling, and some tracks have closed altogether.

Running Free

Lost in Limbo was never given the opportunity to run at his own pace, in his own space, on his own time. His life was violently cut short for humans’ greed and entertainment. But there is hope for other horses. When lovely mare Pastel was retired from racing, she resurfaced at a grimy auction. Thanks to local activists, PETA jumped into action, and Pastel was rescued and transported to a sanctuary. Now, she spends her time enjoying rolling pastures and warm companionship – as all horses should.

Pastel rescued!

Be Part of It!

Denounce horse racing cruelty. Join us in calling on racetracks and the racing industry to do more to protect horses from catastrophic injuries.


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 Ingrid E. Newkirk

“Almost all of us grew up eating meat, wearing leather, and going to circuses and zoos. We never considered the impact of these actions on the animals involved. For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” READ MORE

— Ingrid E. Newkirk, PETA President and co-author of Animalkind