SARATOGA SPRINGS - The group Horseracing Wrongs made the death of nine horses so far during this year's Saratoga Race Course meet the centerpiece of its protest outside of the No. 4 gate of Saturday's racing and the featured 92nd running of the Whitney Stakes.
"Nine dead horses already this year. Don't add to another one!" shouted one protester at people as they entered the gate.
"Animal abuse!" shouted another protester.
Many of the approximately 30 protesters wore black T-shirts with a red horse and jockey symbol over three words: two words written in white, "Horse" then "Racing", with a white line through it and then the word "Killing" written in red.
One protester held up a sign stating "If a horse dies today it's because of you! Horseracing kills! You bet $$ they die!"
Most racing enthusiasts walked stone-faced past the protesters. A few feet past the Horseracing Wrongs group there were people handing out programs and betting pamphlets for the day's races, and many of the visitors eagerly snatched up the tips.
According to the New York Gaming Commission website, under its "Equine Breakdown, Death, Injury and Incident Database", nine horses have died since the Oklahoma Training Track opened on April, six of them since the July 11 opening day of the 40-day Saratoga Race Course Meet.
Before the meet started there was one "non-racing" death and two from injuries sustained in training.
Since July 11 opening day: one racing death, on the second day of the meet; three in training, including a heart attack July 27 and one on Wednesday that was vanned off the main track and euthanized later; two "non-racing" (post-op GI complications at Rood & Riddle equine hospital, and another who didn't respond to pneumonia treatment.
Patrick Battuello, the founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, said he created the organization to protest the abuse and killing of horses due to horse racing. He said New York is the only state that had publicly accessible database showing killing and cause of death, but his group has used freedom of information law requests in other states to estimate 5,000 horses have been destroyed nationwide as result of horse racing since 2014, about 2,000 per year.
"Saratoga averages 14 per summer," Battuello said. "We are unequivocally out to end horse racing in the United States. We feel this is a moral issue. We are out to end horse racing."
New York Racing Association Director of Communications Patrick McKenna said since 2013, NYRA has implemented reforms to improve safety, including investments to modernize track surface analysis to help with daily inspection and testing of racing and training surfaces, upgrading relevant technology, equipment and facilities and giving veterinarians the independent authority to examine horses and clear or not clear them for racing.
“This commitment has led to demonstrably safer racing at the three tracks in New York that are operated by the New York Racing Association — Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack — where the fatality rate remains well below the industry average," McKenna said.
In 2018 nearly 10 horses a week, on average, died at American racetracks, according to the Jockey Club’s Equine Injury Database. That puts the U.S. fatality rate anywhere from two and a half to five times greater than in the rest of the racing world.
According to the Jockey Club, outside of the United States, medications for racehorses are strictly regulated, policed and punished. Reformers argue cracking down on drugs is essential because they allow horses to run unnaturally fast and mask pain, leading to more deaths.
Battuello said don't count him among the reformers.
"I have no interest in reforms or compromises. We see this as a moral issue. These animals are exploited from birth, the vast majority of spent, or no longer wanted, race horses are brutally slaughtered at the end of their so-called careers. The American horse racing industry is involved in whole-sale carnage, and it has to end," he said.
Gazette Reporter Mike MacAdam and information from the New York Times News Service contributed to this article.