Shouts of mistreatment and cruelty rang out at the entrance of the historic Saratoga Race Course Sunday morning.
The group of over two dozen protesters from animal rights groups, like Horseracing Wrongs and New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets, came with signs and pamphlets in hand to raise awareness for what Horseracing Wrongs founder Patrick Battuello says has been an issue since the sport began in New York.
“We are here to say loudly and clearly that Saratoga race horse is a charade, Battuello said. “That all of this, the food, the drink the party, rests on a foundation of animal cruelty and animal killing.”
These protests come just two days after a horse was euthanized after Friday’s tenth race. That brings the total number of horse deaths at New York tracks this year to 53.
“We are not interested in reform,” Battuello said. “We don’t feel like this can be fixed or reformed. We are out to end horse racing in the United States."
As thousands will show up to the track this summer, the group says it’s their goal to inform fans of the cruelty that may occur behind closed stable doors.
“People need to know,” Nicole Arciello, executive director of Horseracing Wrongs, said. “People need to know that the horses inside Saratoga race course and tracks across the country aren’t happy horses.”
They say the treatment of the horses is not justified by the money involved.
“They’re born to live in this solitary confinement, be forced to race, be forced to have painful injuries, ulcers, everything else,” Arciello said. “All for two dollar bets and gambling, and why?”
The New York Racing Association has issued a statement in response to these protests, saying in part, "The health and welfare of horses and jockeys competing at NYRA tracks is our highest priority. NYRA continuously evaluates all aspects of the operation to ensure we are providing the safest possible environment for training and racing at Saratoga Race Course, Belmont Park and Aqueduct Racetrack."
While the NYRA says its organizational commitment to safety is an industry standard and at the forefront of everything they do, protestors say it’s simply not enough for what the horses endure every season.
“They come out about these statements about equine welfare and new safety protocols, all while horse die,” Battuello said. “And they do talk a lot about the jobs, and our answer to that is very simple. That we are talking about a moral issue here. It’s either right or it’s wrong, and if you think it’s wrong then jobs and money shouldn’t play a part in the conversation.”
In 2020, nearly 99.9% of the 1,507 horse races and 43,627 high speed workouts were completed safely and without incident, according to the NYRA.