Protesters against horse racing rally outside Keeneland as Fall Meet comes to a close

Animal rights activists calling for an end to horse racing staged a protest outside Keeneland Saturday, the last day of the 2019 Fall Meet.

By noon, about 18 protesters had gathered across from Keeneland on the corner of Man o’ War Boulevard and Versailles Road as a light drizzle fell.

“Horse racing kills,” they chanted.

The group was joined by two counter-protesters who held signs saying, “Honk If You Like Horse Racing.”

Five horses have died at Keeneland during the Fall Meet this year. The most recent was Oct. 20, when Call to Victory sustained a catastrophic injury to the right front limb during the sixth race, according to a Keeneland incident report.

There were four horse fatalities during the Spring Meet.

The nine fatalities this year are the most Keeneland has reported since The Jockey Club launched its Equine Injury Database in 2009.

“We’re here to call attention to these deaths and to this cruel and deadly industry,” said Hannah Truxell, of Louisville, who helped organize the protest. “We’ve seen people wake up to the reality of racing dogs, and horse racing should follow suit.”

While Truxell said individuals organized the protest, signs and other materials were provided by the New York-based nonprofit Horseracing Wrongs, which wants to end horse racing.

Truxell said the racing industry is “in decline already,” and “the deaths on the track are but one piece of a much larger puzzle” that she said includes doping, solitary confinement and slaughter “for racehorses that have stopped producing earnings.”

Megan Fulkrod, who works as an assistant trainer, was one of the people holding a sign to counter the protest.

“At Keeneland, the whole backside is open to the public,” she said. “These horses are definitely taken care of.”

“People don’t realize how much time and money and people are invested” in caring for race horses, Fulkrod said.

Thoroughbred racing has been under public scrutiny since last winter and spring, when a rash of 30 race horse fatalities occurred at Santa Anita Park, prompting industry reforms.

Keeneland Director of Operations Vince Gabbert said Saturday that Keeneland is continually working to make racing safer.

“Our very first priority for everything we do out here is the safety of our human and equine athletes,” he said.

Gabbert said a full-time veterinarian was added to the staff during this meet to provide “an extra set of eyes on those horses” throughout their time at Keeneland. The track has also hired an equine safety director and made improvements to the racing surface.

Gabbert said the racing industry “is more united than we ever have been” in working to improve safety.

On Monday, he said, a subcommittee of the Kentucky Racing Commission is scheduled to take up proposed reforms suggested by Kentucky tracks, including requiring electronic medical records for horses to be registered before horses are allowed to run.

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Karla Ward is a native of Logan County who has worked as a reporter at the Herald-Leader for 18 years. She covers breaking news.