Representatives of the major Thoroughbred auction houses met Sept. 16 in Lexington to discuss the criticisms recently leveled at 2-year-olds in training sales by the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
Executives with Barretts, Fasig-Tipton, Keeneland, and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Co. scheduled the impromptu meeting for Sept. 16 because they were already gathered for a meeting of the International Cataloguing Standards Committee's North American members and that day is the mid-sale break during Keeneland’s marathon September yearling sale.
“It seemed like an opportunity to get together and discuss the issues,” said Terence Collier, Fasig-Tipton’s director of marketing. “The question is how do we address the questions raised by PETA, which really came from out of the blue.”
Walt Robertson, Keeneland’s vice president of sales, indicated that Keeneland had received e-mail communication from “people claiming to be from PETA” about wanting changes in breeze shows for the 2-year-old sales, but “we (Keeneland) have not discussed exactly what to do about it point by point.”
Tom Ventura, OBS' general manager and director of sales, declined to comment on the discussion during the meeting but confirmed it did take place. No one with Barretts could be reached for comment.
PETA reportedly sent letters to all the sale companies asking them to adopt a number of “lifesaving recommendations,” including preventing 2-year-old sale prospects from sprinting. The other recommendations were: eliminate the recording and publishing of times during undertack shows; mandate that undertack shows be postponed if there are unsafe track and weather conditions; ban whips, toe-grabs, and “other devices that force a horse to run at excessive speeds;” and crack down on the use of performance-enhancing and injury-making drugs.
“Forcing juvenile horses to run at top speeds on fragile, undeveloped bones and joints is animal abuse,” said PETA president Ingrid E. Newkirk in a statement issued Sept. 12.
PETA has taken its cause a step further by calling for criminal animal-cruelty charges to be filed by the Baltimore County State’s Attorney’s Office against Fasig-Tipton and for the Marion County State’s Attorney’s Office to take action against OBS. The organization’s actions are related to the breakdown of a filly May 19 during the undertack show for the Fasig-Tipton Midlantic 2-year-olds in training sale and the collapse of a horse at OBS during an undertack show prior to its June juvenile sale. The horse at OBS died due to a ruptured aorta.
Brad King, state attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit, which includes Marion County, told the Ocala Star-Banner any charges against OBS are unlikely based on his understanding of how auctions work. He told the paper he believes it is in the best interest of horse owners for their animals to be healthy and sound and that treating them cruelly runs contrary to that interest.
“I’m not doing anything with that,” King told the Star-Banner of PETA’s complaint.
“The reality is that breakdowns at the sales are a very, very rare occurrence,” Collier said.
He added that the sale companies meet regularly to discuss safety issues, such as the use of whips or shoe issues but there have been no discussions to date about speed or the rights of consignors to breeze their horses. He added that it would be “premature” to speculate whether any actions would come out of the Sept. 16 meeting.
“PETA is a well-meaning group whose representations will be studied carefully,” Collier said. “We both have the same interest and that is the welfare of the horse and riders.”
Bloodstock editor Deirdre Biles contributed to the reporting for this story.