A barn fire that broke out the morning of Nov. 20 killed 27 horses at Riverside Downs, a former harness track that is being used as a Thoroughbred training and boarding facility in northern Henderson County, Ky.
Bill Shaw, chief of the Baskett volunteer fire department, said emergency dispatchers were called to the scene at around 4:30 a.m. EST., according to the Evansville Courier. Though no cause or origin of the fire has been determined, arson is not suspected, the newspaper reported.
Marty Maline, executive director of the Kentucky Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association, told The Blood-Horse that trainers Bobby Larue, Benjie Larue, Jerry Joe Greenwell, Shirley Greene, Kim Nesbitt, Kenny Miller, and Billy Stinson all lost horses in the fire.
Four horses, three of which were rescued by Benjie Larue, fled the barn before it was engulfed in flames, Shaw said. One horse that survived the fire was later euthanized. Two veterinarians were called in to treat the horses that were spared from the fire.
“(Larue) got two of (his horses) out, and went after the third, but she refused to come out of her stall,” said Maline. “Finally, the heat and smoke were getting overpowering and (Larue) had to get out of there. He felt so bad that he couldn’t save her, but then he turned around and realized she had followed him out!”
Maline said the horses had been running at tracks in surrounding areas, such as Hoosier Park Racing & Casino in Indiana, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, and Beulah Park in Ohio.
Some of the horses that perished include a 25-year-old pony; a Glitterman filly named Kept Lady who had won a race at Churchill Nov. 16; and the Stinson-trained Survita, who captured a race at Hoosier Park Nov. 19. Survita was brought back to her stall at about 2 a.m. but perished in the fire just two and a half hours later.
Although Stinson arrived at the scene too late to save Survita, his discovered that another one of his horses had charged through the webbing in her stall and escaped the flames on her own.
“She had a blanket on, and the blanket was actually on fire,” said Larue. “She got some light burns on her withers, but she’s alright. She actually crashed through the webbing to save herself, which is very unusual. Most of them usually cower in their stalls because that’s where they feel the safest.”
Maline described the tragedy of the barn fire aftermath after visiting the site during the late morning hours of Nov. 20.
“There was a tremendous amount of steel that looked like a tornado had been through it," he said. "(The steel) was just all curled up, and there were carcasses where the stalls had been. It was a pretty sad state.
“These horses aren’t economic entities to these people--they’re their pets," Maline continued. "They’re with those horses day in and day out. There are so many (trainers) that live in proximity to the training center. If they just had a little bit of advance notice, they would have been able to perhaps save some of them. They have no qualms about going right into a raging inferno. Fortunately, they were able to save three of them.”
Maline said the HBPA is starting a collection for the trainers to cover the loss of tack and other equipment.
“I talked to the gentleman who runs (Riverside Downs), and he was beyond grief,” Maline said. “It’s a horrible situation, and this training center has certainly had its share of bad times.”
The Nov. 20 fire marks the fourth in the past five years at Riverside Downs. A fire last January killed six horses and caused $70,000 in damage to one of the barns. In December 2003, 22 horses died from a fire that swept through a barn. Both of those fires were thought to be electrical in nature.
The fourth fire, which occurred in November 2005, burned the harness track’s old grandstand. Four people were charged with arson for causing that blaze.