About 25 supporters of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals staged a quiet demonstration outside the gates of Pimlico Race Course May 17, but horseracing enthusiasts—and fans of the Preakness experience—weren’t as reserved.
As PETA demonstrators stood along Winner Avenue not far from the stakes barn, several members of the crowd that appeared headed to the infield heckled the sign-carrying animal rights activists. The demonstration, which began at noon, was expected to last about two hours.
PETA sprung to action soon after the breakdown of the filly Eight Belles as she galloped out after the May 3 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I). The group held a smaller demonstration May 6 in front of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority office near Lexington, and plans to demonstrate near Belmont Park June 7.
Ashley Byrne, campaign coordinator for PETA, reiterated the group’s call for industry change. PETA advocates an end to use of the whip, a ban on illegal and legal drugs, racing on turf or synthetic surfaces only, shorter racing seasons, and no 2-year-old racing.
“People who love animals do not race them and drug them to death,” Byrne said. “Since the Derby, we have been contacted by more industry insiders saying reforms need to be made.”
Byrne offered no details. And when asked why demonstrators were holding placards displaying an enlarged color photograph of Eight Belles lying on the ground on the track at Churchill Downs, Byrne said: “We want people to know it’s not an isolated incident. Images like this do not represent freak accidents.”
Demonstrators held and rang eight bells during the event.
The general response by targets of PETA is to ignore the group, which some say uses terrorist-like tactics. The horseracing industry thus far has dealt with PETA in that manner.
Meanwhile, the Humane Society of the United States has reached out to some equine organizations. The HSUS sought out the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and United States Equestrian Federation, officials said, but how far the dialogue goes remains to be seen.
“We should consider everything when it comes to looking at health and safety issues related to the equine,” NTRA senior vice president of communications Keith Chamblin said May 17. “That’s not to say we would (engage the group), but we need to be looking at issues across the board.”