Deadly Triple Crown season ends with 2 more horse deaths at Belmont Park

Two racehorses were euthanized after suffering severe injuries at Belmont Park just hours after the prestigious Belmont Stakes, the final leg of the Triple Crown, was run.

The deaths were among over a dozen that occurred at Triple Crown racetracks this season as advocates call for reforms and even an end to professional horse racing as a whole.

On Saturday, the US$1.5 million Belmont Stakes concluded with a win for thoroughbred Arcangelo and trainer Jena Antonucci, the first woman to train a Triple Crown race winner in its over 100-year history. The Belmont Stakes, which was the 12th of 13 races run at Belmont Park that day, went off without incident. But the 13th and final race of the day ended in tragedy.

Racehorse Excursionniste was euthanized after suffering a “catastrophic injury to its left front leg,” said New York Racing Association (NYRA) spokesman Pat McKenna.

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Little Blue Bird Stables wrote that they were devastated by the death of their thoroughbred in a social media post.

“He was our big, goofy, talented, crazy, 1 for 16 NYB superstar. We do everything as a team, and will console as one for quite a while.”

The very next race run at Belmont Park the following day also ended with a death by euthanization.

Racehorse Mashnee Girl fell near the quarter pole and sustained an injury to her left front leg, said spokesman McKenna, the same extremity where Excursionniste was injured. Both Mashnee Girl and Excursionniste were trained by Mark Hennig.

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In total, three horses have died at Belmont Park since the start of 2023.

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The NYRA released a statement in the wake of the deaths saying the organization “prioritizes safety and integrity above all other considerations and continuously evaluates all aspects of the operation to provide the safest possible environment for training and racing.” The NYRA is reviewing the circumstances of the deaths.

The 2023 Triple Crown began last month with the Kentucky Derby held at Churchill Downs. During the month of May, 12 horses died at the storied racetrack, two of which occurred on the day of the Derby.

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Trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was suspended after two of his horses were among those who died in the lead-up to the Kentucky Derby. In interviews, the trainer said he was being scapegoated for the deaths at Churchill Downs.

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At the start of June, Churchill Downs announced it was suspending racing at its facility and moving the remainder of its racing season to another track as investigations continue into the deaths.

The next Triple Crown race, the Preakness Stakes, run at Pimlico Race Course, was also marred with death. Mere hours before the Preakness, racehorse Havnameltdown was euthanized on the track after going down with an injury to its left front ankle.

The horse was trained by Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Another of Baffert’s horses, National Treasure, went on to win the Preakness that day. Baffert is the second trainer in history to win the Triple Crown more than once, with American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018.

In the aftermath of Havnameltdown’s death, Baffert said he was sickened and in shock.

“There is nothing worse than coming back and the stall is empty,” he said.

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Despite all the death this Triple Crown season, industry leaders say the sport has never been safer. Horse fatalities are down 37.5 per cent since they first started being tracked in 2009.

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After the death of Excursionniste at Belmont Park this past weekend, PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo released a statement calling out the horse racing industry.

“Racing couldn’t manage to keep all horses alive for even one Triple Crown day this year,” she wrote. “PETA urged the New York Racing Association and the New York State Gaming Commission to require CT scans for all horses racing today in order to screen for preexisting injuries, which are present in 90% of these fatalities. They refused.”

“The racing industry is digging its own grave – as well as this horse’s.”

Ahead of this year’s Belmont Stakes, MSNBC ran an opinion piece urging racing fans to not watch the Triple Crown’s finale.

“The only way to stop racehorses from dying is to put an end to horse racing itself,” writes Patrick Battuello, founder and president of Horseracing Wrongs, an advocacy group that tracks racehorse deaths across America.

He says one of the reasons why horse racing is so deadly is the reality of thoroughbred anatomy. Battuello writes that a thoroughbred’s bones do not set and finish growing until around six years of age, but most racehorses begin training at 18 months and are raced by age two.

“In the necropsies, we see horses 4, 3 even 2 years old dying with chronic conditions such as osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease, clear evidence of the early, incessant pounding their unformed bodies were forced to absorb,” he writes.

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He also claims that racing is an unnatural act for horses.

“At the track, not only are many injured horses still urged onward by that whip, but in a cruel twist, they often try desperately to stay with their artificial herds,” Battuello writes. “The horse race can only exist by force.”

Battuello’s organization has found there have been 157 racehorse deaths across America in 2023 so far. The group says more deaths are bound to be discovered as requests filed under the U.S.’s Freedom of Information Act come through.

In 2022, it lists 901 deaths. In 2021 that number was 977.

— With files from The Associated Press

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