Regulator, Law Enforcement Investigate Dumped Horse
The West Virginia Racing Commission is investigating the suspicious disposal of an apparent euthanized racehorse from Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack, & Resort,an incident also being investigated by local law enforcement.
The animal welfare group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sent out a news release about the incident Oct. 16, including photos taken Sept. 27 of the deceased horse allegedly dumped at Brooke County Landfill in Colliers, W.Va.—located 21 miles from the track. PETA called on local law enforcement to investigate any possible instances of animal cruelty. The Hancock County Sheriff's office in New Cumberland, W.Va., confirmed an investigator had been assigned to the case Oct. 17.
PETA asked law enforcement to determine whether the treatment of the horse broke any state laws on animal cruelty, including withholding veterinary treatment of an injured animal. On Thursday, the WVRC, based on its initial interviews with staff at Mountaineer, said it doesn't appear the horse, Bridget Moloney, was abused or neglected.
The WVRC did say transporting the deceased horse to the landfill did not follow track protocol.
"From conversations with Mountaineer Park management, it is the understanding of the racing commission that Mountaineer Park has an arrangement for the disposal of horse remains, and the specific manner in which the disposal is to occur does not appear to have been followed in this case," the WVRC said in a statement sent by its executive director, Joe Moore. "With that said, the racing commission does not have any specific regulation that directs our racetracks to dispose of horse remains in any specific manner. However, the racing commission desires that all equine athletes that compete on our racetracks whose racing lives have come to an end are treated in a dignified and humane manner."
Jami Poole, president of the Mountaineer Park Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said the normal protocol was not followed and horsemen are determined to find out why.
"There are specific protocols in place for horses that have been euthanized. When a horse is humanely euthanized, as was the case in this situation, the contracted site is notified. The horse is transported and immediately buried in an area specifically designated for livestock," Poole said. "It is clear the established protocol was not followed in this case.
"As you know, there is an investigation being conducted by the Hancock County Sheriff's Office. We are committed to continuing the investigation with local horsemen and the proper authorities. We are determined to obtain the facts as to why the established protocol was not followed and ensure this never happens again."
In the release, PETA senior vice president of equine matters Kathy Guillermo said the improper disposal raises questions, at the very least. Asked about the release Oct. 16, Moore was unaware of what happened but said he would look into the incident. While the WVRC is still investigating, it released an initial finding Oct. 17 stating the horse was humanely treated after suffering a catastrophic injury racing Sept. 25 at Mountaineer.
Through the statement, the WVRC noted that, like all horses who race at Mountaineer, Bridget Moloney received a pre-race examination from a regulatory vet. According to the official chart of the race and a video review of the race by BloodHorse, Bridget Moloney was injured in the stretch and eased to the wire.
The WVRC said the 8-year-old Pollard's Vision mare was attended to on the track by a state vet and given sedation and pain management before being vanned off the track. The official race chart also notes she was vanned off, which would put her in the care of regulatory vets at that point. After she was transported off the track with an injury determined to be catastrophic, the mare was euthanized by a second state vet, the regulator's statement said.
Mountaineer did not return an Oct. 17 phone call from BloodHorse.
The initial events as outlined by the WVRC did not call into question the handling of the horse by any of her connections. Campaigned by Vickie Stewart and trained by L. Craig Cox, Bridget Moloney had won four of her past nine starts and placed in two other races during that stretch. Cox could not be reached Oct. 17 by BloodHorse.
As of Oct. 17, the WVRC did not have an answer for how the body of the horse ended up at a landfill. That outcome had industry leaders and former regulators outraged.
Bill Phillips, a former WVRC commissioner, issued a statement placing blame on lack of oversight of racing in West Virginia.
"After seeing a picture of a deceased Mountaineer racehorse in a local landfill, I can no longer withhold my concerns. This photograph conveys the condition of those responsible for management and oversight of the racing industry in West Virginia," Phillips said in a blog post. "There is no accountability or interest in assuring a quality product for the fans, horse owners, trainers, or others involved in the sport. This includes the racing commission, governor, legislature, state government bureaucracy, and racetrack management.
"Based on personal experience, after being appointed to the racing commission, I observed a general lack of interest and commitment. Meetings were not held on a regular basis, often attendance was by telephone, meeting agendas were mostly housekeeping matters, and there was a rush to adjourn. It seemed enforcement of rules and regulations was not top of mind. Serious issues were avoided."
He concluded, "Let's pray this unfortunate horse laid to rest in a garbage dump will serve as a wake-up call for the West Virginia Racing Commission."
Pat Cummings, executive director for the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation, also called for improved oversight and said racing can't afford such stories in terms of public relations. The TIF advocates for horse owners and horseplayers, and Cummings indicated that such behavior endangers the entire industry.
"There are some horse people, racing officials, administrators, and regulators in some states who have allowed outrageous behavior to fester, leaving a trail of terrifying examples for the world to point to as reasons why our industry, which accounts domestically for more than 240,000 direct jobs and $15 billion in direct economic impact, should be shuttered," Cummings said in a post to the TIA website. "American horse racing is proving incapable of policing itself. Dramatic reforms are necessary to prove that we can exist in a modern society with far different standards than in the past. Racing needs to be administered in a much more responsible fashion. State racing commissions must step up and take legitimate control; the rest of us must demand it ourselves."
The WVRC statement did say the regulator may soon put in place a new protocol for horses who suffer catastrophic injury on the track by requiring necropsies for such horses.
"During the 2019 Legislative Session, the West Virginia Racing Commission was successful in getting legislation passed to give it funds to conduct necropsies on horses that die or that are euthanized on our racetracks," the statement read. "Going forward, as we are able to implement a plan to utilize those funds, deceased horses will be transported to qualified necropsy facilities for a necropsy. Thereafter, the facility will be responsible for the humane and respectful disposition of the remains."
Also potentially jeopardized by the incident are the 5,348 Hancock County jobs tied to racing, making it the largest employer in the county, accounting for 15% of jobs there—according to the Mountaineer Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association. The Mountaineer HBPA said horsemen annually spend $120 million in Hancock and (nearby) Jefferson counties.
Jana Tetrault, executive director of the Mountaineer Park HBPA, issued a joint statement with the National HBPA expressing concern but also noting it is important the investigation be completed.
"The Mountaineer Park HBPA and National HBPA are somberly concerned about appearances of the situation in West Virginia. We are committed to continuing the investigation with local horsemen and proper authorities to determine all the facts," the statement read. "Once facts are collected, then and only then can we ensure proper attention goes towards addressing what happened. All HBPA affiliates continuously seek ways to improve the care, health, and safety of thoroughbred racehorses. As professional horsemen and women we are committed to the highest standards of horsemanship and have tremendous respect and deep affection for these magnificent animals.
"Our first order of business is to make sure our horses are treated with the highest degree of care. As soon as facts surrounding this incident are available, we will be able to offer additional information, but rest assured we must—and we can—do more to ensure that each horse is given the attention and the protections they deserve."
PETA provided a link to the photos. As they are newsworthy—leading to a WVRC investigation and an investigation by law enforcement—BloodHorse has decided to provide that link below. Before choosing to view, please note that the photos are graphic.
To view the photos, click here.