CHARLES TOWN, WEST VIRGINIA – Animal Wellness Action (AWA), the Animal Wellness Foundation (AWF), and the Center for a Humane Economy (CHE) are calling on Penn National Gaming to investigate the rash of horse deaths that have occurred at its Hollywood Casino Charles Town Race Course in West Virginia in 2021. This year, there have been eight on-track deaths of horses at the facility. “Lanesborough” and “Nicaloe” were each reported to have “suffered fatal injury” and were “euthanized on track” on February 27th, and most recently ”Uncle Funky” was reported to have suffered a “fatal injury” and was “euthanized on track” on March the 10th. Other deaths at Charles Town this year include “Best Shot,” “Venetian Drive,” “Don’tmesswithbull,” “Mio’s Long Term,” and “Paul’s Plunder.”
The Charles Town track has also been widely criticized in the past for shuttling poor-performing horses right from the track to kill buyers, who then ship horses to slaughter in Canada or Mexico for export to Belgium, Italy, and Japan for human consumption.
“We’re appalled as the body count continues to multiply at Charles Town,” said Marty Irby, executive director at Animal Wellness Action who testified before Congress in 2020 in support of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. ”The track is operated by Penn National Gaming, a publicly traded company and we expect better – so should investors, the industry, and the betting public. Penn National should adopt a set of reforms – banning the movement of its horses to kill buyers, imposing a ban on the use of whips, and imposing a ban on race-day doping of horses at its tracks, even before the new federal law goes into effect.”
“It’s shameful to see the rampant deaths at Charles Town, and we will continue to press Penn National Gaming to implement much-needed reforms,” said Scott Beckstead, director of campaigns at the Center for a Humane Economy and a lifelong horseman. “Our iconic American horses deserve better.” Mr. Irby visited the track earlier in the week and was set to interview with a local television station on site until officials with the track objected to the presence of AWA and the local reporter.
The latest deaths come on the heels of a story in the Journal-News and Associated Press in February that revealed the first three deaths at Charles Town. Irby, who was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect American equines led the charge within the animal protection space in support of the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act (HISA) that was signed into law on December 27, 2020.
The measure was championed by U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y. and U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., and bans race day doping in U.S. horse racing and creates a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) that will take effect mid-2022. The Jockey Club, the New York-based breed registry for Thoroughbreds, The Breeders’ Cup, New York Racing Association, Keeneland, Water, Hay, Oats Alliance and others were also instrumental in working for the passage of the anti-doping legislation, but Penn National Gaming was not active in supporting the anti-doping legislation.
Irby and Beckstead both at AWA and CHE, and in previous roles have long advocated ending the use of the whip, and for the passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, led by U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. that would ban horse slaughter on U.S. soil, and ban the transport of American equines for the purposes of slaughter.