“Carolina Mia,” a six-year-old mare, suffered a musculoskeletal injury during a May 21 race and was subsequently euthanized. This marks the eighth death of the year at the Golden Gate Fields racetrack facility located in Berkeley and Albany.
Recurrent horse fatalities and injuries at the racetrack have sparked protests from Berkeley community members in recent years. Advocates maintain that horse-racing is “an outdated industry that profits off gambling and animal cruelty.” A petition, led by the animal rights organization Direct Action Everywhere, to shut down the horse track has gained more than 39,000 signatures.
“(The horses) are raced to death since they are forced to run until they are, one way or another, led to die,” said campus alumna Cassie King, organizer with Direct Action Everywhere.
King alleged race horses could die from “excruciating colic” — caused by a diet that maximizes speed — or they suffer from cardiac arrest, internal hemorrhage or injury.
King noted that, unlike human athletes, horses cannot consent to racing. She alleged that horses are regularly administered legal drugs such as steroids and inflammatories to mask their pain in order to keep them running, and that they are treated like commodities.
“They ‘euthanize’ horses who have been injured catastrophically since they can no longer run,” King alleged. “They kill the athletes when they’re injured. We would never tolerate this in human sports.”
However, according to Stefan Friedman, who works with Stronach Group, the owner of Golden Gate Fields, the claim that horses are euthanized due to their inability to run is “beyond outrageous.”
He said in an email that horses dying from colic is a common fatality. Friedman added he is unaware of the facts supporting King’s claim that horses are suffering from colic due to their treatment at the racetrack.
“Horses are euthanized when they have inoperable injuries that are causing tremendous pain,” Friedman said in the email.
According to the California Horse Racing Board, Golden Gate Fields had 15 horse fatalities in 2022.
The actual number may be higher, according to Berkeley resident and campus alumna Tweed Conrad. She added that the official statistics of deaths at Golden Gate Fields do not account for horses who are taken off-site and subsequently euthanized.
According to the nonprofit organization, Horseracing Wrongs, there have been a myriad of reasons for horse deaths at Golden Gate Fields. In January and February, three horses died in their stalls: “Tap Union” suffered from colic, and “Emma’s Dance” and “Big Laugh” had gastrointestinal issues. In March, two more horses died: “Ultimate Diva” died while racing and “Heza Valentine” suffered from a neurological affliction and died in their stall. More recently, in April, “Lexcellent” suffered a “sudden death” in the stall and “Crazy Dreams” suffered a catastrophic fetlock fracture and died during the race.
This racing season at Golden Gate Fields concluded June 11. The horses will be taken to county fairs throughout California before being brought back to the racetrack for the next season beginning in August.
“There is no way to improve the horse-racing gambling industry because its purpose is to continually increase revenue,” Conrad said. “Thus it will always be at odds with the welfare and the lives of the horses.”