05/05/2008 11:00PM

Protest over filly's death

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Approximately a dozen protestors affiliated with the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals appeared at the Kentucky Horse Park outside Lexington on Tuesday afternoon to register their displeasure with Thoroughbred racing in the wake of Saturday's death of Eight Belles after her second-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

The protestors displayed signs stating, "Stop Racing Horses to the Grave" and "Racing Horses: Beaten and Broken." The protestors did not give prepared speeches. A spokeswoman for PETA, Lindsay Rajt, said that the group was seeking to draw attention to what the group considers "cruelty to animals" in the racing industry by organizing the protest.

The protesting contingent was matched and slightly outnumbered by counter-protestors who appeared with homemade signs that urged support for the racing industry or took issue with the animal-rights group's policies or practices. Among animal-rights organizations, PETA is considered by many to have the most controversial policies.

Animal-rights organizations have launched publicity efforts to put racing in the spotlight following the death of Eight Belles, a 3-year-old filly trained by Larry Jones who was ridden in the Derby by Gabriel Saez. Eight Belles was administered a lethal injection on the track after sustaining condylar fractures in both front ankles while pulling up after the race, according to veterinarians.

The death of Eight Belles has caused an outpouring of grief from within the industry, along with harsh criticism from members of the media and animal-rights organizations. In Kentucky, the reaction has been especially strong, largely because of the contribution of horses to the state's economy and because of the deaths of two horses in the Rolex cross-country event one week before the Derby. The Rolex three-day event is held at the horse park.

Critics of the racing industry have complained that the industry puts too much emphasis on speed at the expense of safety and has become over-reliant on raceday medications.

A day after the Derby, PETA sent a letter to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority demanding that the racing commission immediately take action against Jones, Saez, and the filly's owner, Rick Porter. The letter also demanded that the commission ban the use of the whip, mandate the use of synthetic surfaces, and prohibit the racing of any horse before its third birthday.

Lisa Underwood, the executive director of the racing authority, said in a statement released on Monday that the authority would not take action on those demands, contending that the requests were not based on valid scientific evidence.

"The Kentucky Horse Racing Authority has been constantly reviewing safety issues and will continue to monitor research and development in that area," the statement said.

Rajt, the spokeswoman for PETA, said at the protest on Tuesday that the organization plans to hold similar demonstrations at both the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on May 17 and the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York on June 7.

"We believe horse racing is a greedy, dirty-money game in which horses are injured for life," Rajt said. "Eight Belles is only the latest in a string of dead animals."

Counter-protestors who appeared at the event took places with their signs in between individual animal-rights protestors as cameras lined up to take pictures or video. Any time a camera began rolling, both groups vied for space in front of the lens. Though some participants exchanged words, the two groups remained peaceful throughout the demonstration, which lasted approximately an hour.

Several of the counter-protestors said that they appeared at the demonstration to draw attention to PETA's animal shelters, in which dogs and cats are euthanized if they cannot find adoptive homes.