Animal rights activists make point


May 18, 2008|By Bradley Olson | Bradley Olson,Sun reporter

Linda Kelly became an enemy of horse racing more than 30 years ago.

The Monkton resident was watching television July 6, 1975, along with 18 million other Americans, when the filly Ruffian suffered a catastrophic break of her right foreleg and was euthanized hours after a failed surgery.

That race was supposed to mean something, she remembered. The "equine battle of the sexes" - in which Ruffian faced off against Foolish Pleasure, a 3-year-old colt who had won the Kentucky Derby that year - was supposed to mirror the classic tennis match in which Billie Jean King beat the braggart Bobby Riggs two years earlier.

Instead, it became a rallying cry for people like Kelly, 60, who decided she could never enjoy another horse race. Unlike the tens of thousands of college students, inveterate racing fans and gamblers who streamed into the Pimlico Race Course yesterday to watch the Preakness, Kelly stood outside with about 30 protesters from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

"This is an important, organized effort to make people aware of the other side of horse racing," Kelly said. "I don't understand why people think it's OK to treat horses this way, to run them so hard and whip them. I can't accept that."

The past two years in horse racing gave the protesters plenty to discuss yesterday.

They held up photographs of Eight Belles as she lay on the Churchill Downs track May 3, when she broke both of her front legs just after placing second in the Kentucky Derby. She was euthanized immediately.

The protesters also spoke of Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, who shattered his right hind leg in the 2006 Preakness and was euthanized early last year when exhaustive efforts to save him at a renowned Pennsylvania veterinary hospital failed.

Tess Foley drove to Baltimore from Monroe, Conn., to hold up signs urging the prosecution of the owners, jockeys and breeders of Eight Belles and Barbaro under animal cruelty laws.

"I feel like I'm two years late," she said. "I should have come two years ago."

In recent months, PETA has called for a slate of reforms to prevent catastrophic injuries in horses that race, including instituting a zero-tolerance drug policy in the week before races, banning whipping, replacing dirt tracks with turf and prohibiting the training and racing of horses under 3 years of age.

Not everyone embraced PETA's message yesterday. The reaction of the wild crowds making their way to the infield ranged from the shouting of obscenities to a young woman who told them: "I'm so with you. I feel you."

They held up signs in near silence for several hours, beginning at noon.

Harry Huntley, a 10-year-old vegetarian who enjoys getting e-mail blasts from PETA, persuaded his mother to come from North Baltimore, along with other relatives all the way from Allegany County. Sporting a "Kentucky Fried Cruelty" shirt, he said it was a good way to spend a Saturday.

"I thought it would be pretty cool," he said. "I don't like abuse of animals. It's not a good thing."

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