Horse racing raises ethical and environmental issues

In a letter to the editor, Beryl Birch writes, "... the list of horse racing woes keeps growing and public interest in horse racing is waning, primarily due to the list of more and more horse deaths in tracks around the country..

To the editor:

On Sept. 30, just as I began thinking of writing a letter to the editor to protest the return of horse racing to Great Barrington, the New York Times, in its Morning Briefing, highlighted “another horse death at Santa Anita racetrack in California.” The potent foreboding of the Times article, just when the subject seems to be swirling around Great Barrington, gave me the motivation to put pen to paper.

There has been a flurry of letters recently to the editors of all our papers, expressing concern about the intended return of horse racing to Great Barrington by Sterling Suffolk Racecourse and addressing all the issues, from environmental to ethical, as to why it is a really bad idea for our bucolic and peaceful village. As pointed out in Bob Myers’ excellent letter to the editor last week, SSR, before being thrown out of the Boston area, was fined heavily ($5 million) for allowing a variety of animal waste pollutants (including drugs, veterinary medical waste, manure and urine, dead horses, bedding, etc.) to run off into Boston’s local waters. SSR’s plan is to return racing to the Great Barrington Fairgrounds, based on its claim of the legality of a supposed previous license from the late ‘90s, when racing last was in Great Barrington. However, “The Fairgrounds” lies within the Housatonic River floodplain and is above aquifers that feed several public water supplies. This return would deliver SSR’s wanton disrespect for environmental protection straight into our town. By helping to draft, and now push forward, pending state legislation (S.101) that would permit it to circumvent Great Barrington residents’ ability to vote on the issue, SSR hopes to slide racing back into the Fairgrounds before anyone who lives here actually notices.

And all of this just when the list of horse racing woes keeps growing and public interest in horse racing is waning, primarily due to the list of more and more horse deaths in tracks around the country. Thirty horses died at Santa Anita racetrack in California in a six-month stretch that ended in late June. So the track’s owner, the Stronach Group, according to the Times, “rolled out a series of reforms designed to better protect the thoroughbreds from catastrophic injury and put government authorities, animal-rights activists, and the public as a whole at ease.” However, on Saturday, Sept 28, the second day of racing this season for Santa Anita, when it hoped all the bad press was behind it, a 3-year-old colt collapsed in the stretch, with both his front legs broken, and had to be euthanized on the track, behind a screen to keep the public from seeing the grittier side of this disgraceful, abusive “sport.”

Great Barrington registered voters are signing a home rule petition that calls for their right to secure the vote on whether horse racing is a good fit for this community, a vote that will ensure that right locally and at the state level. Concerned citizens will be “tabling” with the petition at the Great Barrington Farmers’ Market Saturday, Oct. 19, and the Berkshire Food Co-op Saturday, Oct. 26. Please come out to sign and make your voice heard.


Beryl Bender Birch
Great Barrington