LEXINGTON, Ky. -- About 20 animal-rights protesters waved signs outside the offices of the state's horse racing regulators Tuesday in response to the death of filly Eight Belles after the Kentucky Derby. Nearly as many people showed up to defend the sport from their attacks.
"Unfortunately, money and speed is all that matters to these people, and Eight Belles is the most famous recent example in a string of broken and dead animals," PETA spokeswoman Lindsay Rajt said.
While the PETA protesters held signs outside the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority that read, "Stop Racing Horses to the Grave" and "Race Horses: Bent and Broken," supporters of the industry countered with posters saying "I Support the Sport" and "Gabriel Saez is not a murderer."
Carlos Ramos of Lexington, holding one of the signs backing Saez, said he was being made a scapegoat.
"Why him?" Ramos said. "He's a a very young, talented jockey. I just don't think it's fair, when they don't even know what they're talking about."
PETA has called for the racing authority to eliminate the use of the whip and ban the racing of horses younger than 3. A statement Monday from KHRA executive director Lisa Underwood argued there is no scientific proof that 2-year-olds aren't suitable for racing, and that there must be a method for controlling horses on the track.
One of the protesters, Kelly Greenstein of Lexington, also took issue with Churchill's dirt track, pointing out two other major tracks in Kentucky -- Keeneland and Turfway Park -- have replaced dirt with a synthetic Polytrack surface, which some studies suggest is safer on horses.
"Why can't Churchill have Polytrack? Because they want it fast and they want it exciting, for the whole world to see," Greenstein said. "Well, the whole world saw Eight Belles."
But Janell Oliver, whose parents are horse trainers, said the protesters didn't understand the issues involved or the care most horse people provide their animals.
"I feel like they're trying to distort it and trivialize it," Oliver said.
-- The Associated Press