How NYRA Tried to Marginalize Us

Sunday, I promised a post on NYRA’s desperate attempts to marginalize us on Travers Day. Well, this week, the Capital Region’s foremost columnist, Chris Churchill, has taken the story on. Chris is a terrific journalist, so I’ll yield to him: please read and share.

Churchill: Hiding Saratoga horse deaths conceals truth about sport

Nobody wants to see animals injured, but that’s the unfortunate reality of racing

Chris Churchill

Aug. 29, 2023Updated: Aug. 30, 2023 7:51 a.m.

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Faced with growing criticism over the toll of its sport on horses, the New York Racing Association is more aggressively countering its critics.

Before Travers Stakes Day — which was ultimately marred by two horse deaths on Saturday, including one broadcast live on national television — NYRA requested that the city of Saratoga Springs move protesters from the group Horseracing Wrongs away from the entrance to Saratoga Race Course at the intersection of East and Union avenues. The city subsequently asked that the group relocate to the intersection’s far corner.

“That just wasn’t acceptable, because we’d be marginalized,” said Patrick Battuello, the group’s founder, who said the request was a first and one that Horseracing Wrongs rejected.

In a meeting earlier in the week with city officials, including Mayor Ron Kim and Public Safety Commissioner James Montagnino, the protest group did agree to reduce the size of the presence on the corner and move some of its 60 or so protesters elsewhere. Montagnino, who confirmed that NYRA asked to have the protest moved away from the entrance, said the meeting was amicable.

I’d say it’s to the city’s credit that NYRA didn’t get its way, except it shouldn’t have even made the request. The sidewalk, after all, is public space. The track is owned by New York state. Protesters have every right to gather there, especially since its prior demonstrations have been peaceful.

“Most of our activists are women in their 60s and 70s,” Battuello told me. “It’s not like we’re the Proud Boys.”

When the protest occurred, it was met by a small group of counter-protesters from We Are New York Horse Racing, a group backed by NYRA and other industry groups. That also was a first, said Battuello, who believes the demonstrators were trying to goad Horseracing Wrongs into a confrontation that would force police to clear all protesters from the track’s entrance.

“It was about trying to get us moved off that corner,” Battuello said. “I have no question that NYRA was trying to muzzle if not silence us.”

NYRA spokesman Patrick McKenna denied that, maintaining that the association respects the rights of protesters. He added, though, that protests have been getting increasingly aggressive in recent years, leading to worries over safety and access. 

But if those are NYRA’s worries, why put counter-protesters into the mix? Wouldn’t they only add to crowding and the potential for confrontation? (McKenna said the demonstrators were unpaid and were not NYRA employees.)

Battuello cited other ways he believes NYRA is attempting to quell his group’s effectiveness. He noted, for example, that NYRA recently cited copyright infringement to successfully lobby YouTube to remove a video showing a horse injury from Horseracing Wrong’s channel.

“We’ve never had an issue before,” Battuello said. “Now NYRA is trying to silence us because they’re feeling pressure.”

Horse racing is having an especially bad year. Churchill Downs in Kentucky was forced to suspend racing earlier this year due to horse fatalities. Closer to home, the Belmont Stakes in June was largely overshadowed by a troubling spate of horse deaths and questions about the industry’s safety and sustainability.

McKenna, though, countered that the videos in question belong to NYRA — or, in some cases, Fox Sports —and that the association is doing essentially what the Yankees or Mets would do to combat an unauthorized use. That’s especially true, McKenna said, when clips are used to present an unflattering or distorted view of the sport. 

NYRA, which is technically a nonprofit, also edits its video replays to remove segments in which horses are injured. Those moments are traumatic and gruesome, McKenna said by way of explaining the decisions. (Fox Sports did not replay footage of the Travers Day injury — the horse was euthanized behind tarps — and NYRA did not make a replay available online.)

But those moments are also, unfortunately, the reality of the sport, which means that NYRA is essentially presenting viewers with a sanitized and inaccurate view of racing. And yes, the same criticism can be leveled at news coverage of the industry. 

That’s understandable, I suppose. Racing injuries, horrific and sobering, are nothing anyone wants to witness, and rare is the industry or company that’s eager to publicize its warts.

Let’s not forget, though, that NYRA has been judged “a state actor” and is supported by significant taxpayer subsidies, including the $455 million state loan being used to rebuild Belmont Park. Video of its races, I’d argue, should therefore be considered public property and part of the public record. 

Editing out footage of a horse injury, then, is not unlike a mayor ordering the removal of embarrassing moments from recordings of a city council meeting. It turns the video into propaganda that hides the truth.

But McKenna said NYRA is simply displaying the sensitivity increasingly typical of sports broadcasts. He compared the editing to how ESPN and the NFL handled the in-game collapse of Buffalo player Damar Hamlin, with the network switching to studio broadcasters while the Bills safety was treated on the field.

Fair enough. But broadcasters did show the hit that led to Hamlin’s collapse again and again, as they so often do when athletes are injured.

Then, of course, the NFL suspended that game when it became clear how critical the situation was, and didn’t replay the game. NYRA’s races on Saturday and Sunday went ahead as scheduled, despite the two horse deaths.

Churchill is one of the most well-known names, and faces, at the Times Union. His columns — published on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays — are shared heavily on social media and have won several awards. Churchill studied English and history at the University of Texas before beginning his journalism career at small weeklies in Maine, later working at the Biddeford Journal Tribune, Waterville Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal newspapers. He started at the Times Union as a business writer in 2007 and became a columnist in 2012. Reach him at or 518-454-5442.

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  1. Technically speaking, isn’t the collective group of people who form and support the Horseracing Wrongs group “marginalizing” or attempting to marginalize the so-called “Sport of Kings” as a whole and the New York Racing Association as a smaller group belonging to the “whole” racing industry? Correct me, if I am wrong.
    They are threatened by people telling the truth about horseracing, so naturally they are going to do whatever they can to attempt to diminish the credibility of any and all groups and individuals who stand against them.
    We speak on behalf of the horses and they don’t.
    They don’t speak for the horses and we do.
    May they successfully hang themselves with their own rope. They are evil. The horses don’t deserve to be enslaved for their entertainment and stock portfolios.


  2. Looks like NYRA feels the heat. All of you keep up the great work.

    Also we all have the right to protest, without intimidation, the way our tax dollars are spent.

    We need to remind NYRA of that.

  3. No pay wall. I was able to access article. By comparison, the Week 2 preseason game between the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers was suspended after a player was injured and carted off the field in the second half with 10:38 to go. Racing should have been suspended after the first catastrophic injury. Peaceful protest is our constitutional right. NYRA wants to sweep Horseracing Wrongs under the rug. We won’t be silenced or made invisible.

  4. They know the injuries to the horses are traumatic and gruesome, and while they use that as an excuse to withhold the video details to the public and attempt to prevent HW from being able to show the traumatic and gruesome details of the injuries to the afflicted racehorses, they continue to force horses to race putting them at extreme risk of fatal injuries that are traumatic and gruesome. That makes a lot of sense, (sarcasm).
    It’s painfully obvious that the NYRA doesn’t have a problem with continuing the cruelty to horses (that causes traumatic and gruesome injuries) with public funds keeping the carnage propped up.
    Thanks a million times over to all who stood on or near the sidewalk and held signs to educate an oblivious public.

  5. Looks like NYRA is feeling the heat.

    It would be a whole different story if these deaths, injuries and animal maltreatment were only scarce, few and far between incidents. But NYRA is fully well aware that Mr. Battuello’s reporting is fair, honest and accurate – albeit not always sugary sweet and nice – nor should it be.

    And that’s the problem.

    The industry IS rife with problems and issues, none of which have been, or can be rectified – they know it, and it’s only getting worse. If they could fix it, they would, because after all, it would mean more money, right? Too bad, NYRA – if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. Your excuses, explanations, and public offerings are wearing thin, and NYRA knows it. Your days are numbered.

    HW< my advice to you, be ready for more heat, because NYRA isn't going to take this sitting down. You're leaning heavily on their cash cow, and they're already making attempts to intimidate you. The Breeder's Cup won't be any nicer. If, God forbid, there are any more fatal breakdowns in the BC races, it will get ugly fast. Although nothing could be uglier than watching those poor horses who've lost their lives.

  6. I’m not sure how the following would effect race horses, but it’s progress on the animal rights front:

    An important legal brief was filed by Harvard Law School’s Professor Kristen Stilt this week arguing that animals are “someone” entitled to protection under the necessity defense.

  7. Thank you Mr. Churchill !! I’m so glad someone finally talked about the government subsidies, the blatant whitewashing of horse injuries and deaths, the propaganda of racing videos, the callousness of continuing races immediately after a horse dies, and on and on. Thank you Patrick for sharing this. And thank you for standing up to NYRA and other racing authorities the way you do.

  8. And I can’t believe McKenna actually admits that the horse injuries are too traumatic and gruesome to watch, yet he goes on to defend racing. Ugh.

    • That is a telling admission. He does not have a problem with “traumatic and gruesome” injuries to horses. He only has a problem with the public knowing about it and that this cruelty to horses gives merit to the lawsuit. You know they like to say the lawsuit against bankrolling the NYRA with the $455-Million New York State-backed BONDS is “meritless”.

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