Officials with the West Virginia Racing Commission are trying to determine how a euthanized thoroughbred horse from Mountaineer Racetrack ended up in a Hancock County landfill.
“From conversations with Mountaineer Park management, it is the understanding of the Racing Commission that Mountaineer Park has an arrangement for the disposal of horse remains and the specific manner in which the disposal is to occur does not appear to have been followed in this case,” Joe Moore, the commission’s executive director, said in a statement Tuesday.
“With that said, the Racing Commission does not have any specific regulation that directs our racetracks to dispose of horse remains in any specific manner,” he said.
Moore said the thoroughbred, Bridget Moloney, suffered a catastrophic injury during a race in September, was treated by a state veterinarian, and then was taken by van to an off-site location where the horse was euthanized by a second veterinarian.
The three members of the Racing Commissions expressed regret over the incident at a meeting Friday, but they did not take any formal action regarding the matter.
A longtime racing commissioner said he hopes the incident serves as a wake-up call for what he said is an underfunded and understaffed Racing Commission.
“Based on personal experience, after being appointed to the Racing Commission, I observed a general lack of interest and commitment,” Bill Phillips said. “Meetings were not held on a regular basis. Often, attendance was by telephone, meeting agendas were mostly housekeeping matters and there was a rush to adjourn. It seemed enforcement of rules and regulations was not ‘top of mind.’”
Phillips, who was reappointed to a second four-year term on the commission by then-Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin in 2016, was removed from the commission by Gov. Jim Justice in February 2017. Justice replaced Phillips and commissioner Greg McDermont with two businessmen with little or no experience in thoroughbred or greyhound racing.
Phillips said the Mountaineer incident is particularly troubling at a time when the industry is under scrutiny for a number of high-profile racehorse fatalities at tracks such a Santa Anita, in California.
“The whole industry, whether its dog or horse racing, has a whole lot more people paying attention to it than before, and good could come from that,” he said.
Photographs of the thoroughbred’s body in the landfill were first posted by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, after the group was tipped off.
The Hancock County Sheriff’s Department investigated the landfill incident, but after reviewing treatment records for the horse, concluded there was no evidence of animal cruelty.
“Let’s pray this unfortunate horse laid to rest in a garage dump will serve as a wake-up call for the West Virginia Racing Commission,” Phillips said.
Moore noted that, during its 2019 regular session, the Legislature passed a bill to provide the commission with funding to conduct necropsies of thoroughbreds that are euthanized or otherwise die while on racetrack property.
He said commissioners on Friday were updated on plans to implement that law by January.
“Anytime a horse is euthanized or expires due to an exercise-related incident, the commission will send that horse for a necropsy,” he said. He said most of the necropsies will be performed at veterinary schools at Ohio State University or Virginia Tech.
“This particular horse did not go for a necropsy,” Moore said of Bridget Moloney.
Another group, Grey2K USA, is planning a major lobbying effort in West Virginia during the 2020 regular session in an effort to get legislation passed that bans greyhound racing in the state, one of the last remaining states where the sport is still legal.