WVRC moves on plan to implement necropsy program

By: Tom LaMarra

Posted: Oct. 25, 2019

The West Virginia Racing Commission at a meeting Oct. 25 said its goal is to have a necropsy program fully implemented by January 2020.

The WVRC is a member of the Mid-Atlantic coalition that works toward uniform regulations in Thoroughbred racing in the region and also developed the Mid-Atlantic Strategic Plan to Reduce Equine Fatalities. Necropsies, or post-mortem examinations, are one of many goals for each jurisdiction.

Earlier this year, the West Virginia legislature passed a bill that requires the payment of all civil penalties imposed against Thoroughbred racing licensees or permit-holders to be paid into a fund for expenses associated with the post-mortem examination of all Thoroughbreds that suffer catastrophic breakdowns and are euthanized on a racetrack, or that otherwise die on a racetrack. Any funds in excess of $10,000 at the end of a fiscal year, less outstanding obligations, can be used the WVRC for aftercare programs.

The meeting followed by a few weeks the discovery of a deceased racehorse at a landfill in Brooke County, W.Va. The 8-year-old mare, Bridget Moloney, had suffered an injury at Mountaineer Casino, Racetrack & Resort in neighboring Hancock County and was humanely euthanized at the racetrack.

Mountaineer has a contract with the landfill to dispose of equines in the facility’s agricultural section, but photographs released by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals showed her body dumped in a trash heap. Stakeholders who participated in the Oct. 25 racing commission meeting expressed suspicion it may have been staged, but they also acknowledged protocol wasn’t followed as the mare’s body should have been taken to the proper location.

“It was an unfortunate incident—it’s inexcusable,” said Jim Colvin, Director of Racing at Mountaineer. “We have policies in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

WVRC Deputy Attorney General Kelli Talbott said the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department has investigated and found no animal cruelty related to the manner in which Bridget Moloney was handled after her injury during a race, but that “there are some remaining items being looked into.” She suggested it would be beneficial for the WVRC to obtain a final copy of the report.

“The horse was treated immediately after the injury, and she was treated humanely and with dignity,” said Jana Tetrault, Executive Director of the Mountaineer Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association. “But there are (removal) protocols in place and they need to be followed.”

“We’ve been working on the situation,” WVRC Chairman Jack Rossi said. “Our goal is to have this never happen again. We’d like (Mountaineer, Charles Town, the Mountaineer HBPA and Charles Town HBPA) to work with Kelli Talbott and (Executive Director) Joe Moore so we don’t get out of bounds and can prevent a horrible event like this to happen again.”

Charles Town has a contract with a company that removes deceased horses and transports the bodies to a local farm, said Erich Zimny, Vice President of Racing and Sports Operations.

“We’ll be working with Joe (Moore) and the people on the ground at Charles Town on the best way to arrange for necropsies,” Zimny said. “I do agree with the racing commissioners’ comments as to this situation being a black eye.”

Talbott said she has been in contact with regulators in other Mid-Atlantic states on how they handle necropsies. She noted the West Virginia rule states that whether or not necropsies are performed on certain horses are at the discretion of the WVRC or state veterinarian at each track, and that some other states perform the procedure on all exercise-related fatalities and then use discretion in other cases.

Talbott also said it’s important for the WVRC to ensure the facilities chosen for post-mortem exams are versed in racehorse-specific protocol.

(Mountaineer photo by Tom LaMarra)