The trainer of two horses killed in a barn fire Tuesday night at Belmont Park described the thoroughbreds as "family" Wednesday, while animal rights groups called for an investigation of racetracks statewide.
The cause of the fire, which tore through Barn 60 at the Elmont racetrack shortly after 6 p.m., remains under investigation, said Michael Uttaro, Nassau's assistant chief fire marshal. Three barn employees were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation while 58 horses were evacuated.
The horses that died in the fire were identified as American Sailor, a nine-year-old chestnut gelding with 15 career wins, and Beastie D, a three-year-old colt that had yet to race.
In a Facebook post, the racehorses' trainer, Wayne Potts, said Beastie D was a recent purchase who had an "abundance of class and potential," while American Sailor was "part of my family and took my operation to a new level … He was the pride and joy of my stable and was the horse that took me places in my career that I had only ever dreamed of going. Sailor was so loved by everyone that worked with and around him. He was one of the sweetest horses to be around in the stall, but when he stepped foot on the track he was nothing but business."
A pair of animal rights groups, New Yorkers for Clean, Livable, and Safe Streets and PETA, called on the State Gaming Commission to investigate conditions at tracks statewide.
"This latest deadly fire at Belmont highlights the dire need for accountability and reform of a corrupt industry that places profits over horses and people," said NYCLASS executive director Edita Birnkrant.
New York Racing Authority spokesman Patrick McKenna said the activist groups were attempting to "capitalize on a tragic accident in a transparent effort to further their own extreme agenda. The heroic actions of dozens of NYRA employees, backstretch workers, trainers and assistant trainers saved the lives of 58 horses," who are now stabled in other barns at Belmont.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who visited Belmont for a vaccination announcement Wednesday, said the racing community risked their lives to save the horses.
"Due to really extraordinary efforts by first responders, the fire department, and staff here at NYRA, 58 horses were saved," Cuomo said.
Before the fire, 11 horses had died at Belmont this year — seven attributed to training and four labeled "other," indicating a potential illness, infection or injury that occurred in the barn, according to data maintained by the state gaming commission.
In 2020, there were 52 reported horse deaths at Belmont, including seven linked to racing; 27 to training and 18 classified as "other," according to the database.