Golden Gate Fields now deadliest horse racing facility in California, animal rights activists say

There was action at Berkeley's Golden Gate Fields on Wednesday where activists demanded an end to the sport of horse racing.

"The horseracing industry is inherently cruel and dangerous for horses," said Samantha Eachus, a spokesperson for the advocacy group Direct Action Everywhere.

About two dozen protesters gathered outside the racing facility, singing songs and holding signs. The collective recited the names of horses that have died recently and called for officials to end the sport altogether.

"This place is using animals as entertainment. Exploiting their bodies and torturing them to perform as entertainers for humans," said Priya Sawhney, a member of Direct Action Everywhere.

The horse racing industry has been under the microscope the past few years following dozens of deaths at tracks around the state. There have been nine deaths so far this year at Gold Gate Fields, including two last week.

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"I wake up every morning and try to figure out ways to protect horses," said Scott Chaney, executive director of the California Horse Racing Board.

He said injuries and deaths are inherent risks, regardless of the horses grazing in the wild or racing around a track.

But a spate of deaths in 2019 and 2020 sparked the board to enact nearly two-dozen regulatory changes to better protect the animals. The result has produced a 13% decline in deaths two years ago, and a 25% reduction last year.

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"What we are really addressing are the preventable fatalities and the preventable injuries. And I think we’ve come a long way," said Chaney.

No matter how far the state has moved to protect these animals, the protestors say it’s not far enough. The demonstrators in Berkeley said the race is not to the finish line, but to finish the sport of horse racing.

"I just think it’s a sign of a sick society when we’re allowing sentient beings to be exploited," said Sawhney.

The demonstrators say the Golden Gate Fields site could be better repurposed for housing.

KTVU reached out to the racing facility for comment and has yet to receive a response.