A Note From Donna:
This is an article written by Amy Hoffer, in response to my last blog post “PETA is a Bully” .
To be sure, neither Amy nor I are under the illusion that horse racing is perfect. It is not. We can and must do more to protect the horses. However, we are in vehement disagreement with animal rights extremist groups that wish to eliminate all horse sports. And make no mistake that is their ultimate goal, as they stand unequivocally against all equine sports and disciplines.
Amy is a horse lover and a fan of horse racing that started out following the controversial headlines in racing as a casual but interested observer. That is until she fell upon an organization she soon learned was as questionable as PETA. What ensued was a fascinating, multi-year investigation. After reading my article, she shared her mounting evidence with me, and has kindly given me permission to share the contents of that investigation, here on my blog. Do you have a story to share?
Just to provide a little background about myself, I don’t have a horse in the race, so to speak. I’m not an owner, not a trainer, not a breeder, not a groom, a hot walker, or a handicapper. In fact, I have nothing to gain financially from horse racing. I am a lifelong horse-lover, a lifelong racing fan, and I fell in love with horses thanks to racing.
The organization Horseracing Wrongs (HW) would beg to differ. Their message is: “You Can Love Horses. You Can Love Horseracing. You Can’t Love Both”, and it’s one they boldly scroll across their promotional items.
Yes indeed, they use an absolute in their messaging and argument, and they apparently think horse racing is one word. These two pet peeves of mine are the least of what’s wrong with Horseracing Wrongs though. Here’s what’s really wrong with this charitable 501(c) 3, tax exempt organization: they pull at heart strings to loosen the purse strings of the public. What’s wrong with this?
This extremist group is not entirely transparent and they are not always factual.
My First Exposure to Horseracing Wrongs
Upon arriving at Saratoga Racecourse one August day in 2017, I noticed a small group of people standing near the entrance holding banners, and as I got closer I could see they were members of HW. I had heard of this group, but this was the first time I had seen them protesting in person. Unlike their 2019 version of yelling, chanting, and using bullhorns, they were quiet and a bit solemn.
I was intrigued. I love animals too, and if in fact horses were being exploited here, I wanted to know and I wanted to get involved. So, I politely asked one of them to share with me their plan for retraining and rehoming the over 100,000 horses racing in the US at that time should HW’s efforts come to fruition and racing cease.
After appearing to think it over for a moment, the woman replied, “We don’t have a plan.” I looked around at the other protestors who were within earshot but none offered any further information and thus the conversation ended. It was clear that they had strong feelings but with no game plan to take care of the horses afterward I decided to move on. My husband and I proceeded through the gates.
Though I thoroughly believe it is the owner’s responsibility to make provisions for their horses after racing, there is an equal amount of responsibility, if not more, for any organization preparing to make so many animals suddenly and drastically without a purpose. So, when this was still on my mind a few days after my first encounter with HW, I decided to ask this same question on HW’s Facebook page.
Unfortunately, and almost immediately, my comment was deleted by page admins (though at the time, I had assumed it was being processed via a moderator.) Then, a few hours later, I received a response via a Facebook private message from the organization’s founder, president, treasurer Patrick Battuello.
As you see in the related screenshot, I could not believe what I was reading regarding their plan for the fate of the horses. The penultimate sentence read, “…Then sterilize to extinction – a world devoid of Thoroughbreds, Quarterhorses, Standardbreds and everything in between.”
Once I moved past the initial shock of this disturbing “solution,” I wondered why Mr. Battuello’s reply was sent via a Facebook private message rather than on HW’s public Facebook wall where I had initially tried to post the question. That’s when I went to their page to investigate and the answer became apparent to me. Their “About Us” statement reads, “Horseracing Wrongs is a 501c3 non-profit organization working to end horseracing [sic] through education and grassroots activism in the U.S. Our mission is to end the cruelty and the killing so horses can live a life they deserve – free of exploitation.”
On their Registration Statement for Charitable Organizations they submitted their purpose as “Working to end horseracing [sic] across the U.S. through education and supporting grassroots activism.” Does anyone else notice how “sterilize to extinction” is missing from both of these statements? You won’t find it on their website, their social media platforms, or any of their publically shared propaganda. Why not? Because Mr. Battuello wants subscribers and he wants donations, and he garners these by asking people to “connect the dots” (one of his many overused phrases, and one which seems to imply if you can’t connect the dots, it’s because you’re too stupid to do so) based off a sprinkling of leaked personal views, a brash voice, and a manipulated mishmash of “facts”.
This is a ridiculous expectation. Not only do emotion and logic make poor bedfellows; such tactics portray a calculated lack of transparency. I shared Mr. Battuello’s private message on a Thoroughbred-related Facebook page. The related screen shot is the conversation that ensued (names removed for privacy).
So much for hoping his original “sterilize to extinction” comment sent to me via Facebook Messengerwas sarcastic or satirical.
Following that private message, I was subsequently blocked from commenting on HW’s Facebook page, just like anyone who questions or disagrees with them. That hardly seems ethical considering they are a 501(c)3 charitable organization enjoying the financial benefits of being tax exempt.
A Google search quickly showed me this is not the first (or only) time Mr. Battuello has been cited saying, “sterilize to extinction,” The two examples I present below are regarding dogs and other pets.
“…Then, sterilize to extinction. It’s rational; it’s humane; it’s right.” –Patrick Battuello, Times Union February 7, 2014
“Adopt, don’t buy. The ultimate solution, however, is sterilize to extinction. A petless society is compassionate. A petless society is rational. A petless society is progress.” -Patrick Battuello, Times Union February 1, 2014
To be sure, while these quotes are in reference to unthinkable abuse, neglect or abandonment, there are better ways, saner ways, than to “sterilize to extinction,” wiping entire breeds and species of animals (as his quotes above suggest we do) from the face of the earth like our pets are a dirty stain that we humans must hide and pretend never existed.
Fast-forward to May 2019, Nearly Two Years Later
Nearly two years after I shared Mr. Battuello’s privateFacebook message to me, it was brought back to life. I’m not sure who resuscitated and distributed it, but this time around, “sterilize to extinction” seemed to really got people’s attention, including the followers of HW.
After nearly two years, Mr. Battuello finally felt the need to clarify his stance, though I’m not sure it did him any favors. As you will see in the included screen shot titled, “The ‘Extinction of Horses’ Question“, he seems to apologize about his poor response being due to the effects of a long day…and then he turns around and once again, reaffirms that he seeks to extinguish racing breeds.
Mr. Battuello, I’m sorry that you had had a long day when you replied. It was your choice to engage and your original response was more than succinct. You wrote it. You own it. And it’s not the only time you’ve said it (see blog post quotes above).
In my opinion, this post was a failed and back-peddling attempt to appease his loyal followers who had been criticized on social media in days prior when his “sterilize to extinction” comment reemerged.
Do They Lie? I’m Still Waiting for the Truth
In September 2018, HW posted a story with the defamatory headline, “As Winning Horse Heads to Death, ‘Connections’ Pose for Celebratory Picture”.
The headline alone is pretty emotion evoking, right?
The winner’s circle photo in the article encompasses a group of six people, plus the jockey who was required to be there for the sponsors (and he’s not smiling), clad in what I would describe as very casual attire. Each of the six had matching green t-shirts with a logo too small to read. I did not repost the photo here as I believe they were already exploited by Mr. Battuello. (Stay with me, you’re about to find out who they really are.)
Something about this story and the photo just seemed “off” to me. So, in my perpetual quest for knowledge and truth, I called Monmouth to inquire. Here’s the real story as to who the people are in that winner’s circle photo.
On August 18, 2018, Gata’s Applause was pulled up on the backstretch after winning the second race on the card. Her trainer was on the backstretch tending to her with the track veterinarian, and sadly, she had to be euthanized. That horse’s owners (the trainer and his wife) were devastated and were not in that photo.
So, who are the people in the article’s “winning” photo? A family who had sponsored that race in the memory of a deceased loved one.
The people in that photo had no connection to the trainer or owners of Gata’s Applause. They were not “her people”as referred to by Mr. Battuello. In fact, none of the trainer’s/owner’s family was in that photo and the people in the photo likely had no idea that a tragedy had occurred at the time the photo was taken.
It took minimal time and effort on my part to place a phone call to Monmouth Park in order to fact check and find out who exactly was in that photo posted by Mr. Battuello’s organization.
Because I am unable to comment on HW’s Facebook page, I ended up sending Mr. Battuello an email to alert him of his “error.” His reply, and then mine:
Though Mr. Battuello prides himself on his succinct writing, fact-checking eludes him. Further, in regards to his suggestions, there was absolutely no way I was going to ask the trainer or his wife to contact Mr. Battuello. They had already been through enough.
Here are a few of the comments HW posted on their website in support of that story:
“Family members”? “They’re like our children”? Yet there they are – not alongside her while she’s taking her last breaths.” – Joy Aten
“Their [sic] smiling because they picked up a check while their horse is dying.” – Gina Smith
Though I don’t have confidence that these comments will remain on their site, (their website page titled “Extremism” has since disappeared.) I do have screenshots of these comments that I can share if needed.
From those comments, it seems that Ms. Aten and Ms. Smith remain under the very mistaken impression that this controversial photo they reference is filled with the connections of Gata’s Applause. Mr. Battuello used deceit and emotional manipulation to garner supporters with this story and it clearly worked with some people.
As of this writing, Mr. Battuello has not yet corrected the error in his article and related materials on the website to set the record straight for his followers. His organization has made no effort to apologize for the mistake to me or to the connections involved with Gata’s Applause. Nor has he apologized to the family members in the “damning” photo that shows them memorializing (and celebrating) the life of a lost loved one even though all of these people are clearly implicated as villains in Mr. Battuello’s poorly researched “article”.
Accused parties aside, this is also a disservice to the loyal followers of HW who spend their time, energy, and money supporting the organization, but often find themselves defending their leadership.
Questionable Organizational Structure
Not insignificantly, Battuello holds the titles of “Founder, President, Director” of HW. Joy Aten, one of the two commenters who appears to be duped by the controversial photo and article HW published, is also one of the three HW board members. She holds the position of “Director, Cruelty Investigator”. The third board member is Mr. Battuello’s girlfriend, who also holds two board positions: Vice President and Director.
I noticed that all three board members claim a title as “Director” but that there is no Treasurer listed. That seems like a small concentration of decision-making and a questionable oversight of donations and finances, especially considering they are a 501(c)3 that accepts donations from the general public.
Hypocrites? That too!
Mr. Battuello is a vegan and has been quoted condemning those who “make money off the backs of animals.” Of course his choice of diet, lifestyle, and beliefs are his prerogative. That said, Mr. Battuello also has no problem making money off the backs of animals by daily, serving up meat and dairy products at his family owned and operated restaurant, Little Anthony’s, in Albany, NY.
Mr. Battuello did open a vegan café, Food For Thought. It failed and closed after just three months (and subsequently became another Little Anthony’s location.)
It turns out that “making money off the backs of animals” helps Mr.Battuello survive! Apparently, it’s okay for him to earn a living that requires purchase agreements with animal related industries, but no one else.
Speaking of paying the bills, on June 5, 2019, at a public hearing, NY Senator Daphne Jordan questioned Mr. Battuello about the 44,400 jobs in New York that would be lost should racing cease. His response, “Sure. Well, first off most of those jobs aren’t very high paying. So we have to keep that in mind.”
I’m sure he wasn’t suggesting that an entire demographic should be marginalized based on their financial capability, or discounting their importance to New York State’s employment and revenue statistics, and that would just be the tip of the iceberg.
This hearing can be viewed on YouTube () and this specific topic can be viewed 9 minutes and 56 seconds into the clip. Alternatively, you can view the hearing in it’s entirety and listen to Mr. Battuello drone on about his “death toll” list which includes non-training related injuries to horses perishing due to colic, cast in stalls, laminitis, getting loose (and subsequently injured), and other things feared by horsemen everywhere (and not at all exclusive to race horses).
Mr. Battuello has stated they have zero interest in compromise or reforms. Why would they? That takes actual work, transparency, and truth. He should take note of this because the type of work required, is the type of reform I’m seeing underway within the racing industry right now, for the welfare of racing’s beloved athletes (human and horse), the multitude of people that support them, as well as the survival of the sport and the love of its fans.
I’m sure you’ve gleaned that I love knowledge, truth and transparency and if you’ve read this far, I’m betting that you do too. I am hoping that others can benefit from the knowledge I’ve gained from researching HW. Please feel free to share this widely and in its entirety.
You CAN love horses, and you CAN love horse racing. I certainly love both and I know many others who do too.