Animal Rights Group Racing Protest Prompts Cancellation of COVID-19 Shots at Track

Posted on: March 6, 2021, 12:39h. 

Last updated on: March 6, 2021, 05:41h.

A protest over horse racing Thursday didn’t ultimately stop the races from going on at Golden Gate Fields. However, it did keep hundreds of people from getting their COVID-19 vaccination shots at the Berkeley, Calif., track.

Golden Gate Protests
Four protestors lay connected on the track at Golden Gate Fields in Berkeley, Calif., on Thursday. The demonstrators called for the closure of the northern California track in the wake of deaths that have occurred there. (Image: Direct Action Everywhere)

Four residents from the Bay Area made their way onto The Stronach Group-owned facility. They laid down at a turn on the dirt track and then locked their arms together through PVC pipe. That’s according to a press release from Direct Action Everywhere, an animal rights group that said the protestors were “affiliated” with the group.

Outside the track, about a dozen others stood and held a banner calling for the track’s closure.

These beautiful animals live lives of exploitation and abuse for the sake of profit, then they’re killed for the same reason,” said Rocky Chau, one of the four protestors, in the statement from Direct Action Everywhere. “The public is increasingly aware of the reality of this barbaric industry, and is demanding that we leave it in the past.”

Horse racing has come under intense scrutiny in the last couple of years, as people have paid more attention to the number of equine deaths occurring at tracks. Late last year, Congress passed the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act. The new law will nationalize standards for equine drug use and track safety.

Implementation of those measures will not take place until next year, and still the deaths mount. Late last month, three horses died in four days at the northern California track. At Gulfstream Park, another Stronach property in south Florida, the South Florida Sun Sentinel reported 113 horses died there in 2019 and 2020.

Races Run Hours Later

After lying on the track for several hours, Albany police officers arrested the four individuals and cited them for trespassing. The track straddles the city limits between Albany and Berkeley.

The animal rights group claimed in its press release that races were canceled Thursday. But the on-track demonstration managed to only cancel one.

Golden Gate Fields decided to race that evening, running six races instead of the scheduled seven. The first race went off at 7:28 pm PT, about seven hours after the initial first post time.

On its Twitter account, Golden Gate Fields said it respects the right to protest. However, it called for demonstrators to find a better way to voice their concerns. Officials at the park said that purple flares the on-track demonstrators set off risked the safety of more than 1,200 horses stabled there, as well as for the workers who care for them.

Some COVID-19 Shots on Hold

Despite holding live racing, Golden Gate Fields still cannot welcome fans watch in-person. However, the track’s facility has served as a COVID-19 vaccination site in Alameda County.

During the protest, Berkeley officials closed the vaccination site for a couple of hours. While the East Bay Times reported the vaccination site resumed operations around 2:15 pm PT, KRON-TV confirmed health officials canceled about 200 appointments.

“I’m pissed at the racetrack, I’m pissed at the city of Albany, and I’m pissed at these guys,” Berkeley Hills resident Tina Etcheverry told the Times. However, she said agreed with protesters’ viewpoint on animal cruelty.

In its statement announcing the protest, Direct Action Everywhere acknowledged the vaccination site and said it supported that effort. The group lambasted the decision to stop administering the shots during the protest.

“There’s no reason this peaceful demonstration should cause vaccinations to stop,” tweeted Matt Johnson, the group’s press coordinator, in response to Golden Gate’s announcement regarding the vaccination cancellations. “It’s a desperate attempt to deflect blame and attention from the horror show that GGF is for horses and humans.”