Racing Commissioner Resigns Over Anti-Slaughter Proposal

An amendment that would have prevented racehorses from being transported from Illinois tracks to Mexican and Canadian slaughterhouses in Mexico and Canada has been withdrawn by an Illinois Racing Board (IRB) commissioner, who also resigned from that body.

In August, then-IRB Commissioner Kathy Byrne proposed an amendment to the “Humane Treatment of Horses” rule that would prevent horses from leaving Illinois tracks for transport to foreign slaughter facilities by requiring that owners or trainers to sign off on documents indicating the animal's destination and the reason for its transfer. Byrne said IRB regulations required that she gather the opinions of racetrack operators and horsemen's associations before the rule change could receive a vote by the full board.

“I did everything the board said I had to do,” Byrne said.

On Nov. 17, Byrne and others presented their testimony about the proposed rule change, but it never received an up or down vote from that body, she said.

“It was a very disappointing meeting,” Byrne said.

Byrne said her proposed rule change stemmed from a desire to protect horses, including those that were displaced by the closing of some tracks and those that had reached the end of their racing career. She said she thought the proposal had the support of Arlington International Racecourse operators, but when it came to discussing the rule Arlington chairman Richard Duchossois failed to back it.

“He said that he had never seen the proposal until then, and that he could not tell an owner that they can't take their horse off the track,” Byrne said. “I was shocked because I had worked with (Arlington General Manager) Tony Petrillo and they had even given me the language for the amendment.”

Byrne subsequently withdrew the proposal and resigned from the board, effective immediately.

“I had six months left in my term and I didn't want to sit there for six months and do nothing,” Byrne said.

Howard Sudberry, senior director of marketing and communications for Arlington International Racecourse, was not available for comment.

Mick Campbell, president of the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association and a supporter of the proposed rule change, said he was disappointed that the amendment didn't pass.

“We owe it to the horses, and our welfare programs are one of thing that we can feel good about at the end of the day,” said Campbell. “We had an opportunity to do something special here in Illinois; I'm deeply disappointed.”

Mickey Ezzo, special projects manager for the IRB, said Byrne's resignation leaves a vacancy in the 11 member board until the state's governor Bruce Rauner fills it. Meanwhile, he said that the board appreciates Byrne's contributions.

“We wish her well,” Ezzo said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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