Two horses died a barn fire in New York state but 58 were saved thanks to the efforts of rescuers.
Thanks to horsemen, the Elmont Fire Department and New York Racing Association (NYRA), the 58 horses were rescued from the blaze in a barn at Belmont Park, which started on Tuesday evening (13 April). Three people were treated for minor injuries.
Beastie D and American Sailor, both trained by Wayne Potts, could not be saved.
“I wanted to take a moment to express my sincere gratitude to everyone who assisted in removing my horses from the fire this evening,” said Mr Potts. “Thank you from the bottom of my heart to every single one of you that put yourselves at risk to make sure 58 horses are able to see another day. The actions of so many this evening proved that this industry is a family with a fierce love of the horse that triumphs over anything else.”
He added: “Thank you to everyone who has reached out to offer their support during this difficult time. We are heartbroken and devastated over the loss of Beastie D and American Sailor. We cannot thank our Belmont Park family enough for their quick response in helping us.”
New York State Fire Marshal and officials from Nassau County are investigating the cause of the fire, which was not immediately apparent.
“The tragic loss of both horses will be deeply felt by the hard-working women and men of the New York racing community, who dedicate themselves to the sport and to the care of these equine athletes,” said Dave O’Rourke, NYRA president and chief executive. “That collective dedication and sense of community was on display this evening, when the heroic and selfless response of so many prevented further loss and saved the lives of dozens of horses.”
Barn 60’s alarm and sprinkler system immediately notified NYRA’s security team when the fire broke out, shortly after 6pm, and crews from Elmont Fire Department arrived within minutes.
The barn was holding horses for trainers Mr Potts and Jeffrey Englehard, and a team of horsemen worked with NYRA security to get the animals out.
“We are appreciative of the timely response of our security team, the Elmont Fire Department and the brave assistance of horsemen from the New York racing community who helped in the effort to safely evacuate horses,” said Glen Kozak, NYRA senior vice-president for operations and capital projects.
“We at NYRA offer our condolences to the connections of the two horses that died in this unfortunate accident. NYRA is continuing to work with the New York State fire marshal.”
New York State governor Andrew M. Cuomo, who visited the Belmont Park Covid vaccination site on Wednesday morning, praised the “extraordinary efforts” of those involved in the rescue.
A chain of horsemen and security personnel worked together to safely evacuate the building, and the horses were bedded down in other barns at the site.
Trainer Robert Falcone Jr, saw smoke coming from the barn and shouted to his team to help, then quickly posted a message on social media to spread the word that “all hands on deck” were needed.
“I thought I’d post it and that someone from the backside [barns] is bound to see it and once one person sees it, they’ll start calling people. It all happened very quick,” he said, adding that many people came to help.
“Pablo Fragoso, a jockey, was there; ‘A-Rod’ from the gate crew was there; trainers Talie Lynch, Ray Handal and Brad Cox’s assistant Dustin Dugas all came to help.
“The outrider Miguel [Gutierrez], blacksmith Troy Lynch and so many others were there.”
He said they worked with Mr Potts’ team to get the horses out.
“It was really smoky in there,” he said. “We were trying to get through a shed row full of smoke and get into stalls of horses and you can’t see into the stalls. At the same time, there are horses without halters running down the shed row that you can’t see. As you’re running in and out, as soon as someone yells, ‘loose horse,’ you have to get against the wall because you don’t know where he’s coming from.
“As soon as we took the horses out, someone would take them from us and get them to a safe spot.
“Then we would go back in and get more and come back out again. We started using the cross bar [stall guard] when we ran out of shanks to run back in and keep getting them out.”
He added: “There’s not many of us making a great living doing this. We do it for the horses and even when they’re not horses in your barn, when something happens, everyone bands together so quickly.
“It’s not even a thought process, it’s just somebody needs help and go. We’re all here for one reason and it’s because we love the horses.”
He said they were sad not to be able to save the two horses who died in the fire.
“When something tragic happens, you always wonder if you could have done more,” he said. “But to be honest, I’m not sure we could have reacted much faster than that.”
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Trainer Mertkan Kantarmaci, who has horses stalled in another barn at Belmont, was one of the many to see Mr Falcone Jr’s Facebook post and came to help.
“I called my foreman [Sergio Hernandez] immediately. He was in the dorm by my barn and I asked him to go by,” said Mr Kantarmaci. “He called back and told me there were loose horses and I immediately started driving to Belmont.”
He added that by the time he got there, there were almost 200 people helping.
“I stayed longer last night and spoke to a few trainers who were out spotting horses,” said Mr Kantarmaci. “It’s all hands on deck when there’s an emergency at the track. You have to go for the horse.”
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