Protesters, Keeneland officials speak about horse racing safety before final day of Fall Meet

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - At Keeneland, it's all about the numbers. They identify the horses, countdown to race time, and tell you who to bet on.

But, it's a different set of numbers that are catching the attention of one group of community members.

"Five have happened in the Fall Meet and four in the Spring,” Keeneland protest organizer Brittany Martin said. “That is a lot of equine deaths."

So many that Martin and three other people are organizing a peaceful protest during the last day of Keeneland’s 2019 Fall Meet.

"I think we need to start a bigger conversation about the horse racing industry,” Martin said. “I think that this is a great way to do it."

But it's a conversation that Keeneland officials say has already started, and that continues even throughout the meet.

"Day by day we are getting the reports that we need, working with the racing commission to ensure that we have the things in place here operationally to make it a safer surface and to make the conditions even better," Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of the Keeneland Association Vince Gabbert said.

The number of horses that have died following injuries during a race isn't going unnoticed by Keeneland officials either.

Gabbert said there is an investigation into each one to determine the cause, and that leads to new regulations and reforms to try to keep it from happening to the next horse.

But Martin said that effort may not be enough.

"As a country, we need to have a conversation about the industry to see what we can do to protect the horses or if ultimately horse racing will come to an end," Martin said.

"It's so special to this region and to this state,” Gabbert said. “So, when folks don't really understand what we're trying to do and the reforms and the measures that we're trying to enact to protect the equine and human athletes that we have, it really is heartbreaking."

Protesters are planning to line the sidewalks across the street from Keeneland's entrance Saturday, which is the final day of the Fall Meet.