Returning to its typical position as the second jewel of the Triple Crown, the 2021 Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course on Saturday went off without a hitch. That is, until the presentation of the Woodlawn Vase.
For a brief moment, a man wearing a red shirt, neon vest and black mask made his way onto the stage, just a few feet in front of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the owners of the winning horse, Rombauer.
The man, later identified as Scott Gilbertson of animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, screamed “No more death races!” in front of an NBC camera broadcasting to an audience that peaked at 8.6 million viewers as the race concluded. Gilbertson was quickly removed by a Maryland State Police trooper who was on hand to provide security for Hogan.
Though the disruption lasted a few seconds and was ultimately harmless, it was another protest at a Stronach Group-owned property and against a sport that the animal rights group says is “inherently violent.”
According to Direct Action Everywhere, which was founded in 2013 in the San Francisco Bay Area, Gilbertson was charged with misdemeanor trespassing for the stunt in Baltimore. There was no record of the arrest in Maryland’s online court database as of Tuesday evening. According to the Des Moines Register, Gilbertson was previously one of three people charged with trespassing in June 2020 after chaining themselves to a fence surrounding an Iowa facility where thousands of pigs were euthanized.
“We’ve always been focused on ending all animal exploitation,” said Cassie King, an organizer with the group, which has also led efforts to ban fur in California.
According to Greg Shipley, a spokesman for Maryland State Police, the trooper who removed Gilbertson was a member of the Maryland State Police Executive Protection Section assigned to Hogan.
“They were not responsible, nor did they have the authority, for approving who had access to specific locations at that event,” Shipley said in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
Shipley added that the trooper turned Gilbertson over to Baltimore police officers and “follow up by Executive Protection Section with the Baltimore Police Department indicated the individual was not a threat to the safety of the Governor.”
It’s unclear how Gilbertson managed to get by event security and within feet of the governor. Baltimore Police did not return messages seeking comment.
A spokesperson for NBC could not be reached for comment. The Stronach Group also could not be reached for comment, but the ownership group for Pimlico and multiple race tracks on the West Coast is currently embroiled in litigation with Direct Action Everywhere.
In March, Golden Gate Fields, which is owned by Stronach, filed a lawsuit against four members of the animal rights group after they chained themselves together and laid on the track, forcing the cancellation of several races and postponing others.
“That lawsuit, that response, fueled further action,” King said. “It fueled the continuation of [Direct Action Everywhere]’s efforts to expose the cruelty of horse racing.”
The horse racing industry has faced increased scrutiny in recent years over its regulation and measures to ensure the safety of horses. Santa Anita Park, which is owned by Stronach Group, was the site of dozens of horse deaths in 2019, prompting an investigation by regulators in California and the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.
Last year, Stronach Group implemented changes to the drug policy at several of its tracks, including banning the use of Lasix, a diuretic that officials say is used as a performance enhancer rather than a therapeutic treatment, for 2-year-olds at the state’s tracks on race day.