Tioga Downs Fire Kills 24 Horses, Arson Suspect Arrested
In the early hours of November 9, 2023, a devastating fire killed at least 24 horses when it engulfed a barn at the Tioga Downs Casino Resort complex in Nichols, New York.
The fire, which was later determined to be a deliberate act of arson, claimed the lives of the horses and caused significant damage and emotional distress to the local racing community.
Boyd H. Fenton, a 32-year-old from Athens, Pennsylvania, was arrested in connection with the arson. Fenton faces multiple felony charges, including arson in the third degree, burglary, criminal mischief, and assault.
“We are deeply saddened by today’s tragedy, it was a loss no one could have imagined or expected,” said Jeff Gural, chairman of American Racing & Entertainment, in a statement.
“It is an active investigation, so we are not able to comment any further at this time. We would like to express our sincere gratitude for all of the first responders who rushed to our aid. We have a wonderful community, and we are honored to be a part of it.”
The Tragic Event and Following Investigation
Fire crews and state police first responded to reports of a fire at the racecourse at 6.34 a.m. on Thursday. One Tioga Downs worker tried to enter the burning Barn F to rescue the horses, but suffered serious second degree burns in the attempt.
They were later transferred to Robert Packer Hospital, just across state lines in Pennsylvania.
Authorities got the fire under control within the hour, but sadly, it was not possible to save the two dozen horses.
Trainers who house horses at Barn F are Kevin Reynolds, Jr., Lee Morris, Edgar Clarke, Allison Kolesar and Daniel Harvey. All five lost horses as well as racing equipment in the fire.
The investigation revealed that Fenton intentionally set the fire, resulting in thousands of dollars in damages and the irreplaceable loss of the horses. His arrest brought a small measure of relief to the community, but the motive behind this heinous act remains unclear.
Impact on the Community
The fire at Tioga Downs has had a profound impact on the local community, particularly the trainers and families associated with the lost horses
Edgar Clarke in particular, sustained facial and arm burns while attempting to rescue the horses. The incident has brought the community together in mourning and support, with a GoFundMe page set up to assist those affected by the fire.
The Tioga Downs Casino Resort, owned by New York real estate developer Jeff Gural, is a prominent fixture in New York horse betting.
One of the areas more prominent New York casinos, it offers video lottery terminals and table games, as well as off-track betting and other entertainment options.
The racetrack casino venue has been a significant booster to the local economy and the harness racing industry, contributing to New York sports betting’s status as the nation’s largest gambling market.
The Legacy of Tioga Downs
Tioga Downs has a storied history in the Southern Tier, with horse racing beginning in Nichols in 1976.
Despite initial financial struggles, the facility was revitalized by Gural and American Racing in 2005, following the legalization of video lottery terminals (VLTs) at state-licensed racetracks.
The expansion of gaming in New York in 2013 allowed Gural to transform Tioga Downs into a full-fledged casino, further cementing its status as a key player in the region’s gambling scene.
The 2023 harness racing season at Tioga Downs was marked by events such as the $500,000 Empire Breeders Classic Finals, showcasing the significance of the track in the racing calendar.
This tragic fire will certainly shake up security at U.S. racetracks, just like things changed earlier this year when 12 horses died in a month’s racing at Churchill Downs in Kentucky.
The operator shut down the track, the home of the Kentucky Derby, for more than a month while it revaluated its safety procedures in wake of the deaths.
No further updates have been issued by Tioga Downs about Thursday’s fire as of yet, with the suspect remaining in police custody.