Six racehorses traveling to Belmont Park to begin training died on a North Carolina highway in a blaze sparked by a cigarette flicked into their trailer by a passing motorist.
The young thoroughbreds were trapped in the flames after a bundle of hay ignited on Interstate-95 in Rocky Mount shortly before 10 p.m. Friday, North Carolina Highway Patrol officials told WRAL-TV.
Troopers suspect a lit cigarette tossed from a car touched off the deadly blaze.
The Loraine Course Transport tractor-trailer, which had started out in Florida, was heading north when the driver saw smoke pouring from the horses' stalls, the news station reported.
The driver woke her back-up driver and pulled the rig over. The two tried to knock down the flames, but the blaze quickly swept through the trailer, killing the horses, officials said.One of the drivers received minor injuries.
The powerful steeds, all about 2 years old, were scheduled to start training at the Long Island horse track with their new owners and prepare for their first starts.
Sources said that one equine was purchased by Barry Schwartz, the Bronx-born businessman who helped Calvin Klein build his multibillion-dollar enterprise. Schwartz is the former president of the New York Racing Association.
The other horses were purchased by well-known trainers Mike Hushion, Richard Schosberg and Rudy Rodriguez.