Sunday, May 04, 2008

"She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles..."*

Fact #582,341 you probably never would have guessed about me:

I like horse racing. I know a fair bit about it. I can rattle off Derby winners and jockey names and racing terminology – at least enough to converse semi-intelligently with my diehard racing-fan father-in-law and enough to pick decent horses to bet on (not that I ever really win, but I often have good reasons for placing a bet beyond, “Ooooh, pretty.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that rationale, either...) The horses are full of vigor and heart, and there are few things more beautiful than a horse in motion.

I was at a party yesterday afternoon when the Derby went off. We turned on the TV to watch the race. The favorite, Big Brown, won, coming in almost five full lengths ahead of the next horse – who happened to be number five, the grey filly Eight Belles, the horse I was pulling for. Eight Belles pulled out of the pack towards the end, finishing second. Man, what a gorgeous, gorgeous horse.

Just before we turned off the TV, someone said, “Is that a horse down?” but it wasn’t till this morning that I read that, right after her incredible race, Eight Belles was euthanized on the track. She’d apparently fractured both front ankles and, as is generally SOP with thoroughbred racehorses, was euthanized because with no way to put any weight on either leg, the chances for recovery are slim.

Washington Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins asserts that thoroughbred horses have become too strong with bones too lightweight..."Part of the trouble is the makeup of thoroughbreds themselves: They are creatures physically at war with their own nature. The heart and lungs are oversize knots of tissue placed in a massive chest, and huge amounts of blood course through legs that are dainty. Anyone who has spent time around a barn understands that horses love to run.”

However, Jenkins goes on to say, "...thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it...Horses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them."

In recent years (spurred particularly by Derby winner Barbaro’s injury in the 2006 Preakness, and subsequent death), there’s been quite a bit of this sort of talk.

I agree with Jessica when she says, “After yesterday, I'd say there's going to be a lot more ammunition for that fight.” As well there should be.

Eight Belles


*Sally Jenkins, in "Is Horse Racing Breeding Itself to Death?"


Jess said...

Beautifully done.

Anonymous said...

Thoughts like that have been swirling around in my mind all morning.

We watched the race. When my daughter said "Is that a horse ambulance?" we turned off the TV and went to a restaurant for dinner, so I'm not sure my kids know what happened to Eight Belles. I don't want to tell them.

HEATHER said...

Great Post!
I read in WSJ yesterday that EVERY SINGLE horse in the race yesterday, was a decendant of Native Dancer, and that is a major part of the problem with the health of the thorobreds today. We saw her laying down on the track and knew then she had to be dead or seriously injured. So sad.

KPB said...

It's because shitters are winners.
Go ask Blackbird.

KPB said...

I just realised how callous my comment could be interpreted.
Sorry about that.
Put it down to me being a dog hater.

Hungry in LA said...

The WSJ article was really interesting. If 75% of the thoroughbreds racing today can trace back to Native Dancer, sometimes through both parents, there is definitely a serious inbreeding problem. Seriously, how many of these amazing animals have to be put down before someone gets a clue? Anyone else old enough to remember when Timely Writer went down? Same ancestor.

Hungry in LA said...


Miz S said...

I was hoping that someone would write about this. I always cringe when I hear about one of the horses going down during a race. Or in this case, right after the race. I don't like horse-racing, but then you might have been able to predict that.

jenny said...

this is heartbreaking. such beautiful, delicate animals.

i've never really thought about the selective breeding that goes on - engineering the perfect horse, as it were.

such a shame.

jordi said...

Thanks for this post. So many people assume that if seeing horses run like that makes the hair on your arms stand up from the glory of it that you are insensitive to the horror of the bad side.

I wish they would, for starters, race them at 3 instead of 2. Their bones would be more developed. And the WSJ is so right about inbreeding as a serious problem.

The horses do love to run, it is up to people to make it as safe as poss for them to do it...