Remember Eight Belles when you think of horse racing

The legendary Kentucky Derby was run today. And as I do almost every year — indeed, almost every time a horse race is televised — I watched it. And once again I’m wondering why I did.

You see, I was one of those stereotypical horse-crazy little girls … almost half a dozen decades ago. And I never really outgrew it. I’ve never stopped thinking horses are beautiful, majestic animals, a pleasure to watch. So I watch horse races, not because I bet on races or care anything about the racing industry, but just because I love to watch horses run.

And I’ll never get used to seeing a horse “break down,” or suffer an injury in a race. The injuries are almost always fatal, not in themselves but because the horses are euthanized. The euphemism “break down” tells the story. That the racing industry could invest so much time and money in these animals and then be so cavalier when the animal literally dies for them, is a tragedy. These are sentient beings, after all, not machines.

I’m trying not to over-romanticize horses and what is just a business for so many people. Horses are high-strung animals and racing stresses their bodies to the max. Their lower legs and “ankles” are no bigger around than your arm, and those fragile legs support and propel an animal weighing some 1200 pounds, plus a rider. To that add their breeding and training, so all they know is to run as hard as they can. It’s a wonder they don’t break something every time they take a step.

If a horse dies while racing … well, that’s the nature of the business. It is called gambling, after all. If those were equally matched robots out there on the track, there would be a tie every time. Where’s the sport in that?

A filly named Eight Belles died today at the Derby. She was out there running with the guys (you’ll have to excuse me for being a bit partial) and finished a strong second, winning a hefty chunk of change for her backers. Then she collapsed on the track, both front ankles broken.

But hey, that’s the way it goes, right? Business is business. Things happen. Racing is, after all, much more humane these days, and race tracks are well prepared for these unfortunate (but obviously not unforeseen) occurrences. Eight Belles was euthanized almost immediately as she lay there on the track between two equine ambulances; a licensed veterinarian was on the scene. What progress. In the old days some bystander would have just pulled out a gun and shot her. Either way, a beautiful animal is dead. Some sport.

So here I am, in tears, because I chose to watch another horse race. The racing industry bet that people like me would watch. And they won. I bet I could enjoy watching another horse race. And I lost. Again. (Remember Ruffian? Barbaro?) Lesson learned.

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One thought on “Remember Eight Belles when you think of horse racing

  1. PT, I think that is sad. I didn’t know about the race and it made me sad through your description, that she came in 2nd and then collapsed. GAH!

    Horses are beautiful, amazing creatures. For me, I can only look at them from behind a fence because they scare the living daylights out of me but I love to feed them, pet them, and watch them ANY time I could (all from behind a fence).

    Very sad. I don’t have words….
    I was glad I found such a beautiful picture of Eight Belles. Maybe it will help remind me why I don’t want to watch any more races. I was watching years ago when Ruffian, another filly, broke her leg in a race. And then there was Barbaro. I should have learned my lesson before now.

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