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Sunday, May 4, 2008

RIP Eight Belles

For the past five years I’ve been enamored with the sport of horse racing. Yesterday, I had to explain to my five year old daughter, that the filly she was so intently rooting for in the Kentucky Derby, was dead. Looking into those innocent sad eyes, trying to explain to her that it was for the best, when she really couldn’t understand, was painful. I’ve been quite somber for the past day, not wanting to even write about it.

It is part of the sport, some will say. It was due to the way the track was prepared (like a highway), others will say. It was because she shouldn’t have been racing against the colts, will also be heard and was even foreshadowed. It was due to the greed and ego of the connections, has been written. Whether the truth lies somewhere within any of those explanations, who knows. The sport on its biggest day, once again, was befallen with tragedy. One can only look to history and see that horses have had breakdowns in the national spotlight before. Just last year, George Washington broke down in the BC Classic at Monmouth. The Barbaro breakdown in the Preakness two years ago is still a vivid part of our memories. The last match race in 1975 between Foolish Pleasure and the great filly Ruffian, was marred by her breakdown in front of a national audience, and there hasn’t been a match race in this country since.

One of the best quotes, I’ve read in the hundreds of articles written since the conclusion of Derby 134 was at the Brooklyn Backstretch blogsite, where the author extoles:

“To those who claim that the death of a horse is nothing more than a commercial loss, I can tell you with absolute certainty that when a horse goes down—whether it’s in the Derby or on a February Wednesday at Aqueduct—we grieve. We turn away, and we wince in pain, and we hope that we don’t have to see it again. We could turn away entirely; we could abandon the sport as others have chosen to do. But as fans and horse lovers, we choose instead to support the game, to support the players, and to work, with our money and our time, toward making sure that our equine athletes come home safely.”

Just when the sport appears to be reviving, with even the venerable New York Times starting a racing blog site, including bloggers from the TBA, something like this happens with its biggest audience watching, the casual fan who tunes in only once a year. I know I will be asked numerous times tomorrow on my thoughts of what happened when I get to the office. My response will be that it was a tragic day for racing and that the issue on safety in horse racing is being explored through the use of synthetic tracks and the results are still in the early stages. One thing I promised myself I will do, is to stop whining about trying to handicap synthetic surfaces. Not because of what happened, but because the industry is trying to do something about reducing injuries. It’s part of the racing/handicapping landscape now and will have to be dealt with accordingly. Sometimes tradition has to take a back seat to safety. I don’t think I would ever write that, but seeing my daughter’s eyes yesterday changed everything. Rest in peace, Eight Belles, you were a gallant competitor.

Tribute courtesy: horselover525 (youtube)

Photo courtesy: (John Sommers II/Reuters)



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