- A horse died of a heart attack at Belmont on Wednesday, and New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden happened to be there. The result is a column (subscription site) entitled An Unknown Filly Dies, and the Crowd Just Shrugs.
There was no array of photographers at Belmont Park yesterday, no sobbing in the crowd as a badly injured superstar horse tried to stay erect on three legs. There was no national spotlight.The column appeared prominently at the top right of the front page of the sports section, countering at least some of the positive karma that may have come out of the outpouring of sympathy, and the Herculean medical efforts on account of Barbaro. Great.
Instead, there was death. In the seventh race at Belmont, a 4-year-old filly named Lauren's Charm headed into the homestretch. As she began to fade in the mile-and-an-eighth race on the grass, her jockey, Fernando Jara, felt her struggling, pulled up and jumped off.
As the race concluded, Lauren's Charm collapsed. No one, except those associated with the horse and two track veterinarians, seemed to notice.
The scene was in stark contrast to what unfolded at Pimlico last Saturday when the Kentucky Derby winner, Barbaro, severely fractured his ankle in the opening burst of the Preakness. A national audience gasped; an armada of rescuers rushed to the scene. In the days that followed, as the struggle to keep Barbaro alive took full shape, there was an outpouring of emotion across the country and heartfelt essays about why we care so much about these animals.
But I'm not so sure we do, and I'm not so sure the general public fully understands this sport. When people attempt to rationalize the uneasy elements of racing, they often say: "That's part of the business. That's the game."
But there was nothing beautiful or gracious or redeeming about the seventh race at Belmont. This was the underside of the business. The nuts-and-bolts part, where animals are expendable parts of a billion-dollar industry.
It’s a astounding piece of journalism to be sure. Unless he’s a track degenerate, Rhoden was at Belmont, I imagine, to do some more follow up on the Preakness. But once the filly went down, Rhoden went to work, interviewing the attending vet and jockey Fernando Jara (who was aboard that 41-1 shot that won the subsequent race); plus, he tracked down the horse’s owner on his cellphone at a track in Massachusetts, where he watched the race. He also got behind the scenes and offered a grim and disturbing portrayal of the filly’s disposal.
But I do think it’s a bit of a cheap shot. For one thing, the depiction of An earthmover [pushing] the horse against a concrete wall, is unnecessarily lurid and doesn’t really add anything to the debate. In addition, for Rhoden to write that people didn’t seem to notice...Or care isn’t fair. People watching on TV, probably more than half the crowd, didn’t know about it any more than the owner did; while the TV shot showed the filly pulling up on the turn after leading to that point, there was no indication from Tom Durkin that she was in distress. I wasn’t there, but I’ve seen these incidents, and people do care. Not everyone, but neither does everyone when someone falls and hurts them self on the street. I don’t really know what the writer would expect everyone to do. It’s like anything else; you pass the car crash, gasp at the gruesome wreckage; and though some may have a heavier heart than others, all but a scant few continue on to our destination.
It’s acknowledged in the piece that such an occurrence happens in just around 1 in 20,000 horses. The writer happened to be there to witness it, and the events apparently lent themselves to his making a point. Since when does the Times have a writer at the track on a weekday? If they did on most any other day, the chances are that, with similar journalistic fortitude and without the same agenda, he or she would be far more likely to produce a piece about some unknown horse that may not be particularly fast, but is nonetheless healthy and happy and enjoying the gift of life that it has solely due to the existence of this sport.
- On a brighter note is this cool cartoon on Opening Day at Suffolk via Railbird. It’s a look at some of the things that we love about the sport, particularly the last frame – ....and hope springs eternal.