- So, Big Brown can get the distance. He had as much seasoning as he needed. His feet are OK, at least for now, and he can run more or less in a straight line through the stretch. And yes, believe it or not, he can also rate. Holy shit (no pun intended)!
However, Big Brown is not the big story this morning. The front page of the NY Times sports section features, under a headline that reads Triumph, and Then Tears, at the Derby, a large photo of the stricken and obviously distressed Eight Belles lying prone just minutes before she would be euthanized right there on the track. Just underneath, surprise surprise, is the obligatory column by William C. Rhoden, the Grey Lady's resident racing basher, decrying the sport's brutal side. "This is bullfighting," he writes, in a column that he probably had stored somewhere on his computer, waiting for the next sad occasion on which to roll it out.
Within the racing industry, Eight Belles was a tragic but glorious casualty. The industry is in denial: racing grinds up horses, and we dress up the sport with large hats, mint juleps and string bands.Rhoden is good, even if that last line about horses never seeing the profits is rather asinine. I think that The Times would be wise to utilize his ample talent for hand-wringing proselytizing for more important things like, as one commenter to the The Rail blog (who I imagine is quite surprised to find his/her comment in the print edition of the New York Times today) said, "the continuing genocide in Darfur and civil-rights violations taking place in Tibet." (Among other things, I'd add, like the Times' own role in publicizing and perpetuating the lies that led this country into this tragic war which has cost tens of thousands of human lives amidst the other untold suffering. You want to talk about tragedy??)
Why do we refuse to put the brutal game of racing in the realm of mistreatment of animals? At what point do we at least raise the question about the efficacy of thousand-pound horses racing at full throttle on spindly legs?
Eight Belles was another victim of a brutal sport that is carried, literally, on the backs of horses. Horsemen like to talk about their thoroughbreds and how they were born to run and live to run. The reality is that they are made to run, forced to run for profits they never see. [NY Times]
This is a bad one for the sport, taking place as it did on our biggest day. Worse yet is the fact that Eight Belles was a filly, running her heart out as she totally outclassed every mere mortal three-year colt in the country. We'll read that she was taxed beyond her ability in a futile attempt to catch the colt who now becomes arguably the best candidate to capture the Triple Crown since it was last done in 1978. Just as we haven't seen a major match race since the Ruffian tragedy, I'd imagine it will be quite some time before we ever see a filly in the Kentucky Derby, which would be a (relatively very minor) tragedy in itself.
But if you're reading this website, you are likely a racing fan, unless you Googled something like 'horse racing is cruel and stupid and should be banned.' If you are a devotee, you've signed up for all the good and bad that comes with it. It's like that movie The Santa Clause, when Tim Allen puts on the suit and then reads a card that says "in putting on this suit, you waive your identity and become Santa Claus," or something like that. Well, when you pick up the Racing Form, you do so with the understanding that these horses are extremely fragile and that they sometimes take bad steps, break down, and die. Really, if you can't deal with that, then go watch auto racing - or equestrian eventing - where you can see human beings get maimed and killed. Sorry if I'm coming off as being flippant, but that's just the reality.
Yes, it's a tragedy, though no more so than the case of any horse who suffers a similar fate, even if they're not on the front page of the Times. "What can be down about it?" is the question that will be posed ubiquitously over the next few days. If that question means 'how can we eliminate these injuries entirely, reduce them to ZERO,' then the answer is to listen to the critics and to PETA, and simply shut the sport down, period. Equine injuries will never be totally eliminated. Like it or not, they're part of the game.
But if the question refers instead to how these fatalities can be made to occur far less frequently, then the answer is that the industry is at least trying to do something. It's called synthetic tracks. Please keep that, and this latest incident, in mind next time you ask 'Oh how could California be so stupid to rush into this,' or if you think that Keeneland is too hard to handicap, or if handicapping the Derby now involves too much guesswork, or the next time you read about some wealthy spoiled owner throwing a hissyfit because he spent millions on horses that would rather run on some paved highway on which closers have no shot.
California "rushed" into them in a good-faith response to a rash of fatalities just like this one. Are they a solution? We don't know yet. Maybe, maybe not. Hopefully, with continued experimentation, refining, research and, most of all, patience, they will help. Add in serious efforts to eradicate the various medications that mask infirmities and allow horses that shouldn't be racing to continue to do so, and perhaps these ugly fatalities can at least be reduced to a level at which the William C. Rhodens of the world can put their talent to better use.
Meanwhile, amidst the sadness, I suspect that many of you are, right now, doping out today's late Pick Four at Belmont, or the early double at Hollywood. Life, and the races, go on. Best of luck and have a great day.