- I think it's time to move on from this specific incident, while of course keeping in mind the safety issues that need to be addressed. Of course, those issues have been a major point of discussion for the last few years, as evidenced by the already ongoing discussions and steps taken (though certainly not enough) regarding medication and, in particular, the impassioned debate over synthetic tracks. You'd think, from reading the columns and articles by writers who only comment on the sport after such disasters, that we all just woke up Sunday morning and went "Oh yeah. We need to deal with this." So I think they should all shut up.
However, I still have a couple things on my mind, specifically regarding Rick Porter. The owner, under siege, defended his decision to run Eight Belles in the Derby, and he defended the sport too.
“There are some ugly parts of it, obviously. There are also some spectacular parts of it. There are ugly parts of every sport. There are people who get paralyzed in football. This is a tragedy that happens in horse racing. It’s hard to put the blame any particular way. It’s part of horse racing.” [NY Times]Porter has come under fire from some quarters who criticize him for letting his ego drive his decision to run her in the Derby rather than what seemed like a more reasonable spot in the Oaks. Given his near miss with Hard Spun last year, plus the fact that there's no future stallion value involved here, that is undoubtedly true.
However, what do you think this sport would be like without egos like Porter's? If people were in this strictly for the money, how many owners would there be? Do you think the Sheikh is doing what he does in order to be able to provide food for his stable of wives? Given the increasing focus on the fragility of the breed, some might argue that it would be a good thing if he wasn't bidding up the prices of foals from bloodlines with histories of fragility....but don't tell the Kentucky breeders that.
In fact, I'd imagine that "my horse is faster than yours" is at the very root of this sport. I think that some of the greatest moments of racing never would have occurred if not for inflated egos. There probably would have been no great match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. And what was there really to gain other than bragging rights by running Personal Ensign on a muddy track in that Breeders' Cup? And how about
And that brings us to the other charge against Porter that we're hearing - that he should have known he was putting her in danger and therefore should shoulder the blame. A couple of those critics actually earned the right to speak out by issuing warnings beforehand. As much as I hate to admit it, because I've chafed at his particular outspokenness on the matter, Paul Moran wrote on April 30 that it's far more likely is that Eight Belles will be permanently scarred by the experience, and that Porter may very well leave [her] career in the shadows of the twin spires.
And check out what this blogger, a trainer who goes by the name of Rather Rapid, wrote on April 29:
I'm supposing the jock will have the good sense to protect this lightly trained very vulnerable filly with her lengthy front cannons trying to compete against a bunch of colts many of whom have twice as much distance on their work tabs. The Hall of Shame to these connections if anything happens to this filly.Wow. However, with the highest of due respect to those gentlemen, we don't know for sure what went wrong. The notion that she ran herself to death in her futile effort to catch a superior colt is more romantic than fact-based. It could have happened if she was neck and neck with Proud Spell. And I would make a wild but educated guess that there have been similarly bleak predictions every time a filly has lined up for a Triple Crown race.
And to those who point to Rags to Riches or Genuine Risk as examples of fillies that were never the same after the experience, I give you Afleet Alex and Smarty Jones, and a wealth of promising colts who may indeed have left their careers under the twin spires - Greeley's Galaxy, Sweetnorthernsaint, Bellamy Road - just to name a few from recent years. I haven't heard the kind of criticism we're hearing here leveled at those connections, nor at those of horses who similarly never recovered from their trips to Dubai...a journey, I may add, based strictly on greed.
And besides, with respect to Rick Porter's good name, I submit that the above is really all irrelevant. If a group of vets had sat him down and said 'Look, Mr. Porter, we believe that you are putting the filly's welfare in danger by running her in the Derby,' and he ignored their advice, that would be one thing. But I just can't believe for a second that he would have run her if he thought that was the case. So I think the charges that he was reckless and arrogant, and that he should be held responsible for her death are wrong. We should instead grieve along with him, and hope, very much so, that his ego, and those of other owners, remain intact.