At the risk of turning this into a blog about horseracing, which it definitely is not, I'd like to say a few words in the aftermath of the Kentucky Derby today.
First of all, Big Brown's brilliant win was beyond great. He positioned, he rated, he changed leads and when it was time to go, he was gone. He galloped out fresh. After a mile and a quarter in the company of nineteen tough competitors, he was ready to run again. He has the tactical speed to win the Preakness and the goods to win that grind of a race called the Belmont Stakes, a grueling mile and a half race that most of these horses will never face again in their careers Fasten your seat belts and stay tuned. If he is the horse he seemed to be today, then: "This could be the horse. This might be the year."
But I wanted to reserve most of my commentary for the tragic loss of the great, great filly Eight Belles. Eight Belles ran an incredible race. She came in a proud second, beating eighteen other big, strong males in the process and doing it in style. I thought for a moment that she was going to make a bid to catch Big Brown. I think she wanted to. But...well, I think I expressed my fears for her on Thursday in the post below.
Perhaps comparing her to Ruffian was not so off the mark, after all. This filly tried so hard to win that she physcially outran her body. She finished the race trying to catch Big Brown with daylight between her and the next horse in the field, passed the finish line, and as she galloped out, she broke both ankles and collapsed on the track. The fact that she had to be euthanized on the spot means exactly that...she had to be. There was nothing the experts could do to save her, or believe me, they would have. Eight Belles, like Ruffian, was all heart. Her will and her remarkable determination to win overtaxed her physical body to the point of catastrophic breakdown. It's a horrible fate for what could have potentially been one of the best fillies in history.
That said, people are already crying out for the end of horseracing, calling it a "cruel" sport. Horse racing is an extreme sport. That means there is a strong element of danger in it. These horses have been bred for centuries to run, they have to run, it's what they do. It's in their genes. I have a four year old Thoroughbred filly--daughter of a champion and granddaughter of a Kentucky Derby winner--who never set foot on a racetrack for a race, but you can't tell her that. When we turn her out to pasture, she's there to run. In her mind, she's racing. It's her essense, it's what she is, and what her ancestors have been for countless generations. Accidents happen. Injuries happen. It's a given. Should we have put a stop to racing cars when Dale Earnhardt was killed? Should we no longer have Olympics, or Pro, College or High School sports because people sometimes get seriously injured or die? Yes, it's sad. It's tragic. It's heartrending to see a great athlete go down, but the risk is part of what makes a sport a sport. I'm all for making tracks safer and conditions better, but putting a stop to horse racing, or ANY sport, is not the answer. To strive for greatness is to put everything on the line. Eight Belles put everything on the line. Honor her for her courage, don't shame her by condemning what she lived for.
Rest in Peace, Eight Belles.