We like horse racing around here. While watching the Kentucky Oaks race last Friday afternoon, a horse pulled up and bucked his jockey, leading me to tell Kelly, "a jockey fell off." Kaelyn picked up on it immediately, and has been telling is since then, "jockey fall off horse." This has gone on for five days now. I wonder how long she'll keep telling us about that poor jockey . . . Considering that the horse I picked in the Kentucky Derby finished last, I guess I'm no longer able to speak authoratatively about horse racing. But a lot has been going around since the race and I did want to share some opinions about what went down.
Before I hit the controversial topic, you have to give it up to Big Brown. He started from an almost impossible position and, from the get go, ran an absolutely brilliant race. I really don't like the horse's trainer, which is why I refused to cheer for him, but his win was amazing. He could very well win the Triple Crown.
But even if he does, this year will be remembered for the death of Eight Belles. The filly gave it all she had and, considering Big Brown's dominating performance, could have won the Derby in another year. But when both her front ankles broke galloping out after the race, thoughts immediately turned to what caused the trajedy. Unfortunately, everything is now up for being blamed, which has created a witch hunt. Let's look at these scapegoats really quickly:
Blame the jockey. That's nonsense. Don't think the horse's death hasn't taken its toll on him. If there was any prior warning that the horse's ankles were giving out, the horse would've pulled up. This was a freakish accident if there ever was one. PETA has called for the jockey, Gabriel Saez, to be suspended and it's plain ignorance. He didn't break the horse's ankles.
Blame the whip. There has also been some criticism of the way the jockey whipped the horse, but this has absolutely nothing to do with Eight Belles death either. It's just a long standing criticism against the sport that people are choosing to bring up while the spotlight is shinning. These jockeys aren't senseless; they love these animals and are doing all they can to get the most speed out of it. Regardless of whether or not whipping is acceptible, the appearance of brutality towards the horse doesn't help horse racing during a time like this. Even though whipping has been more stringently regulated during the last ten years than it ever has before, I imagine it will eventually go the way of the albatross. Still, don't blame it here.
Blame the trainer. Many have attacked trainer Larry Jones for entering a filly into a boys race. They claim she was overmatched and ran beyond her capacity, which caused her ankles to give way. This doesn't fly either. Practically every year a filly enters the Derby. Eight Belles was a large filly who had run with the boys before. And, as I noted earlier, if not for Big Brown's epic performance, she very well could've won. I do wonder what would have happened if she had actually won the race. Would the outrage be worse, or would she be painted his heroic for winning her last race.
Blame the surface. This is what I thought would capture the most attention. Before the race, every was talking about the differences in tracks around the country not that synthetic tracks have become the rage. Churchill Downs has stuck to the dirt track citing tradition [even though, as my neighbor noted, the historic site now looks more like Vegas] and has refused to switch over. While I feel that the synthetic track is the way to go, it most likely would not have prevented this injury. So you can call for a change, but don't blame the dirt for this.
Blame the breeding. Horse breeding is now total science. Horses are now selected to engineer the perfect runner. But some in-the-know believe that the breeding is causing these races horses to lose bone strength at the expense of speed. I'm not educated enough to comment on whether or not this is true, but it's hard to decifer even if it is. Obviously the breeders care about their animals, witnessed in the lucrative veterinary industry, but the point of the horse is to perform. And if they do produce winners, then the horse's life gets even better in its breeding years. As long as we have the science to create the perfect animal, there will always be give in take. But if the issue is this great for horses, then why aren't we as adamant when it comes to people?
In the end, there's no one thing that you can legitimately blame; it's a freakish tragedy. But since people find it difficult to accept that, I'm sure the inquisition will probably continue. Following so close to the death of Barbaro, horse racing [which is constantly struggling to stay relevant] has a black cloud hovering over it. Perhaps it will take Big Brown winning the Triple Crown to fix the current mess.