Sunday, May 4, 2008


TRIUMPH and tragedy are never too far apart. Favorite backers’ joy at seeing Big Brown romp to victory in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday was in stark contrast to the sadness felt by real horse racing fans at the death of Eight Belles.

Eight Belles, bidding to become only the fourth filly to win the first leg of the Triple Crown in 134 years, broke both front ankles moments after passing the post in a brave second place and had to be “euthanized”, the term used for killing an animal to prevent further suffering.

It was the most public racecourse accident since 2006 when Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro shattered his leg in the Preakness States, ultimately causing his death.

No one will feel the loss of Eight Belles more than her owners and trainer, Larry Jones, who only the day before was celebrating victory in the Kentucky Oaks.

As the “Run for the Roses” is one of the biggest races of the year, Eight Belles’ death attracted a huge amount of media coverage and will no doubt have stirred the animal rights activists, who believe the Sport of Kings is the Sport of Cruelty.

Fatal accidents happen on the racecourse almost every day. To put the Eight Belles affair into perspective, it’s worth noting that a total of 11 horses died in just four days at the 2006 Cheltenham Festival – the premier event in the British National Hunt (steeplechasing and hurdling) calendar.

There has also been a spate of equine deaths recently in three-day eventing, where horses are subjected to strenuous tests in dressage, cross country and showjumping. Two horses 
died and Olympian Darren Chiacchia was seriously injured in three separate incidents during the Red Hills Horse Trials in Tallahassee, Florida, in March.

Animal Rights Activisits Want Ban On Racing

The riders have a choice; they are competing of their own volition. The horses, of course, do not. Most equestrian enthusiasts will claim they enjoy the competition. The prospect of being whipped while you jump a three-mile obstacle course would only appeal to humans with a weird fetish.

So should hunting, eventing, jump racing – even flat racing – be banned? The simple answer is no, just so long as they stay within “acceptable levels of risk.”

Man and horse have been competing for as long as we have co-existed on Earth. Many sports include an element of danger. Should we ban motor-racing, boxing, skiing and surfing? And just how far should we go? Perhaps American Football should be included.

Racing racing provides food and shelter for horses that might otherwise be left to fend for themselves in a field, plus jobs for thousands of stable workers and those connected with the industry throughout the world. It also produces millions in tax revenue for governments through gambling. 

The pleasure it gives enthusiasts was never more in evidence than at Churchill Downs on Saturday night, as Big Brown and jockey Kent Desormeaux overcame the handicap of being drawn right on the outside in stall No. 20 to prove himself a real champion.

Whether he can repeat the feat in the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico is another matter. Jones had him “spot-on” for the Derby and admits to doubts about whether the horse will be in the same condition in two weeks’ time.

Let’s hope he is because what racing really needs now is another winner of the American Triple Crown. That hasn’t happened since 1978 when Affirmed and Steve Cauthen triumphed at Belmont Park.

If Big Brown should go on and end the 30-year draught, there would be no more fitting epitaph to the memory of the gallant filly Eight Belles.


Susan said...

Darren Chiacchia is alive and well at his farm in Ocala, Florida. Please do not exaggerate the tragedies that have recently beset the equine sport communities.

Bruce Beckett said...

I apologise, Susan, for being misinformed abut Darren Chiacchia. I am glad to hear he is making a good recovery.