As you might have guessed, the way the Kentucky Derby ended was the talk around town and at the water cooler today. For those who didn’t see the news, the winner was the horse favored to come in first place, Big Brown. But more attention was given to the horse that came in second, Eight Belles. She was the first filly entered in the Derby since 1999; it has been even longer since a filly won the race (1988). Thus, Eight Belles was the favorite for those who root for the underdog. Then tragically, right after the horses crossed the finish line, Eight Belles collapsed with two broken front ankles. The injuries were too serious and painful to even move her onto an ambulance, let alone be treated, so Eight Belles had to be euthanized with an injection on the track. With the cameras focused on Big Brown at the moment, it took several grim moments for the crowd to realized what had happened, especially since Eight Belles’ jockey walked away without injury.
Also predictable was that everyone’s favorite pest, PETA, had to get involved. This morning I heard on the news that PETA wants to know if Eight Belles had been mistreated by her jockey, and would like to prohibit horses from racing until they are three years old. They would. Elsewhere I heard of a proposal to pave Churchill Downs with the same kind of artificial turf that they added to Keeneland last year, because it’s easier on the hooves. That would probably be more productive, in the long run.
This reminds me a lot of the accident that killed Dale Earnhart, Sr. in the 2001 Daytona 500. After that, NASCAR started requiring that the drivers wear safety harnesses, and that saved Dale Earnhart Jr. from a similar wreck, a few years later. Likewise, let’s hope some solution can be introduced to the Derby that will make it safer for the horses without ruining the sport.