The End of Her Watch

There is a great deal I could say about the death of Eight Belles. If my heart didn’t hurt so much with it, I could talk about the fact that Churchill Downs has been so slow to switch to space age turf replacements when so many already have (though perhaps that will change now). I would again express wonder that American horse racing demands equines to work so hard so early in their lives, when their little bones are still not fully developed. And then there would be astonishment that an animal would, quite literally, run themselves to death as Eight Belles did today.

Sally Jenkins offers up a passionate assessment in The Washington Post that pulls no punches and indicts the sport:
But thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it. Twice since 2006, magnificent animals have suffered catastrophic injuries on live television in Triple Crown races, and there is no explaining that away. Horses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them.
If you watched the Kentucky Derby you saw Big Brown win by nearly five lengths. But Eight Belles finished at least three lengths ahead of third place Denis of Cork who finished ahead of everyone else. One can’t help but wonder -- though it’s tragic to wonder -- in a lesser field, one that didn’t include Big Brown, would Eight Belles have just coasted to the finish line and then gone home with the roses, making her only the fourth filly in the Derby’s 134 year history to do so?

Like I said, there’s a great deal I could say, though I’ve already said more than I intended. I’m sad tonight, though. Thinking thoughts, I guess, that don’t matter in the end.

My heart hurts. I’ve always loved the Derby. And this lovely filly’s loss drops a shadow on what would have otherwise been a spectacular win for Big Brown.

If you’ve missed all of this and it seems to you I’m talking no sense at all, The National Post does a credible job of “Just the facts, ma’am” here. Sally Jenkins Washington Post piece is here. Jane Smiley offers up her own expert and well considered words in The New York Times. Also, Jeff Fecke of Shakesville offers up some beautiful thoughts. (“In nautical parlance, ‘Eight Bells’ is the end of a four-hour watch. It’s also a nautical euphemism for the death of a sailor: his watch is over, eternally.”) He also does a good job of shutting down the dodos who would turn this into something political. And Fox Hill Farms, who owned Eight Bells, has a blog. At the time of this writing, they haven’t updated it, but the comments are coming in fast and furious.


Clea Simon said…
A colleague of my husband pointed out that if Eight Belles had won the Derby, instead of coming in second, and then collapsed, thoroughbred racing as we know it would be over.

Otherwise, same conflicts here, Linda. I hope they switch to the safer fake turf. At least that lessens the stress.

Popular Posts