Obviously, I don’t know anything about thoroughbreds anymore. I had this amazing string of calling the winner of the Kentucky Derby of about 12 years starting with Unbridled and running through about 2002. Since then I haven’t been close.
I had the field covered in 2005 except for Giacamo who came in as a 50-1 winner. This year Tom McManus asked me on 1010 XL who I liked and I said, “anybody but the 3-1 favorite Big Brown. I’ll take the field.” Of course, Big Brown won going away.
His trainer had predicted it amid snickers in the barn from his competitors. But he backed it up winning by 4 ½ lengths and could be a contender for the Triple Crown. He looked like the class of the field and the race that give the winners fits, the Belmont Stakes, seems suited to his closing kick at 1-½ miles.
The race was marred by the breakdown of Eight Belles, the only filly in the race who had finished second. On the warm down, she broke both front ankles and had to be “euthanized” right there on the track. Sally Jenkins of the Washington Post wrote on Saturday night that horses breaking down and being killed on the track is happening at the rate of about 2 a day in the United States alone.
What’s going on there? Is it just better reporting? Maybe this has always happened but it just wasn’t reported. Or maybe the colts are just being bred so finely that they just can’t handle the stress of the pounding on their bodies. Whatever it is, it isn’t good.
One of the sport’s most celebrated champions, Barbaro, brought the brutality of the whole thing to light. Injured at the start of the Preakness he was saved by the jockey and the on-track vet. After months of rehab they finally put him “to sleep” ending a sad chapter in horse racing’s annals.
If you’ve ever seen a racehorse, a thoroughbred in person, you know they don’t look like a regular horse. Perfectly muscled and developed, the rippled physique looks like it’s been carved out of a stone. Much like our awareness of human performance and the drugs that have augmented many athletes abilities, is that a part of the “sport of kings?” I do know that there are plenty of drugs that are illegal for racehorses to take. Most, I thought, are anti-inflammatory.
Is there compassion among the trainers and owners? It certainly seems that the bond between the horses and the people around them is something different than anything else. Like in “The Godfather” putting the horse’s head in the film director’s bed was the nastiest thing they could do. He called the horse, “my pride and joy.” They are beautiful things to look at but are we killing them through drugs, training and breeding? Two-a-day seems like a lot to be scraping off the track and going onto the next race.
Is the sport big enough outside of the Triple Crown for anybody to care? Obviously tracks have been in trouble and are closing and the sport is mainly fueled by off track betting these days. But is their enough to make anybody stand up and ask the questions? Hopefully there are answers and not just more questions.