USA Today's Mike Lopresti's article on the death of Eight Belles starts the inevitable second guessing about the ethics of horse racing. The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins explains just what millennia of genetic engineering can produce. In the case of the modern race horse, make no mistake about it - humans have created a creature that, as most vet's I have met say, is "an accident waiting to happen."
There is no denying the horses are beautiful. Their motion is inspiring, and they are playful, intelligent creatures. But as Mary Shelley pointed out in dramatic fashion many years ago, humans have an obligation of care toward their creations.
I write this entry less that 24 hours after Eight Belles ran her last race, stood on the track for the last time, and the picture of her distress is still fresh in my mind. As I type, I can look down at the blue band on my left wrist that reads "Riding with Barbaro." OK, so maybe I'm a sentimental sap, and it is just pointless for me to get choked up about the loss of what, in the end, is property owned by humans. I donated to the Barbaro Fund, simply because I felt helpless to do anything else.
But run your browser over to Churchill Downs' Web site. What is there right now is all the news of Big Brown's win. And I'm all for that. Big Brown won the race, and I'm thrilled for their owner, trainer, jockey, family and friends. He's a beautiful creature, and I hope he goes on to win many, many more.
But behind the winner lies his closest competitor dead. And not a damn word anywhere on Churchill Downs' web site. They apparently don't want that to be associated with Visa, Yum! and UPS as sponsors. No, the realities of the product they are selling can't be acknowledged, even in the small, fine print, somewhere.
Shame on you people.
Many people (myself included) were inspired by Barbaro's fight 2 years ago when he shattered his leg in the Preakness. Who will remember Eight Belles? Sure, it might be silly of me to say this, when many, many horses are destroyed on the track each year because of their fragile nature. Indeed, we only know about Eight Belles because she was in the world's most famous horse race. And of course, the drama is increased because she was "running with the boys" trying to be only the 4th filly to win The Big Race. From what I understand, it was something of a freak accident that caused her injury - it isn't common for what actually happened to her to occurs. But that doesn't make that image of her laying on the track a few minutes later go away from my mind. Is it too much to ask for Churchill Downs to acknowledge her loss? Can't something good come out of this? Sure, maybe it is too early, and eventually someone will come up with something like the Barbaro Fund for us to foolishly suave our guilty feelings by sending money while we look away from the tragedy we've created. But is it too much to ask the people who are making money right now, in Very Large Amounts to put a note on their web page to honor the loss of a beautiful creature? Is that really too much to ask? Weeks from now, maybe no one will look at that web site. Right now it is news. And we all know bad news can't benefit sponsors who hold the purse.
I so much wanted to make a trip to Churchill Downs to see the Derby one day. It looks like something of a spectacle that would make a wonderful memory. I thought even the opportunity to go see Barbao's brother run when he turns three in a few years would be a fun trip.
Now I'm not so sure. Not because I don't know about the realities of what I am watching, and it is dangerous as hell; but because the people in charge, the people that are stewards of these animals don't seem to want me to know about that. They want me to buy a betting ticket, eat some Yum!, and drink another mint julip in the warm Kentucky spring air.