Saturday, May 4, 2013

Eight Belles

I have a strange relationship with horse racing and the Kentucky Derby specifically. In short, horse racing horrifies me. Let me explain.

In 2008, I'd never seen any horse races, never been to one and, in fact, outside of some petting zoos had no experience with horses. Never ridden one or sat on one, although I did sit on a pony when I was three for a photo. I'd never really paid attention to horse racing as a sport. Growing up in Southern California, I'd sometimes see commercials for Santa Anita, but it always seemed like another universe.

That changed in 2008 with my then girlfriend, soon to be wife, Sonja. Her family had a big tradition of getting together for the Kentucky Derby and making a party of watching at her parents house. There was food, booze, and about 20 friends and relatives packed in around the TV. It wasn't my thing, but I'm always game for a party so I tried to get in the spirit.

Before the race began, we all began to discuss the horses and their backgrounds. Immediately my attention was caught by an underdog, a filly named Eight Belles. Apparently, fillies were a very rare occurrence in Kentucky Derby history and I loved the fact that she was an underdog. We all began to pick our horses in a friendly betting pool and I was the only one that picked Eight Belles.

The race was amazing to watch and we were all stunned at Eight Belles incredible performance. She took the lead and was seemingly going to win it. But in the last quarter lap or so, she began to slow. Something was wrong. In the end, she slowed enough that she lost first place to another horse and came in second.

Then things went horribly wrong. Right there on the track, they shot Eight Belles and killed her. Everyone around me was cheering the spectacular race. The person who had picked the winning horse was high fiving everyone. The announcers were very excited for the winner. Then they briefly mentioned that Eight Belles had broken both of her legs and had been euthanized on the spot.

Even as I write this now, I'm tearing up at the thought. It wasn't just that she had to be killed. It was that so many people seemed to hardly notice. This beautiful animal who had been set to pull off an amazing coup was forgotten and discarded in a matter of seconds. In less than a minute this horse went from winning the Kentucky Derby in an upset to being dead on the track.

The horror and sadness I felt that day for the horse, the incredulity I felt at the people around me and on the television at their lack of concern or compassion for Eight Belles all combined to make me upset to the point of being nauseous. I had to step outside and get away from everyone in that house.

I have no interest in watching horse racing ever again. Whenever I hear about the Kentucky Derby, I can only think of Eight Belles, the first and only horse I ever cheered for.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I stopped watching horse racing for years after watching Barbaro break down. Now, I will turn it on and only listen, and then if all went well, then I will watch the replay. Knowing how the industry treats the babies of their nurse mares and knowing how many send these wonderful animals to slaughter, has taken much joy out of racing for me.