Horses leave the starting gate for the start of the 133rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, May 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)

Kentucky Derby: Racing with 22,000 pounds of trouble

Horses leave the starting gate for the start of the 133rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, May 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
Horses leave the starting gate for the start of the 133rd Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Saturday, May 5, 2007. (AP Photo/Rob Carr)
    “The 20-horse Derby field lets in owners who should be eating hot dogs at Beulah Park in Ohio. Few of the half-dozen or more undeserving horses racing in the Derby are ever heard from again. You say you had a horse in the Derby? So did around 200 others last decade.

So writes Jay Cronley for ESPN in “22,000 pounds of trouble“.

Mr Cronley opens his article with the statement:

    “It’s never too early to complain about the size of the Kentucky Derby field, 20 horses, a few of whom know how to run correctly.”

We agree with Cronley, even if we are coming at this issue from different angles.

Not long ago, already thinking about this, I surveyed 56 Thoroughbred horse racing people, from owners to trainers, riders to grooms, a handful of breeders and even a few hacks (a term of endearment for writers), asking them what they believe the optimum number of horses starting in the Kentucky Derby is.

Everyone responded except the writers. Of those answering, 39 stated 14 as the ideal number of runners in the Kentucky Derby; 12 stated the number is fine as is.

Almost all of those responding elaborated on their answers, including statements such as, it would be safer for horse and jockey and ensure a higher caliber field of runners if the number of starters was reduced to 14. Others agreeing with the number 14 said it would enhance the chances of there being another Triple Crown winner. There were also many among the respondents who rejected the idea that too many horses deserving to win the Kentucky Derby would lose their chance if the field were limited to 14.

The most interesting notion coming out of my informal survey was one from a Lexington based breeder who is strongly in favor of keeping a large field for the Kentucky Derby. What he objects to are the starting stalls. He states that they should be done away with and the Kentucky Derby should be run from a standing start.

    ” . . . get all that damned metal out of the way. Let the horses line up and jump off all at the same time. No gates and you eliminate all the problems. You could easily have up to 24 horses. Churchill [Downs] is plenty wide enough.”

What many added concerning the question of field size for the Kentucky Derby, and always seems to be the bottom line whenever horse racing is discussed is . . . . the bottom line. Money.

    “Sadly, you will never get the gambling establishment to go for putting the number of runners back to 14,” said a leading trainer. “This is one of their biggest betting days of the year.”

Yes, the gambling aspect is a huge consideration. With a large field, there are more horses to bet on. But the bottom line does not begin and end with the gambling.

There is the prize money, opportunities for breeding incentives to be won, plus the fame and accolades that can be spun into cash by trainers and jockeys.

Of course the bottom line must always be considered. It would be foolish to try to leave it out. To the winner goes the spoils, as they say. My question is, where is the balance?

Is putting on a Kentucky Derby with 20 optimistic hopefuls, with perhaps only a dozen of whom should really be there, really preferable to having a safer, more honest race among 14 best bred, high class Thoroughbreds, whose mettle has been tested, running for those famous roses?

4 thoughts on “Kentucky Derby: Racing with 22,000 pounds of trouble”

  1. With two more deaths in the Grand National and after the mess in Dubai, I wonder what the odds are of every horse entered surviving the Derby?

    I hope all horses and jockeys make it through safely.


  2. I rode racehorses for 15 years and i couldn’t agree more….actually thats why i quit riding. I was just an exercise rider but i have ridden for the best in the business!! and he treats his horses very well…D.Wayne Lucas…but alot of other trainers and owners that i worked for make me sick in public they act like they love there horses but they are liars they are in it for show and the money and thats all..


  3. The Sport of Kings is not that anymore. Only the few will ever make it to the top levels and so this sport has degenerated into a free for all breeding to kill, sales to slaughter, outrageous abuse and pseudo-celebrity worship. The horses are forgotten and unimportant. Their lives don’t matter and obviously, the jockeys and all the others are unimportant, too.

    The message to fans is that they will pay for whatever racing chooses to hand them, no matter what fans would prefer. It has become a cheap excuse for a sleazy party and nothing else.

    The reason the sport exists is gone–the horses are disposable just like everybody else. If racing was what it was supposed to be, it would be a test of well trained and well cared for rare champions (human & equine) who are highly valued by horsemen for their unique skills.

    Let’s never forget the genuine horse lovers in racing. They are there and held silent by the big and mean money which supports this incredibly corrupt industry. Let’s not ever forget the great Thorobreds who are loved by so many due to their intelligence, beauty and talent for many careers off the track. They are the innocent victims who suffer.

    Until racing can stand up and support humane treatment to its own people and its Thorobreds and Quarter Horses, it is suspect and will always have the taint of a cheap sideshow featuring abuse and death as a part of the entertainment.

    While racing was never free of suspicion, it has sunk to new lows and as a result, needs a complete overhaul. We don’t need any more egotistical apologists in media to make excuses for the deaths and abuses of so many great and generous souls. For them alone, horsemen grieve.

    We have to act to force change and if we do, we can save lives. If we refuse to act, this will continue. That is intolerable. We have to motivate every American to act to stop this circus of abuse and death.

    A good first step: end slaughter forever. HR2966/S1176


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