The next best thing is to be honest about it.
By Elizabeth Banicki | Guardian Online | 5th May 2022
As horse racing returns to the spotlight with the 148th Kentucky Derby, a respectable future for the sport that prioritizes equine welfare remains the longest shot of all
Moments after crossing the wire second in a field of 20, the big lanky filly Eight Belles collapsed in the dirt with two shattered front ankles. Bone pierced flesh as she struggled to stand but could not. The lather on her dark coat and the blood on her mangled legs glistened under the late afternoon sun. In the charming grandstand of Churchill Downs, a sea of rainbow costumes and made-up faces froze in horror and disbelief. Fists gripped wagering tickets and sweating cocktails while jaws hung agape beneath garish hats decorated with netting and cheap plastic flowers. Her life, just entering its third year, ended there in the dirt against the backdrop of the antique twin spires, the pain and suffering in her eyes witnessed only by those standing over her as the track vet pushed in the lethal dose to end her suffering.
Had Eight Belles survived the 2008 Kentucky Derby she would be 17 now, a horse approaching her golden years. But it was not to be, due the overwhelming stress brought upon her by what she was made to do. Such has also been the fate of countless racehorses since her. A number in the thousands to be sure though, due to a long-running lack of racing industry regulation, record keeping, transparency and willingness, the true statistic can never be known.
We approach this year’s Derby on Saturday in the wake of a death that, like Eight Belles’s, nobody missed: that of the star-crossed Medina Spirit. These two champions born over a decade apart have much in common. Both stars of America’s most famous race died during the exorbitant physical stress of performance and both were just three years old. Despite the years between their respective deaths, both horses also sparked a reckoning of the sport’s ethics and integrity. What clearly has not changed is horses routinely dying from catastrophic cardiac episodes and broken limbs while in the throes of racing and training. It is no less common occurrence now than in 2008. For a sport chock full of folks so adept at finding patterns, I would hope they might see one here. More importantly that they’d admit it.
So continue to question the practice of horse racing we must. In the theatre of public opinion, a respectable future for the sport is a long shot. Racing can scarcely wade its way through one scandal before another is upon it. After the suspect death of Medina Spirit in December there was the tragic story of five-year-old Creative Plan in February, for which no one will be held accountable. Same for the bizarre injustice that befell eight-year-old stallion Laoban at upscale WinStar Farm.
There are the unknowns like 23-year-old mare Keepthename, who in her youth had been sold for $250,000 and trained by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen in the early 2000s before being dispensed to a life of breeding. The sleek gorgeous chestnut mare with the wineglass marking on her nose produced 12 foals over 17 years. She was a warrior. Then just weeks ago in early April, Thoroughbred Athletes, Inc, a thoroughbred rescue based in Oklahoma, identified her in the slaughter pipeline. She was grimy and emaciated with a crushed skull. Her head hung low in pain and despair. She was a sight of the absolute worst neglect imaginable. The rescue fundraised to buy her out of the “killpen” and promptly had her humanely euthanized. A raging infection was so established throughout her head, she would have required extensive surgery which she likely would not have survived. • Read full article »
This is horse racing.
Featured Image: Medina Spirit leads the field around the first turn during the 147th running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in May 2021. Photograph: Sarah Stier/Getty Images.
NOTE: We waited to post this until after the distraction of the Kentucky Derby. —Editor.
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