Kentucky Derby Coda: Farewell to Eight Belles

May 4, 2008, 1:29 am

Those who know the Radical well also know that she is a handicapper, and loves great horses. Derby Day — and the day before, the Kentucky Oaks and its undercard, are practically national holidays in the Radical household. Although we did not plan it this way, we also live right around the corner from the off track betting parlor, so there is a whole racing community at my fingertips. Yesterday I cleared a large sum at the Oaks, and went into today’s races very optimistic: indeed, financially, it has been a successful weekend, with enough winners to cover and surpass inevitable bad picks and funky trifectas.

But as many of you probably already know, today’s Kentucky Derby ended on an extraordinarily sad note. Eight Belles, the only filly in the race and the runner-up, had to be euthanized after breaking her forelegs; this may have happened as she was trying to slow down after she crossed the wire, or her ankles may have started to crack as she was straining to catch Big Brown. In other words, as many horses do, she hurt herself fatally trying to win the race. For those of us who love thoroughbred racing, it is a fact of the sport (much as young men becoming paralyzed, crippled, or congenitally concussed, is a deeply regrettable but not uncommon feature of football), but it is heartbreaking all the same. She was a love of a horse, and our sympathies here at Tenured Radical go out to owner Rick Porter, trainer Larry Jones and all the filly’s people at Fox Hill Farm. Second guessers will say she should have run yesterday in the Oaks, the fillies race, but if it was going to happen, it was going to happen: thoroughbreds are delicate and over bred creatures, and when they step wrong it is catastrophic. Replacing all dirt tracks with synthetic surfaces could be a big step to making this a sport that is safer for the animals and the jockeys. In Europe, where all races are run on turf, they have many fewer injuries and fatalities.

Eight Belles is seen in this picture in the Honeybee, under Ramon Dominguez. She was ridden today by Gabriel Saez, who won the Oaks yesterday on Eight Belles’ stable mate Proud Spell. Here’s the story about today’s tragedy in the Guardian. I think that we can only be happy that the accident was decisive, and that she wasn’t subjected to medical intervention for months like poor Barbaro.

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