Horse racing, like most sports and businesses, has issues it must deal with and work out. And we are all aware of the criticism the sport often gets, especially from uninformed entities such as PETA, who never take the time to scrape off the hardened crust they see and look beneath it to discover the soul and the love of the horse that has driven the sport for centuries and formed its core.
People as a whole can be depended on to come through during times of crisis, but never in memory have so many horse lovers sacrificed so much and worked so diligently as did those assisting the horses at San Luis Rey Downs through their horrible and frightening ordeal. To see how social media has exploded with offers of assistance and continued prayers and updates truly warms the heart and makes you proud of the fan base that binds this sport together with its passion and caring.
It would take too long to list all those who have helped in any way they can, from those risking their lives to free the horses to those offering assistance, supplies, and farm space and care for any horse in need of a home. I have received numerous messages from those looking to help, from searching for drop-off locations for donations, including Aqueduct and Belmont Park to those attempting to find out how they can provide financial support, possibly through a newly formed Facebook page or on Twitter. There have been so many, feeling helpless, who have expressed their wish to be able to be out there helping in any way possible.
And, of course, we offer our deepest condolences to those who lost horses. This also hit home on a personal level, having learned that two people I know very well, Martine and Pierre Bellocq Jr. (the latter is son of longtime DRF cartoonist and close friend Peb) both suffered physical damage in the fire. Martine suffered second- and third-degree burns over 50% of her body and has been put in an induced coma to allow treatment. Fortunately, an exam revealed that she did not suffer significant lung damage. Pierre Jr., was treated for smoke inhalation. Both attempted valiantly to save as many of their small string as possible. Three of their horses perished.
There is no need to elaborate any further. Those reading this column have no doubt seen all the examples of human kindness that has poured non-stop through the airways and social media. You can be sure the numerous horse rescue organizations and those who act privately in saving horses will be out in full force looking to care for those unfortunate horses in need of personal care and a home, whether temporary or permanent.
This, my friends, is what horse racing is all about, and the pure unadulterated love of the horse that has created a special bond since the beginning of time. Horses have always been a part of the fabric of our very being, and that is why equine heroes such as American Pharoah, Secretariat, Smarty Jones, Ruffian, Zenyatta, and Rachel Alexandra just to name a few have brought people to tears, whether tears of joy or tears of sadness and have helped people through times of crisis. Just look at the results of Saratoga War Horse, which has saved so many suffering with post traumatic stress disorder from depression and possible suicide through that bonding between humans and horses.
With so much work still to be done, this is just a short column to thank those for their help, their donations, and their prayers, and for caring so deeply for these noble creatures who have given us so much pleasure and brought so many together to form a close-knit family unlike any other.
And to those on the scene who risked their lives to save so many horses who surely would have perished, just as Martine and Pierre did at great cost, you are true heroes and should be remembered as such. When they hand out the Eclipse Awards in January, these heroes should be acknowledged for their valor and their sacrifice. I think I speak for horse lovers all over when I say you have our deepest gratitude.
Let us all hope that the flames of San Luis Rey Downs and the smoldering remains quickly dissipate and the training center returns to the idyllic and pastoral haven it once was. We will always remember the nightmare that occurred here, but we will also remember how that nightmare brought so many together and why the “kings” in The Sport of Kings and the common folk are, and always will be, one and the same.