The Eight Belles Tragedy: Stop Placing Blame


Because this is mainly a blog dedicated to racing and handicapping, I normally do not find myself writing about political subjects. However, in light of the Eight Belles tragedy, its aftermath, and many of the comments that have been posted, I will give my take on the issue.

After this, we'll move on and start talking Preakness and Triple Crown. I do not want this blog to become a place where critics of horse racing come to meet to voice their displeasure over the sport. That's not what this blog is about.

We are all in agreement that the breakdown of Eight Belles was tragic. As I said in my last post, seeing the disaster play out only a few feet away from me made it even more horrifying. With that being said and having had time to digest the situation, I feel very strongly that this was an accident and although there are groups out there looking to place blame on anyone they can find, there really is nobody to blame. Again, it was an accident.

There are those that blame owner Rick Porter for entering a filly to run against the colts. Please. Where were those people when Rags to Riches won the Belmont? And where are they during every other race in which fillies run against colts?

There are those looking to blame trainer Larry Jones, even going as far as accusing him of giving her steroids. Please. Jones is as respected a horseman as there is in the sport. Autopsy results will exonerate him shortly.

There are those that blame jockey Gabriel Saez, saying he went to the whip too much and kept riding her after he knew she was injured. Please. There is no evidence that Saez knew Eight Belles took a bad step or that he was aware of any injury. Look at the video. Her ears were pricked when she crossed the finish line and she was striding normally. The fact that Saez is being made a villain in this is ridiculously unfair. The people who are calling for his suspension know nothing about horse racing.

These same people who are protesting that horse racing is "barbaric" and pressing for rule changes such as banning the whip and forcing every racetrack to switch to synthetic surfaces, should learn the facts before causing a stir. They are grossly misinformed and only looking to place blame where there is none.

One other question. Where are these activists when a $5,000 claimer breaks down on a Wednesday afternoon at one of the lower-level racetracks? I don't hear them. But since this was the Kentucky Derby and on national television, they all come out of the woodwork looking for a forum.

Look, accidents happen. They are part of the sport. Just like football, auto racing, boxing and other human sports where people, unfortunately, are sometimes fatally injured. Why must we always look to point the finger? It doesn't do anything, other than provoke media sensationalism.

It is understandable that people are upset after the breakdowns of Barbaro, George Washington and Eight Belles - three fatal accidents that have occurred on Thoroughbred racing's biggest stage within the past year. It is definitely a black eye for the sport. But let's keep this all in perspective. From the numbers I have seen, there are about 1.6 breakdowns for every 1,000 starts. For the most part, Thoroughbreds are well cared for and they enjoy running. After all, this is what they are bred to do.

Does that mean we should stop looking at some of the underlying reasons for breakdowns? Not at all. I like the idea of doing more research on breeding (and inbreeding) patterns to find out why today's horses seem to be less sturdy than those of 30 or 40 years ago.

I also think we should keep pressing for stricter drug testing and impose stiffer penalties for offenders. In my opinion, (I have no hard proof to back my claim, this is only my opinion) we are seeing an increased number of breakdowns because trainers are introducing horses to more and more medicines (legal and illegal). Allowing horses to run on medications when their bodies are already compromised could be one major reason why they are now more prone to injuries.

In closing, the death of Eight Belles was terrible and something that nobody wants to see. But let's keep it in perspective. Fatalities are going to occur in horse racing whether or not we ban the whip, switch to synthetic surfaces, or run fillies against colts. You want to protest or stop watching horse racing because of an accident? That's your choice. Just stop pointing fingers without knowing all the facts.


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