SBD/Issue 156/Leagues & Governing Bodies

Euthanizing Of Eight Belles Overshadows Big Brown's Derby Win

Euthanizing Of Eight Belles
Mars Kentucky Derby
The “worst part of horse racing was displayed” during Saturday’s 134th Kentucky Derby, as filly Eight Belles was “put down on the track shortly after finishing second,” according to Larry Stewart of the L.A. TIMES. Eight Belles suffered two compound fractured ankles, and on-call veterinarian Dr. Larry Bramlage said that “nothing could be done to save the horse.” Shortly after the equine ambulance arrived, “protective screens were brought out to block the view of what was about to take place and Eight Belles was euthanized.” The scene was “reminiscent of what happened” at the Breeders’ Cup at Monmouth Park in October when horse George Washington "had to be euthanized on the track" (L.A. TIMES, 5/4). Churchill Downs officials said that Eight Belles’ death was the “first fatality in the Derby in modern times.” Bramlage: “It was something I wouldn’t have even considered would have happened. I would have had no clue that anything was going wrong.” Eight Belles trainer Larry Jones: “There was no way to save her. She couldn’t even stand. There was no way to even think about trying to save her” (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 5/4). More Jones: “We’re used to trying to save them now. But when I did see her, there was no doubt it had to be done” (Baltimore SUN, 5/4).

TROUBLE FOR RACING? In Louisville, Eric Crawford wrote Big Brown, who won the Kentucky Derby, “might be the super horse the sport has been waiting for. But the death of Eight Belles tolls more trouble for horse racing.” Shortly after the event, the “most visible fatality in the history of the Kentucky Derby already was eclipsing the mere result of the race.” Racing is “seeing far too much of this. And the problem is that it’s tough to have fond feelings for any sports event that ends in death” (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 5/4). In N.Y., Ray Kerrison wrote for the "second time in two years, the sweet, magical appeal of racing was blown apart." Eight Belles’ death "triggered all the sad and bitter memories of Barbaro’s breakdown" during the Preakness Stakes in '06 (N.Y. POST, 5/4). ESPN’s Randy Moss said, “What happened to Eight Belles is not going to get as much attention as what happened to Barbaro a couple of years ago because she’s not a Kentucky Derby winner. But I think it’s the most tragic event in the 134-year history of the Derby” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 5/3).

CENTER STAGE: In Louisville, Rick Bozich writes the breakdowns of both Eight Belles and Barbaro "have occurred in two of the highest-visibility moments in a sport that registers on the national radar three or four days a year." Bozich: "That’s hardly the ideal way to grow your fan base -- or please your customers while competing in a crowded gaming market” (Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 5/5).’s Pat Forde wrote in horse racing “good news never seems able to outrun the bad news.” For every new fan attracted to the sport by Big Brown’s victory, “two might be lost because of Eight Belles’ awful ending.” There “isn’t a huge appetite in this country for sports in which animal death is a routine part of the equation. It’s a tired and troubling part of the racing script” (, 5/4). Sacramento Bee columnist Marcos Breton: "The sad thing is the casual fan might just tune in to this one race and have a really bad impression on the sport" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/4). In N.Y., Jim Squires: “Unless the thoroughbred industry stops demoralizing TV audiences with tragic endings to its most important and widely watched races, it will continue to make public enemies and slide further into oblivion” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/5). 

ENOUGH BEING DONE? In Toronto, Garth Woolsey writes under the header, “Eight Belles Tolls For The Sport Of Kings.” Woolsey: “Were her injures avoidable?” Is the racing industry “doing enough to prevent such heart-breaking outcomes?” Horses “breaking down and being dispatched in public, all would agree, is not good for racing in general” (TORONTO STAR, 5/5). USA TODAY's Mike Lopresti writes in public perception, horse racing “sometimes finds itself on a thin line between competition and exploitation.” The sport “need not be condemned. It is not going away. But some soul-searching is in order” (USA TODAY, 5/5). USA TODAY’s Weir & Cherner wrote, “Can we have a big-time race day without seeing a valiant four-legged competitor crippled and condemned to death?” The “death rate of top [thoroughbreds] does have to make one wonder why this sport seemingly never gets a review from the legal system, given how many of its superstars have gone straight from the finish line to the burial ground” (, 5/4).’s Gregg Doyel wrote if the people who “allegedly love horses and horse racing the most can’t be bothered with the destruction of a 3-year-old filly right before their eyes, what kind of sport is this?” (, 5/4).

PART OF THE SPORT? Jones this morning appeared on NBC’s “Today” show, where he discussed the injury rate among horses. Jones: “This sport is not that cruel.” NBC's Matt Lauer asked, “I just want to make sure I understand the context you just put that: you said this sport is not that cruel. ... Are you suggesting there is some cruelty?” Jones: “No, what I’m saying is the horses are more cruel to themselves in the wild or in everyday life than this sport is to them.” Following the report, Lauer told NBC’s Meredith Vieira he was watching the race with his children. Lauer: “How do you explain this, that this great race and everybody’s having a good time, then all of a sudden, tragedy?” Vieira: “That’s what everybody is going to remember from the Kentucky Derby.” Lauer: “It’s been horrible” (“Today,” NBC, 5/5). N.Y. Daily News columnist Mike Lupica: “Tragically, it became an unbelievably dramatic sports event and it’s always been dangerous.” YES Network’s Michael Kay: “It doesn’t make it right, it doesn’t make it acceptable, but that is part of the sport” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 5/4).

Writers Feel Breeders Are To Blame For
Increasing Number Of Breakdowns At Races
BREEDING PROBLEMS: In DC, Andrew Beyer writes Eight Belles is a “tragic manifestation of a problem that is more pronounced every year. America's breeding industry is producing increasingly fragile thoroughbreds. They may not break down, but they have shorter and shorter racing careers before going to stud to beget even more fragile offspring” (WASHINGTON POST, 5/5). The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Jon Weinbach writes if breeders and owners “continue to tap this bloodline at the same rate, some say Saturday’s grim spectacle is likely to be repeated” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 5/5). In DC, Sally Jenkins wrote under the header, “Is Horse Racing Breeding Itself To Death?” Jenkins: “Thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it” (WASHINGTON POST, 5/4). The N.Y Daily News' Lupica: "This will touch off a conversation about 'faster stronger' with horse races" ("The Sports Reporters," ESPN, 5/4).

SYNTHETIC SURFACE: In Hartford, Jeff Jacobs noted some observers will say Eight Belles’ death “bolsters the argument that every track should have synthetic surface.” Jones: “We’re going to be criticized and second-guessed. I say it wasn’t the race. She never got bumped. She passed with flying colors. She could have done this racing against Shetland ponies” (HARTFORD COURANT, 5/4). Churchill Downs VP/Communications John Asher: “We like the racetrack we have right now. We’re studying the synthetic surfaces, but we want to see data for four or five years because the technology is evolving all the time” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/5). Jones added, "The issues with the synthetic track are that they are supposed to be safer and they’re having some proof they are somewhat safer, but the track on Saturday was as good as any racetrack you could ever hope to race on” ("Today," NBC, 5/5). Trainer Nick Zito said, “The track is good. It wasn’t the track.” However, Colonel John trainer Eoin Harty said Eight Belles’ death “definitely makes the case for synthetic tracks”(Louisville COURIER-JOURNAL, 5/4). Big Brown trainer Rick Dutrow said, “I’m not a Polytrack fan at all. It might be good for bones, but not for tendons or ligaments” (Baltimore SUN, 5/5).

PETA: PETA spokesperson Kathy Guillermo said that the group is “calling for a ban on race training for horses younger than 3 and the mandatory use of synthetic track surfaces, considered by many to be safer” (NEWSDAY, 5/5). In a USA TODAY cover story, Halladay & Cherner write PETA also sent a letter to U.S. Sen. and Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (D-IL) asking her to “condemn horseracing and chiding her for placing a bet on Eight Belles.” PETA wrote in its letter to Clinton, “I regret to say that your public support of horse racing -- and specifically betting on Eight Belles -- makes you culpable in her destruction. We cannot call ourselves a civilized nation if we allow any living being to endure such abuse.” PETA also wants Eight Belles jockey Gabriel Saez “suspended for what it says was excessive whipping” (USA TODAY, 5/5).

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