Tuesday, May 06, 2008

This One's For The Girls

I was a fan of horse racing. I went to the Santa Anita Racecourse in Los Angeles a few years ago and watched some wonderful, beautiful thoroughbreds race. And the jockeys on their backs were just as amazing as the horses.

The day I visited the Santa Anita was one of the most memorable of my life. This was where Seabiscuit made his debut and amazing, unlikely comeback. I had my picture taken with the statue of this remarkable animal and with Gary Stevens, one of the winningest jockeys in the sport.

I learned a lot about horse racing. It can be an awe inspiring and breath taking sport. Watching athletic horses with talented jockeys atop them is a sight to behold.
But I don't keep up too much anymore since Gary Stevens retired from racing.

At the 2008 Kentucky Derby, Eight Belles was just the latest in a long line of tragic thoroughbred racing stories. She finished second to Big Brown. A huge feat for a filly. As the jockey was cooling her down, she broke both of her front ankles, collapsing on the track. As one television announcer touted Big Brown's win, you could see Eight Belles in the background being euthanized.

I am not a member of PETA. I am not a fanatic that believes that cows and pigs are not made to eat. After all, I love steak and bacon. But raising animals for food is one thing. And, yes, I fully realize how cruel that can be also.

But watching a horse who is bred to live to run and will do so with all of it's heart, giving his or her life for the Sport of Kings is too much to bear. I am by no stretch of the imagination an expert on race horse breeding, but I do know that selective breeding is an integral part of the sport.

The horses are bred for speed and a love to race. It's in their blood, literally. And all too often these two are at odds with each other.

So if you have a strong stomach and a heart of stone, find a video of the last race of Go For Wand. You will see a horse bred for racing with a love for the sport so great that she gave us one of the most...No the very most...heartbreaking glimpses of a horse bred to be a racehorse and one who would keep trying at all costs. After shattering one her front legs, she gallantly arose and continued to stumble to the finish line on three legs, her shattered leg grotesquely flopping around.

And then there is Ruffian, another filly with a determined desire to win. She had never lost a race in her ten starts. This beautiful filly did not know how to lose. She was and still is considered to be one of the greatest race horses to run the oval tracks.

But how would she stand up againt 'the boys'. A match race was set. Only two horses run a match race. The two competetors were Ruffian and a colt named Foolish Pleasure, winner of that year's Kentucky Derby.

As the two horses galloped down the back stretch, Ruffian pulled ahead of the colt by half a length. As 50,000 spectators watched from the stands, and another 18 million (yes 18 MILLION) watched the historic race on live television, the horrified audiance watched as Ruffian broke down. She had broken her left front ankle. A compound fracture that left the bone exposed.

On her broken ankle, her hoof flying up toward the sky with each stride, she continued the race on the exposed bone, grinding into the dirt of the race track. She was euthanized the following day after veterinarians attempted to mend her mangled ankle.

Although I enjoyed watching those special animals running for the roses attempting to win the elusive triple crown, the 2008 Kentucky Derby and other races, have taken the joy for the sport away from me. I no longer watch them.

Here's to Go For Wand, Eight Belles, and Ruffian, and all of the other thoroughbreds who were born to race, with huge hearts and an unstoppable desire to win.