Monday, May 05, 2008

Eight Belles/Eight Bells

The national Irish is up following the catastrophe at the 2008 Kentucky Derby wherein second-place finisher Eight Belles crashed after crossing the finish line.

Eight Belles was euthanized after she shattered both front ankles as she pulled up around a quarter-mile beyond the finish line following her second-place finish behind Derby winner Big Brown. Eight Belles was the first filly to compete in the Derby since 1999.

The Clog Almanac admits to weeping upon learning that that filly was euthanized subsequent to crashing to her knees after crossing the finish line in this great national horse race, one of our nation's annual hallmarks, the Triple Crown. Thoroughbred champions display characteristics that resonate with many of our highest valued qualities and aspirations: a will to succeed and win; joy in competition; indomitable energy and resolve; and a totally committed heart. It is the animals themselves that endear so many to this "sport of kings". The Clog Almanac suspects that these same qualities made horse racing so beloved by such kings and their subjects alike, and to many of us as well. It was difficult to witness the end of such a great animal.

The death of a great filly, a horse loved by her trainer and owner is causing a national re-evaluation of this time-honored tradition - and the collective blame-game has begun:

Some question the wisdom in racing young horses.
Some question letting fillies race against colts.
Some question the wisdom of running a field of 20 horses.
Some question the so-called inbred champion blood-lines from which champions emerge.
Some question the individual track characteristics.
Some question the industry's adherence to tradition rather than embracing changes that would advance the humane safety of horses and their riders.

Clog-wife, who exercised/trained thoroughbreds for nearly a decade, and who exercised horses on many tracks ranging from the deep and fluffy Saratoga Springs to the hardscape of Churchill Downs, opined that the race-day surface of the latter was firm enough to walk across wearing high-heels. Perhaps this overly-hard surface contributed to Eight Belles' faltering and ultimate demise.

Horse-racing suffered a devastating loss when Barbaro, the first horse to be interred at Churchill Downs, suffered a similar fate and eventually, euthanization last year for a similar injury during the Derby. This industry apparently has not taken heed of the many factors that have again come to the fore in this years' tragedy. The
Clog Almanac believes the racing industry must adapt if it is to remain the "sport of kings". We are not sure if synthetic tracks are the only answer - breeding and training also are extremely important aspects of the solution as well.

The Kentucky Derby website has precious little to say (as of 5/5/08) about the controversies and the sadness following the demise of Eight Belles. One would think that such lucrative concerns would be more interested in the long-term sustainability (read
economic and social acceptance) of such a franchise.

One wonders what the patrons at the pub Eight Belles, in Bletchley, Buckinghamshire, said when they learned a great horse sharing the name of their local gathering place had been put down?

"Eight bells" in the language of seamen, has a meaning as well: Eight Bells signals the end of a watch. In addition, sixteen bells are rung at new year: Eight bells for the previous year, and eight bells for the New Year. We suggest that the watch of the horse-racing industry has just begun. Let's not see a repeat of this year's Kentucky Derby. Perhaps in this next year, we will see changes that protect the wonderful creatures of a national icon - the great thoroughbreds that compete in the great horse-races that are part of our national conscience.

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