Column: The dirt under Eight Belles is a Triple Downer
What should be an exciting week with the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing heading to Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore has turned into brouhaha as a result of the death of Eight Belles.
Eight Belles, the first filly to run in the Kentucky Derby since 1999, broke both of her front ankles after crossing the finish line and had to be euthanized. The death of Eight Belles is a tragic loss to fans of horse racing. It would have been exciting to see if she could win either the Preakness or Belmont Stakes and prevent Big Brown from capturing the Triple Crown.
I call it brouhaha for a reason. There's a lot of hoopla going around in racing circles about the possible reasons for Eight Belles' demise. Her jockey, Gabriel Saez, is facing calls for his suspension under the premise that he whipped the horse too much. There have been accusations that trainer Larry Jones injected steroids into Eight Belles.
First, in Saez's defense, Eight Belles was a professional athlete. She took to racing like I take to ice cream. It's just natural. Her being whipped by Saez to keep her off the rail was just part of the territory. It's part of the sport, and to demand that a jockey have the awareness of knowing when to not use an effective tool is too far-fetched. Let the jockeys ride.
Eight Belles will undergo an autopsy and the results will show whether or not Jones allowed steroids to be injected into her. If so, Jones should have to pay a very steep penalty. If not, Jones should be exonerated.
The one angle that is coming out and makes the most sense is the discussion regarding racing surfaces. A large number of racetracks have gone synthetic, but the three tracks of the Triple Crown are still dirt.
There is now an on-track injury reporting system that has shown horse injuries have decreased since June 2007 with the use of synthetic tracks. If the numbers continue to decrease, the time will have to come when tradition takes a back seat to the safety of the horses. Horses are now being bred for speed and not durability, which requires an investment into their health and well-being.
I saw a tremendous race when I watched the Kentucky Derby.
Big Brown, starting in the 20th post position, had to run most of the race in the middle of the track. As he came down the stretch, he powered his way to the lead and appeared to have a lot of strength left.
I haven't been this excited about a Triple Crown possibility since Alysheba in 1987. I saw Alysheba lose his Triple Crown bid at the Belmont Stakes. The dang horse broke my heart and busted my wallet.
Big Brown impressed me. I believe he has a real shot to be the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Big Brown is also the reason I'm excited about heading to Hualapai Downs on Saturday and Sunday and on May 17-18. I'm pumped to see some live horse racing and ecstatic that the nags are coming to Kingman.
There are a lot of exciting moments in sports, and each has its own particular characteristics. Standing near the rail at the finish line of a horse race with a huge $2 bet riding is itself a moment worth treasuring.
The track here in Kingman is a dirt track. Hopefully, the only brouhaha we have here is someone hitting an astronomical trifecta.
Hopefully, it's me.