Here's a statement of fact: I will never watch a horse race again. I did not see this year's Kentucky Derby and am glad that I didn't. The last race I watched was the Preakness in 2006, the race that was the unnecessary start to the finish of Barbaro's life.
Eight Belles should be alive today. In a move surely inspired by her last win, the first filly to win the Martha Washington Stakes, her owner pulled her from her next race, a filly's race, just two days before the derby and put her in the big race, up against the big boys. For want of what to prove?
Through the bodies of the 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby this year, runs the same blood. Virtually every horse in that race is a decedent of the great Native Dance, a horse defeated only one time, by a nose and two faults made against him. Forever the debatable stuff of races. Native Dancer won 21 of his 22 starts, putting him in the same racing echelon as Man o' War and Whirlaway, which translates to fast. Sadly, most thoroughbreds racing today can trace their lineage to Native Dancer. In fact, the past 14 Kentucky Derby winners are descendants of Native Dancer. It's called over-breeding and the goal is more speed. That goal is fueled by greed. In opposition to his amazing speed, Native Dancer had weak ankles and that weakness has been passed on to the multitude of his offspring. What we're looking at now is faster horses running on weaker legs. Eight Belles was not the only descendent of Native Dancer euthanized at Churchill Downs on May 3rd.
Eight Belles was euthanized for the same injury that befell Barbaro, only doubled. I've read countless articles about that race since that day. I've read sickening quotes along the lines of her Eight Belles being put down out of mercy for her life. And I've thrown the newspaper across the room because I wondered where the mercy was when her life was her own. I've also read that she died doing what she loved. Not true. She did not die doing what she loved, she had to be euthanized because she was pushed so hard that it literally broke her. Eight Belles trainer, J. Larry Jones, said that the filly put her life on the line. Did she? I don't think so. Her life was put on the line, but the action was not her own. The willingness, yes, but the decision? No. Her owner and her trainer did that to her. Washington Post sportswriter Sally Jenkens wrote that thoroughbred horses have become too strong with bones too lightweight: She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles. Jenkins went on to say that Thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis. Yes, yes it is.
In nautical terms, Eight Bells signals the end of a four-hour watch. It's also a nautical euphemism for the death of a sailor: his watch is over, eternally. Spot-on foreshadowing with the name, and profoundly fitting.