May 4, 2008 § 4 Comments
I haven’t quite figured out how to describe, understand or feel about our Derby trip, but there is this: The first thing we noticed when arriving at Churchill Downs was that all the flags were at half mast, and we had no idea why. Eventually we learned that a soldier from Kentucky had been killed in Iraq earlier in the week and the governor had ordered them lowered; we had no way of knowing then that the day would be bookended by sadness. It doesn’t seem fair to focus on the end of the day; it also doesn’t seem fair not to. For starters, here are some photos.
The Twin Spires of Churchill Downs.
Newlyweds at the track.
At our seats. We were just below the fourth turn, meaning the Derby post parade trotted right by us, and the horses broke from the gate almost directly in front of us.
If you paid really, really close attention, we were actually on the TeeVee for more than a minute.
The mad dash out of the starting gate. Big Brown, the 20 in pink, is closest to us.
The top of the stretch, with Big Brown in the lead. You can also see Eight Belles making her move on Recapturetheglory.
A panoramic view from our seats.
So obviously we have been thinking about Eight Belles endlessly, talking about it and just … trying to figure it out. We can’t; I can’t. Sally Jenkins for The Washington Post has the best op-ed that I’ve seen:
There is no turning away from this fact: Eight Belles killed herself finishing second.
Thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it … Horses are being over-bred and over-raced, until their bodies cannot support their own ambitions, or those of the humans who race them.
According to several estimates, there are 1.5 career-ending breakdowns for every 1,000 racing starts in the United States. That’s an average of two per day.
Part of the trouble is the makeup of thoroughbreds themselves: They are creatures physically at war with their own nature. … Anyone who has spent time around a barn understands that horses love to run. They do it for fun.
I don’t have a fancy bow to put on this post; I wish I did. Clearly, this isn’t what we were expecting from our trip; we didn’t want to witness what’s being called the most tragic Kentucky Derby in history (nor did anyone else, I’m sure), but we did … and the thing is, that’s racing. And that’s also life — tragic, heartbreaking, ugly and unfair at times.
That doesn’t make it any easier.