Bittersweet Saturday

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.

§ 4 Responses to Bittersweet Saturday

  • rob says:

    What was the feeling in the stands at the time? Did they know what was happening? Was there some announcement?

    I saw that op-ed and thought that it was incredible. I wonder what, if anything, can or will change. My guess is nothing, until race fans finally get sick of seeing horses die in front of them constantly. I doubt this will affect the races at all this season; or if it does, by next year people will have forgotten.

  • rob says:

    Great that you got to go, though. Does everyone dress up like that?

  • shampoo solo says:

    For the first few minutes after the race, no one knew. After about 15 minutes, we walked away from our seats and just saw people crying left and right. There was no announcement; Scott finally stopped a guy and asked him why his wife was crying, and he said, “The filly, they euthanized the filly” and I said, “That’s not even fucking funny, you asshole.” Eventually it sank in — but there was no announcement, getting information about it there at the track was impossible. We saw Kent Desourmeax (I misspelled that but am being lazy) — he rode Big Brown in the Derby — aboard his mount for the 12th race of the day in the paddock, and he just looked so somber. It was a really weird thing.

    I don’t think anything will change in racing, at least not right now. Larry Brambrage, who was the vet on NBC, who broke the news that she was killed, has been really vocal in saying the same things Scott and I are saying — that horses need more time to mature, sturdier breeding, etc. — it makes me hopeful that an insider has that POV. But changes would be a long time coming. And, in terms of racing fans getting sick of seeing horses die, I’m there. Scott’s there. We’ve sworn off the Preakness and the Belmont (we were planning to attend all three in person this year); we won’t even watch on TV. This was an incredibly difficult decision to make, because it really does seem like Big Brown is going to be the next Triple Crown horse, but it seems important to us to vote with our eyeballs. Small things are all we can do.

    LONGEST. RESPONSE. EVER.

  • […] (if you’re a glutton for punishment you can revisit my post from directly after the Derby here, the letter I wrote to the New York Times regarding it here, and my shocked post when the NYT […]

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