Eight Belles was an amazing horse and had the potential to be the filly of the ages. Being able to hold her own against nineteen of the strongest three-year old colts out there, I was eager for her career. Unfortunately that chance was taken away from her by a freak accident. Memorials of her are all over the Internet as I soon realized as I stumbled over a blog entry dedicated to her memory. Powerful Memory - Eight Belles - Powerful Legacy.
Although breakdowns are not uncommon on tracks, rarely are they viewed by hundreds of thousands of people. The fight for improving track conditions such as switching to Polytrack (synthetic and softer dirt) from the good ol' traditional dirt to banning the plethora of drugs these horses are injected and supplemented with monthly. After this particular accident animal activists such as PETA were on all arms, harassing spectators at the Preakness and the politicians in Congress. Although I found PETA just annoying and slightly disrespectful, they were adding to the masses that demanded Congress to act.
The leaders of the NTRA had already acted before the government could get involved. Although many veterinarians have claimed that a certain type of steroid is therapeutic for horses, it has already been banned from all tracks. The consequence of not banning the drug would be the loss in a graded status. So if Churchill Downs for example did not ban the drug, the Kentucky Derby would no longer be a Grade I race. Naturally tracks obeyed this law along with the many other anti-drug laws passed. But how will this effect the horses?
"Many veterinarians, then and now, consider steroids a therapeutic medication. Dr. Larry Bramlage, a highly respected equine surgeon who is former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and was honored in 1994 with the Jockey Club Gold Medal for distinguished service, said during last year's Triple Crown that there were "some good aspects" to steroid," (ESPN: Eight Belles, one year later).
What does this mean? Will the horses truly benefit from losing the drug? It seems we will find out. This is the first Derby and Triple Crown season where the horses are relatively 'natural'.
I am not all against the use of drugs with racehorses, most of our human athletes are drugged somehow...so why not our equine stars? I do disagree with some drugs though, such as snake venom and other drugs administrated for pain killers. The thought that a horse will continue running when something is breaking or hurting it is just terrible. The horse should know when something is wrong so perhaps it can stop itself before something breaks and the animal must be put down. Jockeys too wish to see the end of pre-race pain killers because they want to have an accurate feel of the horse they are riding at speeds of near forty miles per hour. They do not want to find out about an injury the same time as the horse falls to its knees in the middle of a race; jockeys prefer to know ahead of time so the can save themselves, the fields, and the horse.
Another thing people are trying to change is switching dirt tracks to polytrack. The polytack is much deeper and softer than traditional dirt so it is better at absorbing the impact while horses run. However, the deepness also slows the horses down drastically. Personally I think switching all the tracks of America from dirt to polytrack is nearly absurd. Dirt is not the main cause of breakdowns in racing...horses have been running on it forever! I do however feel that training tracks would be better off as polytrack, so when the horses our at the farms training they build up stamina with less harm to their legs.
There are many more things being done and ideas being tossed around to ensure that a tragedy like Eight Belles will not happen again. No matter whether I like the change or not I am sure that it will be more beneficial to the horses and make the sport that much more competitive. It is all about the horses' safety after all. Because with no horses, there would be no horse racing.