As horse racing returns to the spotlight with the 148th Kentucky Derby, a respectable future for the sport that prioritizes equine welfare remains the longest shot of all
Moments after crossing the wire second in a field of 20, the big lanky filly Eight Belles collapsed in the dirt with two shattered front ankles. Bone pierced flesh as she struggled to stand but could not. The lather on her dark coat and the blood on her mangled legs glistened under the late afternoon sun. In the charming grandstand of Churchill Downs, a sea of rainbow costumes and made-up faces froze in horror and disbelief. Fists gripped wagering tickets and sweating cocktails while jaws hung agape beneath garish hats decorated with netting and cheap plastic flowers. Her life, just entering its third year, ended there in the dirt against the backdrop of the antique twin spires, the pain and suffering in her eyes witnessed only by those standing over her as the track vet pushed in the lethal dose to end her suffering.
Had Eight Belles survived the 2008 Kentucky Derby she would be 17 now, a horse approaching her golden years. But it was not to be, due the overwhelming stress brought upon her by what she was made to do. Such has also been the fate of countless racehorses since her. A number in the thousands to be sure though, due to a long-running lack of racing industry regulation, record keeping, transparency and willingness, the true statistic can never be known.