Part of the Bay Area News Group

Was Eight Belles’ death at Kentucky Derby due to drugs, inhumane practices?

By Gary Bogue
Tuesday, May 6th, 2008 at 7:20 am in Horse Racing, Horses.

The ASPCA issued the following statement on the tragic death of a racehorse — Eight Belles — at the 2008 Kentucky Derby last weekend:

“The fragile nature of thoroughbred racehorses and the stress and rigors that the industry subjects on these animals is loudly evidenced in the tragic death of Eight Belles who, as we saw, was euthanized after both of her front ankles collapsed just after coming in second at the Kentucky Derby,” said ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres.

Sayres continued:
“The sport of horse racing is no different than other forms of entertainment where animals are forced to perform, often times in stressful and inhumane conditions. These include being raced too young before reaching physical maturity, being raced excessively, being forced to run on hard or slippery surfaces, or being injected with drugs to enhance performance.”

Almost all racing jurisdictions — New York being one exception — now allow potent anti-inflammatory analgesic drugs to be administered to injured and lame horses to keep them racing in spite of chronic and painful injuries. This ultimate abuse nearly always aggravates injuries. Often an injured leg shatters under the stress of racing, leading to horses becoming crippled and destroyed.

Even less fortunate than the horses who are humanely destroyed are those who are less severely injured but forced, through the use of “legalized” drugs, to continue their racing careers.

While there is no evidence that Eight Belles was the victim of abuse, the fact remains that she was subject to compete in a sport known for its inhumane tactics. The ASPCA is opposed to any use of animals for the purpose of entertainment if it involves inhumane practices.

Gary responds:
I have a suggestion. Two things that should IMMEDIATELY be changed across the board in the “sport” of thoroughbred racing.

1. Stop allowing the use of “potent anti-inflammatory analgesic drugs” on race day. If these thoroughbred racehorses have injuries or pain that would normally keep them from racing — then don’t race them.

2. Jockeys should not be allowed to whip the horses. Ever. /Gary

[You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.]

7 Responses to “Was Eight Belles’ death at Kentucky Derby due to drugs, inhumane practices?”

  1. Cathy Says:

    Gary, I agree with you. The racing industry needs to look at the age of these grand animals. They should not be racing or riding a 2 year old. Period. Eight Belles was huge, 17hh at reports. A horse that size in the “real world” is usually given plenty of time to mature before any weight is placed on her back and certainly before any real work is asked of them. It is sad, but until they stop advocating the young starts of these animals, this won’t stop. They are just not ready.

  2. Bridgette Says:

    I was told that breeding practises are designed to create racehorses that have thinner/finer legs – thereby making them faster, but ultimately more fragile. Shame on us…

  3. Ann Says:

    2. Jockeys should not be allowed to whip the horses. Ever.
    I would have to disagree with this. One of the things a jockey does is act as navigator for his partner. He can anticipate that a particular direction is dangerous (too crowded, too sharp of a turn, etc) and let his horse know the best route to follow. In the heat of the battle however, these magnificent animals are often so in-the-zone that all the tugging on reins in the world isn’t going to get their attention. Have whip’s been abused? Yes and there should be a zero tolerance policy for such abuse. But I would suggest that a 95lb jockey with a riding crop isn’t going to inflict that much damage on a horse and proper use of the crop will save lives (both equine and human).

  4. Susan Says:

    The combination of horses too young and being bred with larger bodies and thinner legs has been lethal to race horses. Even if they survive on the track, they tend to break down more easily off the track. I think we can get just as much enjoyment out of watching more mature horses race.

  5. JIm Says:

    Another thing that needs close examination is the composition of the track. The newer turf that California is requiring now, which has been used in Europe for some time, apparently reduces the incidence of injury by a very large percentage. If that is the case, it should be mandatory, particularly if you’re running young horses. All of the hemming and hawing you hear from racing associations on this issue are based on one thing and one thing only, $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$.

  6. Steve Says:

    I found the comments of Mr. Sayers to be, for the most part, outrageous and self-serving. Medication rules in horse racing are becoming more and more stringent and unforgiving with each passing year. And lab tests performed after each and every race that’s run in the US on participating racehorses are now detecting even the most minute traces of the more sophisticated drugs available for use. In other words, if you abuse (cheat) you will be caught and severely punished. The most common anti-inflammatory allowed is Bute (Butazolidin), which is basically an aspirin-type medication. It will not mask any serious injuries to the point where the horse could pass the pre-race examination by the attending vet or get by the pre-race warmups given by the jockey. Remember, if a horse breaks down in a race, the rider’s life is also in serious jeopardy. As a result, riders are very careful before each race to make sure their horse feels loose and sound underneath him or her. As for the subject of inhumaneness in Thoroughbred horse racing, I invite anyone to take any one of the many tours offered by your local racetrack (Golden Gate Fields?) through the barn areas that house the many horses, riders, grooms, and trainers that are associated with this sport. I believe you’ll be amazed at the care and love that these horses receive 24/7. Finally, the whip issue. The whip is generally only used during the last 10 to 15 seconds of a race, and as an encouragement for the horse to continue his efforts. Just as there’s a difference between hitting and spanking your child, there’s also a big difference between using the whip to encourage or to abuse. The local racing stewards who govern the sport watch closely to make sure that all whip rules are strictly enforced. I also recommend reading the following regarding the subject of whips and spurs with horses. By the way, horses aren’t being bred for thinner legs, they’re being bred more nowadays for speed (speed sires) as opposed for stamina. Faster horses (sprinters) just by their nature tend to be more susceptible to injuries.

  7. Elizabeth M. Boggs Says:

    As far as horse racing is concerned, I think some of the problem lays in the cash-strapped 1980’s; the industry suffered financial losses and farms had to sell off much of their best stock in order to keep afloat. The horses that were sold were from the older, more established bloodlines and had the strength todays’ horses don’t. These horses had bloodlines that were traced to the best foundation stock America had to offer. When these horses were sold off, there were few good replacements in the breeding barn. The stock that was used was far inferior to what had once been used to produce the finest racehorses in the world. We are seeing the result of such a tragic loss in good, solid breeding stock, in that more horses are breaking down on the track, there are more horses laming up with more problems, more often, and a greater degree than 30 years ago. We lost our breeding edge when those horses were sold to (foreign) countries. Kauai King, the 1960’s-era Kentucky Derby winner, was sold to a Japanese concern and took stud there in the 1980’s. Ferdinand, the 1985 Kentucky Derby winner, was butchered for human consumption by his (new) owner in the late 1980’s, when the horse’s value went unnoticed. It is very uncertain IF the United States prime Thoroughbred breeding center will ever recover in terms of superior horse flesh after such a massive sell-out of great breeding stock in those troubled times. The horses produced today possess none of the great qualities, integrity, strength of constitution, or endurance of their predecessors. In my honest opinion, I fear that loss in the industry will continue to produce horses with only a memory of what it had once been to have produced that winning edge.

Leave a Reply