Every May, I get jazzed up about the Kentucky Derby. I watch it religiously every year, and for myself and my family, it’s the equivalent of the Super Bowl. Bets are placed, smack is talked, and we all pine for the day when we will get to Churchill Downs to watch it in person.
But there is an ugly truth behind thoroughbred racing. The truth behind the mint juleps and the colorful silks and big hats. It’s an industry that celebrates speed over durability, and money over morals. (Yes, that may be a sweeping generalization, my bad). The stunning equine athletes that we love to root for in their 2 minutes of fame are victims to these truths, as thoroughbred breeders care more about their pocketbooks than the integrity of the breed. Eight Belles and Barbaro were just two of these victims.
The horses that often make it to the big races look like greyhounds- long, sleek, and standing on spindly legs. Gone is the bone you see in the racehorses of yesteryear, the strong legs to carry them the distance needed to compete in the Triple Crown. I will never forget seeing Big Brown come onto the track. He looked like a winner, a lion amongst cats, but even he was unsuccessful, this time to the practice of trading medication for soundness.
For some racehorses, if they are lucky, they will be too slow to race competitively and after a few starts (or none) be ‘retired’ to live happy lives as sport horses in various other disciplines. Thank goodness the adoption of ex-racers has become popular, and that the burgeoning OTTB community is there to promote these athletes in their new homes. Those individuals are to be applauded for taking the time to rehabilitate those animals, and invest their time, money, and effort into making them successful again. Because the not so lucky ones will end their careers as a bad statistic, a brilliant flash of talent that their bodies could not keep up with.
So as much as I love watching the Triple Crown every year, a part of me hates it. For 2 minutes, I force myself to tune out what I know about breeding and everything else about horses. I try to enjoy this traditional American pastime as any other non-equestrian views it, with a mint julep in my hand, and a bet in the back of my mind.
If you are interested in reading more about bloodlines and soundness in thoroughbred racing, read here.