Flowers surround the Eight Belles memorial plaque in the gardens of the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Flowers surround the Eight Belles memorial plaque in the gardens of the Kentucky Derby Museum.

Churchill Downs

Eight Belles Honored in Public Memorial

The fallen filly was honored by more than 200 people Sept. 7 at Churchill Downs.

With more than 200 people in attendance, this year’s Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) runner-up Eight Belles was memorialized in a public ceremony in the garden of the Kentucky Derby Museum Sept. 7.

At the conclusion of the emotional ceremony, which included heartfelt remarks by Eight Belles’ trainer Larry Jones and owner Rick Porter, a plaque was unveiled honoring the fallen filly. The plaque is mounted under a magnolia tree in the garden, where her remains have been interred.

Among those in attendance were Porter’s wife, Betsy, and representatives of Serengeti Stables and Three Chimneys Farm, who were the breeders of Eight Belles. In opening remarks made by Kentucky Derby Museum executive director Lynn Ashton, it was announced that people from as far away as Colorado, New York and Florida had come to pay their respects to the daughter of Unbridled's Song, who broke down while galloping out after the Kentucky Derby and was euthanized on the Churchill Downs racetrack minutes later.

Churchill Downs president Steve Sexton also addressed the public, announcing that a stakes race would be named in honor of Eight Belles on the undercard of the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

The most poignant moments of the ceremony came from Jones, who received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd. Fighting back tears throughout his remarks, Jones talked about the remarkable courage and personality of Eight Belles, his devastation in the moments after he learned of her death and the aftermath of May 3.

“I was the lucky one who got to see her come into the barn as a long-legged, gangly 2-year-old filly and was also the one who was lucky enough to see her turn into a lovely, gallant and courageous racehorse,” Jones said. “My memories of her on the day (of the Derby) is that she had so much poise. She knew everyone was here for her and she just decided that with 150,000 people looking, she felt she owed it to every one of them to make eye contact. I think people were mesmerized by her.

“She put in such a gallant effort that day and we couldn’t have been more proud of her efforts, and more devastated at what happened.

“She stole a piece of my heart, and when she fell that day she ripped a big piece of my heart right out. But I’m so glad she found her resting place right here, in this fabulous garden of Churchill Downs.”

Jones and Porter also said Eight Belles’ death was not in vain. They spoke of how the accident and its aftermath were the vehicle for the recent medication and equipment changes that have been adopted by the Thoroughbred racing industry.

“I want to express my gratitude for the honor for racing Eight Belles. She was a courageous, kind and very talented racehorse,” said Porter, who raced Eight Belles in the name of Fox Hill Farm. “I’m convinced that her tragic accident is a possible catalyst for the several crisis-level changes needed in Thoroughbred horse racing. If her death can bring about much-needed rules eliminating unnecessary medication and the implementation of a racing commission to whom all of us will be accountable, then Eight Belles will not have died in vain.”

Bred in Kentucky and out of the Dixieland Band mare Away, Eight Belles finished her career with a 5-3-1 record from 10 starts and earned $708,650. Among her wins were the Honeybee (gr. III) and Fantasy Stakes (gr. II), both at Oaklawn Park.