Commentary: It Just Is

It is what we owners and breeders fear the most. A call from a farm employee, trainer, or vet with that oddly familiar, awkward tone foretelling the bad news we have lost one of our horses. Or, perhaps even worse, in the moment of excitement and anticipation of competition, one of our horses goes down on the track or falls over a jump. The end result is the same. It is as if one’s heart is ripped from within, leaves this earth, or falls in tandem to the ground with it. The loss of a horse to injury, accident, illness, or to the ravages of old age is tough on all horse people. That persistent question comes back to taunt us: Why do we continue to breed, raise, and compete these fragile creatures?  

Eight Belles’ unfortunate and untimely death in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) has led to enormous criticism of our sport. It has also reminded many of us in the Thoroughbred business of our own significant losses and the pain those losses bring. On the heels of other tragedies in racing (Ruffian, Go for Wand, and Barbaro immediately come to mind) and eventing (the Rolex three-day event at the Kentucky Horse Park the weekend before the Derby was marred by the death of two horses and the serious injury of one rider), there is growing concern for the future of equine sports. Some of us feel compelled to defend equestrian sports in general and horse racing in particular. Our critics ask: How can these losses be justified?

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