Wednesday, May 7, 2008

from in defense of animals....

Tragedy renews questions about ethics of horse racing

Millions of viewers were watching as Eight Belles, the only female in a field of 20 horses running the Kentucky Derby, placed second in the race but collapsed seconds after crossing the finish line. Suffering terribly from two broken ankles, she was killed by lethal injection as the "owners" of Big Brown jubilantly and incongruously celebrated his victory on national television.

Sometime before her collapse, the exact moment has not yet been determined, Eight Belles broke one of her front-leg ankles -- and then another one. As the race neared the end, jockey Gabriel Saez whipped her without restraint. After finishing the race, she plummeted forward to the ground. Veterinarians on the scene quickly ended her life with a syringe because she could not even be taken to an ambulance on two broken ankles, with a snapped sesemoid bone and blood contamination having already set in.

Responsibility for Eight Belles' horrifying death rests with everyone involved in the horse racing industry -- from the breeders and trainers and racetrack owners to the network that aired the broadcast and every person who bet on a horse. A horse died racing simply to entertain a crowd -- much like the gladiators who fought one another to the death during the Roman Empire, or like the pit bulls conditioned to kill one another in dog fights. She died because people had bet millions of dollars on her to win, just as champion thoroughbred Barbaro died from race-related injuries after the 2006 Preakness Stakes.

One study estimates that over 800 horses die every year from injuries sustained on the track -- and this figure doesn't factor in all of the horses who are euthanized as a result of mishaps during training. These horses die because they are genetically bred for speed, not health, and forced to race because their "owners" can make millions of dollars in profits.

Not surprisingly, Eight Belle's "owners" and jockey claim to have loved the horse, and to mourn her tragic passing. But both also still intend to race horses -- putting more lives at risk for the "Sport of Kings" and all the millions of dollars they could win. As a society, we must ask ourselves: Is the price of even one more horse's life worth it?

What if it was a human who died in this race? Would people finally realize how dangerous it is to run thousand-pound animals on ankles the size of a person's at breakneck speed around a track that is as hard as concrete? The painful death of Eight Belles will hopefully make plain that it is no more justifiable for a horse to die for entertainment than it would be for a human being.