Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Breakdown ... In So Many Ways

What a tragedy. I had no idea about this crazy mess until just this morning. I am so "out of the loop" being on this other continent that I didn't even know about the Run For The Roses over the past weekend.

I'm talking about Eight Belles, the filly who was euthanized after she fractured both front legs, collapsed and fell to the Churchill Downs track about a quarter-mile after she finished a courageous second to Big Brown on Saturday in the 134th Kentucky Derby.

This is so sad. I'm afraid that humans are failing these heart-filled, tender creatures just as we are doing to so many other animals. It reminds me of Barbaro's collapse after the Preakness.

Right after all of this happened with Eight Belles People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) came out with a super-silly statement that it was the jockey's merciless whipping of the horse which lead her to break her own feet. Thankfully they have come out with something more sensible (and I suspect more educated) of late.

In truth I would assume that there are many failings in this incident. The tracks are dirt and not really perfect for a creature who weighs as much as my car and is held up by four things which should probably be holding up kitchen tables. Also the big money is made by taking a young horse and training them as they are still growing... causing more stress on young bodies and making them weaker in the long run. Then there is the fact that Eight Belles is a filly basically running in a field of boys. Next up are the drugs... i.e. Lasix (spelling?) is given to the horses on race day to keep down lung hemorrhaging and allow for better breathing. And Oh... they're breeding unsound horses.

Yeah, it's probably all of those... but most likely the biggest factor is the last one. The breeding line has been closed to breeds other than thoroughbreds for some time now. This is part of the problem. The other problem is that lines which continue to produce un-solid (is that even a word? Hell it doesn't matter, it is the FEELING) horses are still bred in the interest of the almighty dollar. Bad genetics will get you every time, and I'm afraid that it is getting to Thoroughbred racing. Thoroughbreds are genetically prone to health complications, including bleeding from the lungs, low fertility, abnormally small hearts and a small hoof to body mass ratio.

One need only think about the problem of German Shepherds with hip dysplasia, or the crossed-eyes of a Siamese cat to see how consistent breeding in one group multiplies the problem. Through years of selective breeding Siamese cats are slowly losing the eye syndrome, and the breeders of German Shepherds are doing the same, but the process is slow while using only the pure breed for stock.

If the Thoroughbred industry were to re-open the bloodlines and accept back into the fold some of its genetic past by again allowing cross-breeding with Arabians, the loss of genetic diversity would be halted and the crappy in-breeding which is inevitable in such a small population will also come to a stop.

Horse racing has been proven to have a higher fatality rate than all other legal human and animal sports. The sad fact is that it is mostly unregulated. In the financial markets, that regulation can come from the federal government. In NASCAR, it can come from the sport’s single governing body, which stepped in when cars got too fast and too many drivers were killed or injured. In baseball, the commissioner has extraordinary powers to act for the sake of the game. But in horse racing, there is no central regulator. Each state has its own racing commission, there are four major auction companies, dozens of racetracks, and thousands of breeders and owners. And any real reform must overcome the opposition of all those who make lots of money from things as they are. Until that happens, there will be no changes and horses will continue to die needlessly. Simply another failing of humankind towards its animal friends.

I ran across this nice tribute video to Eight Belles and enjoyed it very much.


click clack gorilla said...

Sad sad. Even sadder considering that all of this happens to maintain a spectacle meant to entertain people in big hats. Sigh.

G in Berlin said...

I actually have already seen (on American TV) a report on this. Although some blame is ascribed to the track surface, the major blame goes to breeding. They are continuing to breed off animals with a history of leg/fetlock/ankle problems and it's reaching a place where the breed is suffering terribly. I suspect there will be more cases like this and then there will be a breed change. Perhaps they will outbreed.