Monday, May 5, 2008

Eight Belles

When I started looking at the field for the Derby, I immediately admired the spirit and attitude displayed by the three year old filly, Eight Belles. Watching the videos of her other races it was immediately obvious that she never gave up, and loved what she did.

Her amazonian stature at seventeen hands made me think she might just be able to keep up with the boys, and her drive to win made me think, given the right jockey, she might just cross that finish line first.

Unfortunately, in my personal opinion, her jockey screwed up.

If you watched, you'll know that early on Eight Belles settled in behind the pace-setters and stuck to them like a burr. Her jockey held her up there, and that saved some of her energy for the end of the race. Fine.

Problem is, if you watch that filly, you can see that she does not like to lose. The jockey made an error in judgment on when to turn her loose and instead of battling it out with Big Brown (another post on him later) at her top speed, she was still gaining momentum coming up on the finish line.

Before the Derby, they showed some footage of Eight Belles and her trainer, Larry Jones. They'd interviewed him, and he'd gone on to exercise the filly without taking off his mic. It was clear by the way he talked to her that he had a good working relationship with the horse, and it was also clear that she didn't want to stop running. The commentary of "Larry to Eight Belles, pull up," "any time now," illustrated well how much she just wanted to go and the patience her trainer had with her. He never yanked on her head to slow her down, just gave her the cues and waited for her to listen.

Her jockey wasn't so wise in my opinion. When they showed the best footage they had of Eight Belles galloping out after the race, I could see her still fighting to go. I also saw the jockey haul on her head, her head came up, she bobbled, the camera angle lost her as it followed Big Brown, but her shadow on the track was still visible.

That first bobble is when I think she broke the first ankle, and I think it was because she stiff-legged, locking the joints on her leg to try to slow down and get the pressure off when the jockey yanked on her mouth. That shadow came back up from the stumble, and immediately went asshole over teakettle, with a small human shadow pulling a superman move out in front of it.

I think, in my own personal opinion (and I've been looking for an official statement or more experienced opinion to confirm or shoot mine down, and haven't found any) that the broken legs were caused by the jockey yanking on her head. The first one happened right then, and the second happened when she came back up from the bobble that the first one caused with all of her weight on one leg.

I think that jockey should have known his mount a lot better than that.

Now, don't get me wrong here folks. I understand all too well that the Thoroughbred breeding programs have developed a really fast horse, that runs on brittle twigs for legs. All horse legs are vulnerable to a myriad of injuries, Thoroughbreds in particular have fine bone structure that makes them particularly susceptible to breaking those delicate legs. Witness Barbaro, a single wrong step that wasn't even noticeable enough to see on the infinite replays broke his leg.


I think that the fractures suffered by Eight Belles could have been avoided. Human error killed that fantastic horse. Again, my personal opinion, and if you disagree with me, well, that's your option.