Oh the fairgrounds were crowded, and Stewball was there
But the betting was heavy on the bay and the mare
As they were approaching, about half way around
The gray mare she stumbled and fell to the ground
And away out yonder, ahead of them all
Came a-prancing and a-dancing, my noble Stewball
In the 70's, my wife and I accompanied my brother to the race track. He had a great love for 'playing the ponies'. It was a love I didn't particularly share, but to enjoy some quality time with him in an activity he dearly enjoyed, we went along. It was a beautiful afternoon.
In the seventh race at Hollywood Park that day, I placed a $2.00-to-win bet on a 12-1 beauty named Baghdad Lady. And as they rounded the last turn into the home stretch, there she was, comfortably out front leading the pack. The excitement of the announcer's voice grew as the horses approached the finish line yet, strangely, Baghdad Lady--leader of the field--never got another call down the stretch. Nary a mention. How could that be for one who was so in command of that race?
The reason soon became obvious to all of us. As the horses crossed the finish line, as we glanced down to the home stretch in front of our grandstand wondering what had become of our bet, we saw her. There, with leg in pieces and dangling was the most horrific sight. Baghdad Lady had suffered a thoroughbred's worst nightmare. She had "broken down" as they say.
That was the last time my wife and I attended the horse races. And that was the day beautiful Baghdad Lady, a strong and vibrant creature, bred for speed atop the spindliest of legs, died. We learned this in a brief mention in the following day's Sports Page.
And then came Barbaro in 2006 with all the promise of a Triple Crown winner who tried so valiantly, yet failed to live up to the "kings" of the sport's expectations.
Yesterday's Kentucky Derby served to remind us once more of the victims of this "kingly" sport.
While magnificent images of beautiful creatures behind white fences stretching for miles around green pastures is a glorious sight, it's the vision for kings. What it really is, is just another industry for the amusement of the masses and their masters. My apologies if I offend anyone who is a fan of this "sport," but my sensibilities for these magnificent beasts bred to amuse us are too strong to withstand what the "Sport of Kings" demands.
As with Barbaro's demise, yesterday's Derby was yet another reminder of what happens to some of the noblest beasts on Earth who are bred for our sheer pleasure with the expectation to perform, often beyond their capabilities.
Yesterday, Eight Belles, a filly, a "girl" who chased the eventual male victor to the finish line, gave her best trying to do all we expected of her. Sadly, her spindly ankles failed her. But she died trying her best to please us.
After Barbaro's demise during the 2006 Preakness, an AP story said, "there wasn't much enthusiasm for the finish, especially with many of the fans in tears." I expect more tears were shed yesterday. But fear not -- not enough tears to stop the Preakness, the Belmont and the same trifecta next year and the year after that, ad infinitum.
Horses are sentient beings. Do you wonder at Eight Belles' stable mates curious as to her eternal hereafter absence after yesterday's tragedy? As she lay confined to the track where she had fallen, trying desperately to right herself while being suppressed by handlers, Eight Belles unsuspectingly entered what I can only hope are better pastures without the white fences in which to forever frolic. At least that is my dream for her. Because sometimes the demands of kings are beyond even the noblest efforts of the most magnificent of "beasts."