I love horses, having ridden since I was young, but I have mixed feelings about horse racing. When thoroughbreds are trained and cared for properly their racing ability is astounding and quite captivating to watch. However, there are many questions about the care and management of the thoroughbreds who run the races of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes. I am certainly no expert when it comes to the world of thoroughbreds and horse racing, horse people have an inner circle and a language all their own. I do know that performance enhancing drugs are used on some thoroughbreds, I know that some are worked much harder than they should be, and I know that many are raced at too early an age. Despite their size, horses are not the hardiest of animals. They have fragile legs carrying their 1000+ lbs of weight, delicate digestive systems prone to colic, and low tolerance for stress.
Big Brown, a 3 year old bay colt, was the horse to watch at the Belmont Stakes on Saturday evening. Having already won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the spotlight was on him to complete the Triple Crown. Most people probably know by now that not only did Big Brown not win the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown but he came in dead last. The moment the race was over Big Brown's owner, trainer, excercise rider and the media started questioning "what went wrong". The horse immediately received a complete physical followed by another shortly thereafter. Nothing was wrong. Blood tests and diagnostics will be the next step but I can bet that, again, nothing will be wrong.
And this is where I start to become skeptical about horse racing.
Why must there be something wrong with Big Brown? Actually, let me take a step back. There already is something wrong with Big Brown, that "something" being a 3 inch crack in his front hoof that was sewn together with steel wire so he could race. Add to that the 95 degree weather, the 100,000 people crammed into the Belmont Stakes racing grounds and the fact that Big Brown got jostled immediately and ended up on the inside, a spot he does not favor, and I start asking, "what wasn't wrong?" Yes, he's an animal trained to race but that does not necessarily mean that he will want to race every time he's asked to do so. Big Brown's jockey, Kent Desormeaux, sensed that the horse was not having a good race and pulled up in the home stretch. Now he's under a lot of fire for not finishing strong but I applaud a jockey who can read their horse well enough to know that the horse is, for whatever reason, just not in the mood to race.