Tuesday, May 06, 2008
What's Wrong With These Horses?
I have been a fan of horse racing since my formative years. I remember an August day at the fence at the back of midway at the Maryland Sate Fair, watching a dozen thoroughbreds rumbling around the track, snorting and sweating and making me feel their power all the way up through my chest. It was majestic. I was awe-struck.
I watch the Triple Crown every year. I catch what I can on TV: Breeder's Cup races, and the occassional other races on ESPN's cadre of networks. I know what the sport is like. I know how the horses are bred (I don't mean the birds and bees aspects, I mean the qualities breeders look for). I look forward to the races.
But, over the last three years, I have seen too many horses injured and euthanized. Saturday's legendary performance by Eight Belles, the only filly in the race, was amazing. She truly seemed to run her heart out, only to fade at the last and lose to a mountain of a horse in Big Brown. Sadder still, as she pulled up, she apparently broke both of her foreleg ankles. She was put down within minutes of the end of the race. She follows many recent tragedies, not the least of which was the super-publicized ordeal of Barbaro a couple of years back.
So, what's happening? Well, here's my theory. Thoroughbreds are a small population of animals relatively, and champions are usually bred from other champions, so the gene pool may be reduced even more. Is it possible that these horses are being inbred to the point where they are incapable of safely performing the tasks they are bred for? I have no evidence, but, it might be possible. I don't know.
But, after the Derby this past weekend, I am really wondering if I can go through another break down. I might not watch the Preakness.