Eight Belles

Reprinted from Pedlines 137, May 2008

Ellen Parker

Even if Big Brown wins the Triple Crown – and with his pedigree he just might – the image of Eight Belles prostrate on the racetrack will be our lone memory of this seasons’ classics.

Like Pine Island before her, x3 Raise a Native creates nothing but tragedy.  There is not a good thing about it and there is no excuse for it.

Dr. Larry Bramlage says he seldom sees injuries like this. Well, he better get used to it, because sales catalogues are full of this horrible cross.

Breeders are either oblivious or think it’s inevitable.  But what is really inevitable is that every time a Barbaro grinds a limb to a pulp, every time a Pine Island dies at the Breeders’ Cup, every time an Eight Belles’ death destroys the joy of a Kentucky Derby, we lose another chunk of what little fan base we have left.  And no, Polytrack is not going to fix it!

Who in the name of heaven wants to go see this in person?  We’ve been going to the races since 1957 and don’t even want to see it on television, much less played out against the backdrop of a classic race or the Breeders’ Cup.  Further, there is no excuse for it.

People who damn well ought to know better are breeding these horses.  These are not stupid people.  They know Raise a Native only ran four times, Danzig only three, that Reviewer throws soft bone and that inbreeding to Mr. Prospector and/or Storm Cat is risky.  They know that the Barbaro mating created a disaster, yet it was repeated twice more.  One can only conclude that they simply do not care.

We are sick to death of seeing this.  The gene pool grows  more narrow with every passing year, horses start fewer and fewer times and we lose more of them before their time.  Half the time we barely remember who the new stallions are at stud, so seldom did we see them.

Trying to mate mares has become a nightmare.  Everywhere we look, horses are bred on a Northern Dancer/Raise a Native theme – various variations but they are pretty much all the same.  It is boring, tiresome and dangerous.

Nevertheless, Eight Belles’ death does not have to be in vain.  If breeders take a long, hard look at her pedigree and see that tossing those kind of dice always spell ‘bust’, then her death will have meant something.  Only if breeders do not pay attention will she have died in vain.  We pray with all our hearts that that does not happen.

Subsequent to the appearance of this issue writer Bill Nack, retired from Sports Illustrated after an award winning career, spoke at some length with Ellen and wrote an extensive and highly praised article for the espn website.  It can be found at the following location and is a highly recommended extension of the above.