164,868 in the Stands at the Kentucky Derby (First Leg of the Triple Crown)

164,868 in the Stands at the Kentucky Derby (First Leg of the Triple Crown)

Yes, I watched it.  I swore I wouldn’t this year.  After all, the number of injuries and euthanizing that goes on in the weeks before the Derby (several races are run) is a tragic reminder of what way-too-young Thoroughbreds are put through even before the world-famous Derby is run.  To run this year, 35,000 Thoroughbred foals were born three years ago  (only 19 made it to the Derby:  there was one scratch but 20 ran) so, once you calculate those put in claiming races (not good enough); those put in second- and third-class races (…and then put in claiming races), you must conclude that a great percentage end up either in slaughter or sold to backyard breeders who, at some point, will make horsemeat out of a potential athlete.  Before now, I’d always paid little attention to the fashion aspect of the Derby (a tradition based on the British Derby in which outlandish hats and frocks became a staple), but today I thought about the–what?–frivolity of it all; the sheer silliness of people-who-have-so-much-money-they-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-it-all and the whole can of worms wrapped up in a blanket of roses (which, let’s face it, probably weighs much too heavy on the winning horse).  They even had a rapper song with Sesame-Street-type puppet horses rapping along.  I mean, really…if you’re going to continue to present yourself to the public as one of the most revered institutions in US history, do you really have to lower yourself to, um, such lows?

What I find most disturbing is that the announcers make it all about the dreams and ambitions of the trainers, owners and jockeys–as if the horses are there only by coincidence.  This year, it was a female trainer who’d overcome a  heart condition; a 23-year-old female jockey, who, frankly, when I saw how viciously she addressed her mount in a pre-training episode, thought she got what she deserved (which was nothing); a billionaire who had the manners of the hamburger diner guys on a classic episode of SNL in the 70s (nouveau riche, anyone?).  Calvin Borel (Bo-rail, as he’s called) and the other jockeys interviewed at least showed some respect for the horses they were about to ride to infamy or glory…and of course, the jockey who sensed from the gate-break that his mount had hurt himself and took him out of the race immediately showed some attention to these half-a-million animals which had nothing to do with their cost-value ratio.

I think I watched it  because in prior years, I have, with the methods of John Frawley, been able to pick the winner, or at least one of the three.  I never bet, of course, because I am much too practical for such things (I never even buy lottery tickets:   it’s all a mug’s game, betting and gaming, and all that sort of thing).  What I have never been able to predict, though, is which horse will be injured or injured so badly, he has to be euthanized.  Eight Belles was the famous example, but there are so many others in the pre-Derby races (which go on for at least a month prior) that we never hear about.  That year, a horse with the ridiculous name of Strawberry Surprise or something like that was euthanized on the very track, so bad were her injuries, on the Tuesday before the Derby:  Tuesday’s Horse, as you might call her.  Yet this year, it was announced that there had never been more onsite attendees at the Derby; the previous years’ average was 153,000.

A Thoroughbred is bred for speed, but a Thoroughbred under the age of maturity (which, for argument’s sake, we shall call five or six years old) is more likely to injure himself or blow his lung capacity (which is why they’re given drugs to prevent that before the race) than I am to buy a lottery ticket.  A horse puts anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 lbs of pressure on ankles the size of a teacup while he’s moving at nearly 35 miles an hour, so the probability of injury in a young horse (too young to race) whose bones are not yet fully formed are…well, go ahead, you fix the odds:  and I’ll bet you 100 to one.

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