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Horse Euthanasia Raises Questions After Kentucky Derby

This year's Kentucky Derby was marred by the events following the filly Eight Belles' second place finish when she collapsed on the track and was subsequently euthanized. Two experts discuss the state of horse racing and the extremes to which owners must go to win.

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    A thrilling Run for the Roses Saturday took a horrific turn just seconds after the colt called Big Brown galloped to victory at the 134th Kentucky Derby.

    Eight Belles, a filly who placed second, ahead of eighteen other horses, collapsed soon after finishing. She had shattered both of her front ankles. Moments later, before a crowd of over 150,000, Eight Belles was euthanized.

    Churchill Downs veterinarian, Dr. Larry Bramlage, said there was no other option.

  • LARRY BRAMLAGE, Churchill Downs Veterinarian:

    She didn't have a front leg to stand on to be splinted and hauled off in the ambulance.


    Her death and the pall cast over horse racing's biggest day have sparked calls for an examination of the breeding and racing conditions for thoroughbreds. Widely-reported statistics estimate that there are one-and-a-half breakdowns for every 1,000 racing starts.

    ESPN columnist Pat Forde:

  • PAT FORDE, ESPN Columnist:

    American breeding has become more and more of a speed-based dynamic. And it's become a little bit more inbred and inbred. And they're breeding frailties and infirmities into the horses over and over again.


    Larry Jones trained Eight Belles.

  • LARRY JONES, Trained Eight Belles:

    These things are our family, you know. We have put everything into them that we have had and they have given us everything that they have. They put their life on the damn line here, and she was glad to do it.


    The breakdown of Eight Belles was not the only injury at Churchill Downs this past weekend. A four-year-old called Chelokee, racing here last year, broke a front ankle during Friday's Alysheba Stakes. Chelokee is seen here at left riderless and still running after bucking his jockey. He is given a 50 percent chance of survival.

    Chelokee's trainer also trained Barbaro, the 2006 Derby winner. Barbaro broke a hind leg right out of the gate at the Preakness just two weeks after a dominant Derby victory.

    After many attempts to repair his injury, Barbaro was euthanized in early 2007. It is now known that Eight Belles and Barbaro were directly related by bloodlines. With the injury and death of Eight Belles on Saturday, two of the last six Triple Crown races have seen breakdowns by high-profile horses.