Several people have asked me if I thought there would be litigation over the death of Eight Belles after her second place finish at the 2008 Kentucky Derby on May 3. Although animal rights activists staged a protest at the office of the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority after the filly’s death, I don’t think there will be any litigation.
The filly’s death did not seem to be caused by the negligence or wrongdoing of any person or entity.
What did cause Eight Belles to break both front ankles? According to the Wall Street Journal, Eight Belles’ breakdown may have arisen from a variety of factors such as genetics, track surface, training methods, or medications. Interestingly, Eight Belles and 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro were both descendants of Northern Dancer, a 1950s Thoroughbred whose racing career was cut short by leg injuries.
What is being done in the horse racing industry to prevent future breakdowns? The Welfare and Safety of the Racehorse Summit, which first convened in 2006 after Barbaro’s breakdown in the Preakness, met again in Lexington March 17-18, 2008. The Summit promulgated its recommendations to improve racehorse welfare, and those recommendations addressed the following issues:
- Track Surfaces–including research and development of synthetic (Polytrack) surfaces
- Catastrophic injuries
- Racing Medication & Drug Testing Laboratories
- Education–focusing on training methods
- Regulation–to establish uniform regulation of medication and integrity issues
- Solutions for unwanted Thoroughbreds
- Promote genetic diversity of the Thoroughbred
If the Summit’s recommendations are implemented, huge positive changes in the Thoroughbred racing industry could be realized. However, according to Dan Metzger, the President of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association, "miracles will not happen overnight."