Here at Deadspin, we take a wait-and-see approach to covering horse racing. Every year, someone will pitch a Kentucky Derby preview and either get laughed out of the writer’s room or ignored. The only reason we wrote about the 2022 iteration was because long shot Rich Strike won at 80-1, and his trainer got canceled in less than a week after the win.
Seven horses are dead
Well, there wasn’t a feel-good story gone south this year, as the main takeaway from the Derby was the amount of animals put down in recent days. The number stood at five entering Saturday, and rose to seven after a couple of three-year-old horses were injured in the races leading up to the main event and had to be euthanized.
The most savage part about horse racing isn’t the trainers, the doping, the cheating, the racist pregame songs, or even animal deaths — it’s the people in their fancy attire getting shitfaced in the infield as another colt or gelding is hauled off in an equine ambulance for one last syringe. I can’t think of a worse way to go than surrounded by a bunch of belligerent simpletons wearing pastel fedoras and bouquets on their heads.
The sport has this mythological aura to it because it’s been around forever. More people think of Seabiscuit than Lucky Number Slevin, and that idealized history gives it a reason to exist and helps create a hold over sentimental sports fans. It’s similar to how people enjoy calling boxing the “sweet science” as if it’s about anything other than a guy’s ability to navigate a concussion for eight to 12 rounds.
It’s funny how sappy sports fans can get about the Derby, because they’re such macho assholes the rest of the time. The Derby turns 150 next year, and you better believe it’ll be a massive spectacle, and a couple of bros in the group text may even suggest attending until they look up the cost of ticket. The race will be as exciting as it always is, viewers will be plied with whiskey and lore, and a few ponies will probably die. If not that, it’ll be another scandal that immediately reminds us that horse racing is as crooked as it is barbaric.
Put the Kentucky Derby down already
The industry goes ignored every weekend but three a year, if it’s lucky, because people have a hard time feigning interest once a Triple Crown is out of the picture and the gaudy outfits and mint juleps aren’t handy. If you read the stories on Saturday’s festivities, they’re filled with outrage from Churchill Downs, and quotes from fans who genuinely love the animals, the day-to-day training, and want to see a more buttoned-up operation.
Most of the deaths seem to have resulted from fluke accidents (other than Code of Kings, who broke his neck after flipping several times in the saddling paddock), yet these kinds of tragedies are so commonplace that there’s a special ambulance just for the horses, and out of sight of spectators, to carry out the euthanizations. Maybe shooting lame horses right there on the track would clue the crowd into the fact that horse racing is very much bloodsport, and not some prestigious pageant where every victor goes to a magical meadow to impregnate mares in perpetuity.
Apparently, new rules regarding antidoping and medication go into effect May 22 and will be enforced by a central governing body. That’s great and all, but it’s going to take a lot more recuperation to ease that disquieting feeling I get whenever NBC cuts to a professional trainer. I view them the same way a father looks at his 22-year-old daughter’s 35-year-old boyfriend, and have an equal amount of distrust in both.
So, congratulations to Mage, and only Mage, on the win. I might be a tad hostile because I went to Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 instead of tuning into the race Saturday, and am in no mood for further animal cruelty. After watching redacted incinerate countless redacted for close to three hours, no amount of horse deaths was going to be acceptable.
Free Willy, RIP Harambe, save the Great Barrier Reef, and fuck horse racing.