This past weekend at Churchill Downs the Kentucky Derby put on one of the most memorable races in recent horse racing history.
The bright side of it was the beautifully run race by Big Brown, the favorite at five-to-two odds coming out of the 20th post.
While not in the lead, he was near the front of the pack as they rounded the final turn. Down the final stretch he showed why he was the favorite as he galloped to a convincing victory.
And of course, the bad part of it was the exciting, yet devastating, story of Eight Belles.
Eight Belles was the three-year-old filly who was scratched from the Kentucky Oaks race on Friday to “play with the boys” in the Derby on Saturday. She was the first filly to run with the boys in nine years—and she did just that, finishing behind Big Brown in second place.
Tragically, the celebration was short-lived as she snapped both her front ankles in the cool down after the race. Doctors made the devastating decision to euthanize her moments later on the track.
Yet as I was working out this morning and watching SportsCenter, I saw a headline scroll across the bottom, reading (to paraphrase): “Trainer Larry Jones wants Kentucky Derby runner-up Eight Belles fully tested in autopsy to prove she was not on performance-enhancing drugs.”
So it’s not enough that we can’t let Barry Bonds' record breaking 756th home run baseball go to Cooperstown without an asterisk.
And it’s not enough that Marion Jones’ teammates on the 2000 Olympic 4x100m relay team can’t keep their gold medals.
And it’s also not enough that we are destroying Roger Clemens’ reputation, both on and off the field, to try to prove that he used steroids.
But now we have to go after a horse that isn’t even alive anymore?
In all honesty, I get the point—using performance enhancing drugs is cheating. I completely agree, and feel that those who violate this rule should be punished.
But, there has to be a better way to figure this out and clean up the sports world without turning it into a witch hunt. Can’t it be accomplished more quietly by the sports regulators behind the scenes so it’s not the first story we hear about everyday?
Four days since Kentucky Derby weekend culminated there should be stories all over the sports media regarding two major things from that race.
First, the media coverage should be giving Eight Belles the respect she deserves.
We should be hearing about what a great race she ran—about how a real underdog took on some of the sport’s fastest and strongest, and nearly pulled it off. And maybe we should even be hearing about how her jockey, Gabriel Saez, perhaps rode her too hard and should have pulled up prior to the finish of the race.
And then we should be hearing about how amazing Big Brown looked in his race. They should be talking about how he looked stronger and faster than all the other horses out there, and proved it as they came down the stretch.
Stories should be popping up regarding, arguably, the most legitimate contender we now have to win the triple-crown for the first time since Affirmed did it in 1978.
And while I know that will be a hot topic of discussion as we approach the May 17th Preakness, we should hear about it now as well. And not just because Big Brown won the Kentucky Derby like other horses every year, but because of how dominant he looked in doing so.
But instead, we revert back to the media’s favorite subject—performance enhancing drugs. We seem to do this so often when major events in sports history are taking place.
In the end, I know I want to see the sports world cleaned up so that I can have confidence that the records and accomplishments that I witness are real and deserved.
But I also know that in the meantime I don’t want to miss out on a decade of enjoying those stories as the witch hunts take place.