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Trouble on the Track?

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Trouble on the Track?

Sports

Trouble on the Track?

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

It's a day of glory and grief for the horseracing world. Glory for an undefeated thoroughbred, Big Brown. He ran away with yesterday's Kentucky Derby. Grief for the Philly, Eight Belles. She finished second yesterday then stumbled and broke front legs. She was euthanized just a few minutes later.

Big Brown's trainer is Rick Dutrow. He spoke about the loss this morning.

Mr. RICK DUTROW (Trainer, Big Brown): We've been there with the highs and lows and it's really disappointing when something happens to your horse, you know. So much goes into being around them all the time and knowing them, see how they go out there and perform for you, and it hurts.

SEABROOK: Reporter Jennie Rees covers racing for the Louisville Courier-Journal. She spoke to us earlier from the press box at Churchill Downs. With tragedies like Eight Belles yesterday and Barbaro two years ago, I wondered if more horses are dying from racing accidents.

Ms. JENNIE REES (Reporter, Louisville Courier-Journal): I don't think that there's been an increase in horses dying. I just think they're just getting more attention when they do go down. And this is the first time in 41 years at least that there's been a fatality in the Kentucky Derby, which is the most watched race in America.

SEABROOK: In today's Washington Post, sports columnist Sally Jenkins wrote that - and this is a quote - "thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis." Do you think so, Jennie Rees?

Ms. REES: Well, you know, if you talk to people that are inside the game I would think they would say no. But it's definitely problematic trying to encourage new fans and every time something like this happens, a lot of people think why should I be a fan? And even this morning talking to trainers on the backside, Ellen Hardy, who trained sixth-place Colonel John, was saying you lose a little piece of your soul each time something like this happens.

SEABROOK: Is this at least in part about breeding? I mean, these animals are like hotrods on toothpicks.

Ms. REES: Well, that's a good analogy. For generations now, the breeders have been breeding for speed and in the back of their mind maybe they're thinking, yeah, resilience would be good, stamina would be good. But first and foremost it's brilliance. And I think it's something the industry needs to take a look at, the breeders. There's many components. This is one. They need to look in the mirror. Are we breeding a sound horse?

And you do see some farms that try to do that and will bring in these stallions that could infuse stamina and nobody wants to send their mares to them.

SEABROOK: After Barbaro went down, a lot of tracks switched to a cushion surface I understand rather than hard packed dirt.

Ms. REES: Well, synthetic surfaces or artificial surfaces. It was in the works even before Barbaro but certainly, you know, in the wake of that California mandated all their tracks by 2008 be an artificial surface. The jury's still out though on how the injury rates compare. They're still so new. And I have seen some catastrophic injuries on the synthetic tracks.

SEABROOK: Jennie Rees, what story are you writing for tomorrow morning's Courier-Journal?

Ms. REES: I'm writing about Big Brown and what a big race, you know, he ran and can he win the Triple Crown. And one thing Larry Jones, the trainer of Eight Belles, did say this morning was he feels bad for the Big Brown camp because of what happened with Eight Belles, this very gallant Philly that finished second in the Kentucky Derby and ended up dying.

SEABROOK: Jennie Rees covers horseracing for the Louisville Courier-Journal. Thanks so much for speaking with us, Jennie Rees.

Ms. REES: Sure, Andrea.

(Soundbite of music)

SEABROOK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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