LOUISVILLE, Kentucky (Reuters) - Champion filly Eight Belles had to be euthanized soon after finishing second to Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby Saturday at Churchill Downs.
Eight Belles appeared to finish the race in good shape but began showing stress while slowing down. She had broken both ankles, said trackside veterinarian Larry Bramlage and nothing could be done to save her.
“This was tough enough had it been one, but it happened in both, and the odd thing is, it happened on the same stride,” he said.
“She just collapsed right in front of the outrider so there was really not any warning. And she had gone all the way around the turn slowing down, galloping out.”
Trainer Larry Jones decided earlier this week to take Eight Belles out of Friday’s Kentucky Oaks race for fillies, which he won in any case with Proud Spell, and enter Eight Belles in the mile-and-a-quarter Derby.
”We couldn’t be more proud of her effort,“ said Jones, his eyes watery from crying. ”The main thing was she never had to suffer. She just went out in a blaze of glory.
“She ran the race of her life. She put it out there. This filly hit the ground running. She went out as a champion.”
Only three fillies have won the Derby and none since Winning Colors in 1988. Bramlage, however, did not feel Eight Belles competing against colts was a factor in her demise.
”One injury is not an epidemic,“ he said. ”As bad as it seems right now, it’s one incident.
“Fillies race against colts on an intermittent basis and it’s not like we see this as routine. In fact, I’ve never seen it before.”
Eight Belles, ridden Saturday by Gabriel Saez, had never raced beyond a-mile-and-one-sixteenth in her prior nine starts.
Bramlage said. “The difficult thing to explain with her is it’s so far after the wire and she was easing down like you’d like to see a horse slow down by that point.”
In the Breeders’ Cup Distaff race at Churchill Downs in 2006 Pine Island suffered a dislocation of the left front fetlock and was also euthanized shortly after the race.
Editing by Dave Thompson