Long before Eight Belles broke two ankles and was euthanized on the track at Churchill Downs on Saturday, journalist Carol Flake explored the dark side of the Kentucky Derby in Tarnished Crown: The Quest for a Racetrack Champion (Doubleday, 1987). Flake wrote that every year, some owners and trainers develop “Derby Fever Syndrome,” which impairs their judgment about the readiness of their horses for the race:
“I had once asked [trainer] John Veitch why so many trainers overestimated the ability of their horses. ‘It clouds your judgment, the hype and excitement of being able to say you ran a horse in the Derby,’ he said. ‘Every year about half the horses shouldn’t be there. There’s no sense destroying a useful horse by running him before he’s ready. You’ve got to have seasoning. It’s not like a boxer who’s fought nothing but pugs but who doesn’t know what it is to fight a real man.
“’People get a high on a horse. They say, ‘I’ve got a world beater.’ The problem is, they’ve never been around a good horse before. If you’ve never drunk champagne, you might think Ripple tastes just as good.’”
© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.