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Kentucky Derby Horse Killed in Front of Thousands

Written by PETA | May 4, 2008

With the shock of Barbaro’s death after the 2006 Preakness still fresh in their minds, the Kentucky Derby crowd saw for themselves the sordid truth about what racing means for the horses involved last night, as the filly Eight Belles was killed after collapsing on the track.

This young filly’s death may have been humane, but the race sure wasn’t. PETA is calling for the immediate suspension of jockey Gabriel Saez—who whipped Eight Belles mercilessly as she came down the final stretch, no doubt in agony from two front legs that were about to snap.

While the trainers, jockeys, and owners may weep their crocodile tears today over Eight Belles’ euthanasia, they will be back on the track tomorrow, putting other horses at risk. Thoroughbreds are raced on hard dirt surfaces—like the one at Churchill Downs. Their bones simply can’t take it, as Eight Belles’ two broken front legs showed last night. Despite the wealth associated with thoroughbred racing, for the horses—most of whom end up broken, cast off, or sent to Europe to be killed for the dinner table&#8212it’s a dirty business and no better than dogfighting.

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  • Abby says:

    I’m not sure how many of you have been around horses before…obviously not too many. I have been around horses my whole life. From helping with the foaling process to death. Horses are born to run and love to run…not because they are whipped but because its in their blood. Turn any horse out into a pasture field and watch them run around…you can see this in a foal that is just hours old and not affected by a human influence. Race horses are like any other athlete and go through training to prevent things like this from happening. Its very unfortunate and nobody wants to see a horse go down. If you want to get rid of horse racing you might as well get rid of all sports all together.

  • Hadley says:

    Thank you Peta! Keep up the good fight. Stop horse and dog racing!

  • Dante Fulci says:

    I find it incredibly hard to believe that the article isn’t concerned AT ALL about what happened to the rider. Are we to believe that he had it coming? That’s certainly what it sounds like. When we focus on the human implications of this “sport” it might just make people listen. A horse died. Why are you forgetting that the rider could have been seriously injured? Both the horse’s death and the lack of concern about human beings make me very conflicted about PETA.

  • Donna Restel says:

    I admire those who tend to the horses that is a hard job. Like the greyhounds these animals are used for sport and money. Bred to have long limbs that break easily. Why euthanize a horse who some of us would adopt in a heartbeat? I don’t understand it.

  • Kelly says:

    I stopped watching horse racing after Ruffian lost her life racing Foolish Pleasure. I made the mistake of getting involved again in 2006 and again swore off horse racing. This is a cruel sport and everyone responsible for Eight Belle’s death yesterday should be punished. That horse pushed herself beyond her limits because she was being beaten by that brute. She gave her life in fear. Everyone involved horse racing should be ashamed of themselves and should reconsider what they call entertainment.

  • Donna says:

    How can we stop the tragedy of horse racing? I have lived in Louisville the home of the Kentucky Derby my whole life. I have never supported horse racing nor will I ever understand the “sport” that defines my hometown. It is PURE GREED. The news stations and papers here were at least “kind” enough not to show any closeup photos of Eight Belles lying on the ground as the PETA site does. And the horse was blocked from the crowd and cameras shortly after she fell. Nonetheless how can we stop this filthy gluttonous disgusting “sport” when it is supported and driven by so much money?

  • michelle bisutti,MD says:

    As a physician I can tell you this horse was probably pumped full of steroids which seriously weakens bones. One front leg fracture would make me question the use of steroids but BOTH legs fractured I have no doubt. Peta please make sure this death is investigated and a proper autopsy is performed.

  • Kaitlin says:

    My family has been involved in the racing industry for many years and I have been exposed to it from a tender age. I watched the Kentucky Derby last night surrounded by friends and family and felt their shock as well as the racing world’s engulf me when Eight Belles broke down. My heart goes out to all of her connections who cared for this filly deeply and made sure she had the best of everything throughout her short life. I respect PETA’s objectives and their desire to make the world a better place for animals. However I feel that further research needs to be done on the part of this organization. To compare horse racing to dog fighting is not only hurtful it is downright wrong. If you watched the prerace footage you would have seen Larry Jones the trainer of Eight Belles working his filly on the track in the days leading up to the Derby. You would have heard him call her sweetheart seen him stroke her neck. The love for this filly was tangible even through the television screen. She was in no way a cash cow. She was his reason for getting up in the morning his livelihood a piece of his soul. My family operates at a defecit of hundreds of thousands of dollars. They have never made a profit off their horses since they started their business in 1999. While making a profit would be nice it is in no way the sole purpose. If a 2500 dollar claimer with no racing talent needs surgery or therapy or simply a break they get it. I know every horse’s name color sire dam markings personality. I love them with all my heart. 36000 thoroughbreds are born in the United States every year simply for the purpose of racing. If you succeeded in your ultimate goal of outlawing horse racing you would deprive the world of these wonderful animals. I agree that horses are delicate and attention needs to be paid to racing surfaces. Why not support the installation of Polytrack surfaces across the US? Why not support equine research and hospitals? To say that there is some cruelty existing in the industry therefore we should get rid of it is as ignorant as saying since there are some cruel pet owners we should outlaw them. If more attention was paid to promoting safety in horse racing a compromise could be reached. A sport that began long ago can continue to be appreciated and the majesty of these animal’s passion and athleticism can continue to be showcased. Thanks for reading this. PS. To demand the suspension of Mr. Saez who was simply doing his job and is probably heartbroken is like rubbing salt in wounds. Have a heart and focus on the real problems.

  • bill says:

    spectators and owners at horse races aren’t animal lovers they’re money lovers!!

  • Ron says:

    Truly a sickening spectacle. It grieves me deeply to think of all the racing fans who think nothing of the tormented lives these race horses are forced to endure only whether they make a few bucks off their suffering. This “sport” although couched in legend and fabulous welath is absolutely on par with dog fighting cock fighting and bull fighting. All are vestiges of an earlier inhumane culture. Anyone who partakes in them deserves jail time and needs an immediate soul transplant.

  • Becca says:

    I live in Louisville and I loathe the Derby. When all of my coworkers ask why I’m not attending any of the Derby events I try to educate them about the cruelty of the horse racing industry. Although I hate to see animals suffer or die with more of these horse deaths in the public view maybe the Derby will start to be recognized as the cruel celebration that it truly is.

  • shea77 says:

    How awful!!! I am so sad about this!! I want this greedy despicable jockey brought up on charges!! Scum of the earth!!

  • kelly says:

    The racing world is built on the bodies of horses like Eight Belles. Stuffed with drugs beaten and abused killed or tossed away when they don’t make the cut like the dogfighters do with their castoff pit bulls They overbreed in huge numbers and that is why the racing world supports slaughterhouses the last round of torture before they die. THAT is what happens to MOST horses in the racing world. And no one gets to see it. It is all kept hidden from the losers that put money on these rigged races.

  • Cindy Brown says:

    Stop the horse racing

  • Mary says:

    Stop the races!!Why do we still need animals to suffer for SPORT? Horses are not born to run they are whipped to run over and over again.

  • Amy Catalano says:

    I’m so upset over the senseless death of Eight Bells that I can’t seem to stop crying. I don’t understand why we keep repeating history. Remember Ruffian the Filly that raced to her death in 1975. If we know that young horses bones aren’t fully developed and can’t handle the stress of galloping at excessive speed then why do we let them race? Thank you PETA for taking action!

  • Ryan says:

    I am not a peta member or an animal rights activist. As a matter of fact I am a guy who loves to watch sports and eat meat. However I was shocked and dismayed after watching the Kentucky Derby. Minutes before the race I noticed how small the feet and ankles of the horses were. I heard them speaking of Big Brown’s weak ankle’s. I also thought back to the Barbaro incident. Once I learned of Eight Belles accident and her ultimate fate I was disgusted with horse racing all together. The site of the multimillion dollar owners in suits all the pompous women in large hats and the whole celebratory atmosphere..for what? It was all at the expense of the horses who do not benefit one bit from their hard work. The 2008 derby really opened my eyes and I imagine it opened the eyes of other average all american joe’s who love to watch sports.

  • Kelley says:

    I hope all the people in the stands and who watched the race on tv enjoyed watching that poor horse run herself to death for their amusement and financial benefits.

  • Antonio says:

    Britain’s leading Sunday newspaper the Mail on Sunday recently published this damning article on horseracing. Horse racing is a disgrace. livearticlesnewsnews.html?inarticleid559221inpageid1770

  • Holly says:

    Get them Peta! Shame on jockey Gabriel Saezfor whipping poor Eight Belles mercilessly as she came down the final stretch no doubt in agony from two front legs that were about to snap. Shame on the Racing Industry! Get them Peta!

  • Donna G says:

    I’m so sick over this cruelty will it never end? That jockey should have known the horse was in distress rather than beating her. The wealth in horse racing is so unfathomable how do you fight to end this can it be done?

  • ann says:

    both horse and dog racing should be banned. that is all i can say.

  • Mary says:

    God this is horrible. Whom can we contact to support the suspension of Saez?

  • Gabriella says:

    Well I love Peta but I most certainly disagree about the Kentucky Derby being so bad. Kentucky LOVES their horses. The race is only two minutes long and a mile and a quarter isn’t hard for the horses to run. Eight Belles’s legs didn’t break because they abuse them they broke because they were weak. Thanks for listening.

  • Sam says:

    I work in the racehorse industry. I am a groom. My job is to do everything I can to make the horses happy. I feed water clean keep there stalls spotless brush and do everything they might need to be as happy as possible. This is a very tough job with long hours I get up a 430 every morning and don’t get to bed until 10 that night. 7 days a week. I sleep in a tack room no bigger than 7 by 7 feet.The wages are very low 400 dollars a week. Many people would never do such a job but I do it out of my love for animals. I’m not the only one there are many hard working grooms dedicating there life to horse racing for low wages and hard working conditions. When you call it a dirty business only associated with weathly owners you are insulting me and basically spitting in my face. The rage I feel toward your organization cannot be put into words. I would invite you do follow me around for one day to see the hard labor I do to make sure these horses are happy before you write such harsh words about the racing industry.

  • Lori Bonomo says:

    I am so sickened by this tragic event that I seeked out a place to vent. I am not even a member of PETA! I was driven to tears when I learned about this beautiful animal being abused to death for profit. The agony felt by this poor ceature just rips at my heart…. I want to get involved to stop this abuse!

  • Yvonne Marie says:

    I was watching the Kentucky Derby yesterday not for the racing necessarily but to view these magnificent creatures show themselves as they pranced around the arena. My favorite was the glorious filly Eight Bells!! I realized at the ending of this tragedy that these beasts are pushed beyond their endurance this racing must be stopped! Eight Bells gave too much of herself and died for the effort! Rest in peace my beautiful brave filly! I would like to make a donation towards stopping this playtime for the very wealthy which resulted this day in the euthanization of a wonderful animal! For shame!

  • Susan says:

    May Eight Belles spirit be at rest… I admit that I don’t know alot about horse racing but I agree with one of Peta’s main ideas that animals aren’t here to serve us or to do our bidding for our entertainment. While I’m sure many people would say that horses love to race I think it is better put that horses love to run and stretch their legs but racing is a made up sport simply so people can gamble. And I don’t mean to imply that all who are involved in horse racing are cruel I’m sure many love horses and have dedicated themselves to the animals in ways that I have no knowledge of. But even so this tragic event is just another example of how an animal can be pushed beyond their ability and their needs can be so easily overlooked for human uses. This brings to mind another tragedy of horse racing that I was just reading about again that of the horses who end up slaughtered after their glorious racing careers. In most of these cases race horses probably end up being sold to slaughterhouses unbeknownst to their previous owners but it does happen with the animals once again paying the price for human irresponsibility. So many issues to consider and it’s just very sad that this beautiful girl died painfully and before her time. There are already some nice tributes to her on for anyone interested.

  • t minteer says:

    Dear Peta Please continue your involvement by lobbying for change. Please start with the horse racing association. This beautiful horse’s painful injury and death was due to racing as a 3 year old. Young horses like her are simply not physically mature enough for their young bodies to handle the pounding and intensity that this long race requires. This fact and the the fact that the Kentucky Derby is a long race for such young horses has been known to the horse racing world for years yet nothing has been done to solve the problem. If the horse racing association would simply change the age requirement to 4 this simple act would save horses from early injury. To simply say nothing could have been done to save this horse is completely false. The racing association could change the rule to 4 year olds. To use common sense to see the pattern of too young horses being raced and then getting injured and destroyed should be enough to get the racing industry to change. One reason that the “controversy “of raising the age limit to race just one more year remains a hidden debate and is not mentioned in all today’s articles on the filly’s death is….greed. The racing association and the media sponsers for the Derby do not want the public to suddenly realize that the racing world has known all this time that the Derby is a dangerous race for a young horse. A public who just saw a horse die on TV should be outraged that this horse is a victim of the racing association not being self governed enough to change to fix a problem. These horses are pushed beyond their physical maturity at 3 so these owners can get started on earning money. How short sighted can humans be? If they would simply just change the rules and make the age requirement 4 years old instead of 3 these horses would be much more likely to be healthy longer and have a longer racing career.

  • Mary says:

    This makes me so bloody angry. Here in Ireland Jockeys are treated like Gods’. Apart from my own immediate family I have never met one person who sees anything wrong in horse racing. When a jockey falls from a horse during a race there is so much concern for his wellbeing when the horse gets horribly injured most people only care about the money they lost betting on the race. I would be very surprised if Gabriel Saez is suspended more likely he will be treated as a hero who went through a traumatic time. I hope that one day somebody takes a horsewhip to himand beats him to within an inch of his life. I only wish it could be me. Sleep safely with the angels Eight Belles. May you find the peace and happiness you never had on Earth. RIP.

  • Carol C. says:

    I am so glad that peta is making people aware of the horrors of horse racing. What happened to Eight Belles yesterday if far to common. Most likely she had hairline fractures in her cannon bones before she ever left the starting gate. Barbaro suffered the same type injury as did Afleet Alex. On May 2 Chelokee suffered the same type fracture in the Alysheba Stakes also at Churchill Downs. This horse was trained by Michael Matz who also trained Barbaro. Are we seeing the pattern here? I could give you a long list of names of horses that have had this same injury. What about the ones that have soft tissue injuries or are left with joint and arthritis issues. I can guarantee you that more then one horse was injured in that race yesterday but they will suffer silently out of the eyes of the public. Ever wonder what happens to these beautiful animals after they can no longer make money? Many go to slaughter. Sorry guy we know you made us millions but now you’re costing us so you’ve got to go. Ferdinand the 1986 winner of The Kentucky Derby went to the slaughter house. He had won close to 4 million dollars during his career but could not produce foals with his same talent. Most people see nothing wrong with this sport because they are ignorant of the aftermath but shame on those that are fairly animal savvy and attend these races. Some of the same celebrities that have done anticruelty ads for peta have attended The Kentucky Derby. Peta has made huge progress in helping many other animals in bad situations. Hopefully this will start to open the eyes of the American public. This sport is all about the almighty dollar. Some of the richest people in the world own racehorses and therefore this cruel sport will most likely continue for years to come.

  • Cindy L Price says:

    I am so very saddened by what happened to Eight Belles yesterday. I turned immediately to PETA to see what they posted. I would support whatever actions need to be taken to stop this barbaric so called sport.

  • Gracie says:

    “Despite the wealth associated with thoroughbred racing for the horsesmost of whom end up broken cast off or sent to Europe to be killed for the dinner tableit’s a dirty business and no better than dogfighting.” Couldn’t agree more. This says it all and is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome when it comes to ending this “sport”. Dog fighting has a reputation of being violent and associated with other crimes so it is an easier argument for people to accept its brutality. Unfortunately that is not the case with horse racing where the wealthy owners give lip service to how much they love and care for their animals and most people see it as a “civilized” sport where it is socially acceptable to spend an afternoon at the racetrack. The commercials that air for the racetrack in my community even show a montage of sound bites of celebrities who have stopped by for a “day at the races” which adds another layer of legitimacy. Surely celebrities wouldn’t lend their support to animal abuse. It is incredibly frustrating trying to convince people of the reality behind this sport.

  • keith says:

    All these poor thoroughbreds are bred for speed hence the weak bones plus they are raced as 2year olds when far from fully developed in the skeletal regions. Very sad indeed. If not completely abolished stronger racing welfare issues should be put in place. . alas this will never happen whilst the dollar is King.

  • Rennie Barnaba says:

    How many more horses have to die at the Kentucky Derby before this barbaric spectacle is banised from our culture? We all heard the horror story about the race yesterday. Stop supporting this event. Look at the sponsors who have invested financial support to the derby. Don’t buy thier products! Write to the Govenor of Kentucky to include KY Senators. Boycott Kentucky. Tourism dollars are big business. They will get the message when it hits their bottom line. We can make a difference so that Eight Belles did not die in vain.

  • jan blair says:

    Something should be done about horseracing!!!! I get sick to my stomach everytime I think about it. Horses may love to run but should not be whipped to run and make money for the owner and rider. Where is the protection for these beautiful animals. Let them race with out the whips and let the jockeys earn their money. Just think what that beautiful animal must have felt just before she died. Something has to be done. At the least whips MUST not be used. Jan Blair

  • Rebecca says:

    Greed and waste greed and waste a contnious cycle that benefits only those heartless people who couldn’t care less for anyone but themselves and anything but their wallets.

  • Russell says:

    terrible. just terrible

  • Gerard Monteux says:

    I agree one hundred percent. The “Sport of Kings” is precisely that a diversion for the wealthy with complete disregard for the noble animals which are sacrificed daily for purely inane and perverse pleasures.

  • ajkreider says:

    Dear PETA I believe that PETA goals in general are noble. I also believe that steps can be taken to make horse racing safer. However When PETA makes claims like this “it’s a dirty business and no better than dogfighting” you do a disservice to your cause. The goal in dogfighting is violence that is the point of it. No one and I mean no one who loves horse racing wants to see any harm to a horse. At worst and even this is debatable there are some who are indifferent to animal suffering. Having been at a track when a horse broke down and was euthanized I can say that the pall that falls over the crown en masse belies a very different attitude. And I can assure you the tears that were shed by Eight Belles connections were not crocodile tears and not only because of the money involved. Perhaps it suits your political interests to paint horsemen like Larry Jones as a monster but that is sheer slander. Please be above the fray. Finally while there are too many breakdowns these amount to thankfully precious few deaths when considered next the total numbers of horses bred the US every year though there are perhaps too many of those as well. Clearly for the vast majority of horses their bones can take it. Synthetic tracks may offer a better solution but there have been breakdowns on these as well. And the horse I saw breakdown? . . . happened on the turf. AJ Kreider Miami

  • agag says:

    hi was screaming at the television with tears in my eyes while the vets surrounded Eight Belles with the several equine ambulances to block the view from the crowd making sure to minimize the dirty truth about what happens on the track year after year. what’s worse NBC pans to the winners circle dancing and parading their greedy faces around the track while a poor innocent beautiful creature needlessly suffers and dies on the other end. just plain old bad sportsmanship. i was in tears and will never watch this “sport” again. the anorexicbulemic jockey’s should feel hard fines that will hit their pockets since they clearly don’t care about whipping these intelligent animals.

  • Mary says:

    I am a faithful Peta member and an avid lover of horses thoroughbreds in particular. I am always torn when these races come around because I am amazed by the grace beauty and power of these horses but horrified by this sport and the tactics it uses to make money. Barbaro’s death crushed me. This has finished off horse racing for me. I gave up show jumping several years ago for a lot of the reasons I will now no longer peek thru my fingers at a horse race and pray no horse gets hurt. There should be suspensions starting with the NTRA all the way down to the grooms that pack their feet. It’s too much and it must end.

  • J Davis says:

    I totally agree with your comments. I am just outraged at this senseless death of Eight Belles. Why do people insist on watching these races? It is hard to believe that we as a human race enjoy watching animals or even other humans suffer just so we can make money off of it. I wish they would make these races illegal. Of course the only way people will stop their involvement is if there is no money to be had.

  • bob says:

    How stupid is horse racing? Why don’t we make people wear harnesses and be whipped because they’re not going fast enough? Maybe THEN people will listen!

  • Liz Morrissey says:

    1. Barbaro didn’t die at the Preakness Stakes. He was injured there but he did die of the injuries sustained. However that was later. A dead horse is a dead horse and it’s a horrible thing but when you don’t have your facts straight… the article loses all credibility. 2. Eight Belles was not killed in front of thousands. She was put down in the equine ambulance. It’s still a tragedy but do some journalistic work.

  • Valerie Cohen says:

    HORSES CLASS in the USA? The black football star goes to prison for electrocuting dogs. The white race horse owners get condolence letters when they murder their filly on national TV. What’s wrong with this picture?

  • mattro2.0 says:

    Maybe a few more mint juleps will help us to forget

  • Priscilla Beeman says:

    I hope that everyone at the Derby was so sick at what they saw and witnessed they vomited in their seats and I hope their sick feeling follows them around for a long time. A long time ago when one of my coworkers was betting on the Derby I told him what I thought and he stupidly said that horses were made to run. Ignornant people.

  • Priscilla Beeman says:

    I know you’ll think I’m crazy but I love animals so much I feel this is a disgusting “sport” if you want to call it that. I think in cases where the horse dies and let’s face it it’s only for money the jockey trainer and owners should die also. They are scum and what this jockey did to that horse is irreprehensible. This idot jockey should be banned from every being near a horse what the heck he’ll get his money. Actually the sport should be banned. Also the artical about anal and genital killing of fur bearing animals made me actually sick my stomach hurts and I want to cry.

  • corrine koenig says:

    I am so upset with what happened to this horse. It is torture to the tenth degree what they do to these animal just to make a dollar. When will this all end?