Immediately after the race, cameras panned to her and she was laying on the ground and within minutes a veterinarian was being interviewed who was in contact with those surrounding Eight Belles, told reporters that the horse had broken both front ankles and was immediately euthanized.
An autopsy has been scheduled. There will be a report. Owner Rick Porter has asked for Eight Belles' remains to be cremated.
Eight Belles trainer, J. Larry Jones, emotional strain showing on his face, spoke to reporters.
Twenty-five years as a trainer, and many more than that around horses, lead Jones, 51, to contend that no one could have foreseen it happening. And that Eight Belles was probably unaware until the fatal instant when bones in both front ankles fractured.
The indicator, Jones said, is a horse's ears.
“The first thing they do when they're in discomfort is they pin their ears back,” Jones said. “I watched her galloping out past the wire into the turn and her ears were up and I've had people who saw it say they were that way just before she went down.
“She didn't know it was coming.”
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is seeking the suspension of Eight Belles' jockey and sent a letter to Kentucky's racing authority claiming the filly was “doubtlessly injured before the finish” and asked that the jockey, Gabriel Saez, be suspended while the death was investigated.
I watched the race, Eight Belles was right behind the first place horse, Big Brown, and up until the second she went down, there was no indication that she had broken both ankles, none at all.
Jockey Gabriel Saez said that past the finish line Eight Belles started “galloping funny” and he was unsuccessful in efforts to pull her up. Jones, who rides many of his own horses in routine gallops during training hours, had a theory on what Saez was feeling that prompted him to make the comment.
Eight Belles may have been “cross-firing,” Jones said, describing that as striding out more forcefully with opposing front and hind legs – right front and left rear, or the reversal.
“It's something a lot of young horses do and she could do it with the best of them,” Jones said. “She's done it with me. But then she could straighten herself out as fast as any horse I've ever been on.”
The winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, Barbaro, shattered his leg two weeks after his decisive win, in the 2006 Preakness Stakes on May 20, 2006, and after surgeries and complications, he was euthanized on January 29, 2007.
He was a third-generation descendant of Mr. Prospector, and as such Barbaro is related to many recent Triple Crown hopefuls including Funny Cide, Afleet Alex, Big Brown, Eight Belles, Smarty Jones and Fusaichi Pegasus.
Tragic is about the only word that comes to mind.
RIP Eight Belles.