In 2006, William Rhoden of The New York Times wrote an article (5/25/06) contrasting two breakdowns in May of that year. The first, Barbaro, received international attention upon shattering his leg in the Preakness Stakes. Four days later, a nondescript horse named Lauren’s Charm fell (of an apparent heart attack) at Belmont. Rhoden writes:
“THERE was no array of photographers at Belmont Park yesterday, no sobbing in the crowd as a badly injured superstar horse tried to stay erect on three legs. There was no national spotlight. Instead, there was death.”
When Lauren’s Charm collapsed, “no one, except those associated with the horse and two track veterinarians, seemed to notice.” With Barbaro, however, “a national audience gasped; an armada of rescuers rushed to the scene. In the days that followed, as the struggle to keep Barbaro alive took full shape, there was an outpouring of emotion across the country and heartfelt essays about why we care so much about these animals.”
“But I’m not so sure we do, and I’m not so sure the general public fully understands this sport. When people attempt to rationalize the uneasy elements of racing, they often say: ‘That’s part of the business. That’s the game.’ But there was nothing beautiful or gracious or redeeming about the seventh race at Belmont. This was the underside of the business. The nuts-and-bolts part, where animals are expendable parts of a billion-dollar industry.”
Rhoden sets the scene:
“The dead animal was loaded in the ambulance and carted to the track’s stable area, where it was put on its side, legs bent as if it were still running. The horseshoes had not been removed. The carcass was then half carried and half pushed into an area designated for autopsies. An earthmover helped push the horse against a concrete wall.
The gate to the fenced-in area was closed. I glanced back at Lauren’s Charm, lying on the ground. Just days ago, the cameras were trained on Pimlico, and a nation cried for Barbaro. I wonder what the nation would have thought about this.”
“One animal breaks an ankle on national television in a Triple Crown race and sets off a national outpouring of emotion. A 4-year-old collapses and dies in full view on a sunny afternoon and not many seem to notice. Or care. As they say, it’s the business. But what kind of business is this?”
A shameful one.