Like a lot of people, I was heartbroken to see the tragic end the lovely filly Eight Belles came to in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. I won’t go into it in any detail here, it’s not the place — though I sobbed a bit about it on my personal blog a few hours after the race — but I did want to point you at Pulitzer Prize-winning (for 1992’s A Thousand Acres) novelist Jane Smiley’s take on the matter in The New York Times:

This is what we saw in Eight Belles: she was more resolute and competitive than was good for her, and she literally ran herself to death. When the race was finished, every part of her was exhausted, including, I am sure, the support apparatus of ligaments and tendons that were keeping her bones together. She probably stumbled and broke one ankle, then stepped hard on the other and broke that one. Then she fell.

But Big Brown was the other half of the equation. Big Brown looks to be a truly exceptional horse — exceptionally strong and exceptionally competitive, possibly the Secretariat of our day. When Eight Belles decided she wasn’t going to give up, she risked herself more than she would have with a lesser horse — and in general, male horses are stronger than female horses, which is why so few fillies run in the Derby.

Smiley goes on to offer a brief, expert and eloquent assessment of American-style horse racing. If the tragedy that grew from the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby was something that moved you, don’t miss Smiley’s piece.

Want more horse sense from Smiley? Try her 2004 memoir, A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck (Knopf) or her wonderful 2000 novel, Horse Heaven (Knopf).

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