9 Saddest Horse Racing Tragedies

In few sports is tragedy both more instant and prevalent than in horse racing. Corruption and shady characters off the turf, along with inherent dangers on it leave both horses and riders exposed to risk. Here, we would like to focus on nine horses that met an untimely end under extraordinary circumstances. Some are recent, and some are almost a century old. Let’s take a look at eight horse racing (and one show horse) tragedies.

9. Eight Belles
After having placed second in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, the future was bright for this filly. However, she would never get to see success, as she collapsed during the Churchill Downs with two broken ankles, forcing trainers to euthanize her on the track, leaving a haunting image burned into spectators’ minds. While many felt that anabolic steroids (the same type humans use) were to blame for the increased strain on the horses’ bodies, Eight Belles tested negative, causing concerned parties to look elsewhere for an explanation.

8. Barbaro
After a clear-cut victory at the 2006 Kentucky Derby, public perception of Barbaro was not “will this horse be considered great,” but rather “how great will this horse be when all is said and done?” Of course, like every other horse on this list, the death was untimely, but Barbaro put up a fight, being euthanized after a tragic breakdown at the Preakness. Abcesses in Barbaro’s hoofs and laminitis in three of four feet proved far too much, and Barbaro, after months of valiant struggle, was euthanized, leading many to wonder what could have become of this promising horse.

7. Ruffian
The story of Ruffian is one for the ages. In 1975, the “Queen of the Fillies” was running at Belmont when Ruffian participated in a match race against that year’s Derby winner, Foolish Pleasure. Ruffian was leading when she snapped two bones in her right foreleg. However, she refused to stop running, further damaging her leg until it was reduced to a flopping mess. Emergency surgeons say Ruffian woke up from the anesthesia and began running in place on the floor, as if the race was still on, causing damage in the operating room, and breaking an elbow in the process. As such, they were forced to put her down.

5/6. Marching Song and Fenix Two
These two horses died in Febuary of this year under rather bizarre circumstances at Newbury racecourse in Britain. The two horses collapsed to their deaths before the races even started. A postmortem indicated that they had been electrocuted from a current running under the paddock, but trainer Graham Thorner thinks foul play was afoot. He said, “I took my horse there and he was killed, he didn’t die. He was killed by something, and that is fact as far as I’m concerned.” There has been no evidence to support this claim, but the unusual electrocution has left many feeling that foul play was involved.

3/4. Dooneys Gate and Ornais
Both these horses perished just months ago in April of 2011 while running the grueling 30-jump course at Aintree. In recent years, critics have claimed that the exhausting nature of the course (many to most of the horses do not even finish) leaves the animals and their riders more susceptible to injury. This case was further made when Ornais died instantly after failing to clear the 20th jump, approaching the fence in fourth place. Dooney’s Gate fell at famed Becher’s Brook, and, in a macabre twist, its body was covered and treated as an obstacle to be circumvented on the second lap. Creepy.

In a race in which only 19 of 40 riders finished, and four horses lost their riders, it’s not hard to imagine that tragedies will occur with alarming frequency, as they do at Aintree.

2. Phar Lap
While the fate of Phar Lap has never been resolved, the popular consensus from a 2000 necropsy is that he was poisoned with a large dose of arsenic. While the circumstances of the death are legendary, so too was Phar Lap’s performance. He won 37 of his 51 starts, suggesting that many frustrated owners would have reason to benefit from the sickness or death. The combination of the horse’s achievement and the suspect circumstances make this one of the most infamous tragedies to take place off the turf.

1. Wild-Eyed and Wicked
In 2003, five show horses at the Double D (hehehe) Ranch were found to bear marks indicating that they were injected with an unknown substance. Wild-Eyed and Wicked was one of the three horses that was subsequently euthanized after suffering injuries assumed to have resulted from the injection. Wild-Eyed and Wicked won the saddlbred industry’s Triple Crown in both 2000 and 2001.

Owners Joe and Sally Jackson have now twice petitioned to have the horse’s remains exhumed so that they may be tested for toxins. The body has since been exhumed, though not enough evidence has been found to prove foul play, let alone make an arrest.

Sources: Scientific American, NBC Sports, BBC, Guardian

Tags: Barbaro, eight belles, horse racing, horses, Kentucky Derby, phar lap,