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Why horse racing is lucky the Kentucky Derby ended in controversy instead of tragedy

Why a Kentucky Derby hat needs the thrill factor

“Go big or go home,” says NYC milliner Christine Moore to first time Derby hat shoppers. The designer helps clients find their perfect hat in Louisville's Rodes clothing store, which carries her line of hats, as the Derby approaches. She says the
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“Go big or go home,” says NYC milliner Christine Moore to first time Derby hat shoppers. The designer helps clients find their perfect hat in Louisville's Rodes clothing store, which carries her line of hats, as the Derby approaches. She says the

Oh, the humanity!

What a travesty it was to have the Kentucky Derby’s outcome decided by stewards, essentially the referees of the sport. Money shifted hands, controversy ensued and an appeal was later denied.

The race couldn’t have ended worse, huh?

While there’s folks on both sides of the controversy, I’m here to point out that the Run to the Roses could have ended much worse.

As I turned on the race and began watching the horses slog through a wet and muddy racetrack at Churchill Downs, the point of contention caught my eye long before it played a role in who would take home the title. As I watched, a group of several horses seemed to be getting awfully close to one another in a pack while running on a compromised surface.

Never did it cross my mind that perhaps Maximum Security had committed some kind of weird lane violation, which eventually led to Country House being named the winner. Instead, I’m sitting there thinking “Oh my gosh, these horses are going to collide and there’s going to be mass casualties.”

Thankfully, I was wrong. So in a sense, horse racing actually dodged a bullet Saturday.

Was a controversial call that was ultimately decided by replay a good thing for the sport? Of course not. No one wants the refs to decide a sporting event’s outcome.

But we’d be having a totally different conversation if true tragedy happened. I never really thought much about horse racing, like many casual fans of the sport who mainly tune in for the Derby and perhaps the following Preakness and Belmont Stakes, depending on, well, the stakes.

However, as I watched Saturday I found myself legitimately concerned for the horses — and the jockeys, of course — as the group bunched up. If one horse went down, many others likely would have too.

As we’ve seen in the past — unfortunately for many of us via the spotlight of horse racing — the animals rarely survive when they break a leg and most of the time must be euthanized thereafter. The casual fan probably remembers the name Barbaro but for all the wrong reasons. That horse was a Kentucky Derby winner who was trying to win the Triple Crown before he shattered his leg at the Preakness Stakes and eventually died because of it.

I’m not much of a gambler and have never really understood the allure of horse racing, but I always tune in for the Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes (if a horse has a shot at the Triple Crown). But Saturday’s race was the first time I looked at the sport from a different perspective.

There is a clear risk for these animals every time they get on a racetrack. And I get it, the same can be said for other athletes and folks such as racecar drivers. But at least we can recover from most injuries and, most of all, we are the ones who decide whether we compete or not.

The horses are being used for our enjoyment and there’s no way to gauge whether or not they enjoy it. Even worse, the horses are being exploited for gambling.

I have no problem with folks who want to gamble, but I don’t think increasing the chances of an animal being injured is necessary. Go bet on the NBA or NHL. Heck, even throw down some cash on Major League Baseball or NASCAR.

Like I said with fighting in hockey — with much feedback, some favorable, some not — it’s 2019. Some things that are done simply because of tradition doesn’t mean they’re right. With most sports moving farther toward safety, it’s time for others to get on board.

Horse racing falls into that category. It’s obsolete and inhumane.

Unfortunately, it might just take a tragedy to get people to come to their senses.

Let’s hope that’s not the case.

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David Wetzel serves in both editor and reporter roles for The Sun News. An award-winning journalist, he has reported on all types of news, sports and features stories in over a decade as a member of the staff. Wetzel has won awards for sports column, feature and headline writing.


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