Ruffian, Barbaro, Homeboykris: Is This Horse Racing’s Legacy?

Homeboykris was a 9-year-old gelding with 63 races under his belt, but his name finally gained international fame when he collapsed and died after winning the first race at the Preakness on Saturday.

Homeboykris was not the only horse to die that day. A filly named Pramedya had to be euthanized on the track after shattering her cannon bone.

Pramedya is owned by Roy and Gretchen Jackson, who owned Barbaro, the 2006 Kentucky Derby winner who fractured his leg during the Preakness, on the same track, a decade earlier.

Pramedya broke through the starting gates early, just as Barbaro did in his run for the Preakness, the Baltimore Sun reported.

One can hardly mention Barbaro without Ruffian coming up in the same breath. The ill-fated filly was undefeated in 10 races before breaking down in a 1975 match race with Foolish Pleasure.

Ruffian and Barbaro had similar stories with tragic, parallel endings.

Barbaro’s owner Roy Jackson of Lael Farm in Chester County Pennsylvania, had spent over 11 months investing in the horse’s recovery at Equine Intensive Care Unit at the New Bolton Center. He indicated they were still processing Saturday’s awful end of Pramedya, the filly they had bred and raised for four years.

“We haven’t fully digested the whole thing. But life goes on.”

The tragic results of the rainy Preakness Saturday has caused public outcry against the sport of horse racing.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) spoke out on Saturday following the death of both horses. Kathy Guillermo, vice president of PETA, issued a statement calling for the release of vet records and medications from two weeks leading into Saturday’s races.

“In today’s racing drug culture, at least three horses are dying every day on U.S. tracks. The foolish use of muscle relaxants, anti-inflammatory drugs, and other medications must end now.”

But the Courier-Journal points out that the Jacksons themselves have taken a stance against the use of drugs in horse racing. The couple helped found the Water Hay Oats Alliance (WHOA), a grassroots organization supporting passage of USADA laws prohibiting use of race day medications.

CNN reported that a total of 4,649 thoroughbred race horses died in track-related incidents from 2009 to 2015: A rate of 1.87 for every 1,000 starts. The information is according to the Equine Injury Database compiled by The Jockey Club.

“In 2015, the fatality rate was the lowest (1.62) of the seven years for which data was available.”

Congress put the smackdown on the industry following a horrific incident in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, where a filly named Eight Belles had to be euthanized on the track. One of the new policies instilled was a ban on many anabolic steroids.

Yet the ethics warfare continues. Racing may be the “sport of kings,” but what happens to an “also-ran” who hits retirement age at 4-years-old?

Horses live into their 20s. Groups like CANTER pick up the reins, refurbishing injured horses or those who couldn’t keep up the pace. Over 20,000 former race horses have found a new life through CANTER.

The number doesn’t seem like much, when one considers how many equines move through the constantly churning wheel that is the horse racing industry. Many fall through the cracks, landing in the slaughter truck. According to PETA, 10,000 thoroughbred race horses are sent to slaughter each year.

And while glorifying videos like the stories of Ruffian and Barbaro indicate that the horses love to run, it’s hard to deny that the smell of green is what draws racing fans to the sport. And it’s not the green of pastures.

There is the gambling addiction factor. This isn’t limited to just placing bets on a race. All of horse racing is a gamble, and a very costly one. For instance, a mare called Day of Litany is currently listed on equinenow. A buyer can take her home for a mere $45,000. She is retired from racing, but she is in foal to the grandfather of American Pharoah. So the unborn colt or filly, because it is linked to that name, has multiplied the value of the mare.

The money-linked reasons why horse racing will continue are too many to number. Meanwhile, hoofs will keep pounding on the track, hopefully crossing safely under the wire to make it home.

[Photo of Barbaro by Garry Jones/AP]