Because we are in the grips of horse racing’s run for the Triple Crown, the subject of horses and their safety has been brought back to the forefront — especially when you consider the tragedy of Eight Belles. With this in mind, I pursued an opportunity to interview Dr Lawrence Bramlage, the
attending on-call* veterinarian of the Kentucky Derby.
Dr. Bramlage also oversaw the euthanasia of Eight Belles after determining the severity of her injuries; something he’s never before witnessed during his career as a medical expert for the thoroughbred industry.
In our interview, we asked Dr. Bramlage some questions about the Eight Belles injury, potential prevention methods, Big Brown and Derby Pie. Needless to say, Dr. Bramlage went to great lengths to educate some of us who may have been in an uproar about animal cruelty and horse racing. Our interview was conducted via email and because I’m no expert when it comes to matters of the horse-racing industry, some of my questions may seem elementary.
Thankfully, Dr. Bramlage’s answers were not:
Intentional Foul: Dr. Bramlage, thank you for taking the time speak with Intentional Foul. In your report, it was revealed Eight Belles had fractures of the cannon and sesamoid bones in both front legs. What, in your professional opinion, contributed to the severity of these injuries? Was Eight Belles fighting the “slow down” commands she was being given or did she perhaps step incorrectly while she was slowing?
Dr. Bramlage: She was slowing down perfectly just like you want a horse to do. She was decreasing her momentum without abruptly stopping. She was relaxed and the jockey had her perfectly balanced. There is no good explanation for how she got the fractures. In her last three strides she showed lameness in the right front on two, then dramatically shifted her weight to the left. That is when the left fractured and she went down. Obviously she overloaded the right as well.
There is no indication of anything wrong until those three strides. Horses occasionally sustain injuries during a race that shows up as they slow down, but no one associated with racing that I have talked to has ever seen anything like this event.