In the last few seconds of the 2008 Kentucky Derby, the effervescent Big Brown came streaking down the stretch in a performance much like the one Barbaro had delivered two years prior. He opened up easily after coasting along through the backstretch and simply strolled under the wire to win. He proved that his raw talent, big stride, and easy speed trumped his inexperience, and that he was here to stay. Jockey Kent Desormeaux had troubled pulling up the flashy colt, who continued tossing his head and prancing even as the outrider was bringing him back to the thundering grandstand. Big Brown’s antics eventually unseated his jockey, who vaulted back on cowboy-style and rode home victorious.
However, Big Brown’s victory was quickly overshadowed by the second place finisher. As the colt had galloped down the stretch, a game grey horse battled on behind him, pouring every ounce of strength and power onto the track. With pinned ears and churning legs, the massive horse positively flew over the track, cleanly outrunning the rest of the field but not able to match Big Brown’s impressive performance.
This second place finisher was no burly colt, but a filly, Eight Belles, who many had dismissed. She was talented, yes, but she couldn’t match up to the boys, and the derby was definitely not in her sights, they said. Too young, too inexperienced, not enough talent. But as the bustling field rounded the far turn, she was there.
She glided up from midpack, picking off the boys one by one. With great, thrusting strides, she drew away from all but one, and she had him firmly in her sights.
All eyes were on Big Brown, and there was little doubt he had the race firmly tied up. But she was still there, looming in the background, utterly decimating the rest of a very talented group of colts. As Big Brown swept under the wire to tumultuous applause, people began to realize, this filly is the real deal.
And she was. She showed an incomprehensible amount of heart, running well beyond her capacities and proving that determination can carry us beyond our abilities.
But she pushed herself too fast, too far. She ran until she could run no more. Her heart told her to keep going, keep pushing, keep her legs pounding, lungs pumping, body stretching. But it was all too much, and as she galloped out, her legs, the legs that had carried her so close to eternal victory, collapsed.
All of a sudden, it was over. She had been so big, forceful, real, and incredible, and then she was reduced to a heaving grey figure stretched out on the track. The ambulances came, forming a shield around her. Everyone knew it was bad, but they had no idea exactly how bad it was.
Both ankles. There was no chance, absolutely no reason to put her through the same agonizing roller coaster that Barbaro had been on. People milled around the ambulances; the filly remained hidden from view. Then the track vet, Dr. Larry Bramlage informed the nation.
“Unfortunately, she broke both front ankles and collapsed…they immediately euthanized her.”
Below is my tribute to this magnificent filly: