Kentucky Derby Recap – Review

2008 Kentucky Derby Recap: Big Brown wins 134th Kentucky Derby, Filly Eight Belles Breaks Down
by Kenneth Strong of

May 3, 2008 Favored Big Brown overcame post 20 to win the 134th Kentucky Derby by 4 -lengths and never really looked like he had to overexert himself. The same couldnt be said for game second place finisher, Eight Belles, the lone filly in the field, who gave her all in defeat and then broke both front ankles while galloping out. While the Big Brown crew was celebrating in the winners circle, Eight Belles was being euthanized.

Big Brown looked like he might be the real thing after a scintillating victory in the Florida Derby-G1 on March 29, but no horse had won the Kentucky Derby off three lifetime starts since filly Regret did it in 1915. And no horse had won the Kentucky Derby from Post 20 since 1929, when Clyde Van Dusen accomplished the feat from a standing start in a 21 horse field.

Some said Big Brown was simply beating up on a subpar field in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, but you certainly couldnt argue his dominance and ability after watching him overcome history and a 5-6 wide trip to surge away from the field in the stretch.

Rating wide just back of pacesetters Bob Black Jack, Cowboy Cal and Recapturetheglory through fractions of 23.30, 47.04 and 1:11.14, Big Brown moved to take over the lead late on the final turn, got the mile in 1:36.56, opened up in early stretch and accelerated away when asked by jockey Kent Desormeaux, who was recording his third Kentucky Derby win. The final time for the 1 1/4 miles was 2:01.82 over a track rated as fast despite weekend rains.

Eight Belles ran a huge race for a filly that many thought didnt belong in the race. Tracking the leaders from between horses, she swung out behind Big Brown into the stretch and chased that one home, lugging in while digging in gamely. She looked strong at the wire and gave no evidence of her impending catastrophic breakdown a quarter mile past the finish line. While unable to catch the winner Eighth Belles easily held second money from rallying longshot Denis of Cork by 3 -lengths. It was a further 2 -lengths back to Tale of Ekati in fourth, -lengths in front of Recapturetheglory.

Eight Belles, the first filly to run in the Derby since 1999, was trying to become only the fourth filly in history to win the Kentucky Derby and the first to win the race since Winning Colors in 1998. Her game effort will never be forgotten. Certainly not by racing fans and horsemen – and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) – who launched a campaign to bar her jockey Gabriel Saez from riding while the fillys death is investigated. In a letter sent to the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority, PETA also asked for a ban on whipping, limits on racing depending on the age of the horses and a switch to softer artificial surfaces. Trainer Larry Jones was also upset by accusations that Eight Belles had been on steroids and was adamant that this was not the case.

While PETA may be out of line in accusing jockey Gabriel Saez of cruelty, their quest for a ban of whips and steroids in horse racing will find its share of backers. Their suggestion that softer artificial surfaces be used has already been implemented in many jurisdictions, but current studies indicate that the break down rate remains the same on these surfaces. Softer artificial surfaces may be nice for media relations, but they are not the answer. While Eight Belles probably was not racing on drugs, designer drugs, steroid abuse and cortisone overuse remain the most serious problems in horseracing.

Back to the Derby, other notables included Colonel John, who actually ran an excellent race to finish sixth. The California shipper was shuffled back early, made a big move on the final turn and then dug in with everything he had in the stretch but appeared to be spinning his wheels in his first try over a dirt surface. Expect him to rebound with a big race in his next start. Pyro had a decent trip but couldnt muster any kind of decent rally. Smooth Air broke in the air and had some minor traffic trouble early. Gayego also had some minor trouble early, but did gain good position on the backstretch only to have nothing in the tank when the running started.

Trained by Richard Dutrow for IEAH Stables and Paul Pompa, Big Brown paid $6.80 to win. The 3-year-old colt by Boundary-Mien by Nureyev will now attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. Only 11 3-year-olds have won the Triple Crown, but Big Brown should have enough class and stamina in his pedigree to make the sweep. He certainly has the talent in a year when no other 3-year-old has shown any signs of breaking away from the pack.

The second leg of the 2008 Triple Crown, the 1 3/16- mile Preakness Stakes-G1, takes place on Saturday, May 17, at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland.