I’ll confess to having reacted viscerally to the news of Eight Belle’s euthanasia after her second-place performance in yesterday’s Kentucky Derby. Last night’s late post found me at a loss for words to express the confusing emotions I’d experienced after my boyfriend’s “I have bad news” phone call reached me in advance of a few others.

Nonetheless, I’ll not rescind my call to boycott the Triple Crown ... and the folks over at PetConnection will urge you to do the same. For all those that care about animals and their welfare, we consider it a worthy, if simple, demonstration of our willingness to disengage ourselves from this sport until the thoroughbred racing industry takes credible steps to reform its dangerous practices (more on this in an upcoming post).

This action means fewer viewers supporting NBC’s coverage…and its sponsors. And though our impact may well prove minor, it counts tremendously to know that even one set of eyeballs — yours — is disaffected enough to turn away.

Each pair that does so represents one more step away from the thoroughbred racing industry’s continued legitimacy in its current incarnation. If its taste is for the greenery of the sport, as we suspect, our decisive inaction should prove helpful for the welfare of the horses involved.

And here’s where I decry the broadcasters as well as the industry, lending some credibility to the need to eschew the sport’s television coverage of the lucrative Triple Crown. After all, the broadcast media is as financially complicit in the machinery of the sport as the industry players themselves. As such, it’s as deserving of our boycott as the target itself.

And after yesterday’s performance — by which I mean the television coverage — I think you might agree.

Though I’ve so far refused to watch any replays, my reliable confidants (other veterinarians) have suggested that NBC’s coverage intentionally downplayed the injury, panning far wide of the site of the breakdown as it ignored the obvious goings-on at the margins of the screen.

To them, it smacked of obfuscation, a calculated and transparent attempt to abide by network policy when it comes to the too-common downside of the sport. (For the record, here's NBC' s side of things.)

Of course the Kentucky Derby is family fare. And no one wants their children to bear witness to the untimely euthanasia of a filly so many were rooting for. It couldn’t have been a less desirable turn of events. But truth has proved stranger than fiction, yet again.

I don’t deny that focusing telephotos on tragedy makes me squirm with an uncomfortable perplexity of sentiments: I want to know what happened, particularly as I have a medical interest in the injury, but I hate the thought of a nation of gawkers mercilessly rubbernecking the mess.

Ultimately, though, transparency is always the best policy, isn’t it? When a football player goes down, we watch with bated breath as he’s carried off the field on a stretcher, discussing the importance of his loss to the team, his prospects for recovery and the true meaning of risk in sport. Yet when a horse goes down, we turn the cameras away. We focus on anything but the “elephant in the room” being whisked away into oblivion.

And for what? Out of respect? I doubt that.

Perhaps I’m jaded after years of watching the same pulsing, media machinery crank out glory stories on the lives of horses lost, as if frolicking foals on fields of green could obscure the fact that these horses are babies, not two or three years off their mothers’ teats. 

And when they do go down in the limelight, as Ruffian, Barbaro and Eight Belles did, among countless others, we speak of “courage” and “heart,” as if no one’s to blame in the felling of the sport’s superheroes.

So where’s their courage now? Show us the filly in her agony. Show me the needle in the jugular. I want to see the real deal, not the industry-sparing, income-protecting, face-saving money shots of Eight Belles on the green pastures of her even earlier days. 

I don’t envy the networks and the media at large their position after the death of a horse. It’s tricky, at best. But the big news for most of us after the 2008 Kentucky Derby was not the win but the loss. I was infuriated by huge, splashy pics of the winner with small subtitles referencing tragic events down below (with the notable exception of the New York Times--sorry if I missed other excellent coverage).

Only the editorials ventured out against the industry and their hand in the debacle. While The New York Times offered an interesting one, my local Miami Herald had the guts to lambast the industry by calling out the trainers, describing one as a  “scumbag” for his freewheeling drug doping exemplary of the industry’s corruption (just condemnation I was gratified to see in print).

Forgive my rambling diatribe. It’s been a hard bit of news to digest. So now, again, I offer you your turn to tell me what you think…

So what do you say? Will you boycott with me?

Image: Eight Belles / via HorseHats.com