Were you one of the recipients of PETA’s email missive on the subject of Eight Belles? Here’s my receipt from the “PETA Action Center:”

Dear Patty:

As I am sure you have heard, after crossing the finish line in last Saturday's Kentucky Derby, a young filly named Eight Belles collapsed when both her front ankles snapped. She was euthanized in the dirt where she lay, the latest victim of the dirty business of thoroughbred racing.

Help PETA prevent further suffering in the racing industry by taking action today.

Eight Belles' death is yet another reminder that horses are raced when they are so young that their bones have not properly formed, and they are often raced on surfaces that are too hard for their bones—like the hard track at Churchill Downs. Eight Belles' jockey whipped her mercilessly as she came down the final stretch. Trainers, owners, and jockeys are driven by the desire to make money, and the horses suffer terribly for it.

PETA is calling on the racing industry to suspend the jockey and trainer; bar the owner from racing at the track; stop racing horses on hard tracks and switch to softer, synthetic surfaces to spare horses' bones and joints; permanently ban the use of whips; and, at the very least, stop using young horses who are so susceptible to these types of horrific injuries. Help PETA call for an end to cruelty that masquerades as sport.

Although Eight Belles' death—like Barbaro's death before hers—made headlines, countless lesser-known horses suffer similar fates away from the public eye. These horses' broken legs and battered bodies are hidden from public view. Most racehorses end up broken down or cast off or are sent to Europe for slaughter.

Please take action today to help prevent cruelty in the racing industry by asking the Kentucky Horse Racing Authority to institute sweeping reforms that would stop needless, preventable suffering.

Thank you for your action and compassion for animals.

Kind regards,
Ingrid E. Newkirk

No doubt I can do nothing but agree with PETA’s end-game as it’s stated here. It’s words like these, forthright, completely heartfelt and simply delivered via mass email campaigns like this one that grows PETA’s membership daily.

But giving credit where it’s due is not so easy on this one. Because yet again, PETA’s tactics leave much to be desired.

No, not the email itself. Internet mailings to subscribers are a perfectly acceptable approach to reaching a large group of potentially like-minded individuals. In this case, I’m referring to a variety of other issues the message itself raises:

1-How does sanctioning the jockey fit into this? Since Sunday when this news borke (sans email), I’ve been marveling at PETA’s dumbfoudingly ridiculous jab at the jockey.  What’s that all about? Almost all those jockeys whipped their horses. Why not call for a uniform suspension of all jockeys?

2-And the trainer? Show me one that bests Big Brown’s for his well-documented, disgusting, horse-doping behavior. After examining this guy’s pedigree, you’ll never convince me that Eight Belles’ trainer deserves a special sanction over all the other guys in his field—just because his horse was the one to go down.

3-And finally, am I really to believe that PETA seeks to reform the sport? If their approach to pets is any measure, it’s clear to me they’d love nothing better than to see the entire shebang shut down overnight and its animals summarily dispatched by a bevy of vets wielding pink juice.

But they don’t say so. Nope—they won’t. They’d rather have you believe their aims are to make the sport safer. Their target? The average animal lover who wants to believe they’re helping animals wherever they can…even if it takes sending PETA a few bucks to help make it happen.

By that I mean no disrespect to you, should you be one of those mailing list recipients who occasionally sends money to PETA when a shocking event like this shakes us up. After all, you’re not the only ones on their list, right?

Still, I want to be sure that you understand the difference between what PETA really wants and what their downplayed goals say.

I confess, part of that is just the need to distinguish my aspirations for the sport and those of organizations like PETA’s. After everything I’ve learned about PETA over the past year, it feels somewhat dirty to know that PETA and I might be sharing the same sheets. So, for the record, here’s where I state my case:

Thoroughbred racing is a viable sport—if it can show itself one that can adapt with the cultural sensibility of the times. It must commit itself to the quality of life of the horse in ways that go far beyond spoiling them silly in the stables. It needs to find ways to address the serious safety concerns of the track, even though we know there will never be a horserace 100% free of risk.

More moderate-minded lovers of the sport, some which, like me, consider themselves reluctant crusaders, are calling for change in the following ways:

We want dirt tracks replaced with polytrack or turf. We want no horses under three years of age training at breakneck speeds on immature limbs. We want dopers dealt with definitively (do you know what steroids do to the bones and joints of developing horses?). And we want reduced fields of horses vying for the inside rail.

The racing banners and racing reformers may not all agree on the goals and details of the changes we seek, but ultimately, we’re  all of the same mind: We don’t want to see the “finish line” interpreted quite so literally when real reform is within our grasp.