Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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This is Affirmed’s 1978 Belmont Stakes win which gave him horseracing’s most recent Triple Crown win. This particular race is often cited as being the most exciting Belmont win in history. Remarkably, this was the first time in history that the same two horses, Affirmed and Alydar, finished one-two in all three of these races. This, combined with Affirmed’s very small margins of victory in all three races (a combined total of less than two lengths), made many people think of Alydar as the first true runner-up to the Triple Crown [2:38].

I have read several books about Alydar, and this gallant horse lived a truly tragic life, despite his impressive talent and his tremendous impact on the sport as a sire of great racehorses. Most tragic of all, Alydar’s life was prematurely ended when his right hind leg was shattered mysteriously in the middle of the night in his stall and he was euthanized as youthful 15 year old. Since the owner of Calumet Farm was in severe financial trouble at the time, it is probable that Alydar was murdered so the owners could collect his multi-million dollar life insurance policy. Several people involved with Calumet Farms were imprisoned for various white-collar crimes.

Comments

  1. #1 NJ
    June 7, 2008

    It should go without saying that the last real Triple Crown winner was Yaz. In 1967.

  2. #2 Angela
    June 7, 2008

    I generally love your blog and your posts on tweeters, but find the horse-racing stuff a bit odd, especially for someone who posts on “people hurting birds,” which would otherwise indicate some sensitivity to animal welfare concerns. The New York Times had a very apt op-ed today considering Big Brown, which should be required reading for horse-racing aficionados.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/07/opinion/07fornatale.html?em&ex=1212984000&en=7e3f945b5dc70195&ei=5087
    This piece should be a cold splash of reality in the face of anyone romanticizing this race today.
    “[Big Brown's] main owner is International Equine Acquisitions Holdings, whose stated purpose is to be an equine hedge fund that delivers profits to its investors by consistently racing winners. When you run your stable like a hedge fund, the horse becomes just another commodity to be bought and sold like a share of stock, with little concern for its fate….Its current trainer, Richard Dutrow, is even more notorious for pushing the envelope. He has a list of violations longer than most anyone else’s in the history of the sport. No one has seriously accused him of doing anything untoward with Big Brown, but he’s been fined or suspended for doping in each of the last eight years, including two instances in January. The Association of Racing Commissioners International report on Dutrow reveals 72 offenses since 1979, 13 of them related to drugs.”

    So please, stop with the romanticizing. This is, after all, just another incidence of corporations exploiting animals for sport.

  3. #3 "GrrlScientist"
    June 8, 2008

    angela,

    i am pleased that you appreciate what i do with BITN, and yes, i am very sensitive to animal welfare concerns, but i also see animals and people as having a strong bond .. people love animals and want to live with them, and animals are typically happiest when they have a job instead of just hanging around all day long every day of their lives .. so i do not see horseracing as inherently cruel, because i know from experience that horses are happiest when they have a job. for some horses (those that i have the closest contact with), that job is racing or eventing or dressage or endurance racing or some other performance sport.

    is that romaticizing the sport? i don’t think so BUT that said, i DO see today’s practice of horseracing as often cruel and inhumane because (1) the horses are run too young, (2) the track surfaces are optimized to accentuate their performances so speed records are broken (along with an unacceptable number of horses), (3) the breeding of these horses focuses on speed only instead of speed combined with stamina and durability, and (4) the use of drugs to keep a horse from bleeding, for example, and steroids to cause young horses to grow bigger faster than they otherwise might (thereby straining its fragile bones and joints) — these are cruel and inhumane, and these are usually due to the influx of huge sums of money into the sport which objectify horses by forcing them to fit into a cost-benefit ration model instead of being horses that love to run.

    however, the improvements to equine medicine are astonishing and wonderful (and also applicable to human medicine) and that is due to the huge amounts of money that are involved in the sport as well. so overall, i think that horseracing (and jumping and eventing and dressage — basically ALL performance horse industries) should have stricter rules about what is and is not acceptable practice and behavior, these rules should be ENFORCED, and these rules should be THE SAME throughout the entire united states.

    the fact that i am obviously interested in horseracing does not mean that i have forgotten eight belles, or barbaro, or go for wand or ruffian (!!) .. nor does it mean that i am any less outraged by how those horses were treated. but i will not turn my back on horseracing because to do so would be to abandon these wonderful animals who have given me so much pleasure throughout my entire life. however, i am very critical of several practices — abuses — that are commonplace in horseracing today, and yes, as you point out, most of those abuses have become mainstream in the sport because of the influx of huge sums of money and the exploitation of horses by corporate interests for profit.

    overall, i don’t think we disagree so very much with regards to horseracing, although i’ll leave it to you to elaborate as to where you do disagree with me.

  4. #4 Angela
    June 9, 2008

    I think we do probably agree on most points. I would be okay with horse racing if changes are made, but I wonder if the sport isn’t now irredeemably polluted by corporate greed, like a lot of things. I do remember Ruffian quite keenly. I had a book on her and remember crying when she was put down. I grew up with horses and dogs and totally understand what you mean when you say many animals like to have jobs. It’s when money enters the equation that it bothers me, because greed clouds ape judgment so horribly. cheers and keep up the good work!