Filly Eight Belles “Went Out in Glory”

It was one of the first things that came to mind when Three Chimneys president Case Clay was asked about Eight Belles, the brilliant filly born and raised on his historic farm.

“She always did what was asked of her,” Clay said softly.

On Saturday, Eight Belles lost her life after giving everyone around her all they could ask for and more. Eight Belles — the first filly to compete in the Kentucky Derby since 1999 — was euthanized moments after running a gallant second behind Big Brown in the 134th Run for the Roses.

The gray daughter of Unbridled’s Song already had finished the race and was being pulled up around the turn when she broke both front ankles.

“She had finished the race and was around the turn at the start of the backstretch and right near one of the out riders as they were watching, he saw both front ankles just collapse,” said Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. “It’s obvious from the physical examination that she had fractures in the left side.

“It’s not terribly unheard of for a horse to have a problem bilaterally but normally, in my years of racing, I have never seen this happen at the end of a race or during the race.”

Like many in the crowd of 157,770 who had witnessed the brilliant exploits of the two top finishers, trainer Larry Jones was still trying to process the elation of the moment when his world was hit with the cruelest dagger.

“She went out in a glory. She went out a champion to us. She was our family.” -Larry Jones

Jones, who had gotten hung up in the crowd after the race, was on his way to the track and was receiving congratulations from fellow trainer Steve Asmussen before he found out the fate of his star filly.

“I never knew anything ever happened, and I’m walking around the track and see (jockey Gabriel Saez) riding back on the pony with Donna Barton,” a visibly shaken Jones said through a quivering voice. “That’s when he told me, so I ran on over and caught the ride on the ambulance.”

“Needless to say when I did see her, it had to be done. She had no way of being saved. It happened a quarter mile after the race. They just don’t happen there.”

Owner Rick Porter of Fox Hill Farm was not immediately available for comment but Jones said Porter had asked for Eight Belles to be cremated.

“He’s taking it pretty rough, I tell you,” Jones said of Porter. “We’re going to be second-guessed. There is going to be somebody who will say a filly shouldn’t have been in there.

“But it wasn’t the race. It wasn’t the fact 19 boys were in there. She never got bumped. She never did anything. She could have done this racing against Shetland ponies.”

With her chrome-colored coat and a massive, beautifully muscled frame that dwarfed many of her male competitors, Eight Belles invoked memories of Winning Colors, the last filly to win the Derby in 1988. She came into the race with as much gusto as any of her rivals, having won all four of her starts this year by a combined 301⁄2 lengths. When she entered the Churchill paddock and the roar of the onlookers hit her, Eight Belles remained cool and professional, pricking her ears and taking in the controlled pandemonium around her.

“She was going in the best she had ever gone into any race,” Jones said. “She ran the race of her life. She had so much confidence and wasn’t worried about anything. She went out in glory and went out like a champion.”

When questioned about whether he thought the dirt surface contributed to Eight Belles’ injury, Jones was quick to dismiss that notion.

“It’s not the track that did it on her today,” a tear-stained Jones said. “They did a great job getting the track sealed, and the track was good.”

Bred by Three Chimneys owner Robert Clay in partnership with Serengeti Stable, Eight Belles was the quintessential standout from day one, bringing a price of $375,000 at the 2006 Keeneland September yearling sale.

“She was always a straightforward and beautiful filly,” Case Clay, son of Robert Clay, said. “Our hearts go out to Rick, Larry and Eight Belles herself.”

When he left the barn, Jones said it would be a good day regardless of finish as long as she came back good. Now Jones and the rest of his crew have an empty stall that only pales in comparison to the hollowness in their hearts.

“She was our family,” Jones said, emotion cracking through his voice once more. “It’s just not supposed to happen like this.”

PEDIGREE

Eight Belles was a daughter of multiple Grade 1-winning millionaire Unbridled’s Song, the hero of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1), Florida Derby (G1) and Wood Memorial S. (G2). Dispatched as the 7-2 favorite in the 1996 Kentucky Derby (G1), he was compromised by foot issues and wound up running in bar shoes, but still turned in a terrific performance to finish fifth. Unbridled’s Song now ranks as a successful stallion, with an Average Winning Distance of 7.2 furlongs for his progeny. His top three performers are all fillies: Unbridled Elaine, successful in the 2001 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1) and now the dam of Kentucky Derby aspirant Etched (Forestry); 1 1/4-mile Coaching Club American Oaks (G1) victress Octave; and multiple Grade 1 queen Splendid Blended, who captured the 1 1/8-mile Vanity Invitational H. (G1) in 2005.

Eight Belles was the second foal produced by the stakes-winning sprinter Away. After capturing the six-furlong Minaret S. at Tampa Bay Downs in 2002, Away went on to place in four other sprint stakes, notably the Thoroughbred Club of America S. (G3) at Keeneland and the Chaposa Springs H. (G3) at Calder. Away’s first foal is Escape Route, who stayed much farther than she did. Despite being sired by the sprinter-miler Elusive Quality, Escape Route won a 1 1/8-mile handicap in England. Away may be transmitting more stamina than she herself displayed on the racetrack, probably courtesy of her sire, Dixieland Band. A son of the phenomenal Northern Dancer, Dixieland Band garnered the 1983 Pennsylvania Derby (G2) and 1984 Massachusetts H. (G2), both at 1 1/8 miles, before embarking upon an outstanding career at stud. He has become a broodmare sire of the highest caliber, with his daughters responsible for an army of classy individuals, including two winners of the Kentucky Derby this decade, Street Sense (2007) and Monarchos (2001).

Away is a half-sister to Rich Find (Exploit), a stakes winner going one mile on the turf. They are both out of the unraced Mr. Prospector mare Be a Prospector, who is herself a half-sister to the brilliant sprinter Belong to Me (Danzig). Eight Belles‘ fourth dam is Straight Deal, by Hail to Reason, who was voted the champion handicap mare of 1967. This is the family of French champion and noted sire Caerleon, multiple Grade 1 star and millionaire Royal Glint, and multiple Grade 1 heroine Adored, among a host of others. Eight Belles traces to the elite broodmare *La Troienne (*Teddy), the ancestress of innumerable top-class performers.


EIGHT BELLES: 2005 – 2008