When evaluating a mystery--like why Eight Belles, a supposedly healthy racehorse, suddenly breaks multiple bones and is put to death at the Kentucky Derby--it's useful to look for the common element that becomes a common denominator. Just as the old teaching poem says "for want of a nail, a horse was lost." What led that nail to be wanting? Poor choices.
We're bringing you videos of Eight Belles on the track. They all have important clues that show why former rodeo guy Larry Jones, the filly's trainer, and her jockey Gabriel Saez, need to be thoroughly investigated, with Saez immediately suspended.
In 2007, Eight Belles didn't just win this race, but galloped away with it, leaving the field about 14 lengths behind. Watch jockey Saez carefully.
The more Eight Belles pulls away from the others, and the bigger the lead she gains, the more Saez whips her. That's right--her reward for responding to what should have been a signal "tap" or two, is to get repeatedly hit with the stick the faster she runs and the better she does.
Rewind. There clearly is no way that the trailing horses are going to catch up with Eight Belles--unless, of course, she falls--but Saez just piles the whip blows on. That, friends, is just plain nuts as far as racing strategy--as well as cruel and indicative of a major problem.
Saez brutally whipped Eight Belles to a second-place finish in the Derby. Over-using the whip is a common denominator in Saez' riding style.
Eight Belles won the Martha Washington by 13 l/4 lengths, as shown in this retrospective. For most of the race, she's running sixth out of a field of eight. Suddenly, she explodes and runs past the field like they're taking a Sunday stroll.
Who's riding Eight Belles for the Martha Washington win? Gifted rider Terry Thompson. Thompson, who's come back from two major injuries, wins 14% of the time and is in the money 45% of the time.
Here's Eight Belles winning the Fantasy Sweepstakes earlier this year. She rears up a little bit at the start of the race. She runs behind most of the race. Then she wins, by 3/4 of a length, or: just barely.
The jockey finally goes to the whip at the very last. Notice that when she is ahead, even though her lead is very short, the jockey's hands are on the reins. He could see she had the race, and he finished up with a hand ride, albeit a short one.
The difference? The jockey who stayed seated and calm although Eight Belles reared in the gate--one of the most dangerous things that can happen-- and whoe trailed most of the way wasn't Saez.
Ramon Dominguez steered Eight Belles to this win. So why wasn't he on Eight Belles at the Derby? Was he not Derby-qualified?
Actually, Dominguez is not only Derby-qualified, but he was at the Derby. He was aboard Ronba. The colt won the Toyota Blue Grass at Keeneland in April, but was a sluggard in the Derby. Notice that when Dominguez wins Keeneland he's not laying on the whip. Dominguez, who had won before on Eight Belles, would have been a good match for the talented filly in the Derby.
As of May 2, Dominquez is the fifth highest-winning money-maker among jockeys, with $4,690,994 to his credit. His stats show that he wins 28% of the time, and is in the money 65% of the time.
But Jones went to Saez, who appears to be his favorite rider. Why? It must be because of outstanding stats, right?
Wrong. Saez, who's just barely out of the apprentice class, isn't even cited by the Jockeys' Guild. He wins 10% of the times he rides, and is in the money 40% of the time.
Another question--why did Jones put Eight Belles in the Derby? Why this last-minute decision? Was it because he thought her checkered racing stats, her long, often-gawky legs, and her heavy body all signaled readiness for what is, even in a smaller field, a long shot for a filly and one of the more demanding races?
"The only reason Eight Belles is running in the Derby was because we felt like we had a really good shot of winning the Oaks without her," Jones said.
Jones figured he could win the big bucks in the Kentucky Oaks the day before the Derby with another horse. So he threw Eight Belles into the 20-horse Derby field. There's a difference between running the Oaks and the Derby, and running in the Derby shouldn't be an off-hand, pocketbook decision.
But Jones has made some other controversial decisions, too. Last year, he rewarded jockey Mario Pino for helping to develop Hard Spun, guiding him through his career starts, by dumping him just four days before the Belmont Stakes.
Pino had ridden Hard Spun to second in the Kentucky Derby and third in the Preakness. Jones said that Pino had not followed his orders in rating Hard Spun. Pino, fearing the colt would get boxed in, had moved Hard Spun into a better track position.
Aw shucks'ing all over the place, Jones opined "“I feel badly for Mario, as he is truly a nice guy, but he made a mistake." He didn't, however, address why, if Pino had made the mistake in the Preakness he waited until just four days ahead of the Belmont rather earlier.
How did that work out? Hard Spun, who racing experts said clearly seemed too tired for the race, barely sputtered into fourth place. He battled new jockey Garrett Gomez, who tried to follow Jones' demands and rate the horse. Meanwhile, Gomez's former mount, the filly Rags to Riches, stumbled and went to her knees at the start of the race and then ran right by the boys to win.
And how is Pino doing? His stats show that wins 22% of the time and places in the money 54% of the time. Pino, Maryland’s all-time winningest jockey, has just been honored by by named The Honorary Postmaster for Preakness 133 Station.
If we here at the Peanut headquarters were into betting, we sure wouldn't bet on Jones' decisions. Except for one: he likes, really likes, a rough rider named Gabriel Saez.