When Smarty Jones won the Preakness, after winning the
Derby, the world woke up to his existence and Americans started thinking
that maybe he was the Seabisquit of our time. Back then we were coming out
of the great depression. Tensions in the world were mounting and another
world war brewing. Americans needed something to make them feel good about
their country and themselves. Seabisquit was a little guy who nobody
thought stood a chance against the mighty thoroughbreds of his day. His
trainer, jockey and owners had a lot of history -- some good, some bad.
This gorgeous little horse with the huge heart charmed the country and
made us forget our problems for at least a little while.
Much like Seabisquit, Smarty Jones has owners, trainers
and a jockey with history -- some good, some bad. He is a natural born
hero -- small, sweet, easy-going and well treated. I am a huge animal
lover and though I come from a long line of jockeys, trainers and
breeders, I think thoroughbred racing is inhumane. In fact, I find the
whole process of capturing wild horses, putting big metal bits in their
mouths, throwing saddles on their backs and hanging on while they buck and
kick until they're too worn down to go on, abominable. They call it
"breaking" because it does just that. It breaks their spirit. From then on
they are beasts of burden who serve at the pleasure of their human
masters. And, unlike, steeple chases, track racing especially bothers me
because it's so unnatural. Horses are not stock cars. And then there's the
part where they get whipped so they'll run faster. That's where they lose
So, when I heard that Smarty had won the Preakness by 7
lengths without having a crop laid on him, I was intrigued. I've watched
that race and they're right. Stewart Elliott never touched him. So I'm
thinking, maybe this small, mellow, sweet-as-all-get-out horse can make it
look cool to win with no whippings thus affecting change for all horses in
future races whose jockeys and trainers want to be like Smarty's. I'm in.
Finally, the day of the Belmont arrives. 92% of the
country says they're going to watch. What a captivating story. How bad do
we in America need a hero right now? And they're off. Smarty came out
strong and stayed strong through the whole race. I was very excited, as
was the entire crowd. His odds were 1 to 5, so no one, especially the
bookmakers in Vegas, expected him to lose.
Now, if you watch the race carefully, you'll see that
Smarty had a great start and stayed ahead for the first half of the track.
I was thinking, OK, this is good. In the home stretch he takes off like a
shot and gets about 3 lengths ahead. Now I'm jumping up and down
screaming. Then, for some completely incomprehensible reason, Mr. Elliott
starts to whip him. He starts hitting him and you can see Smarty's head
snap back. He whipped him over and over again for the rest of the race and
you could see how it was getting harder for Smarty to run. Yes, maybe he
was tired, Belmont Park being a long track and all, but does anybody
really think that whipping a small, good natured pony with a riding crop
while he's exhausted and trying to finish a race was helping him run
faster? Not this horse. You could just see it in his gait, his head and
ears. He was beat, literally. He was being beaten and it took everything
he had just to finish that last 100 yards. What a betrayal this was to
this kind, unique animal.
I cried -- well everybody cried. Just when we need
something good to happen, what do we get? More brutality. So now I am
wondering, wouldn't it be a humane move to change the rules so that none
of the jockeys carry crops and make it so none of the horses would ever
get whipped again? That way, it would be across the boards and a win-win
for the jockeys, the trainers and the owners as well as the horses. Maybe
they'd be less temperamental. Maybe Rock Hard 10 wouldn't fight going into
the gate all the time and thoroughbreds would be a little less
high-maintenance. But I just came across a website where you can buy whips
autographed by your favorite jockey. So I'm guessing that's not going to
happen any time soon.
In the end it boils down to the fact that some animals
just refuse to be mistreated. They have too much heart and too much soul.
I think Smarty Jones was one of those animals and his jockey and the
racing world in general have no one but themselves to blame that this
precious creature just couldn't keep up while he was being flogged.
Ms. Burgwin's writings have appeared in Time, Newsweek, New York Magazine,
Counterpunch, Alternet and OpEdNews as well as several other online Op Ed
sites. She is on the Board of Aid Afghanistan and one of the contributors
to the Peace Project in Assisi, Italy.
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