Aug 19, 2009

Drilling for Oil: Or, The Other Side of Horseracing

So, this is the story of a racehorse that doesn't have a high profile. In fact, I never heard of him before a week ago. Born in 2003, out of Won't She Tell, a half-sister to Affirmed and by Giant's Causeway, a stallion who raced in Europe and won 5 straight Group 1 races in 2000, earning European Horse of the Year honors. High and mighty connections, it would seem.

But Drilling for Oil was, as Ken McPeek, his trainer, was quoted in this Bloodhorse article from May 2007, "an extremely difficult horse to train." Maybe that had something to do with the fact that he didn't make his first start until the age of 3. It was an inauspicious debut, finishing 8th. He broke his maiden a month later, perhaps ready to finally show his worth, but it wasn't until his 4-year-old year that he would win a stakes race. Two in fact. The Grade 3 Elkhorn Stakes and the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap. Alas, these were his only career wins. He seemed destined only to be the runner-up in his subsequent outings.

His is the story of many a racehorse. Had you heard of him prior to this? Really? Think long and hard about that. But I suppose I'm being unfair, honestly. Compared to the thousands of un-noteworthy claimers around the country, Drilling for Oil led a privileged life. His were legitimate brushes with fame; a Grade 3 win is not to be sneezed at. Then again, he never saw the kind of glory of a Kentucky Derby or Breeder's Cup winner. His winnings only totaled around $266k. You could say that he was always fated for ignominy. Well, except for maybe in the breeding shed. His connections were probably worth an admirable figure there, at least in some countries.

So, he was bought and shipped off to Peru where he would perform stallion duty. His previous owner, Lansdon Robbins, was quoted as saying: "'We are very happy to see Drilling for Oil go to a farm that truly appreciates all of his accomplishments,' Robbins said. 'We have retained the Northern Hemisphere breeding rights to the horse, and we wish them the best of luck.'" Wow, be a little less effusive about the horse, will ya? I mean, who doesn't see through this canned statement for its true meaning? Hey, thanks for taking him off our hands. No blue-blood American breeder is going to bother retaining his services, so go ahead and do what you will with him.

And no, I don't really have a problem with that. At least in theory. Yeah, it's a business. Your job is to make a profit where you can. A new owner was willing to purchase Drilling for Oil and maybe his bloodlines were precious to Peru. Good on them for recognizing that.

Alas, you've all surely read the headlines by now. It's the only reason I'm writing this piece, unfortunately. Drilling for Oil was stolen and slaughtered for meat. I want desperately to conjecture on the circumstances surrounding his death and what could seem like a severe lack of security at his new home. I would love to pass judgment on an industry that churns out perfect athletes and then spits them out, letting them fan out to all parts of the globe when their career is perhaps less than illustrious. No one certainly foresaw that end when he was just a colt grazing in the pastures of South Carolina. Back then his future was full of hope.

But I can't pass judgment. Not really. Not without being hypocritical. Because who among us hasn't sold a horse without that cold fear and shame passing over us, even for an brief instant. Once that money exchanges hands you have no control over the future of that animal you tried to care for and protect the best you could. That doesn't mean that Drilling for Oil deserved this fate. Or that there was no gross incompetence on the part of his current owner for letting this happen. Then again, sometimes these things happen.

And while I'm sitting here writing about Drilling for Oil's tragic story, there just happens to be a glut of thoroughbreds across the country who are broken down, desperate for new life, abandoned or abused. We churn out far more of the animals than the racing industry can support, and its a travesty really. That's the result of the thousands of press-worthy rags-to-riches stories that clog our national consciousness. The thought that maybe, just maybe the underdog will blossom into a hero. America eats that up. Even I can't help but be swayed by the narrative sometimes. I guess we just can't pretend to be surprised by the consequences.

1 comment:

rockandracehorses said...

Another article that has gotten a lot of feedback- on a related note...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/24/sports/24tour.html?_r=1&scp=6&sq=horse%20racing%20&st=cse