Eight Belles (February 23, 2005 – May 3, 2008) was a Thoroughbred racehorse owned by Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farms. She finished second to winner Big Brown in the 134th running of the Kentucky Derby held at Churchill Downs, a race run by only thirty-nine fillies in the past. Her collapse just after the Derby's conclusion resulted in immediate euthanasia.
Earlier in the year, Eight Belles made history at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Arkansas, by being the first filly in the history of the track to win the Martha Washington Stakes (February 17, 2008, by 13½ lengths, setting a stakes record for margin of victory), the Honeybee Stakes (March 16, 2008, beating stakes winner Pure Clan), and the Fantasy Stakes (April 12, 2008).
Eight Belles broke down approximately a furlong (1/8 mile) after the wire, while being slowed after the race. She suffered compound fractures of both front ankles and was immediately euthanized because of the nature of her injuries.
Dr. Larry Bramlage, the on-call veterinarian, stated that Eight Belles' trauma was too severe to even attempt to move her off the track.
According to the Louisville Courier-Journal, Bramlage said the filly had fractures of the cannon and sesamoid bones in both front legs. That is the same type of break that was suffered by 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro in one leg.
Eight Belles was buried and memorialized in the garden of Churchill Downs' Kentucky Derby Museum on September 7, 2008. A race has been renamed in her honor, and was run on the Derby Day 2009 undercard as the Eight Belles Stakes.
The National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) asked jockeys riding at Pimlico Race Course during all races over the weekend of the 133rd running of the Preakness Stakes (May 16 and 17, 2008) to wear stickers on their boots or mud pants in honor of Eight Belles. The red and white stickers, made by the NTRA, had a bell, the number 8 and the word "Belles" on them. The Jockeys' Guild wholeheartedly agreed. Jockey John Velazquez said: "It's something to remind everybody of a great horse. What happened was a really sad thing, and we're sad. I think it [wearing the stickers] is a good thing to bring awareness to our game. We'll do whatever is possible to minimize anything that happens like that."
Kentucky chief veterinarian Lafe Nichols performed a necropsy and tests at the University of Kentucky's Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center. According to a review of the results by the Associated Press, compound fractures of both front legs at the fetlock joints were confirmed. They described lacerated skin on both legs, an absence of joint fluid in the damaged areas and congested lungs. The filly also experienced a bruised head and hemorrhaging in the left thyroid gland, which the report blamed on her fall after the initial injuries.
Larry Jones, her trainer, commented that he believes the horse just tripped over her own feet. "She's bad about stumbling while pulling up. She doesn't pick her feet up very high. It's one reason she could run very fast and far. She had the perfect motion for being effective and efficient. However, those horses who do that have a tendency to want to stumble."
The Jockey Club formed a panel to examine the issues, which include breeding practices, track surfaces and medication.
Veteran Washington Post sportswriter Sally Jenkins wrote that Thoroughbred horses had become too strong with bones too lightweight: "She ran with the heart of a locomotive, on champagne-glass ankles." Blaming the breeders and investors, Jenkins claimed, "thoroughbred racing is in a moral crisis, and everyone now knows it."
Controversial campaign group PETA called for the suspension of jockey Gabriel Saez and the prize money to be revoked were he to be found at fault.
Six generations back takes Eight Belles to Native Dancer (foaled March 1950), along with all 20 of the horses in the Derby, and many horses racing in the United States today. Much opinion has been published in the press stating that there may be a connection between the fact of inbreeding stemming from Native Dancer, with the weak ankles seen in horses today, leading to Eight Belles' demise. The Los Angeles Times went so far as to headline its opinion piece that today's horses are being "bred for death". The owner of Eight Belles made comments and suggested solutions in an article in The Wall Street Journal.
Many news outlets and articles pointed fingers at Eight Belles' trainer. In response to a New York Times article suggesting this sport is becoming a form of animal cruelty, the trainer of Eight Belles, Larry Jones, refuted saying, "I disagree wholeheartedly, these horses, they run because they like to run. I mean if you knew how many horses were injured in the field running and just playing with other horses, I'm gonna be honest with you, we've had more horses injured on the farm than we have on the racetrack- they do more injury to [themselves]. This sport is not that cruel, and everyone does the best they can to make sure it is a safe track and a safe condition."
Eight Belles' dam was Away, a descendant of Northern Dancer, and her sire was Unbridled's Song. Unbridled's Song's dam is a daughter of Caro. Caro is the sire of Winning Colors, one of only three fillies to win the Kentucky Derby.
Eight Belles was a finalist for the Eclipse Award's American Champion Three-Year-Old Filly for 2008.