Maybe that's a little strong, and they don't shoot them anymore. They put them in a fancy horsey ambulance when they broke their leg on the horse track and they give them a shot and send them to racetrack heaven. And we cry about it. I remember crying as a kid while while the TV when the great filly Ruffian broke down on the backstretch of Belmont Park in a match race with Foolish Pleasure. I remember poor Demon's Begone, owned by John Ed Anthony, coming up lame in the Kentucky Derby. I can easily recall the sadness of last May's Preakness race, when Kentucky Derby champ Barbaro broke down in the main straightaway.
A friend immediate said, "They'll be putting that horse down shortly." But they didn't. Instead, the owners and the vets and everybody involved tried to keep Barbaro alive despite an incredible destruction of the right hind quarter. After months of trying to salvage Barbaro, though, the infections of late were too much, and Barbaro was euthanized today.
We've never been able to understand until the seven-month saga of Barbaro, that trying to salvage a horse after a massive break is next to impossible, and that's why they put the horses down almost immediately. It's the humane thing to do. Thoroughbreds are born to race, and make more thoroughbreds to race, but if they can't stand on their four legs, they will suffer greatly, and they'll likely die before you can help them go, if you don't go ahead and do it. While it was a great story that Barbaro was kept alive and every possible effort was made to save the horse (and, as the owners proclaimed, not simply to breed Barbaro but to actually save the horse -- and they could afford to do it), it was too much of an ordeal for a great steed.
So, while we'll likely sniffle and maybe tear up when we see another great horse break down in a big race, and feel a little despondent for a while over the fates that have decided a horse's life, we won't be saying, "Please don't bring out the horsey ambulance and take the horse away." We understand now.
But here's to the gallant Barbaro.