Mars, We Hardly Knew Ye

We American racing fans, that is. We’d just met Mars during his final race, so I’ve been wondering if we could have acknowledged his passing better than we did?

First, I would like to offer our deepest sympathies to his connections:  trainer Mike de Kock and his team, original trainer Aidan O’Brien and the staff at Ballydoyle and Mars’s owners — both past and present — and jockey Richard Hughes, who also receives “heal up soon” wishes.

About Mars

The Irish-bred four-year-old by Galileo out of Massarra was originally destined to run in the Dubai World Cup, as was mentioned in the British racing press.

In 2012, under original trainer Aidan O’Brien, Mars won his two-year-old debut in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden in Dundalk. O’Brien’s Ballydoyle had him targeted toward the Epsom Derby, in which he placed sixth.

Mars never won again, although he placed third in the St. James Palace Stakes at Ascot. Coolmore sold controlling interest in Mars to a racing ownership group which included Bernard Kantor, managing director of Derby sponsors Investec, Mary Slack and Larry Nestadt. They moved him to de Kock’s yard  in Newmarket with the intention of sending him to Meydan for the Dubai World Cup.

Instead, he ran in the Dubai Sheema Classic. About two furlongs in, Mars veered away from the field toward the outside rail. Tossing his head and fighting Hughes’s efforts to pull him up, the horse crashed into the plastic outside rail. Hughes flew over the rail, and Mars went down in a scramble of legs.

The only live updates regarding his and Hughes’s conditions

Later in the telecast, we viewers later heard jockey Richard Hughes suffered no serious injuries. He even tweeted:

My web search while writing this blog post revealed jockey Hughes suffered a stable but fractured vertabrae that won’t require surgery, according to the Irish news organization The Independent.

Hughes told the London Times a little about how he worked to pull up Mars while the horse’s condition rapidly deteriorated. On TV, we saw a horse tossing his head and running away from the others toward the outside rail. The announcers suspected a heel-clipping incident had set off Mars.

Little did we know

Granted, I watched the race on Monday via DVR delay because I was away over the weekend. As I played back the race Monday afternoon, I wondered what had happened to Mars, so I ran a Google search on his condition. I’ve done that before with equine breakdowns and injuries. Sometimes, the extent isn’t known or released by the end of the race day. The TV announcers had given an update on Hughes, but not on Mars.

On the web, the sports news organization Vavel reported at 1:32 pm EDT that Mars had been euthanized for a broken leg. No report was given during the live telecast.

Except on Twitter, I found:

Note the time stamp: 1:37 pm EDT.

I’ve also seen conflicting reports about the sequence of events. Careful reading of this blog post will reflect that confusion, too.

Anyway, I believe Mars is now one of racing’s honored dead. I also believe his passing should be acknowledged accordingly. Most of all, his passing should have been reported as part of the race coverage on live TV.

That said …

Dear TV Producers

Thank you for bringing us the races. I’m grateful for coverage, especially this first-time coverage of the action at Meydan.

However, I believe the dangers of racing for everyone involved should be acknowledged with dignity, not glossed over nor shown in replays, even though Mars’s tragedy happened within full view of the camera covering the field early in the race.

All announcers had to do was say, “We have early reports that Mars has died. We offer our deepest condolences to his connections and fans.”

You don’t even have to bring us details, let alone promise them. Acknowledging the loss with taste and dignity is sufficient for both casual fans and experienced horse-players who just want to get on with the action.

Regarding deceased race horses as our sport’s honored dead instead of simply not mentioning them, I believe, pays tribute to the centuries of tradition, power and passion played out every time a horse places a hoof on the track.



  • jane strassguetl
    April 3, 2014

    Thanks for the update on poor Mars. I was shocked and horrified watching the video of the race. Tried to find info about the horse but found little. Couldn’t believe it could be a cardiac arrest the way he took off and crashed through the fence, not to be stopped. Wonder if he was doped up.

    • Rhonda Lane
      April 3, 2014

      Hi, Jane – I was surprised by the cardiac arrest finding, too. What I saw, IMO, was a panicking horse running off. The American TV announcers had thought he’d clipped heels with other horses in the pack. For one of the earlier drafts of this story, I’d found a quote from the trainer describing Mars as “quirky,” so I could see him maybe running off in panic and then scaring himself to death when he crashed and fell so hard. Unless there was a necropsy, I guess we’ll never know for sure.

  • Martine
    April 4, 2014

    Hi Rhonda. I just want to support the cardiac arrest story. I heard two eye-witness reports of horses dropping dead from a presumed heart attack, one while being schooled and the other while being tacked up in its stable. In both cases, both horses ‘lost it’ mentally, with the stabled horse freaking out, injuring the person tacking her up, bursting through the door, galloping down the aisle and dropping dead half-way. The ridden horse was being supervised by an experienced coach who spotted the glazed look in his eyes as he started to tank off with the rider. She had time to scream ‘jump off’ which the rider did, the horse galloped across the arena and dropped dead.
    If you think about it, a horse’s reaction to pain is flight, so it does make sense.

    I totally agree with you that the sanitisation of racehorse deaths and injuries is not doing the sport any favours. God forbid that the average punter actually see what a dead animal looks like!! Or even that they might learn the true attrition rate in the racing world! Who knows, it might turn them off the sport and then where would they be? Losing money is where, which is why they do it.

    Nice blog by the way!

    • Rhonda Lane
      April 4, 2014

      Hi, Martine – Thank you for chiming in. Nice to meet you. I thought as much, that a horse could be scared to death. When you have big prey animals, flight animals bred to enhance that instinct and put them in a situation that triggers that instinct, you have nitroglycerin on hooves with a human perched on its back. Still, I both love to watch the horses run and feel guilty that I do. When they break from the gate, I’m both thinking, “Go, baby, go!” and “Please don’t die.” I know they give it their all, and sometimes I wonder if we’re worth it. Loving horses — anything or anyone, really – isn’t for the faint-of-heart.

  • ginger murchison
    April 13, 2014

    What has happened to Mars post death? Was he taken back to Ireland or “disposed of” in Dubai? In America, the tradition is to bury the head, hooves and heart. Is that the tradition in Ireland, too? I would like some closure about Mars. I’ve searched everywhere. It’s almost as if he never existed.

    • Rhonda Lane
      April 13, 2014

      Thank you, Ginger, for stopping by and adding your thoughts to the discussion. We may never know what happened to Mars, specifically. The racecourse is liable to balk at inquiries about their policies for equine remains, especially inquiries from a low-level blogger like me. Also, racetrack insiders have a tradition of glossing over the details and moving on, so, considering efforts to end the sport, they’re not likely to talk to me about it, either.

      That may or may not stop me from trying to find out.

      FWIW, I understand the tradition of keeping the head, heart and hooves allows for the rest of the deceased horse to be rendered. According to this thread on Chronicle of the Horse, hunters were given to the hounds. You may have noticed on the thread, that sometimes, zoo carnivores receive the remains, in a “circle of life.” We’ve all also heard of “the knackers.”

      The British Racing Authority says each racetrack in Britain is required to have a licensed organizations remove the remains, which are never to be processed for human consumption. The article is informative, if disturbing, reading.

      Still, a part of life is death. No matter who we are, no matter who we love, the end of the road is the same. It may come sooner for some, but it’s always there. I always say on this blog that loving horses isn’t for the faint-of-heart, but neither is life.

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