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.
29/3 Dubai Sheema Classic Mars – Richard Hughes Sadly pulled up after 2F Fatal Heart Attack RIP little man. pic.twitter.com/Bj7TmQFvTD
— HorseRacing Memorial (@HorseRacingRIP) March 29, 2014
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:
All ok with me very lucky escape
— Richard Hughes (@hughesiejockey) March 29, 2014
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:
Sad news as Mars suffered a cardiac arrest at Meydan and tragically passed away, he was not euthanised. RIP.
— Racing Social (@Racing_Social) March 29, 2014
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.