Eight Belles's death shortly after finishing second in the Kentucky Derby on Saturday raised anew a major question about how to cover parallel stories of elation and heartbreak: which one takes precedence when an athlete, human or equine, is seriously injured?
NBC correctly covered Barbaro's breakdown at the 2006 Preakness Stakes and made Bernardini's victory the minor story. But that was a very different situation than Saturday's. Barbaro had won the Derby; he broke down during the Preakness, and he was able to stand after his injury, flexing his right hind leg over and over, then walked into the equine ambulance.
Eight Belles was not a celebrated horse before the race, she fractured her front ankles going into the first turn after the finish line, her injury did not affect the race, she was not followed by NBC with an isolated camera, and she was shielded from cameras with relative speed by two ambulances.
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