Eight Belles trained by local horse trainer

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News 12 at 6 o'clock; May 5, 2008

AIKEN, S.C. --- It was a day of triumph turned tragedy for all those who spent time with Eight Belles, the filly who came in second place at this past Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

Ron Stevens talked with News 12's Gene Petriello this morning and talks about his stampede of emotions that he's felt since Saturday.

Just last spring, Stevens got to know Eight Belles pretty well.

"It was a privilege to have her here. She was just one of those horses that exuded class," says Ron.

That class, taking the filly all the way to the Kentucky Derby this year.

"This filly was fit and ready to go," says Ron.

So ready to go, she - the only filly in the 20 horse race - finished in second place.

"We thought she would be a special horse and went off to prove that she was," says Ron.

That proof took Ron from elation to horror on Saturday.

"She hit the wire second, I was proud. I was happy. I was on top of the world. Then, when I got work that she's down on the course, it's just -- I wanted to throw up," says Ron.

Down on the track was the horse and Ron thought she would be okay. Turns out, she wasn't. Both front ankles of the filly were broken. Eight Belles was euthanizes immediately.

"Front legs are so important because you got 70% of the weight out here. The head, the neck and half of the body," says Ron.

Just a quick glance at the large body of the filly's that Ron has right now, show the smaller legs on the big body. That's make it even more important that the horses legs are strong.

"Some people say why did the filly run against the colts? Well, she proved she belonged there," says Ron.

Now PETA wants the jockey who rode the filly to be suspended. The people for the Ethical Treatment of Animals faxing a letter to the Kentucky Racing Authority saying Eight Belles was "doubtlessly injured before the finish."

Despite that claim, "this was a very fit filly. A sound filly. And, this was just a freak, tragic accident," says Ron.

Ron works hard to make sure all the horses he trains, including Eight Belles, are fit.

"The bones hardened, their ligaments get tight and we get their lungs where they can go a mile and a quarter," says Ron.

Part of that training relies on Ron to make sure the track is in perfect condition.

"We keep the cushion the right distance so they can absorb some of the shock. We keep enough moisture in it so they can get traction," says Ron.

After it all this weekend, it grazes down to this for Ron.

"If Eight Belles could speak, if she could talk, she'd say thank you for letting me run in this big race against these big colts. And, I wish I had another chance to tackle Big Brown again," says Ron.

Ron says the training for the horses really depends on the horse itself.

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