There was no arguing with the animal rights protesters who flooded the California Horse Racing Board meeting on Thursday with their impassioned recitation of undeniably grim statistics. From their point of view, the business itself is terminally flawed, and no amount of anecdotal testimony to the contrary would convince them otherwise.To them &ndash; as opposed to us &ndash; Thoroughbred racing is replete with casual sadists and greedy entrepreneurs whose callous disregard for the well&#45;being of its captive horses belies any sob stories of dedication to the health and welfare of the animals. &ldquo;Set them free&rdquo; is their mantra. Relegate them to the wilds of unspecified sanctuaries. Race drones or small children if you must. But leave the horses be.I suppose it does horse racing some good to have its dirtiest laundry waved in public for the uncurious to contemplate. Many of racing&rsquo;s leaders have decided that an overlay of new rules and regulations will inoculate the sport against the damage inflicted by its most blatant offenses.There lingers, though, like a bitter taste, the suggestion by protesters that the connection between the humans and horses of the racing world is not, in fact, symbiotic. That the horses are inherently treated as product, not partners. And that the last thing anyone would do would be to sacrifice life and limb in a selfless attempt to rescue a Thoroughbred from a terrible fate.In my wildest dreams, while listening to the audio feed of the CHRB meeting and its denigration of all things racing, I imagined chairman Chuck Winner producing a speaker&rsquo;s request card and calling out the name, &ldquo;Martine Bellocq.&rdquo; Martine would enter in her wheelchair, pushed by her husband, Pierre Bellocq Jr., with cap, sunglasses, and gloves protecting her tender skin grafts and her left leg slightly elevated, a concession to the circulatory complications caused by the amputation of her foot.Her voice is high&#45;pitched and strained now as a result of smoke inhalation and corrosive pulmonary lavage, but Martine would not need to say much. Her actions of Dec. 7, 2017, at her barn at the San Luis Rey Downs Training Center, speak louder than the loudest of protests raised in opposition to the life she has led for most of her 64 years.Of course, someone at the meeting would have pointed out in protest that if there were no horse racing, and therefore no training center, Bellocq&rsquo;s horses would not have been in danger as a fast&#45;moving finger of the Lilac Fire swept through the southern end of her barn. That sort of logic also would get you tossed as a hopeless lightweight in a freshman class debate.Bellocq plunged into the smoke and flames that day in an effort to lead her colt Wild Bill Hickory from his stall. That he had shown promise as a young equine athlete was beside the point. The committed caretaker in Bellocq could see only her panicked young creature at horrible risk and did something only a mother, or a fully protected firefighter, would do.The terrified colt would not budge, though, and became one of 46 horses who died in the fire. Bellocq sustained third&#45;degree burns over 60 percent of her body before Pierre reached her and carried her out of the inferno. He was treated for smoke inhalation, but he recovered and sounded just fine, as usual, when they were reached at home on the afternoon of the CHRB meeting. It had been a tough week.&ldquo;There&rsquo;s still a lot of healing going on with her skin,&rdquo; Pierre said, as Martine coached him from the background. &ldquo;And there are complications with blood clots in her leg, which holds up progress with her prosthesis. I just hope her spirits can hold up.&rdquo;And from Martine came, &ldquo;We&rsquo;ve got to win a race!&rdquo;That&rsquo;s right, the Bellocqs are still in the game, with a small stable in one of the new, canvas&#45;topped structures at San Luis Rey. They had a pair of seconds last month with the maiden full sisters Brite Rivers and Lucky Brite Eye, and Saturday night they had the filly Grey Tsunami entered in a mixed race at Los Alamitos.Nothing, however, could soften the emotional impact of the fire earlier in the week at the Notre&#45;Dame Cathedral. Both Pierre and Martine are native Parisians.&ldquo;We cried like little children,&rdquo; Pierre said. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s such a part of us, something of permanence. And for us it was a living church, even though it was considered an international monument. I was probably 3 or 4 when I first went there with my family. Martine was 6, when she was in a Catholic girls&rsquo; school in Paris.&rdquo;The burning of Notre&#45;Dame &ndash; &ldquo;Our Lady&rdquo; &ndash; was more than tragedy on a TV screen. For the Bellocqs it was visceral.&ldquo;Watching the flames &ndash; that only brought back bad memories,&rdquo; Pierre said.And so they go on, their lives changed forever by natural disaster, their bravery a beacon, their horses offering comfort and hope.&ldquo;Every time we go to the burn center for a check&#45;up they treat her like a rock star,&rdquo; Pierre said. &ldquo;They&rsquo;re all amazed at her progress. I see her recovery different, of course, but they see it as something that will happen over 10 years.&rdquo;In France, the goal is to reopen Notre&#45;Dame in six years. They have their lady. We have ours.