Go for Gin had tried to lead all the way in the Belmont, setting honest fractions of 23.80, 47.53, 1:11.36 and 1:35.48, but Tabasco Cat simply had a better turn of foot than Gin did and ran by him in the stretch. In fact, Go for Gin had been on the pace or battling for the lead throughout each of the Triple Crown races of 1994, winning the Kentucky Derby (with Tabasco Cat sixth) and grudgingly conceding a 3/4 margin to the same horse in the Preakness.
Go for Gin did not go very far past the finish line in the Belmont before he pulled up, and when he returned to the scales, he stopped and stood for a very long time, every muscle trembling, the very image of a totally exhausted racehorse. Go for Gin had given every last ounce he had to give in his Triple Crown efforts, and he was never the same horse after that. Nick Zito brought him back at Saratoga, where he ran well enough to finish third in the Forego, but he showed none of the old spark in the Woodward, Jockey Club Gold Cup or Breeders' Cup Classic. Zito tried him three times at four, with two seconds and a third over distances short of his best.
The point of the story is that once you get absolutely to the bottom of a gutsy, genuine, generous racehorse, it takes a very long time for them to get over it--if ever.
Watching the last furlong of the 2009 Woodward Stakes, and watching the winner Rachel Alexandra come back to the stands after the race, I was immediately reminded of that day at Belmont in 1994. I thought Rachel was absolutely all in at the finish, without another ounce of energy to give.
I applauded Jess Jackson's and Steve Asmussen's decision not to race her any more in 2009, because I was convinced it would ruin her as a racehorse if they did.
It also follows that I'm not at all surprised that Rachel has not been quite herself in her two starts this spring. Asmussen himself has referred to a "hangover" from her hard season in 2009, so he pretty clearly understands the potential problem.
Once a horse has felt as much pain as Rachel is bound to have felt at the end of the Woodward, it is doubtful they will ever be willing to put themselves through that much pain again. Maybe she'll make it back. Maybe she'll become once again that beautiful girl who skips along so joyously in front of the pack and then fights to the death when somebody tries to pass her.