Monday, May 3, 2010

Once you get to the bottom of the well...

As a reporter at the 1994 Belmont Stakes, I rushed down to the track after the race to greet the connections of the winner, Tabasco Cat, but I was immediately struck by the condition of the second place finisher, Go for Gin. I, of course, had a special interest in Gin, having helped buy his dam, Never Knock, for Pam du Pont and having arranged the mating with Cormorant that produced Go for Gin.

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.

Maybe not.


  1. Is Go for Gin still alive? John, this is Mary Simon. I have no idea what I'm doing, or how to post a comment on your blog. Let's see if this goes through under "anonymous."

  2. I think Rachel Alexandra should have stayed out of racing with the boys as her original owner wished. It was after the sale and her entrance to the Preakness that she began to wear herself out. I would rather she not have won the Preakness and continued racing against other fillies - then I think we'd still have her as she'd been.

  3. Well put, John. I've felt the same way, and I think there's probably even a little more to the story. Perhaps some of that pain me have includedm--just speculating, of course--a flipped palate or breathing issues. She's been racing and training in a Fig8--an equipment change from last year.She obviously, as you put it so well, does not want to put out that extra effort, and it's so true that once you get to the end it's so hard to find more to bring back. It's amazing that she was able to win as much as she did after the Preakness, which speaks well of her, because Winning Color, Genuine Risk, and Rags to Riches, the other recent colt classic winners, had only 1 G1 win amongst themselves after their classic success.

  4. Go For Gin is standing stud at Bonita Farm in Darlington, MD. He rules the stallion barn!

  5. The Aug 29 Personal Ensign will tell us way more about Rachel. From all accounts, she "appears" to be bouncing back. Actually, this pretty much follows her pattern from her last layoff. I still think she is very competitive and hope her doubters will be surprised.
    BTW, great blog John! I love it(especially the PDF article about the AP Indy sireline).