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The Star That Fell To Earth
William Nack
December 20, 1982
Like a meteor, Conquistador Cielo, here gamboling at stud, flared brilliantly. Then, in a race he shouldn't have run, he imperiled his syndicate's $36.4 million gamble
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December 20, 1982

The Star That Fell To Earth

Like a meteor, Conquistador Cielo, here gamboling at stud, flared brilliantly. Then, in a race he shouldn't have run, he imperiled his syndicate's $36.4 million gamble

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In fact, Stephens says he didn't even tell de Kwiatkowski about the tap. "He wouldn't have known what I was talking about anyway," Stephens says, a judgment with which de Kwiatkowski agrees. Nor had Stephens said anything to Hancock, for whom he trains horses, though Hancock knew that something was amiss. "I'm not stupid," he says. "I was up there every morning. I knew they were tubbing him, working like hell on that ankle."

Penrod led Cielo from his stall and stood him on a blanket spread out on the dirt floor of the shed. While Stephens illuminated the colt's left foreleg with a drop-cord light, Fritz kneeled down next to Cielo and cleansed the ankle three times, alternately soaping it with a surgical scrub and then rinsing it clean with cotton soaked in an iodine-based solution. That done, Fritz then wrapped the ankle tight in an Ace bandage to put pressure on it and then inserted a hollow one-inch needle about halfway into the digital flexor tendon sheath. Fritz squeezed the ankle, as if milking it, and about six milliliters (ml.) of fluid drained out. It was straw-colored, with no sign of blood and therefore of the more serious problems that hemorrhaging would imply. "A relief," Fritz said.

With the fluid drained, Fritz attached a syringe to the already inserted needle and injected the ankle with a solution containing one ml. of Depo-Medrol, a corticosteroid for long-term therapy, another ml. of Predef, a short-term steroid, and half a ml. of Gentocin, an antibiotic. Fritz then removed the needle, wrapped the ankle in a cotton bandage, and Penrod walked the colt into his stall.

For the time being at least, Cielo was Travers-bound. "Our decision to run had some risk to it," Fritz says. "At the time it seemed like a great deal of risk. Looking back on it, there was a degree of risk there as to whether the horse would make the course, given his condition. It's not the best thing to do to a horse. The best way to go would have been to stop the horse, give him an extended period of rest and then bring him back. But this was the horse's last go-around. It's sort of like playing a quarterback after doing a procedure on his knee to get one more game out of him."

Stephens figured that Cielo could win despite his ailment. "I thought I had to do it, and I thought it would work," he says. "I thought he was that much the best, that he could take the worst of it and win anyway."

Stephens had already decided that the Travers would be Cielo's last race. He and Fritz watched the colt carefully through the final days leading up to Saturday and the race. On Wednesday Fritz gave Cielo a final injection of Bute.

The next day Hancock returned to Saratoga, having sold 28 of the 30 shares. Now, two shy of selling them all, Hancock's drive stalled for good. But slumping sales weren't all that was on Hancock's mind that afternoon. He had heard the rumors about Cielo's condition when shareholder William Farish had slipped into the seat next to him during that day's program of races. Farish told Hancock that he'd heard Cielo had been tapped on Monday.

Hancock sagged. "I was pretty much shell-shocked already," he says. "I'd been battered around so much the previous 10 days I just felt, 'One more blow.' " The next day he asked Fritz about it. The doc confirmed the tap, told him the ankle was fine and added, "I definitely think Saturday should be his last race." That suited Hancock.

On Friday the colt ripped through a three-eighths-of-a-mile workout in 34 seconds, a last mistake. "I didn't mean to blow him out that fast," Woody said. The work had lit Cielo's fire for the Travers, bringing him to his toes, probably too much so. But the ankle was cool. "No signs of fluid there," Fritz says. "The ankle was tight. We flexed him, and he flexed sound on it." They decided to run Conquistador Cielo in the Travers.

At 1 p.m. on Travers day, Hancock and de Kwiatkowski met in the Saratoga offices of Ogden Mills Phipps, chairman of the board of the New York Racing Association, and Hancock handed de Kwiatkowski a check for $6 million, the Farm's money, as down payment. De Kwiatkowski took it, announced that he trusted Claiborne's lawyers, who had drawn up papers for the syndication, and signed them without reading them. "It's been good doing business with you," he said.

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