- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
TWO BRIGHT FLAMES EXTINGUISHED
Horsemen learn very early that tragedy is an unavoidable part of racing. Thoroughbreds are especially prone to injury, carrying, as they do, as much as 1,200 pounds on stemlike legs. Yet never has racing had a year quite like the one that began last fall, when Secretariat, the 1973 Triple Crown winner and the most beloved horse in racing history, contracted laminitis, an incurable hoof disease that forced his handlers at Claiborne Farm, near Paris, Ky., to put him down. Since then, so many of racing's brightest stars have been destroyed, sidelined or prematurely retired that even the most optimistic fan must feel shaken.
Last week, two dominant breeding stallions, Alydar and Northern Dancer, died within 24 hours of each other. Alydar, runner-up to Affirmed in each of the 1978 Triple Crown races and the sire of such outstanding runners as Alysheba, Easy Goer and Criminal Type, had to be destroyed at Calumet Farm in Lexington, Ky., after breaking his right rear leg.
At 15, Alydar was still at the height of his breeding prowess. His death will hurt the industry more than the loss of Northern Dancer, who was retired from the breeding shed in 1987 after a career in which his progeny smashed sales records. The Dancer, who won the 1964 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, was an ancient 29 when he became so ill that he had to be put down at Northview Stallion Station, in Chesapeake City, Md.
Racing was still mourning the tragic deaths in the past month of the brilliant filly Go for Wand and the tough gelding Great Communicator, who each broke down in races. Racing also was cheated out of what might have been one of its greatest matchups, when Easy Goer, Sunday Silence and Criminal Type were sidelined by injury before they could meet in the world's richest race, the $3 million Breeders' Cup Classic, on Oct. 27 at Belmont Park. All have now been prematurely retired to stud.
In alarm and frustration, leaders of the horse racing industry no doubt will call for studies to see if everything possible is being done to protect the horses and prolong their careers. But there may turn out to be no good answer to that question, other than that horses often are victims of their uncommon desire, bred into them over generations, to run and try too hard. In other words, the very trait that causes them to come to grief is the reason horse people love and admire them so much.
The late racing writer Joe Palmer wrote that Man o' War "was as near to a living flame as horses ever get, and horses get closer to this than anything else." The pity is that so many flames have been extinguished in the past year.