There will be something conspicuous by its absence at this year's Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championship, and that's the famed babies in blue, also known as the Godolphin 2-year-olds. Last year, the California-based stable ran one-two in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I), and were represented by two colts in the Bessemer Trust Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I).
But this year, its army of 2-year-olds, commanded by Eoin Harty, will be missing in action. That's because the stable was decimated by a virus that claimed 24 of 28 horses in California this summer. Other major stables were hit hard across the country, while many others only suffered a few mild cases. Even the one-two finishers of the Hopeful Stakes--the John Ward-trained Sky Mesa and the Stan Hough-trained Pretty Wild--were forced to go into the race off maiden victories after missing earlier Saratoga stakes due to a virus.
And, of course, it's been well documented how badly Aidan O'Brien's stable at Ballydoyle in Ireland was hit. Although that virus has run its course, the O'Brien 2-year-olds, who were so dominant last year in Europe and America and early this year in Ireland, have had difficulty finding the winner's circle. So too has the 3-year-old Hawk Wing, who also came down with a virus.
In the East, there were a number of stables hit, while others suffered tragic losses due to other, more complex, forms of illnesses. For example, Todd Pletcher, although not hit heavily by the typical virus that produces mucus, fever, and coughing, lost his top 2-year-old filly Freedom's Daughter, who succumbed to Colitis X. Another Pletcher horse, Warners, came down with a mysterious illness and later died of laminitis.
As for Harty, he has placed most of his 2-year-olds in quarantine on a California farm to prepare them for the return trip to Dubai.
"We basically were wiped out." Harty said. "The only ones who avoided the virus were the horses stabled at Arlington, which didn't do me any good, being they were the lesser horses. There was a reason why they were at Arlington. The only four horses in California who didn't get sick were the ones foaled in Europe. I also sent four to Saratoga, and they all got sick. I'd say 85% of the cases were your usual mucus, coughing, and fever, while the other 15% were something worse--heavy duty infections that required heavy duty antibiotics.
"I think our stable was hit harder than most because we put more stress on them, having to travel so far, and the fact that we only have 2-year-olds, so it just goes right through the barn. It's ironic, because one day Clifford Sise told me he had 11 sick 2-year-olds and asked me how mine were, and I said fine. The very next day, Burchfield, one of our top prospects got sick the day he was going to race, coming down with a fever of 102 and full of mucus. That started it. Before we knew it, it spread like a brush fire. We had Tempera's half-sister, Joharra, get very sick preparing for the Del Mar Debutante. And we had a very good Storm Cat colt, El Ajwad, get sick at Saratoga the day before he was going to run. Three weeks after it hit us, Simon Bray came over to me and said he got wiped out. All I know is, another year like this and I'll be unemployed."
One of the hardest hit stables in New York was Linda Rice's. "We got hit pretty bad two weeks before the Saratoga meet opened," Rice said. "It knocked us out of the first part of the meet and really pushed us back. A lot of other stables in New York were hit hard as well. While I was treating our horses, there was widespread sickness all over. Every so often something like this happens, but everything is fine now. It's behind us."
John Kimmel said he got hit a little, but nothing devastating. "We went to using an Aero Mask steroid inhaler and that seemed to help a lot," he said.