By Patricia Ranft
It's been a tumultuous year in Thoroughbred racing, although most years have their share of turmoil in this sport. Emotions changed with the seasons, resulting in a 2006 that won’t soon be forgotten.
Winter—Death of Danzig. The year began on a sad note with the death of Danzig, a remarkable sire with impressive statistics. He was, of course, much more than that—a friend to those at Claiborne Farm who worked with him. A few summers ago, a groom at Claiborne gave me some hairs from Danzig’s mane, a sentimental keepsake reminiscent of Victorian England, when some intriguing jewelry was made from braided human hair. Perhaps I’ll have some of Danzig’s mane woven into a brooch.
The $16-million 2-Year-Old. Two Thoroughbred industry powerhouses lock in a bidding war, resulting in the highest price ever for a horse sold at auction. The colt is given a colorful moniker, The Green Monkey, named for a golf course in Barbados, but for some reason reminds me of the flying monkeys in The Wizard of Oz (they reside near the Emerald City, though they’re not green). However, he’s a much lovlier creature than they are. Let’s hope he can fly.
Spring—Florida Derby Date Change. My friends and I used to have a tradition of traveling to Turfway Park on Florida Derby day in mid-March to watch fuzzy, winter-coated horses race live, as well as to wager on the Florida Derby (gr. I) simulcast. But in 2006, the date for Gulfstream’s premier Kentucky Derby (gr. I) prep is moved to early April, resulting in criticism that the five-week gap till the Derby is awkward timing. As we later discover, the time span doesn’t faze the dazzling Barbaro.
Blistering Blue Grass. Sinister Minister is a speeding bullet in the Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), winning by an astounding 123⁄4 lengths. My agnostic neighbor Ed begins to tout Sinister Minister as his Derby pick, just because he likes the name.
Light and Shadows. Barbaro nabs the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands and captures our hearts. Like the immensely popular Smarty Jones two years earlier, Barbaro enters and exits the Derby undefeated. Just two weeks later, however, Barbaro shatters his right hind leg in the Preakness (gr. I), in the process sending shards of pain into the heart of this racing fan. But the brave colt pulls through extensive surgery to repair his limb, and his condition continues to improve the next few weeks. A friend of mine, a non-racing fan, confesses she has become a daily visitor to Bloodhorse.com, just to check on Barbaro’s status, a prime example of the impact this horse has made on those who do not follow the sport.
Summer—Barbaro Makes Strides, but Then… The Barbaro watch continues, and with each passing week we have increasing hope he will recover. But a shadow falls in early July in the form of complications in Barbaro’s injured limb. Further procedures ensue, followed by the grim news that laminitis had developed in his left hind leg. It’s more than disheartening.
Bernardini Becomes a Star. Overshadowed by Barbaro’s Preakness injury was the performance of the race’s winner, Bernardini, who goes on to capture several prestigious stakes, becoming the “now" horse. Someone reminds me that an acquaintance had said in late April “the best 3-year-old isn’t even running” in the Derby, in reference to the brilliant Bernardini.
Autumn—The Loss of Lost in the Fog. Perhaps the darkest moment of the year occurs in mid-September, when 2005’s champion sprinter, Lost in the Fog, succumbs to cancer and is lost to us forever. This courageous runner had won a stakes a mere three months prior, and had run in his final race July 15. His star, however, still burns brightly in our hearts and minds.
Breeders’ Cup. The much-anticipated confrontation between Bernardini and Lava Man in the Classic - Powered by Dodge (gr. I) is spoiled by an “invader” from the South, Argentine-bred and Uruguayan-raced superstar Invasor, who passes Bernardini in the stretch, verifying that, as one Uruguayan fan had mentioned to an ESPN commentator, “He EEZ the best.” Yep, he certainly seems to be.
But the true hero of the year is the courageous Barbaro, who continues to be on the mend, and a release from the New Bolton Center, his home for seven months, may occur in the “not so distant future.” Over the course of his ordeal, this amazing animal has elicited a wide range of emotions: joy, despair, hope, frustration…and love.
Patricia Ranft is editorial production manager of The Blood-Horse.