Bill Badgett Jr. recently sat down in his living room and did something he had not done in quite some time. He watched a NFL game from start to finish without interruption.
"I haven't watched an NFL game in its entirety for years," the 52-year old former trainer said.
Badgett is retired, although he hesitates to call himself that, preferring instead to look at himself as a trainer on a hiatus.
"Unfortunately trainers aren't allowed to use the word burnout," he said. "I've been getting up at 4:30 in the morning since 1970 and at this point I felt like I wasn't doing my horses or my owners any good.
"I don't like to use the word quit so I would say hiatus."
So after 35 years at the barn including the last 20 as head trainer, Badgett has left the barn for the risky but overall less stressful challenge of purchasing yearlings with an eye on selling them at a profit prior to their racing careers.
"It was obviously a very difficult decision after doing the same thing for so many years," he offered.
A Woody Stephens disciple, Badgett has been to the top of the game and back, from the highs of his relationship with the brilliant filly, Go for Wand, to the lows of struggling the past several years as the quality of his stock dropped. It was a 3-year old turfer named Timo who kept things alive at the Badgett barn the last few months, and Timo became Badgett's final starter when he checked in seventh in the Hollywood Derby (gr. I) on Nov. 28.
"He didn't get beat all that far," the trainer said. "It was kind of a tough spot for him after 70 or 80 days of no training at all. I was trying to get a race in him, but with the weather and everything I just couldn't do it. If he had a race in him, maybe he would have been a contender. It was tough for me to get through that race, knowing that was my last one."
Badgett said he first mulled retirement during the summer meeting at Saratoga, but his decision took most of the people around him by surprise.
"I would say shock would be the primary word," Badgett said of informing his owners. "But they were extremely understanding as well."
Badgett already has three juveniles for Ocala, but with three children he will be making New York his year-round residence.
"I've been very lucky at yearling sales, picking out yearlings," he said. "I'm going to buy some 2-year olds and try to sell them.
"I'm going to miss going to the barn and being with the horses. I love horses. It's in my blood. I have equipment in my garage for 40 horses so I would say that one day I would like to come back."
Go for Wand, who won 10 of her 13 starts with career earnings of more than $1.3 million, was the best horse he had, Badgett said. She wasn't picked out of a sale but was a Christiana Stables homebred who embodied every attribute a trainer could ask for in a top racehorse.
"I was lucky enough to have a lot of good horses, but she was a great horse," Badgett said. "She had so much class. She was a tremendous pleasure to be around. You can't wait to get to the barn when you have one like that."
Back in 1989, Badgett put Go for Wand in his 2-year old program and he quickly realized that she "started doing things so much easier than anyone else."
"She would go in :59, it looked like she was going in 1:02. She made things really easy for a trainer."
As a 2-year old, Go for Wand did not make her debut until Sept. 14, but by Nov. 4 she had won three out of her four races including the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). She was named champion 2-year old filly of 1989.
At 3 she was even better, reeling off seven victories in her first eight starts. That summer at Saratoga she won the seven furlong Test (gr. I) and the 10 furlong Alabama (gr. I), just nine days apart. In the Test she chased a :44.3 half mile before drawing off to win in 1:21. In the Alabama she cruised to a seven-length win in 2:00 4/5. (There has never been a sub-2:00 1 1/4 mile run on dirt at Saratoga). Subsequent runs against the East Coast's best older fillies and mares in the Maskette (gr. I) and Beldame (gr. I) proved to be little more than public displays of her excellence.
Go for Wand's season was set to culminate on Oct. 27 when she hooked up with Bayakoa, the reigning champion of the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) and the best older female horse in the United States.
For 1 1/16 miles, Go for Wand and Bayakoa put on one of the greatest battles ever seen between two top Thoroughbreds. But the ending turned tragic when Go for Wand took a bad step leaving the sixteenth pole, breaking down in her right front and leaving Bayakoa alone to win the race. Go for Wand was euthanized on the track that afternoon. Bayakoa's connections tearfully accepted their trophies.
"I knew it was going to be a cat fight from the gate between her and Bayakoa," Badgett said. "But I still to this day can't imagine her breaking down. I watched that race at least 20 times looking for some sort of sign before it happened, but I can't find one."
Badgett said the loss of Go for Wand did not change him as a trainer, but he has never been able to find a horse of either gender whose ability compares with the great filly.
"Unfortunately, it just makes you a little more out of stone," he said of the tragic breakdown. "It makes you a little harder. You know that every horse is one step away from serious injury, but you kind of never expect that great ones to ever get hurt like that."