Gander, the grand old New York-bred gelding, has run his last race. The 8-year-old son of Cormorant suffered a fracture of the short pastern in his front leg while breezing at Saratoga Wednesday morning and is scheduled to fly to Kentucky Thursday morning for surgery.
Owned by Gatsas Thoroughbreds and trained by John Terranova, Gander retires with 15 victories from 60 starts and earnings of $1,824,011. Among his six stakes victories was a gutsy score in the 2001 Meadowlands Cup (gr. II). He also finished second in the grade I Jockey Club Gold Cup and Woodward Stakes, and third in the Whitney (gr. I), Woodward, Donn Handicap (gr. I), and Saratoga Breeders' Cup (gr. II).
"The vet said it was a very unsual injury," a shaken Mike Gatas said. "But he's doing very well and is comfortable. Dr. (Larry) Bramlage is familiar with this injury and we tried to get him to fly up, but he's been busy with the upcoming sale, so we're hoping to get a flight down to Lexington (Thursday) morning. Dr. Bramlage said the procedure is to fuse the bones together, and he should be fine. He'll be able to run around in his paddock and enjoy the rest of his life.
"He's been so sound and tough, it took an injury like this to stop him. He was supposed to run on Monday, then make his final career start in the Empire Classic. We were just hoping to be able to watch him run a couple more times. He may not have been the greatest talent, but he proved to people that if you have a lot of heart you can earn $1.8 million and compete against the best horses in the country. In all the years he raced he never let us down; he never let anyone down.
"You just never think it's going to come to an end when you have an iron horse like that. All I know is that it's going be really tough going to the barn in the morning. This horse just took your heart away. Hopefully, I'll be able to get over there and see him one last time before he leaves tomorrow. It's been a rough morning. I got a call from my son Matthew, and he told me, 'I've got the worst news; he just broke down on the track.' "
Talking about Gander, Gatsas was barely able to get the words out as he stared at the gelding's pictures lining his office wall. "There's the one from the Meadowlands Cup with Johnny Velazquez up," he said. "He just refused to let anyone get by him that night. There's one with Jerry Bailey up. My daughter has made up a video and she wrote beautiful words to go with it. No matter how many good horses we have in the future, none will be as special as Gander. He carried us for a long time and brought us to places we never dreamed of."
In all, Gander won or placed in 19 stakes, including victories in the 1999 and 2002 Empire Classic. This year, at age eight, he captured the Kings Point Handicap at Aqueduct. Among his most notable performances was a second to Lido Palace in the Woodward Stakes, in which he was beaten only three-quarters of a length. He also was a close third behind Lido Palace and Albert the Great in the Whitney, and was second to Albert the Great in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, run in a blistering 1:59.24. His career ends at the same track where he broke his maiden Sept. 2, 1998.
Out of the Sawbones mare Lovely Nurse, Gander was bred in New York by Angela Rugnetta.