Sailor's Cap, upset winner of the Poker Stakes (gr. IIIT) June 14 at Belmont Park, collapsed and died in his stall in trainer J. J. Toner’s barn at 4:30 a. m. EDT on June 17.
Cause of death is unknown and a necropsy will be performed at the New Bolton Research Center in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania.
“He spiked a temperature during the day on Tuesday and simply collapsed early in the morning,” Toner said. “We are all in complete shock over this turn of events.”
Bred by a Team Valor partnership and raced by the Kentucky-based stable, Sailor’s Cap was a lightly raced 4-year-old that just seemed to be coming into his own under the careful stewardship of Toner.
Last season, he was among the best 3-year-olds on grass, winning the $600,000 Colonial Turf Cup (gr. IIT) in a driving rainstorm and finished a solid third behind Gio Ponti and Court Vision in the Virginia Derby (gr. IIIT). He was given a long rest after a difficult round trip from East to West Coast for the Hollywood Derby (gr. IT).
In the one-mile Poker, Sailor’s Cap exploded off the stretch curve to collar, passed Kip Deville while opening a clear lead at the eighth-pole, and went on to score by 1 1/4 lengths.
In 10 career outings, the homebred son of Distant View won four times and earned more than $616,000.
Sailor’s Cap was produced by the Caveat mare Wave On, a daughter of Hot Option, a filly raced by a partnership formed by Barry Irwin in the late 1980s. The grade III Honeymoon winner was considered by Irwin to be the best domestically raced female ever to carry his stable’s silks.
“Sailor’s Cap had the same explosive turn of foot as Hot Option,” Irwin said. “He was just coming into his own. This shows the highs and lows of this game. It is a tough nut to swallow.”