Kentucky Derby Runner-up Invisible Ink Retired

Kentucky Derby Runner-up Invisible Ink Retired
Photo: Matt Goins
Invisible Ink, retired to stud.
Peachtree Stable's 2001 Kentucky Derby-runner-up Invisible Ink, whose remarkable story made national headlines, has been retired to stud, Peachtree president John Fort said Thursday.

Fort said no plans have been finalized where the son of Thunder Gulch will stand. He retires with four career victories in 14 starts and earnings of $465,088.

Invisible Ink's ink was far from invisible prior to the Kentucky Derby when newspapers, magazines, and TV stations around the country reported on the colt's miraculous return from near death. That he even made it to America's greatest race was amazing enough, but finishing second at odds of 55-1 was one of the great Cinderella stories in Derby history.

Invisible Ink was bred in Kentucky by Viking Farms Ltd. He was purchased by Fort at the 1999 Keeneland September yearling sale for $105,000 and turned over to trainer Todd Pletcher.

Nicknamed Inky, he would become known as the horse who refused to die. In March of his 2-year-old year, while being trained at Bryan Rice's Woodside Ranch in Ocala, Fla, the colt developed a superficial cut on his ankle. While it appeared at first to be of little consequence, the cut didn't heal as quickly as they'd hoped. To stave off infection, he was treated with antiobiotics and a small amount of butazolidan.

But the colt's condition began to deteriorate. He ate and drank less and less, and eventually developed colitis. Something was spreading throughout his system and Rice sent him to Peterson-Smith clinic in Ocala. His condition continued to worsen, and soon he wasn't able to eat or drink at all. His blood and body functions broke down, and his blood protein levels dropped so low all the fluids he was being administered flushed into his body, causing edema.

"You could barely tell where his head and body joined," Fort said. "From the appearance of the throat and stomach, it was as if somebody had poured battery acid down his throat. It completely stripped the skin and ulcerated the horse's stomach to the point where it hurt him so badly he couldn't even swallow water. His whole insides were like raw meat. The poor thing couldn't even pick his head up, and all he could do was drink his own saliva."

Invisible Ink's weight dropped from 900 pounds to 500 pounds. Finally, the insurance company gave permission to have him euthanized. But Fort and veterinarian Carol Clark, with the help of Dr. Robert Copelan, refused top give up hope. The colt virtually was on life-support system and was being given plasma at a rate of $1,000 a day.

"It was hour to hour trying to save his life," Fort said. "This horse was dead."

Clark spent nights with the horse, feeding him dissolvable food pellets one at a time by hand, trying to get him to eat. Then, out of nowhere came the miracle cure that led to the miracle recovery that led to the miracle Derby.

Dr. Copelan suggested they give the horse buttermilk that had been left out in the sun. This would reintroduce bacteria into his body and help restore his immune system. They found an old-fashioned farm in Ocala where the owners made their own buttermilk. They then left the buttermilk out in 90-degree heat. After it became, as Fort described, "filthy and disgusting," they fed it to Invisible Ink through a tube inserted in his stomach. They continued to give him stomach medication as well, and soon, the colt began to respond.

By Memorial Day, Invisible Ink had turned the corner. By mid-July, he had regained the weight he'd lost. A little over nine months later, he was storming down the stretch at Churchill Downs and into Derby lore. The horse who refused to die had just finished second in the second-fastest Kentucky Derby ever run. Among those behind him was eventual Horse of the Year Point Given.

Although he was 55-1, he was not without credentials, having won three races in a row in New York and Florida before finishing third in the Florida Derby and a solid fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes.

The Kentucky Derby would be Invisible Ink's crowning glory, as he was never given the opportunity to carve a bigger niche for himself. He came out of the Belmont Stakes with ankle chips, and had to have surgery on three of his ankles. He would not return for another nine months.

"They weren't big chips," Fort said, "but Dr. (Larry) Bramlage felt he would benefit from vacuuming them out. Although there was cartilage damage, Dr. Bramlage said he had a chance to come back."

After finishing a good second in his return in allowance company at Gulfstream, in which they ran seven furlongs in a blazing 1:21.77, Invisible Ink captured an allowance/optional claiming race at Churchill Downs. In his next three starts – the Brooklyn Handicap, a Saratoga allowance race, and the Fayette Handicap – he caught sloppy or muddy tracks, and it was obvious he wasn't the same horse.

Although Fort would have loved to have him go out a winner, he felt it was in the colt's best interest to retire him. "He's part of Derby lore," he said. "And was one of the most charismatic horses in the country. At Derby time, everybody knew him. Right now, it is important to make the proper stallion arrangements and find him the right home. I love Invisible Ink from the bottom of my heart."

With his pedigree, the class he displayed in the Kentucky Derby, and his indomitable courage, he should be a welcome addition to the stallion ranks.

Steve Haskin's Story About Invisible Ink's Brush With Death

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