Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Reaching the half-way mark
By Amanda Duckworth
Special to ESPN.com
Like most sports, horse racing has plenty of its own pet phrases that get trotted out at fairly regular intervals. One of the most common things ever said about the sport is that it has the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Cliché though it might be, horse racing worldwide proved that sentiment to be very much true in the month of June.
At the beginning of the month, hope was still alive that the ever-elusive Triple Crown might just happen in 2012. I'll Have Another passed the test in the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes. All that remained was the Belmont Stakes June 9.
It was the first time since 2008 the Triple Crown was a possibility going into the Belmont, and it was hard not to be excited.
Unfortunately, I'll Have Another's Triple Crown bid ended not with a bang, but with a whimper as the colt never even saw the starting gate. The day before the Belmont, trainer Doug O'Neill and owner Paul Reddam announced I'll Have Another was retired after he was diagnosed with tendonitis.
Instead of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, I'll Have Another became the first horse in 76 years to not contest the Belmont when the Triple Crown was on the line. The only other two horses to ever be in such a position where Burgoo King (1932) and Bold Venture (1936).
"This is extremely tough for all of us," said O'Neill when the announcement was made. "It's far from tragic, no one died or anything like that, but it's extremely disappointing and I feel so sorry for the whole team."
Although the horses that ran in the Belmont are nice ones, especially the winner Union Rags, the entire event was deflated with the absence of I'll Have Another.
As disappointing as the situation was, O'Neill's words ended up foreshadowing the true tragedy of Belmont Stakes day. Earlier in the card, during the Grade 2 True North Handicap, Grade 1 winner and reigning New York-bred Horse of the Year Giant Ryan broke both sesamoid bones in his left front fetlock.
The beloved horse was sent to the University of Pennsylvania's New Bolton Center in an effort to save him, but his story would not have a happy ending. Sadly, he was euthanized the following Thursday due to the onset of laminitis.
A day filled with such promise ended up leaving me feeling equally disappointed and sad. But one of the best things about horse racing is its worldwide nature. A few short weeks after the Belmont left the racing world wanting, the Royal Ascot meet in England delivered everything one could ask for.
Three headliners of the five-day event were Frankel, So You Think, and Black Caviar. Almost unbelievably, all three of them won the race they were sent to take in memorable fashion.
First up was undefeated champion Frankel, who demolished the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes field by 11 lengths. The margin was more than appropriate, as it was the colt's 11th consecutive victory. It was a display of pure dominance and something that won't soon be forgotten. In fact, Timeform, which dates back to 1948, gave Frankel a rating of 147, the highest in the company's history.
The following day, So You Think took the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes to garner his 10th Group 1 victory. In doing so, he defeated Carlton House, who is owned by Queen Elizabeth II. The Queen, who was in attendance and is celebrating the Diamond Jubilee to mark her 60-year reign, would win the Group 3 Queen's Vase two days later with Estimate.
On Royal Ascot's closing day, Australian wonder mare Black Caviar put her undefeated record on the line half a world away from her own home. Shipping the mare to England was an act of sportsmanship that is not often seen. This alone meant the Group 1 Diamond Jubilee Stakes would be a memorable one, but what happened during the running cemented its place in racing lore.
Black Caviar's jockey, Luke Nolen, eased up on the mare before the finish line, which almost cost them the win. However, Black Caviar held on by a short head to notch her twenty-second consecutive victory in dramatic fashion. Whether that was her swan song remains to be seen.
Instead of becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 34 years, I'll Have Another became the first horse in 76 years to not contest the Belmont when the Triple Crown was on the line.
Because racing is a sport that is contested the world over, sometimes national pride can get in the way of appreciating another country's star athlete. In fact, after Royal Ascot debates about Frankel and Black Caviar broke out.
The thing is they do different things. He is a miler, who will be going for longer races this fall, while she is a sprinter. It would be like asking Claude Monet and Andy Warhol to have a paint-off. Depending on what type of painting was requested, one of them would be at a disadvantage, no matter how naturally talented they are. Obviously, that could never happen since they are both dead, but the point is that sometimes you should just appreciate ability for what it is.
Another colt who has made a name for himself is Camelot. The colt has won both the 2,000 Guineas and the English Derby this year. Should he take the St. Leger in September, he would be the first horse to win the English Triple Crown since the great Nijinsky in 1970.
What the month of June has left me with is a hunger to see how the rest of 2012 will play out. With I'll Have Another's retirement, who will become the leading 3-year-old colt in North America? Will Frankel successfully race beyond a mile? Will Black Caviar race again? Will Camelot give England a Triple Crown winner? What horses are out there just waiting to make a name for themselves?
The first half of the year has been a memorable one for sure, and I can't wait to see what the rest of 2012 holds in store.
Amanda Duckworth is a freelance journalist who lives in Lexington, Ky. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Because racing is a sport that is contested the world over, sometimes national pride can get in the way of appreciating another country's star athlete.