Requiem for the 7 Dead Horses of Kentucky Derby Week

Her voice catches and tears threaten to observe, however Randy Gootzeit desires you to learn about how a strapping grey colt nicknamed Snowball introduced a pair of horse lovers again to the monitor, and the way they received their hearts damaged.

Snowball, identified on the monitor as Freezing Point, suffered a deadly breakdown throughout an undercard race at Churchill Downs on May 6, changing into the seventh horse to die in an agonizing eight days main as much as the Kentucky Derby. The deaths, as but unexplained, have solid a pall over this 12 months’s Triple Crown and renewed questions on the security of the animals as the sport prepares for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

But for Gootzeit and her coach Joe Lejzerowicz, the troubles in horse racing are only a backdrop to their non-public grief.

“We’d have carried out something to save lots of him, however we could not,” Gootzeit mentioned. “We miss him desperately.”

Gootzeit, 71, lives close to Phoenix. She galloped and skilled horses in the Nineteen Seventies and ’80s at Belmont Park, however left the racetrack to return to highschool and grow to be a bodily therapist. She works on people, however has additionally utilized what she realized to horses.

She had not thought a lot about returning to the recreation till she talked to Lejzerowicz about shopping for a 2011 Volkswagen from him. A veteran coach, he had realized his horsemanship beneath the Hall of Fame coach Allen Jerkens and had labored for greater than 30 years in barns from New York to California. Lejzerowicz was in Phoenix as effectively, promoting vehicles and taking a break from the sport whereas studying to deal with Ménière’s illness, a dysfunction of the internal ear that causes extreme vertigo and ringing in the ears.

He and Gootzeit made a direct connection. Their love of horses made them buddies, nevertheless it was their shared view of methods to deal with the animals that made them enterprise companions: Don’t push them, hold them sound, select relaxation over remedy.

“We have been popping out of the pandemic, and it was clear nobody’s timeline was assured,” Gootzeit mentioned, “I instructed Joe that it was time to guess on ourselves.”

With Gootzeit offering a bankroll of simply $20,000, it took the pair a while to get again in the sport. They struck out at three auctions earlier than Lejzerowicz fell in love with No. 954 at the Ocala, Fla., 2-year-old coaching sale final June. The colt was balanced, muscled and declared by a vet to be completely sound.

Surely, they thought, they may not afford him.

“He’s good, however we do not have a snowball’s probability in hell of getting him,” Lejzerowicz instructed Gootzeit.

Lejzerowicz was so sure that their digital bid could be topped that he was taking a nap in his truck when somebody knocked and instructed him the colt was his for $13,000.

The pair took their time with the colt, whose official title was Freezing Point (a nod to his sire, Frosted), determining his eccentricities and admiring his work ethic.

“He was a little bit spitfire,” Lejzerowicz, 53, mentioned. “He was playful. I’d shake my finger at him, and he’d attempt to push it again at me.”

Lejzerowicz took Snowball to Keeneland in Kentucky to get him able to race. Gootzeit flew in each couple of weeks to assist with coaching and have a tendency to the colt. Snowball gained as soon as in three tries as a 2-year-old and started catching the eye of deeper-pocketed outfits. Gootzeit turned down affords of $150,000, $480,000 and, after Snowball completed third final month in the Lafayette Stakes, $600,000.

One of Gootzeit’s mentors had suggested her years earlier to take a suggestion for a horse provided that the cash was life-changing. This was quite a bit of cash, however Snowball was already life-changing.

The grey colt had reconnected her to some of her happiest instances and supplied a possibility to use her data of bodily remedy and check her theories about what makes a contented horse.

In Lejzerowicz, she had not solely discovered a buddy but additionally a horseman who shared her values. “We liked the horse an excessive amount of to consign him to anybody else’s care,” Gootzeit mentioned.

And that’s the reason the pair have been at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May. They watched their horse run in the $500,000 Pat Day Mile Stakes only a couple of hours earlier than the Derby.

They watched from the rail close to the winner’s circle. Snowball broke cleanly from the beginning gate, however inside a quarter-mile, Gootzeit and Lejzerowicz acknowledged their horse was in misery.

“His head popped up in the air,” Gootzeit mentioned. “It swung left. It swung proper. Something occurred. I knew one thing dangerous occurred.”

Within half-hour, Snowball was recognized with a damaged bone in his left entrance ankle. Within an hour, Gootzeit and Lejzerowicz have been saying tearful goodbyes to him. After the colt was euthanized, the vet handed on a locket of hair from his mane as a talisman.

Snowball won’t ever get replaced, however the pair will press on. They are wanting for one other sound thoroughbred whose expertise they might help floor.

“We usually are not going to be pushed out of the recreation,” Gootzeit mentioned. “We need to succeed truthfully and cleanly and provides our horses the love and respect they deserve. “

3-year-old gelding

Injured his left hind leg throughout coaching and was euthanized

The jockey for this gritty Texas-bred horse, Ken Tohill, has gained greater than 4,100 races, however the gelding’s victory in the Sunland Derby in March was his first in a graded stakes race. At 60, Tohill was set to grow to be the oldest rider in Derby historical past. “A present,” is how Tohill described Wild on Ice one morning final month. He continued, “He’s effectively bred sufficient and his expertise is beginning to present.”

3-year-old gelding

Flipped in his paddock and broke his neck

This son of Empire Maker was promising sufficient to debut in Saratoga, however he didn’t dwell as much as his promise, failing to complete increased than fifth in six begins. Code of Kings was being saddled when he turned entranced by celebration lights at a DJ sales space, in keeping with his coach, and flipped as soon as, twice and, lastly, a deadly third time.

(*7*)4. Parents Pride

4-year-old filly

Collapsed and died on April 29 throughout the eighth race at Churchill Downs

This filly had gained two in a row and, with greater than $153,000 in earnings, had tripled her buy worth. She was the second betting alternative at odds of 2-1 and had Churchill’s main rider, Tyler Gaffalione, aboard. Parents Pride was sitting a cushty second in the backstretch when Gaffalione all of a sudden pulled her up. She was vanned off the racetrack, then collapsed and died in Churchill’s bottom.

5-year-old gelding

Collapsed and died on May 2 after ending the eighth race, by which he completed final

This versatile gelding had stakes victories on grass and dust. He made a believer out of Albin Jimenez two summers in the past at Monmouth Park when the jockey rode him as a last-minute substitute. “It was a great shock to choose up this mount,” mentioned Jimenez. “I mentioned, ‘Great. Let’s get the cash.’” They did, incomes the first-place test in the My Frenchman Stakes.

Chasing Artie was skilled by Saffie Joseph Jr., as was Parents Pride. Churchill and state regulators refused to let Joseph’s colt Lord Miles race in the Derby.

“It crushes you. It knocks your confidence, it makes you doubt all the things,” Joseph mentioned of the deaths.

3-year-old filly

Was injured and fell throughout a May 2 race and was euthanized

This filly was bred by Willis Horton, a rancher and builder who died final 12 months. She was skilled by his longtime coach, the Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas: “He had a terrific eye for a horse himself and he understood the recreation,” mentioned Lukas at the time of Horton’s demise final 12 months. “He was recreation, and he wasn’t afraid to step up and spend cash on a great horse.”

Take Charge Briana was ridden by Luis Saez, the similar jockey who was on Chasing Artie.

3-year-old gelding

Broke down throughout the second race on Kentucky Derby day and was euthanized

Chloe’s Dream was named for the daughter of a enterprise affiliate of Brook Smith, who operates the Rocket Ship Racing syndicate. Smith and his spouse, Pam, are concerned with the Backside Learning Center at Churchill, which affords schooling and wellness applications for racetrack employees and their households. Rocket Ship donates 10 p.c of its winnings to the middle. Smith took Chloe and her household to the paddock the place he mentioned Chloe’s Dream appeared “stunning.” When the gelding faltered popping out of the first flip, Smith mentioned he and his celebration have been traumatized.

“It leaves a gap in your abdomen,” Smith mentioned. He added that he and his spouse weren’t able to return to the race monitor. “I am unable to undergo it once more.”

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