When NYRA tweeted a photo of the newly retired Stymie parading at Jamaica in 1949, it immediately called to mind one of the great pieces of turf writing — Joe Palmer’s “Common Folks,” about the popular horse’s final appearance.
— NYRA (@TheNYRA) March 22, 2015
Stymie was retired after finishing second in the 2 1/4 mile New York Handicap on October 1; he was found sore in the right front leg, in the same spot where he had previously sustained a sesamoid fracture. “He was just getting good,” lamented trainer Hirsch Jacobs of the 9-year-old. A month later, Jacobs reported Stymie was galloping sound, “but he doesn’t trot the way he should.” The next day, the trainer declared that Stymie’s career was over.
It’s about time to make mention of the fact that old Stymie, racing’s money champion, was very much among those present for the third running of the Gold Cup. He’s on the retired list now. In a sentimental gesture that was appreciated by all hands, Hirsch Jacobs had him jog through the stretch before the race and then take part in the paddock preliminaries. It was his last public appearance in New York before he goes to stud in Kentucky.
Stymie, with pink and green ribbons braided in his mane and tale, got a fond farewell from Jamaica’s children. There was much beating of palms when a pony boy, Alton (Mickey) Finney, led him through the stretch and there was additional applause when he was walked back to his barn …
Some think he’s the most popular horse that has run in this theatre of turf operations since Exterminator’s day.
Palmer, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, put it this way:
… the racetrackers, I think, save most of their affection for the Exterminators and the Stymies and the Seabiscuits, who do it the hard way in the handicaps, pounding out mile after bitter mile, giving weight and taking their tracks wet or dry, running for any jockey, and trying with what they’ve got, even when they haven’t got enough. That’s why Stymie fitted a farewell better at Jamaica than a welcome in Kentucky …
This tourist … will long remember the way Stymie came around the turn in the Pimlico Cup Handicap, making pretty good horses look as if they had just remembered a pressing engagement with the quarter pole.
He was not a great horse, in the sense that Man o’ War and Equipoise were great. He isn’t versatile … [b]ut give him a field with speed in it, at a mile and a half or more, and horses had better get out of his way, even Whirlaway.
Anyway, another fine and ardent and satisfactory story of the turf was brought to a close at Jamaica. And it was happy to note, for all the the long campaign, it was not a battered and limping warrior which left us. Stymie never looked better with his bronze coat in great bloom, and the high head carried as proudly as ever.
As he stood for the last time, before the stands, people around the winner’s enclosure were shouting … “Bring him in here, for just for one more time.”
The groom didn’t obey, and probably was right. Stymie never got in a winner’s circle without working for it. It was no time to begin.
(I love those last two paragraphs.)
Stymie retired with a record of 131-35-33-28 and earnings of $918,485.
When Kentucky mandated last year that state veterinarians give pre-race Lasix shots, in place of private vets, the results were eye-opening, reports Ryan Goldberg in the final installment of TDN’s drugs in racing series (PDF):
Besides the volume of Lasix [which declined], murkier drugs largely disappeared from post-race tests. Scollay said she had seen evidence that a drug called GABA, short for gamma-aminobutyric acid, was commonplace in Kentucky. The amino acid, which is present in the supplement “Carolina Gold,” is endogenous to horses as well as humans — it’s the predominant receptor blocker in the central nervous system. It has a pain-mitigating and calming effect that can conserve a horse’s energy prior to a race. However, because it’s naturally occurring and leaves a horse’s system within three to four hours, finding suspicious levels in post-race tests is difficult.
Its use in Kentucky was apparently curtailed once regulatory vets came in. The “noise” in post-race samples all but departed. Lasix is administered within four hours of a race; private vets were apparently giving GABA at the same time. There was no trace.
Wow. I wonder if the same thing happened in New York after the NYRA detention barn — in which horses were monitored for six hours before a race and only state vets could administer Lasix — opened in 2005, and if the concentration of Lasix in the blood, as well as the presence of other drugs or supplements in test samples, rebounded after it closed in 2010?
This game … it’s the best when you’re winning. It’s the worst when you’re losing. And today, racing is losing one of its most gracious, popular, and successful jockeys of recent years. Ramon Dominguez — at the peak of his career, winner of 4,985 races, earnings of almost $192 million, and the Eclipse award for riding 2010-2012 — announced that he is retiring due to a brain injury suffered in an accident at Aqueduct last January.
David Grening has reactions from the New York racing community in his report on this morning’s news: “It’s just devastating to lose someone like that in our industry,” said Steve Rushing, the rider’s agent. Many share the sentiment.
Good luck to Dominguez as he continues his recovery. He’ll be missed.
2:30 PM Addendum: Here’s a spreadsheet of Dominguez’s record in graded stakes 1999-2012 and lifetime stats by year, compiled by Equibase.
… there also remains the undeniable fact that claiming races, by their very nature, serve to weaken the inherent responsibilities of both ownership and animal husbandry. The demands of constant turnaround require short-term solutions in veterinary care. The claiming game also nurtures the ability to suppress any real emotional attachments to the horses involved. They are, after all, merely transients — poker chips, as one famous claiming owner called them — no more or less than means to an end.
What’s the future for claiming races?
That’s one of the questions I took away from reading the New York Task Force report, which determined that sharply increased purses “commoditized” lower level claiming horses earlier this year, and suggested reforming claiming rules so that claims may be voided if a horse is vanned off. “The voiding of a claim should not require the death of the horse,” the report’s authors write on page 60. Practical, humane — exactly the sort of rule change that’s necessary if claiming races are going to continue to be a significant part of the game. But while the imbalance in purses and claiming prices at Aqueduct may have led to the resulting claiming frenzy last winter, it didn’t actually commodify the horses, because they were already commodities. Most in racing don’t question the system — the claiming game has been a pretty elegant solution to keeping races competitive over the years — but it’s becoming harder to defend.
The Breeders’ Cup was held at Santa Anita in 1986, 1993, 2003, 2008 and 2009. In those five years, 31 Breeders’ Cup races were decided on Santa Anita’s main track. Horses coming off a race in New York have won just one of those 31 races for a miniscule 3.2% strike rate. That one winner was Lady’s Secret, who captured the 1986 Distaff after having won the Beldame in her most recent start. Lady’s Secret was voted 1986 Horse of the Year and entered the Hall of Fame in 1992.
Yikes. I knew the record was poor, but that’s a stark stat.
New York prepped horses do a bit better finishing in the money in main track Breeders’ Cup races at Santa Anita, with 17 running either second or third in the five years the BC has been held at the SoCal track. The main track race in which New York prepped horses have done the best at Santa Anita is the Juvenile Fillies — five New York fillies have finished in the money. New Yorkers also did their best on the Santa Anita main track in 2008 and 2009 — the synthetic surface years — when five and four, respectively, finished in the money, particularly in the Filly and Mare Sprint (2nd and 3rd, 2008), Distaff (2nd and 3rd, 2008), and Dirt Mile (2nd and 3rd, 2009).
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