JC / Railbird

Retirement

Be Retired

Well wishes for Be Bullish, who retires a winner after eight years on track. The 10-year-old gelding started in 87 races, won 19, and earned more than $1.1 million. He’s the kind of horse who fills most cards, most days, year after year at racetracks major and minor — sound enough and classy enough to compete at the allowance level or in overnight stakes, but inevitably falling into lower and lower claiming spots as he ages and slows. He’s the kind of horse who becomes a fan favorite, because he’s consistent and game.

All great athletes have to retire some time, and not too many great athletes get to retire at the top of their game,” said owner Mike Repole, who claimed Be Bullish for $16,000 from trainer David Jacobson on Sunday at Belmont Park (quote link subscriber only). His final win was his third this year, his fourth straight. The gelding will be sent to Old Friends Cabin Creek.

Will Take Retirement

The older horse division takes another hit with the loss of Will Take Charge, retired to Three Chimneys after suffering a minor suspensory injury. Less than six weeks to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, and last year’s winner, Mucho Macho Man, is out, along with Game on Dude and Palace Malice. (So, three of the top four finishers in this year’s Santa Anita Handicap are done racing, and New York’s best older Classic hope is Whitney winner Moreno.) For the first time since Raven’s Pass in 2008, a 3-year-old could win the Classic — at least eight are in contention, including unbeaten Pacific Classic winner Shared Belief. His stock, already high, gained following California Chrome’s dismal return in the Pennsylvania Derby, won by Bayern, aka “little Dude.” The dual classic winner will train up to the Breeders’ Cup, and trainer Art Sherman is looking toward a happier result: “We’ll be a lot better price,” he said.

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Be Bullish, making his 83rd career start and dropping from $40K to $16K, finished second to Make a Fortune in the third race at Belmont on Sunday, bringing his earnings up to $4,000 shy of $1 million. Bruce Levine claimed the 9-year-old gelding for owner Mike Repole. “Will evaluate his condition before deciding to race/retire,” tweet-reported David Grening.

Jaycito makes his 28th career start on Monday, running in the 10th at Zia Park. He’ll be running at his lowest level yet — $30K, which is $20K less than the G1 winner’s purchase price at Keeneland in November 2013. [9/22/14 Update: Jaycito finished third, beaten 10 1/2 lengths. He was not claimed.]

The Unlucky Ones

Last week, Convocation appeared in the entries for the first race at Suffolk Downs on July 17. Trainer David Jacobson entered him for a $4,000 claiming tag, or $11,000 less than he had paid when he claimed the multiple stakes-placed gelding on May 9 at Belmont. That race was Convocation’s fourth start in six months following a 14-month layoff that began after he finished eighth in the 2011 Woodward. His fifth looked like it’d be a short, final drop to the bottom — the best case scenario, if he had run last Wednesday, was that he would win, get claimed by a local trainer, start a couple more times in East Boston, and then get listed on the CANTER New England website, where he’d be described as a well-bred former stakes-caliber horse who needed a little time off and wanted to be someone’s pet. It was a relief when he scratched.*

Monzante didn’t scratch from the fourth race at Evangeline on Saturday. It was the 2008 Eddie Read winner’s first race in eight months, and the graded-stakes winner who had earned more than half a million dollars was running for $4,000. It wasn’t his first time in for a tag — that had happened in June 2011, when he ran for $50,000 in his first race following a 14-month layoff. From there, the Juddmonte-bred kept falling in class, his losses rarely punctuated by a win, moving from Churchill to Aqueduct to Delta Downs, from the barns of Mike Mitchell and Steve Asmussen to Jackie Thacker.

Maybe there was no reason to scratch Monzante, even though he hadn’t raced in months and his last recorded work was a five-furlong breeze on June 1. I don’t know what the track veterinarian might have seen during a pre-race examination, or what Thacker felt when he ran his hands over Monzante’s legs. Maybe he just looked like any other bottom-level claimer, a little sore but sound enough. If he had been any other bottom-level claimer, what happened in the fourth at Evangeline would have almost certainly gone unremarked by most in racing: Monzante broke down. Monzante was euthanized.

That’s not supposed to be the end for a Grade 1 winner.

The Monzante case, where a G1 winner runs in a low level claimer, is a BIG flaw in our racing system,” tweeted Alex Brown.

Except, it’s not a flaw: The system functioned as designed. In 2008, Monzante was a stakes horse. In 2013, he was a claimer. He was at his level. What a case such as his exposes isn’t a defect in the system, but the cruelty that is always lurking in claiming racing, which relies equally on commodifying horses and on the ability of the people who participate in it to protect horses from its worst consequences. Too often, that’s where the system fails.

Two years ago, while I and another CANTER New England volunteer were taking listings on the Suffolk Downs backstretch, a trainer called us over to his barn. He had a horse to sell. We followed him down the shedrow to the stall of a chestnut gelding. It was Dubinsky, a horse I remembered from the beginning of his career, when he debuted in a maiden special at Aqueduct. He peaked with a third in the 2009 Hill Prince Stakes; from there, he descended through the claiming ranks. His right knee was swollen, and the trainer told us that the 5-year-old was arthritic before leading him out so that we could take a picture. He’d finished seventh in his last race.

“Dubinsky should benefit from some time off and should make an excellent flat or pleasure prospect,” read his CANTER listing.

He was limping, but alive, and he had a shot at a second career as a riding horse. He was one of the lucky ones. What kind of game is racing that that could be true of Dubinsky, but not of Monzante?

*7:00 PM Update: Count Convocation among the lucky, too — his original owners purchased him with plans to retire.

Dominguez Retires

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.

Charming Buyers, Finding Homes

Susan Salk reports on the October 14 CANTER New England Suffolk Showcase, in which 80 Suffolk Downs racehorses were featured. Thirteen went to new homes that day, another eight left shortly after, and more are purchased each day as the meet gets closer to its end. Because of Hurricane Sandy, racing at Suffolk on Monday, October 29 has been cancelled and rescheduled for Saturday, November 3. (Hey, that’s means there’s live racing at Suffolk on Breeders’ Cup Saturday!) Saturday is the last day of racing for 2012; horses must be off the grounds by November 14. Check the CANTER New England listings to see the horses available, and check frequently — at this time of year, listings change almost daily.

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