Two giants fall
It’s a hundred billion dollar global business that’s accustomed to taking rollercoaster rides on or off the track, up one season and down the next.
But when misfortune struck the sport of kings twice last month, the shock and pain were felt in a wide area that stretched from Ireland, Canada, the United States, England and Dubai to Barbados.
The deaths of two highly successful champion race horses that had stirred the hearts of owners, trainers and jockeys as they won race after race at Epsom in England, Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Woodbine in Toronto, Meydan in Dubai and other tracks brought tears to the eyes of racing enthusiasts.
Although neither St Nicholas Abbey, the 2009 European champion two-year-old, nor Wando, Canada’s 2003 Horse Of The Year, raced at the Garrison Savannah in Barbados, they had developed a following among supporters of the Barbados Turf Club’s calendar, albeit for different reasons.
Take the case of St Nicholas Abbey, which took Europe’s tracks by storm a few years ago. By the time of his untimely death last month he had earned its owners almost $15.6 million. The champion carried the name of one of the Caribbean’s most historic plantation mansions, Nicholas Abbey in Barbados, a genuine 17th century Jacobean house built between 1650 and 1660. The classic structure is said to be one of only three of its kind in the entire Western Hemisphere.
The winning ways of this horse sent racing buffs and historians across Europe and North America to their books to read up on the Barbados property and find out if the name had inspired the stallion to burn up the tracks. He was put down, euthanised, recently in Ireland after suffering a colic attack.
The 2009 European champion two-year-old and 2011 winner of Epsom’s Coronation Cup in Britain and Breeders’ Cup Turf at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky, plus last year’s Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan was also battling laminitis, inflammation inside the hoof.
“Regretfully, St Nicholas Abbey has lost his brave battle after suffering colic,” Coolmore Farm stated in Ireland. “Surgery revealed a severe strangulating colon torsion that was unviable and he had to be euthanised on human grounds. “This is extremely unfortunate as St Nicholas Abbey had been in terrific form, the laminitis was resolving very well and the fracture had healed better than expected.”
Owned by the Coolmore stud, St Nicholas Abbey, like the Barbados property, was considered a classic campaigner. He had won six Group 1 races on three different continents and taking the US$5 million Dubai Sheema Classic at Meydan last year made him one of Europe’s best.
Before the fateful decision, he had successfully battled a colic attack after surgery during which a pin was inserted in his cannon bone. Then laminitis struck the tissue in his hoof and in the end that forced the owners to take the drastic decision to put him down.
As for Wando, his career and history had a different kind of Barbados connection: Patrick Husbands, the highly successfully Bajan jockey who has emerged as one of the best riders ever to grace Canadian tracks. When Wando captured the Canadian Triple crown – the Queen’s Plate by nine lengths, Prince of Wales Stakes and the Breeders Stakes on grass by a length in 2003, Husbands was in the saddle. That year, Wando won five straight stakes races in a row.
According to the Toronto Star, capturing the Canadian Triple Crown made Wando a “folk hero in Canada and Barbados”. The 14-year-old stallion was discovered dead in the barn at Gus Schickedanz’s Schonberg Farm, a popular thoroughbred operation. A stud since 2006, Wando was found by Lauri Kenny, the farm’s manager.
“It was totally unexpected,” said Kenny. “He was fine the night before when I watered him off. He was his normal bouncy self.”
During his career, Wando won 11 of his 23 starts, earning his owners about $5 million. As a stud, his offspring earned owners more than $11 million, underscoring another side of the racing business.
A third area of the racing industry is bookmaking, which in Britain has gone through tough times as profits have dwindled almost 25 per cent between 2008 and 2012.
Less than two years ago, gross winnings – the money bookmakers collect before expenses – fell to the equivalent of $2.2 billion, down from about $3 billion.