Sunday, December 27, 2015

Farewell, Kat

[Note: posted in December 2013, Kat wasn't ours when she went down but she is a bit emblematic of what we see on tracks all over the country.  Less now than before, but still too much.  Basilone, another I wrote about, was also a victim, but I had a connection to Kat and wanted someone to remember her.]

Kat as a foal (2010 - December 6, 2013)
After she broke her maiden – any time now we were telling ourselves – she was going to get some rest.  It was November of 2012 and she had already spent the summer being expertly schooled at Eisaman Equine and the fall in the skilled hands of trainer Kathleen O’Connell.  This was her 3rd start for us and we had some decisions to make.  Would she stay in Florida or move over to the Bernell Rhone barn and try and make her mark in Minnesota racing like her mom, My Philly, did?  Should we give her a NW2 try at 2 or just shelve her until spring of her 3-year old year?  Those were our big decisions ahead.

Third time was the charm and she ran a very professional race to win by three.  Then there was the announcement: E Sveikata (“Kat”) was claimed for $32,000 by owner Joseph Balsamo and trainer Leo Azupurua Jr.

No. Freaking. Way.

She was valued at $16,000 when we bought 40% of her from breeder Gabe Puniska and his wife Jenepherin March of 2012.  She was a daughter of Even the Score like our Tabby Lane out of a mare named My Philly who was an allowance winner over the Canterbury Park lawn.  We had her in training from March and Kathleen took her time getting her to the races – making sure that everything was right with her.

Race 1 was learning experience.  She finished 4th and was a bit tired near the end.  After all, this was running with purpose for an awfully long way!  In race 2 she closed very nicely over the Calder slop, finishing a solid 2nd. 

Race 3 she came ready to play.  She tracked the pace and when Eduardo Nunez asked her to go, she went.  And then she went again.  Away from our barn.  Away from the carefully laid out plan.  Away from the rest that she was due.

Of course we kept following her.  Over the next 12 months, from November 8, 2012 to November 16, 2013 she ran another 12 times.  The longest gap between races was about 6 weeks.  She ran one more time in November and then took December off before coming back on January 10.  Then later in the year, after a $6,250 claiming race where she finished a badly beaten 9th on August 31, she had another six weeks off before another $6,250 race where she not only was eased, but was claimed!

She couldn’t get that third win at $25,000, $16,000 or $6,250 but apparently she was claim worthy at $6,250.  She was having a tough time carrying her speed and, it seemed to me, that there was something wrong.  Was she bleeding through her Lasix?  Stopping like she had run into a wall was a hallmark of a bleeder but there is no way for me to know for sure.  She was competitive for a while at $25,000, even notching her second win there, but suddenly could no longer keep up with the cheapest stock in south Florida.

In her debut for the new barn (Alphonso Miranda – owner/trainer) she was a badly beaten last and ran the same pattern in the $6,250 NW3 claiming race: get on or near the lead and then stop badly.  That was on November 16.  On November 29 she was a vet scratch in a $16,000 claiming race over the turf.  Turf horse or not, THAT is a huge jump in class.  In my opinion the fact that she was a vet scratch was ominous – especially coming 13-days after a race where she stopped so badly.  Seven days later she was back in a $16,000 NW3 turf contest that was off the turf.

Kat broke like a champ.  She took the lead at 67-1 and was able to hold it through the first ¾ of the race.  Overtaken by eventual winner Big Debbie (a 16 ¾ length winner ironically trained by Kathleen O’Connell) she started drifting out in the lane.  Jockey Ronald Ordonez was working on her pretty good and, after straightening out briefly, she started drifting back out again.  Then she was down.  During the live call of the race, the announcer made the astute observation that Kat was doing all she could just to hold the place spot.  She couldn’t.  Her next mention:  “E Sveikata is down”.    The head on told the full story.  She had snapped her right front.  From my brief glimpse, it doesn’t look like she ever got up again.

I called Gabe.  He hadn’t seen the race so I had to break the news to him.  He was remarkably sanguine about the events, though obviously sad and upset.  Jenepher took it harder.  Gabe said that there was just something nagging at him to not watch this one.  I had a strangely different feeling.  I felt like I HAD to watch it.  I had to make sure that someone who actually cared about her watched her run – apparently not wholly unlike the feeling you get when you need to get to the bedside of a dying loved one. 

Gabe and I had talked about claiming her back at one point.  Our group had moved on and we had purchased Bourbonology so the cash flow wasn’t there – especially to take on a filly who I felt, at the very least, needed 6 months on a farm somewhere and quite possibly was ruined as a racehorse.  Gabe was divesting himself of all interests in racing and, retired and battling some health issues, really didn’t have the disposable income either.  We made business decisions.  Sound business decisions, but shitty – at least on my end - humanitarian ones.  Perhaps not.  As a steward of other people’s money – several who joined AFTER Kat moved on, how could I possibly spend it on a horse that was having issues, possibly unsound and may never race again? 

It is a decision that will haunt me for a while.  As folks that are in the equine retirement business know, you can’t save them all.  I know the course I would have taken if she were ours, but she wasn’t.  Virtually no owner can go and buy back every racehorse they’ve ever owned a part of when they feel the horse should be retired or need a break either. 

Kat deserved better. Our Tabby Lane is in foal to the Storm Cat stallion, Eastwood Dacat, and due to deliver in March.  The obvious name is Tabby Dacat.  I may change the spelling to Tabby DaKat. 

Rest in peace, sweetie.  I’m so very sorry

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