I never met Dr. Feelgood, and I’m mad about it. The dark gray gelding was everything right about the Thoroughbred – fast, tough, smart, game, friendly, classy, cool. The December magazine covered his victory in the Dash for Cash on the West Virginia Breeders Classics card in October.
And now I’m writing his obituary.
He died Nov. 19 at Laurel Park after fracturing a hind leg while training. The news hit like a bag of bricks. I’m sure I hollered, “Come on, we just wrote about him,” when I heard. There’s pretty much nobody in my office – ever – so only the walls witnessed my lament. The December magazine was at the printer, people were going to read about him, and he was gone. Not fair, especially to him.
So here are the basics: Bred in West Virginia by Francis Daniel III and owned by Jill Daniel, Dr. Feelgood made 15 starts – all at Charles Town. He won 13 of those, including his last six. Stakes wins came in the 2018 Robert Leavitt, 2019 Last Enchantment, 2020 It’s Only Money and the last two editions of the Dash for Cash. He earned $292,745 in purses, finished second once and sixth once. He never lost at 41⁄2 furlongs, going a perfect 10-for-10 at perhaps the most unforgiving distance in racing. Trained throughout by Crystal Pickett, Dr. Feelgood didn’t race as a juvenile, but made up for it with five starts in each of his active seasons – winning four in 2018 and 2019 and all in 2020. The son of Fiber Sonde and the Polish Numbers mare Happy Numbers was injured during a routine gallop, doing what Thoroughbreds do every day, and euthanized when veterinarians deemed the fracture too severe to correct with surgery. Dr. Feelgood leaves behind his dam, three promising siblings and a slew of people who will miss him greatly.
As usual, there’s more to the story. Pickett first saw her future pupil, a swaybacked, rascally foal causing trouble in the field in 2015. “He was out there running and bucking, being ornery and biting his mother,” Pickett said in December.
The trainer loved everything about him, and told her husband Greg, “That’s the one I want.”
Pickett did the early breaking and training in Florida, was the first person on Dr. Feelgood’s back. Big and immature, he didn’t race until May of his 3-year-old season. It’s the only race Pickett missed. At the gym waiting for her daughter to finish practice, Pickett watched on her phone as Dr. Feelgood drew off to win by 5 lengths.
“It had been a long time coming,” she said of the success. “When you take the time like that, you want to be right.”
She was right.
Teamed with the only jockey to ride him in a race, Darius Thorpe, Dr. Feelgood kept winning. He became a barn favorite, and earned it with an attitude that endeared him to all.
“Everybody liked him,” Pickett said. “His nickname was Panda Bear because he was this big, sweet horse who always wanted to put his nose in your pocket and look for peppermints. Everybody who came to the barn stopped to pet him. He was like that.”
The panda turned into a grizzly on the track – laying waste to challengers the way a snowplow clears Route 70 in the winter. Dr. Feelgood won three more times in 2018, including the 7-furlong Leavitt – a race Pickett called her favorite.
“Everyone said he was not going to be able to go the seven-eighths, this, that and the other,” she said. “He came to the top of the lane and Opera Nite came to him and bumped him. Panda turned his head and looked at him like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. Did you really just try to look me in the eye?’ He hit another gear and went on and won.”
Back for more in 2019, after an 11-month break, Dr. Feelgood won three in a row including two stakes, then turned in his only sub-par race when last of six in an open allowance for West Virginia-breds. He bounced back with a dominant score in late November.
Rested over the winter, he returned in May. All five starts this year were at 41⁄2 furlongs. He won them all the same way – quick early, relaxed in the middle, triumphant at the finish. He ruled a July 30 allowance by 71⁄2 lengths in :50.80 (the record is :50.09) without really trying hard. Head high, legs extending, he won for fun, and galloped out the same way.
“Sometimes when I watched him run, I’d be standing there holding my breath,” Pickett said. “You never watch a horse in a stakes race and say, ‘OK go ahead and wrap up, Darius.’ So few horses you have that much confidence in. He was his own horse, that’s for sure. He loved what he did.”
He dominated the Dash for Cash in October and was aiming for the Frank Whiteley at Laurel Nov. 28.
From atop her stable pony Cooper, Pickett watched Dr. Feelgood gallop on his last day. She saw rider Jonathan Joyce pull up and hoped for some sort of tack malfunction. She was there quickly, so was the veterinarian. It wasn’t meant to be.
“Cooper took him to the track his entire career, and he was standing there with him for his last moments too,” Pickett said. “Even Cooper knew. They were like brothers. He misses him too.”
Like always when it comes to injured horses, questions linger for their people.
“You sit there in your mind and go over and over it,” Pickett said. “We didn’t run him as a 2-year-old. He got every single winter off. We spaced his races. I feel like everything was done right. I don’t know. I feel blessed and privileged that I had him for as long as I did. He left nothing but good things behind.”