Give your horse a hug. Because you never know when he or she might not be there.
The Mid-Atlantic lost three stars this fall – Pennsylvania-bred Grade 1 winner Just One Time, Pennsylvania-bred sprint star Fortheluvofbourbon and Maryland-bred stakes winner Alottahope – and their connections were reeling. The horses never met on a racetrack, but their deaths will make you wonder why anyone actually participates in this game.
“We lost her, man. I still struggle to talk about it.” said co-owner/co-breeder Donny Brown about Just One Time.
“You’ve got to be a tough son of a gun to play this game,” said Michael Pino, Fortheluvofbourbon’s trainer.
“It’s not easy. I’ve been in this business 50 years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Jerry Robb, trainer of Alottahope.
The October deaths left more than empty stalls.
Just One Time was brilliant from the start. Racing for Brown and Tom McClay’s Warrior’s Reward partnership, she won her debut at Penn National as a 3-year-old for trainer Michael Salvaggio Jr. in May 2021. She added the Malvern Rose Stakes at Presque Isle Downs in her next start, and capped last year with back-to-back wins at Penn National including the New Start Stakes.
Then she hit it big. With new partner Commonwealth New Era Racing on board, the daughter of Not This Time joined trainer Brad Cox in Florida and won the Inside Information Stakes-G2 on the Pegasus World Cup undercard in late January at Gulfstream Park.
“The thought from people on the national scene was that we were coming in from Pennsylvania to the big stage and we better get tied on,” said Brown. “We were just hoping she wouldn’t get embarrassed, and she won. We thought she was good, but then we were positive she was good.”
She backed it up in April at Keeneland, with a win over Bell’s the One and Kimari in the Madison-G1. Third in the Grade 1 Derby City Distaff in May to push her career earnings to $583,995 with six wins in eight starts, Just One Time went to the sidelines for a break and to get over bruised feet. Lame in a hind leg at the farm, she went to the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center and was diagnosed with a fracture in her pelvis. While in a sling to facilitate healing, she developed laminitis and was euthanized in mid-October.
“We did everything we could, New Bolton did everything they could, there was just no stopping the progression,” said Brown. “She was doing well in the sling, she was in good spirits about it and we were optimistic. Then the laminitis hit her and within days they said we had to let her go. It’s heart-wrenching. She was special.”
Robb knows how Brown feels. The trainer bought Maryland-bred Alottahope privately (because half-sister Street Lute was already in the barn) and watched him win five of 11 including two stakes this year. Prepping for the Maryland Million, the 3-year-old son of Editorial worked a bullet 5 furlongs in 1:00.60 at Laurel Oct. 15. Two days later he had a fever that wouldn’t come down. The earner of $328,915 died a few hours after getting to a veterinary clinic.
“They really have no idea what happened,” Robb said. “The thinking is I ran him at Parx off Lasix [in the Gallant Bob-G2] and he bled and they think the stress of that caused him to kick up some Salmonella. He was fine, his bloodwork was perfect, he got a temperature and he died. They say all horses carry a bit of it and sometimes stress releases it – he’s the last horse in the world I thought would have any stress.”
Fortheluvofbourbon made it to the Maryland Million Sprint, and won for the seventh time in nine starts this year while lifting his career earnings to $573,120. The easy victory (at 1-2) gave him a dozen for his career, which began with a Parx maiden win in February 2020.
The son of Bourbon Courage went from there to Oaklawn Park and Churchill Downs, where he was claimed for $50,000 by Pino and owner Dan Ryan. Back at Parx, Fortheluvofbourbon won twice that summer, added two more wins (including the Banjo Picker Stakes) last year and went on a tear in 2022. From April 25 through Oct. 22, the bay gelding did nothing but win – the Page McKenney Handicap, two allowance races, another Banjo Picker, the Liberty Bell and the Maryland Million Sprint.
“When you knew he was right, you knew he was going to run well,” said Pino. “And if he didn’t run well, you knew something wasn’t quite right with him. That’s the pleasure of training a horse like that, just a stone racehorse.”
Due for a break from training/racing, Fortheluvofbourbon acted so good a week after the Maryland Million that Pino started to think about another start in 2022. Stable staff found the 5-year-old dead in his stall the next morning, the victim of a twisted colon.
“He’d eaten his dinner, the stall was perfectly good, everything looked fine, but he was gone,” said Pino. “The barn was down, I was walking around in a daze for about a week, it’s a tragedy.”
Give your horse a hug for me, too.