by Fran Jurga ? | ?28 March 2009 ?| ?The Jurga Report at Equisearch.com
As the horse racing world gears up for an exciting afternoon of racing with the the 2009 Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park, a pall of sadness drifts across the landscape. It's source? An empty stall at the Kentucky Horse Park outside Lexington.
"Alysheba" is the name on the stall plate.
The Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year was humanely euthanized at 11:13 pm Friday at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute, a short trot across Iron Works Parkway from the Horse Park. The 25-year-old stallion was buried this morning at the Hall of Champions, across from the grave of the legendary John Henry.
Alysheba fell in his stall on Friday afternoon and was not able to get up. Hagyard's Dr. Nathan Slovis was immediately called to the Kentucky Horse Park, and an equine ambulance transported Alysheba up the long driveway and across the road. Dr. Slovis and his team treated Alysheba and evaluated his condition. By evening, it was clear that he had sustained an insurmountable injury.
"Due to a chronic degenerative spinal condition that led to ataxia and instability, Alysheba fell in his stall yesterday injuring his right hind femur," said Kathy Hopkins, Kentucky Horse Park Director of Equine Operations. "Complicated by his advanced age, this trauma resulted in severe pain that did not respond to analgesic therapy. The resulting pain and suffering, and the inability to stand unaided, led to a joint decision for euthanasia. This very difficult decision was made by the veterinary staff of Hagyard Medical, the veterinary staff of His Majesty King Abdullah, and those who loved and cared for him at the Kentucky Horse Park."
From ?John Nicholson, Executive Director of the Kentucky Horse Park: "Discussions with Dr. Slovis and King Abdullah's team, however, led us to conclude that this was the right thing to do for Alysheba, and Hagyard's staff performed admirably in such a difficult situation. I am grateful to His Majesty for giving us the opportunity to enjoy this special horse and share him again with his many fans, and I am happy that his last days were spent here on his native soil."
Frank McGovern, General Manager of King Abdullah's stables in Saudi Arabia, participated in the decision and thanked the park staff for trying to save Alysheba. He stated "his injury is one of those incidents that is not uncommon in older horses, and, unfortunately, nothing can ever be done. I am glad that he was back home and enjoying the first shoots of Spring before this happened." He added his thanks to the Kentucky Horse Park team "for their work in making Alysheba a star again."
Before coming to the Kentucky Horse Park, Alysheba spent the previous eight years of his life in the royal stables of His Majesty King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, after standing his first years at stud at William S. Farish's Lane's End Farm in Versailles, Kentucky. Known on the track as "America's horse," he was sent to the Kentucky Horse Park as a gift to the American people in October 2008.
Bred by Preston Madden at Hamburg Place in Lexington, Alysheba (Alydar-Bel Sheba, by Lt. Stevens) was sold as a yearling to Dorothy and Pam Scharbauer for $500,000. They campaigned him under the guidance of Hall of Fame trainer, Jack Van Berg, who said, "He stuck out like a diamond in a rock pile." Later, Van Berg observed, "He was so smart he knew what he was doing all the time."
Alysheba won the 1987 Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1), Super Derby (G1), and an Eclipse Award as Champion 3-year-old colt. As a 4-year-old, he was even better, winning six Grade 1 stakes: the Strub Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, Iselin Handicap, Woodward Stakes, Meadowlands Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic. He was ridden in 17 consecutive starts by Hall of Fame Jockey, Chris McCarron. Alysheba is listed at #42 on The Blood-Horse magazine's list of the Top 100 U.S. Racehorses of the 20th Century, one notch above another Kentucky Derby-winner, Northern Dancer.
His career highlights also included Horse of the Year honors and track records for 1 1/4 miles at Belmont and The Meadowlands. Along the way, he defeated Risen Star, Forty Niner, Bet Twice, Seeking the Gold, and another Kentucky Derby-winner, the ill-fated Ferdinand. Until two-time Horse of the Year Cigar came along, Alysheba was the world's richest Thoroughbred, with earnings of $6,679,242.
A memorial service for Alysheba will be planned at a later date.
Who could ever forget Alysheba and Ferdinand, two great Kentucky Derby winners, racing neck and neck down the middle of the track? Thanks for the memories, Alysheba.
Thanks to the Kentucky Horse Park for assistance with this post. ESPN will broadcast the Florida Derby at 5 p.m. today and may have more information and possibly a look back at Alysheba, although I don't know what their plans are.