Haskin: One Death Too Many

There comes a breaking point in every person’s life when you ask yourself if your passion in life is worth the heartache that accompanies it. As a lover of animals first, and someone who has been involved in racing since 1967, I have come to that point.

But I have come to it before, and I know that the death of Intense Holiday and the deep sadness I felt reading about his tragic demise will soon pass and get stored away in some dark recess of my mind, where I keep the memory of Ruffian, Go For Wand, Prairie Bayou, Barbaro, George Washington, Eight Belles, St. Nicholas Abbey, and so many others who lost their lives on the racetrack or as a result of an injury suffered on the racetrack.

I can understand why people ask themselves, “How many tears must I shed before I start drowning in them?” We grieve over deceased Thoroughbreds as we do friends we feel we know in some intimate way, even though we are well aware they are not friends in the human sense. Perhaps it is closer to grieving over a beloved pet, who had become such a major part of our family and our lives. I can offer no reasonable comparisons, only to say that the bonding between humans and horses is something that will forever remain a mystery, just as it has throughout history.

So, is there really a breaking point; the one death too many that finally drives us from the world that we love; a world that is both incredibly beautiful and at times incredibly ugly? Apparently not, for it continues to be a world we defend so staunchly against antagonists who focus only on its cruelty.

When I stood in the stands and saw Ruffian pull up, it was a shock, as I had never seen a great horse break down before. When Go For Wand broke her leg and fell to the ground right in front of me, I turned around and started walking away, with the thought of never returning. But again, like everyone, I forged on and tried to put it behind me. Now, after 47 years I have come to terms with the sport, or at least I think I have, for it never gets any easier.

Although it sounds so simplistic, racing is what it is, and the excitement and thrills and beauty and elegance that captivated us and drew us into this unique and magnificent  world in the end outweigh the heartaches. And so we grieve briefly over a courageous warrior like Intense Holiday, who has been a fighter since the day he was born, and we store his memory in some shrine-like corridor of the mind, reserved for our fallen equine heroes. And we move on, just as jockeys move on after the death or near-death of one of their fellow riders. It is the nature of the sport. We either accept it or we don’t.

Most everyone knows the story about the turtle and the scorpion. For those who don’t, a scorpion is looking to cross the river, but knows he can’t make it on his own, so he asks a turtle if he can hop on his back. The turtle tells the scorpion, “But you will sting me if I do.” To which the scorpion replies, “If I sting you then we’ll both die.” So the turtle allows the scorpion to hop on his back. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the turtle. “Why did you sting me?” asked the turtle. “Now we’re both going to die.” The scorpion, as he is drowning, says to the turtle, “I can’t help it. It’s my nature.”

If we are to devote our lives to racing and appreciate all the wonders it holds, we also must come to terms with the nature of the sport, as cruel as it can be at times. And a major part of that cruelty is laminitis, which, even in this world of advanced veterinary medicine, continues to baffle the most brilliant minds in the industry. It is a cowardly disease that strikes without warning, often after a courageous fight against injuries suffered in battle. I have no idea why nothing can be done to eliminate this hideous part of our sport. Why would I when no one else far more knowledgeable than I has any idea?

For those of you who did not read my column on Intense Holiday in the beginning of the year, here it is in its entirety as a tribute to a special horse:

“The pride that breeders feel for the foals they raise and nurture escalate with every hurdle they clear in their young lives. To see them grow into classy, strong, sound, correct, and healthy individuals is a gift in itself and brings great feelings of satisfaction. To see buyers at the sale show interest in them and bid big bucks to get them brings feelings of hope and dreams of the future.

Those hopes and dreams then become a powerful dose of reality when your “baby” comes out running and soon embarks on the greatest journey of all – the road to the Kentucky Derby.

Carrie and Craig Brogden of Machmer Hall Farm near Paris, Ky. have had that feeling before. They have bred or raised a number of top-class horses over the past few years, including two recent homebreds on the Derby trail – Vyjack, winner of last year’s Gotham and Jerome, and Vinceremos, winner of this year’s Sam F. Davis Stakes.

But if you can imagine those parental feelings of pride a breeder gets watching their foals develop into tough, finely chiseled athletes, try to take it one step farther and imagine how they feel when one of those foals narrowly escapes death days after being born, becomes a sought after yearling, and eventually matures into one of the leading Kentucky Derby contenders.

When the Brogdens’ Harlan’s Holiday colt, out of Unbridled’s Song’s daughter Intensify, who they bred in partnership with Haymarket Farm, was two days old, Carrie Brogden went in to see him, but as she walked in the stall, their veterinarian came rushing past her. It was obvious that something was dreadfully wrong.

There was the foal lying in a heap in the straw taking extremely labored, heaving breaths, as one would suffering an asthmatic attack. Carrie could only ask, “What the hell is going on?”

“There was a stunned silence and Craig finally said, “We think he has had a reaction to the plasma.,” Carrie recalled. “He had gotten plasma because his IgG (the antibody isotype Immunoglobulin G) was a little less than ideal and this was precautionary only.

“He had an anaphylactic reaction, which caused fluid to surround his lungs. The vet immediately ran back into the stall and administered what I found out was Lasix and solu-delta cortex (steroids). We thank God there was an oxygen tank in the barn and I ran to the office and grabbed it, turning it on full blast and putting the tube up his nose. I scratched and thumped his forehead, trying to get some endorphins released to stimulate him. It was silent for literally what seemed hours but was just a few minutes I am sure. It was touch and go for a while. Craig and I have thought about that moment in the foaling barn many times since watching him at the sale and in his races.”

Finally, the foal started to come around, his breath slowed and steadied, and he made a full recovery.

“He hasn’t looked back since that day,” Carrie said.

The colt, named Intense Holiday, would go on to hit the board in the grade II Remsen, Nashua, and Holy Bull Stakes, and finish a respectable fifth in the grade I Champagne Stakes for Starlight Racing. He finally put it all together with a dramatic stretch-running nose victory in the grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds.

“If the vet had not had the proper stimulants and we did not happen to have oxygen at the foaling barn, there would have been no celebration for us after the Risen Star,” Carrie said. “It was a rare but potentially fatal reaction and one I hope to never witness again. We did lose a beautiful Malibu Moon yearling filly with the same reaction that year, triggerd by antibiotics so I do know the other side.”

As Intense Holiday grew into an impressive-looking foal, he began to command the attention of Machmer Hall broodmare manager Luis Coronado.

“Luis has been telling me he is our Derby horse since he was two months old,” Craig Brogden said. “It’s unreal!”

Coronado added, “The way he walked in the field, the way he moved, and the way he ran across his paddock, he was different from anyone else. I told Craig and Carrie, ‘I know this horse is going to make it to the Derby.’ He was a special horse; very strong.  Whenever you took him outside you could feel the power in him. You could see and feel the difference between him and the rest of the horses. He had so much energy.”

Carrie and Craig began preparing their young horses for the Keeneland September yearling sale and received a boost of confidence when former trainer Frank Brothers, who is the bloodstock agent for Starlight Racing, came to the farm to inspect the yearlings.

“When Frankie came to our farm for the Keeneland inspections, he told me that the yearling out of Intensify was our best horse he saw at the farm,” Carrie said. “It’s funny that he ended up putting his money where his mouth was and buying him.”

Brothers was so impressed with the colt he purchased him for $380,000.

“I looked at 40 or 50 yearlings on the farm and he was far and away the best one there,” Brothers said. “And Harlan’s Holiday is a solid sire and you get a bang for your buck with him. He had the pedigree and he looked like he’d keep running. I really didn’t think he’d bring quite that much, but when two people want a horse, that’s a consignor’s delight. He was very immature and a bit handier as a yearling, but he’s gotten tall and long and you don’t have to worry about him getting the distance. In his earlier races, you could tell he was still learning and now he looks to be on the upswing, while some of the others are on the downswing. You just hope with his style he keeps out of trouble and gets a good trip.”

For the Brogdens, the sale meant a great deal, not only because of the price he sold for, but because they knew how close he had come to dying. And now here he was being fought over at the sale.

“When Starlight bought him, it was a huge sale for us,” Carrie said. “He was a co- homebred and I was so proud. I cried like a baby. Jack Wolf (co-owner of Starlight Racing) and his wife were there signing the ticket and they totally embraced me with congrats when they saw that I was so overcome. I will never forget that day. They were so kind and so warm and I was so thrilled that our colt went into such good hands.”

And so, as the Kentucky Derby becomes more and more a reality, Carrie and Craig can only wait for the first Saturday in May. And as they look back to that near-disastrous day, it is reassuring to know that regardless of how far the distances stretch out, the last thing Intense Holiday will need is oxygen.”

A horse who survived all he did from the time of his birth, and then survived a career-ending injury, deserved a long successful racing and breeding career. But it was not to be. So, all we can do now is offer our deepest condolences to the Brogdens and Starlight Partners and everyone associated with Intense Holiday, and do what we have become so proficient at in this sport – remembering. After all, it is memories and the hope of the future that keep us going.

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