Thoroughbred racing might be the greatest game played outdoors, but it is also the toughest. The death of one of the sport’s stars, Battle of Midway, in a training mishap Feb. 23 at Santa Anita Park was a cruel blow, not only to his owners—WinStar Farm and the Heller family’s Don Alberto Stable—but to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, his crew, and all of the people associated with the horse along the way.
The son of Smart Strike crammed a lot into his brief tenure on earth. He had all one could ever want in a horse: speed, class, and heart. And his story had more plot twists than a Dick Francis thriller.
Bred by Pavla and Erik Nygaard’s Thor-Bred Stables and foaled and raised at Chesapeake Farm near Lexington, Battle of Midway was a member of the 2014 foal crop and out of the Concerto mare Rigoletta.
“His mother was a wonderful racehorse; she was not a sales-topper; she was a $35,000 sale 2-year-old,” remembered Drew Nardiello, operator of Chesapeake at the time. “Battle of Midway is a grand-looking individual that was into everything as a young horse. Great personality, but always into something; three weeks before the sale he pulls his feed tub and water bucket off the wall and implants a splinter into his foot. We’re nursing him to the sale, and he goes up there to (Fasig-Tipton) Saratoga (yearling sale). Somebody thinks he has something going on with a knee, so he doesn’t bring $1 million, he brings $410,000.”
Agent Tom McGreevy purchased the colt for Rick Porter. Porter gave the grand-looking yearling a grand name—after the historic World War II event—and a name he would live up to.
After the colt ran second in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), Porter’s Fox Hill Farm sold him to WinStar and Don Alberto.
Our first look at Battle of Midway was at the 2017 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). What a grand specimen. One look at him on the walkover had us shuffling back away from the rail to windows to get down on him at 40-1…40-1! Battle of Midway ran to his looks, but was off the rail in a less-favorable spot. He still beat everyone home except the fence-hugging Always Dreaming and Lookin At Lee.
We remained in his corner through the rest of his 3-year-old year, including a tough-as-nails win at Del Mar over the lightning-quick Sharp Azteca in the Las Vegas Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (G1).
Tenacious on the track, he was less so in the breeding shed. Proving subfertile after getting just five of 61 mares in foal, he returned to training and to peak form in the last few months. In his final start he displayed all of his finest qualities while topping the high-class
McKinzie in the Feb. 2 San Pasqual Stakes (G2). The sky was the limit for the rest of 2019.
There are few words that can be said to soothe the hurt we all feel at a time like this. Pavla Nygaard tried…posting a heartfelt tribute on her Facebook page:
“Each of the horses we breed is a miracle in its own way. Battle of Midway turned into my hero during his life. Although his life so sadly ended in a tragic training accident this morning, my memories will be about the many things he taught me.
“This mating, going to Smart Strike in his twilight years, taught me that age isn’t a reason not to pick a fabulous stallion. When his mom had to have surgery while he was in utero, he taught me that it is worth fighting for mom and baby. When he was always enthusiastically first in line when I visited the farm, he taught me that class is visible even in a young foal.
“When he returned to top form over time and was invited to join the Dubai World Cup (G1), he taught me that a career isn’t just one race; it’s a development over time. As I am processing today’s terrible news, he is teaching me that while pain of losing is immeasurable, it would have been worse to not know him at all. I am grateful and thankful to have known him. If there is anything to learn from today and how to do things better, I hope he will still be able to teach from heaven so his end isn’t in vain.”
It is unfortunate when any runner is lost on the track, but when a horse of this caliber dies, we’re all losers.