by Greg Melikov - 02/21/2006
Another 2-year-old champion bit the dust in the 21st Century en route to the Kentucky Derby. In fact, the 27-year-old Juvenile Jinx lives on for Kentucky Derby injuries.
Stevie Wonderboy, who suffered a hairline condylar fracture on his front right ankle during a workout, is the fourth of the past six top juveniles knocked off the Road to the Roses by injury.
The others were Declans Moon, out all of 2005; Vindication, who never raced again after '02; and Macho Uno, who won the Pennsylvania Derby after missing all '01 Triple Crown events.
And the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Curse also continues: No winner of this premier stakes race during all 22 years has triumphed at Louisville.
The last juvenile champion to capture The Derby was Spectacular Bid in '79. That was during a glorious decade when a half-dozen winners of the Eclipse Award for 2-year-olds won The Derby. And three colts took the Triple Crown: Affirmed, '78; Seattle Slew, '77; and Secretariat, '73.
The main reasons young horses are susceptible to injuries, according to many racing experts, are:
*They are bred to run fast, are fragile and their undersized legs must support oversized frames. In addition, inbreeding causes defects.
*Racing at age 2 takes its toll because bones of young horses aren't complexly developed so they're prone to injury.
*Horses are often made dependent on drugs. While medications relieve symptoms such as bleeding and pain, they don't treat the underlying problems.
On the other hand, some observers say thoroughbreds are brittle because their trainers don't race them often enough, allowing too much time off between races.
Veteran turf writer Bill Finley, columnist and handicapper for ESPN.com, explains:
"The brittleness of the modern horse is a problem that is getting worse all the time and one for which racing seems to have no solutions. It's a reason why so many tracks have so many small fields that are unappetizing to bettors and a reason why racing is losing its appeal with the general public."
"The sport has no stars anymore because a true star has to have lasting appeal. That can't be accomplished with a seven or eight-race career that is merely an audition for the breeding industry."
Several experts support his position that trainers must realize their stakes horses can run more often and should be trained harder.
One writer observed that Afleet Alex's trainer Tim Ritchey used a 165-pound exercise rider where most trainers fire theirs if he or she weighs more than 130 pounds.
Naturally, the greater the horse performs the more the animal is worth in the breeding shed.
After all, the name of the game is a five-letter word: M-O-N-E-Y.
However, horses in the claiming ranks run 30, 40 or more times becaues trainers and owners have no choice but to run for purse money.