Shamardal (Giants Causeway y Helsinki) que el pasado año 2015 volvió a llenar de luces su carrera como semental con 29 ganadores de stakes y 15 ganadores de Grupo, semental que ha dado campeones como Lope de Vega sire of sires y extraordinario caballo imbatido en Europa autor del doblete Poule y Jockey Club en Francia, tiene una rocambolesca historia detrás que le llevo al borde de la eutanasia antes de ni siquiera haber llegado a la pista a entrenar, deshauciado por los veterinarios se convirtió después en un campeón repescado de Godolphin, historia que merece ser leída de la mano de este extraordinario artículo de ESPN por Randy Moss:
|By Randy Moss|
Special to ESPN.com
|It is an inspiring story, told so often that by now it frays at the edges. As an excitable 2-year-old, Smarty Jones bashes his head into a metal starting gate so severely he fractures his skull and is nearly killed, yet he recovers to become a racing superstar.|
A year later, along comes another 3-year-old sensation with a remarkable story, one that also could have ended tragically.
And what gives the story special interest is that Shamardal -- like Smarty Jones -- is a horse of considerable talent.
An American-bred son of young stallion sensation Giants Causeway, Shamardal has won all three of his races decisively on grass courses in England, including that country's premier stakes for 2-year-olds. He has never been behind another horse in a race, and British bookmaking companies were impressed enough to make him the early favorite for next May's famed English 2000 Guineas at Newmarket.
However, Shamardal may be headed to the Kentucky Derby instead. Because his parentage indicates he could be as fast on dirt, Godolphin has announced that if he runs well in their UAE Derby on dirt in March, he may forego the Guineas and head to Churchill Downs.
The subplot here is that the four brothers who rule Dubai and collectively operate Godolphin - Sheikhs Maktoum, Hamdan, Mohammed and Ahmed al-Maktoum - have already won the English 2,000 Guineas six times. But the Kentucky Derby is one of the few prized trophies that has stayed frustratingly beyond their global reach.
Helen Street: Bargain or bust?
The most recent branches in Shamardal's family tree trace back to the Maktoum family's initial involvement in thoroughbred breeding and racing.
From all reports, Sheikh Mohammed was the catalyst for that interest. He has said he became enamored with racing while attending England's University of Cambridge, minutes from Newmarket. As oil wells off the coast of Dubai pumped more than a billion dollars worth of crude each year, Mohammed led his brothers on a spending spree beginning in 1980 in hopes of creating a thoroughbred breeding dynasty. Since then, the Maktoums have invested more than $1 billion in fabulously-bred horses, not including the huge sums they have put into breeding farms in Europe, the U.S. and Australia, and on a state-of-the-art racing facility in Dubai.
One of their many purchases was top-class filly Helen Street, a daughter of famed stallion Troy. Helen Street had won the 1985 Irish Oaks months after her legendary trainer, the late Major Dick Hern, was paralyzed in a hunting accident. The Maktoums paid big money for Helen Street, expecting that she would reproduce champions in the breeding shed.
Almost two decades later, Helen Street would become the grandmother of Shamardal. But breeding racehorses can be a fickle pursuit even for the fabulously wealthy, and by the early 1990s the Maktoums had decided that perhaps Helen Street's genes weren't as strong as hoped. They had introduced Helen Street to the best stallions, including Sadler's Wells and Danzig. But none of Helen Street's first six foals won even a minor stakes race. Two of her foals didn't win a race at all.
In 1992, Helen Street was demoted, in a sense, and bred to the Maktoums' own untested second-year stallion Machiavellian, a former French 2-year-old champion purchased from Greek billionaire Stavros Niarchos.
The resulting foal was a filly they named Helsinki, who turned out to be not much faster than her brothers and sisters, although she did finish third in a minor stakes in France. As a daughter of Helen Street, Helsinki had value as a broodmare, but her first two foals were also decidedly average.
And that is where a story of equine wealth and privilege takes a most unusual turn.
Helsinki meets a 'Giant'
As hundreds of new horses are born at their breeding farms each year, even the Maktoums need to trim fat and sell off underachievers. Helsinki was an average runner, a seemingly average broodmare, and the Maktoums aren't in the business of average. Besides, Helsinki had a small defect -- a slightly crooked front leg -- and was rumored to have difficulties getting pregnant. The decision was probably easy to put Helsinki on the market in 2000.
Helsinki was peddled in the U.S. by bloodstock agents, and was brought to the attention of Kentucky veterinarian Dr. Phillip McCarthy and Delaware car dealer Fred Hertrich, longtime acquaintances in harness racing.
McCarthy and Hertrich had teamed five years earlier on a thoroughbred breeding enterprise, and together bought Watercress Farm, a small property in Paris, Ky., near Lexington. On a budget that is miniscule compared to Godolphin's, they already had enjoyed some notable breeding successes. McCarthy also is an equine fertility specialist who had boarded Cigar at Watercress for a year at the request of an insurance company in a futile attempt to solve that superstar's sterility.
The thoroughbred world can be a surprisingly small one, and at the time, Helsinki was being boarded at Ireland's Coolmore Stud, the main competitor of the Maktoum family in pursuit of global breeding domination.
McCarthy dispatched a veterinary colleague to Coolmore to examine Helsinki. The report was favorable. But what really caught their attention about Helsinki was her younger brother who was finally doing the family justice.
After Helen Street produced two more racing duds, she was again bred to Machiavellian. At last, something in the genes clicked. The resulting colt was named Street Cry, and the full brother to Helsinki was sent to Del Mar as part of Godolphin's experiment with American 2-year-old racing. As Helsinki was being offered for sale in the fall of 2000, Street Cry had not won a stakes race, but had just finished a courageous third to Macho Uno and Point Given in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Before that, Street Cry had been second in the Del Mar Futurity and the Norfolk Stakes, earning big speed figures.
"We probably look at 300 mares a year," Hertrich said. "In this case, Street Cry had already shown what he could do, and Helsinki was the only full sister to Street Cry in existence."
McCarthy and Hertrich bought Helsinki for a price they will not disclose, but for less than $500,000. They took in a third partner, John Fielding, a Toronto businessman who also had been involved in the harness sport.
Helsinki had been sent to Ireland because she was contracted to be bred to Giant's Causeway, the Coolmore sensation who had just been retired to stud after losing the Breeders' Cup Classic by a neck to Tiznow. McCarthy was a believer in Giant's Causeway - betting him in the Classic at 7-to-1 – and with the horses stabled only yards apart, the mating was convenient. Helsinki's $120,000 date with Giant's Causeway was honored.
Confirmed as pregnant in the spring of 2001, Helsinki was flown to Watercress Farm that summer. The next March, she gave birth to a colt.
And the young colt was increasingly valuable. Four days before his birth, his uncle Street Cry won the world's richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup. Street Cry then came to the U.S. and won the $750,000 Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs. At the same time, Giant's Causeway's first offspring were getting rave reviews from breeders. The decision to buy Helsinki was looking better each day.
A life or death decision
Breeding thoroughbreds is expensive as well as speculative, and the partners saw an opportunity to take a fast profit against their expenses, or to "feed the beast," as McCarthy describes it. They put their magnificent not-quite-one-year-old son of Helsinki in a November auction at Keeneland in Lexington, hoping to immediately capitalize on Street Cry's reputation.
Prior to the sale, the youngster went through an awkward stage of adolescence and "lost some of his bloom," according to McCarthy. The top bid came in at $485,000; the partners had set a $500,000 reserve, and brought him back home with plans to sell him the next year instead.
But a few months later, the colt's awkward stage began to degenerate into disturbing episodes of clumsiness. Barely noticeable at first, the problem worsened. As a veterinarian, McCarthy knew of an ailment researchers have labeled Cervical Vertebral Malformation Syndrome, commonly referred to by horsemen as the "wobbles," in which horses lose coordination in their legs due to a compression of the spinal column against the spinal cord. Those most seriously afflicted are euthanized, since they cannot race and can injure themselves or step or fall on their handlers. In his advanced years, Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew was struck with the syndrome, which, after two spinal surgeries, eventually caused his death.
As a precaution, McCarthy had X-rays taken of the colt's spine, which showed a narrowing of his vertebral column at three locations.
In February, the colt became acutely ataxic, or uncoordinated. "Wobblers" are categorized by five levels of severity: Grade 1 cannot be detected by the untrained eye, and a Grade 5 means the horse cannot stand. The colt was diagnosed as having a Grade 3 affliction.
The colt was insured, and the company holding the insurance policy was notified. A Grade 3 affliction is serious enough to be referred to in equine insurance terms as a "destruction case."
One prominent Kentucky veterinarian said one-quarter to one-half of such horses are put down. A British insurer was more pessimistic, saying that a Grade 3 or worse diagnosis is "as good as being dead" in the eyes of underwriters, and that "99 out of 100" are put down.
To be certain, McCarthy shipped the valuable colt to Ohio State University for more definitive tests – not only additional X-rays, but a myelogram administered by wobbler specialist Dr. Steven Reed. In a myelogram, a dye-like fluid is injected into the spinal canal. Reed and a team of radiologists confirmed the colt had compression of the C5 and C6 vertebrae.
"They put him through the gamut," Hertrich said. "At that point, we had no options."
From an insurance standpoint, it was a textbook destruction case. The claim was paid. The breeding partners signed possession of the horse to the insurance company with every expectation that their once-striking colt would be euthanized with a lethal dose of barbiturates.
As hard-nosed as it sounds, the breeders also believed that euthanasia was the proper course of action.
"What if the horse goes down someday and kills a jockey?" Hertrich said. "That's the problem. We're talking about an unsafe animal."
For numerous horses throughout the world, even those with outstanding pedigrees, this is where the road meets the cliff. Insurance companies deal in percentages, and only a miniscule percentage of serious wobblers had recovered to be good racehorses.
But elsewhere in the American thoroughbred capital of Lexington, Ky., where rolling the dice on the vagaries of genetics is a way of life, another man was willing to take that gamble.
Saving the 'destruction case'
Richard Ketch once trained show horses and put himself through college as a horseshoer. Ketch now applies his equine knowledge as a mortality adjuster, employed by insurance companies as their liaison when a horse claim is received.
Ketch has seen more than his share of wobblers.
"For a long time, I felt very badly about putting these animals down," he said. "I had a feeling there were other things that could be done."
Ketch's empathy for the downtrodden came from his gut, as a horse lover, but also because he is the primary caregiver for his wheelchair-bound wife, who is totally incapacitated from the ravages of multiple sclerosis. And it was through his wife that Ketch came upon a form of medicine that could best be described as unconventional.
Standard treatments for multiple sclerosis were doing his wife no good. At her request, Ketch contacted Herwig Schoen, a German-born "energy healer" in Santa Fe, N.M., who practices what he calls "reconnective therapy."
Schoen, who says he has a background in physics, describes high-frequency energy fields more complex than the human body that penetrate and encompass the body of every living being. These energy fields, according to Schoen, organize matter into the form and function of the body. And if something in the body goes amiss, Schoen says it is often because of a "disconnect" between the body and its energy field.
Schoen says he can visualize the energy fields, see the disconnects and transmit his own energy to reconnect them.
"Most people can't see these forces," Schoen said. "I can see lots of them."
In this case, "seeing" forces is an abstract term. Schoen does much of his work over the telephone. He says that is not a problem as long as the patient or someone next to the patient is holding the phone. In fact, Schoen has said he could treat patients "just as easily from the moon," because such energy is not confined by our simple understanding of physics.
This energy treatment of Ketch's wife was inconclusive. However, Ketch said that after one desperate phone call to Schoen late one night, his own excruciating pain from bruised ribs and a pulled thigh muscle had vanished the next morning.
Ketch said he is open-minded about so-called alternative medicines, having admittedly experimented with "healing arts" for 15 years. He steered Schoen to a website explaining the wobbler syndrome, and Schoen said his energy therapy could help afflicted horses. They worked out a deal. Ketch would provide the hopeless cases, Schoen would perform treatments, and the two would resell the horses and split any profits.
Ketch mentioned the idea to a few insurance adjuster colleagues.
"My plan was very quietly to go to a couple of underwriters in London," he said. "I would say, 'Look, there is something I want to try. Just give me a couple of wobblers, and if it works I'll tell you what I've done, and if it doesn't I'll save myself some embarrassment.' I wanted to do this slowly and carefully. But things didn't go that way."
After only two weeks, John Cornwell, another Lexington adjuster employed by Ketch, called with a message: "I have a horse for you."
That horse would be the young wobbler still at Ohio State, the son of Helsinki written off as a Grade 3 destruction case.
Cornwell and Ketch moved quickly to stage an intervention before the colt was euthanized. The insurance company agreed to turn him over to Ketch, who arranged for the colt to be boarded at a 700-acre farm, also in Paris, Ky., owned by Peter Kerwin, a friend of a friend. The yearling was sent from Ohio State straight to Kerwin's farm, where Ketch and Schoen were waiting to begin his treatments immediately.
"He was definitely uncoordinated," Kerwin recalls. "He couldn't put two legs together."
Schoen said that over a period of a few months, he saw the colt twice in person and treated him 17 times over the telephone.
Kowalski saw the colt shortly after his arrival at Kerwin's farm.
"It was so sad," she said. "He was a beautiful horse. But he couldn't trot. He couldn't jog. He was down-and-out miserable."
Kowalski was told of the wobbler diagnosis. But she thought that perhaps the colt's primary problem was elsewhere. Kowalski is not a veterinarian and does not dispute the findings that the colt had a narrowing of his spinal canal, but she thought his lower back was "out of whack" and triggering many of his coordination problems.
For four hours, Kowalski worked on the colt's back as Kerwin assisted her. Without a veterinary license, Kowalski cannot use acupuncture needles. But she used some of the pressure-point techniques she learned in China – pressure much lighter than chiropractic manipulation - that are based on the same physical principles as acupuncture.
"When we were finished, he trotted out of the barn," Kowalski said. "It was so much fun. It was exciting and heartwarming at the same time.
"It's hard to describe, but when you've been around a lot of horses, you can tell a good horse by the way he walks and carries himself. And when we were finished working on him, all of a sudden this horse was hot stuff. I've never met a horse with that kind of character."
Kerwin witnessed the transformation as well. Kowalski gave the colt five more treatments.
Ohio State's Dr. Reed says research indicates a small number of wobblers – about 10% - will recover in a year if left alone. Reed is a believer in acupuncture techniques, but said other studies have shown that a careful restriction of diet and exercise also can help significantly. He added that the colt was treated with such a regimen by his breeders at Watercress Farm.
"It's not impossible to have a horse return to normal," Reed said.
No one knows exactly who deserves the credit - or if a recovery was destined to happen, anyway - but the colt made a dramatic turnaround. He was entered and withdrawn from the Keeneland September sale, and then catalogued for England's prestigious Tattersalls Houghton Yearling Sale in October 2002.
Not wanting to take any chances, Ketch had the colt examined by numerous professionals, all of whom gave a thumbs-up.
One veterinarian was specifically chosen because he had no prior knowledge of the horse and thus no preconceptions. The vet couldn't understand asked why a neck X-ray was needed for an obviously healthy animal, then called back an hour later with his diagnosis: "Like I told you, there's not a damned thing wrong with him."
For more feedback, those X-rays were taken to Dr. Fairfield Bain of the prominent Hagyard-Davidson-McGee veterinary clinic in Lexington.
"We go into the viewing room," Ketch said, "and (Bain) throws the film up, and says, 'Well, there is one area I would find suspicious, but it's nothing to get terribly excited about. You mean this is the colt you were telling me about? Congratulations. You've got evidence of spinal cord regeneration."'
With that, the colt was off to the England sale, accompanied by X-ray proof of his rehabilitation and an additional clean bill of health from Rood and Riddle, another top Lexington clinic.
Back to where he started
Ketch stayed behind to watch the sale over the internet. But hours before the colt was to pass through the auction ring, yet another potential roadblock developed – news that Coolmore had been interesting in buying the colt, but that he had flunked an endoscopic test of his breathing passages. Ketch was informed that Coolmore's veterinarian believed the yearling colt's airways were flawed enough that he would probably never make it to the races.
The colt had been given a virtual death sentence, only to make a miraculous recovery, and now this? Would it ever end?
Ketch was asked if he wanted to put a reserve on the colt, or perhaps withdraw him from the sale. Financially, that might have made sense.
"I've already put $30,000 of my own money into him," Ketch replied. "And I will not put any more. He's going to the sale, and whoever bids on him takes him home."
Watching on his computer, Ketch saw the auctioneer begin the bidding at 100,000 guineas, or about $175,000. No takers.
Do we hear 50,000?
Ketch leaned closer to the computer.
No hands were raised.
"He kept going down and down and down, all the way to 10,000 (guineas, or about $17,500)," Ketch said. "At that point, all I wanted was to break even, and that didn't look good."
At 10,000, a bid was made by Michael Goodbody, managing director of Gainsborough Stud, owned by Dubai's Sheikh Maktoum. Ketch didn't know it, but Goodbody says Gainsborough had done its own endoscopic test of the colt with no breathing issues detected.
British trainer Mark Johnston also joined the bidding. With Goodbody and Johnston bidding against each other, the price reached 45,000 guineas. When Goodbody identified his competition, he approached Johnston and suggested Johnston drop out of the bidding, because Gainsborough's plan was to have Johnston train the horse, anyway.
So the colt with the roller-coaster history went to Gainsborough for 50,000 guineas, the U.S. equivalent of $87,650. Had Goodbody and Johnston been in communication earlier, the pricetag surely would have been much lower.
After everything that had happened, the full-brother to Street Cry, son of Helsinki and grandson of Helen Street would return to his family's Maktoum roots with a new lease on life.
"I was just glad we at least broke even," Ketch said. "I only found out later who bought him."
The colt's fragile background was unknown to Goodbody and Johnston at the time of the sale. In an e-mail, Goodbody explained that neck X-rays were included in the information packet, but no one knew why. It didn't matter, anyway, Goodbody added, because the X-rays were clean.
Gainsborough named the colt Shamardal, and in late June, 2003, Ketch called the farm in Newbury, Berkshire, England, to check on his former project.
"They said he was the best colt they'd ever had, and that he was scheduled to run in two weeks," Ketch recalls.
Ketch wasn't sure Gainsborough had yet learned of Shamardal's earlier diagnosis, and chose not to say anything until after Shamardal's first race.
"I'm just praying he doesn't hurt anybody, that he finishes the race and crosses the wire nose-first," Ketch said. "He won the race by eight lengths.
"So then I get a hold of Gainsborough again, and now they want all the history on him. I said, 'You know he's a wobbler.'"
There was silence.
"We had no idea.
"I said, 'Well, then, let me tell you the story.'"
The 'wobbler' shows he can run
In the months following the auction, Shamardal was considered a hot commodity. Back at the farm, he had easily outrun another promising Gainborough colt who later won his debut race by five lengths, and when Johnston entered Shamardal in the July 12 six-furlong maiden race at Ayr, he was a heavy betting favorite.
Post-race comments from The Racing Post -- the English equivalent of America's Daily Racing Form -- said Shamardal was "as impressive a debut winner of a juvenile maiden as you're likely to see." His jockey that day, Joe Fanning, said afterwards, "He's doing nothing under you, and then all you have to do is give him a click and he's away."
In those two races, Shamardal's listed owner was Abdulla Buhaleeba, who has construction and real estate ties to Dubai. The Maktoums have so many horses, some are leased to "nominees" such as Buhaleeba that they want to introduce to the sport.
Following the Vintage Stakes, the lease arrangement with Buhaleeba was abruptly terminated; Shamardal and four other talented horses were transferred out of his name. No official reason was given. The Maktoums are notorious for privacy, even in matters considered public domain in other countries and especially in matters involving any hint of controversy.
But the Racing Post reported that stories were circulating in England of huge losses sustained by Buhaleeba at a London casino at which he was playing three roulette tables simultaneously. If true, such a public spectacle would be looked upon dimly by the Maktoums, since gambling is forbidden in the Muslim religion. Even at Dubai tracks such as ultramodern Nad Al Sheba, home of the Dubai World Cup, no actual gambling is sanctioned although prize drawings and handicapping contests are held.
At about the same time as the ownership switch, Shamardal suffered an unexplained training setback. He missed nearly three months of racing prior to Newmarket's Oct. 16 Dewhurst Stakes at seven furlongs, the country's most important test for juveniles.
But despite the layoff, Shamardal again went straight to the early lead and scored by another 2½-length margin under Gainsborough silks. Behind him in that nine-horse field – which included three other Maktoum-owned horses - were a Group 1 winner and four Group 2 winners.
And that brings us to the present, where happy endings abound, unless your last name happens to be Buhaleeba.
A Derby hopeful?
Shamardal was named the top juvenile in Europe, and his ownership was transferred again, this time from Gainsborough to Godolphin -- a technicality since the Maktoums run both operations.
The Maktoums hope Shamardal will be the solution to their history of Kentucky Derby frustrations. Considering his checkered past, it is a leap of faith to assume Shamardal will progress that far, or even carry his speed the distance. And if he does, there is no indication he will have a prep race in the U.S. prior to the Derby. The precedent of heading straight to Churchill Downs from Dubai has been loudly criticized by American racing media.
Shamardal's breeders are doing a tap dance as well.
McCarthy candidly admits he wanted the colt to be euthanized for more reasons than just safety; he and his partners still owned Shamardal's dam, Helsinki, and an ill-advised attempt to race a hopeless wobbler would have made her sketchy record as a broodmare look even worse.
Thus it is ironic that when Shamardal defied the odds to become a champion, perhaps no one profited more than the breeders.
In September of 2003, when Shamardal was still a reclamation project, the partners sold Helsinki's next foal, a yearling colt by Maria's Mon, for $400,000.
But that paled in comparision to their score in last fall's November Breeding Stock Sale at Keeneland, only a few miles from the farms where Shamardal once struggled to walk a straight line.
On Nov. 10, the once-average Helsinki was led into the sales ring, pregnant with a baby by stallion Cherokee Run, and sold for $3.9 million. Her buyer was Coolmore, another irony, since Helsinki had been living at Coolmore when the breeding partners purchased her five years previously.
Helsinki was immediately followed into the ring by her latest foal, a weanling filly by Unbridled's Song, who sold for $1.15 million.
"It's like the stars were aligned the proper way, in every way imaginable," McCarthy said. "Everything fell right into place.
"We're proud of our role in this. We got the mare through her pregnancy and took good care of the foal. For us, this is a great story of hope. All of us have dreams and aspirations. You just have to keep hope and maybe a little bit of luck goes your way. Or, in this case, a lot of luck."
As a veterinarian, McCarthy has theories on Shamardal's recovery.
"It is pretty much unheard of," he conceded. "But with a wobbler, the call is that of the insurance company, and I don't blame them for trying. If I were in their shoes, I probably would have done the same thing.
"You just don't know with these things. It's obvious Shamardal has exceptional talent, and sometimes horses with extreme talent can overcome a lot of obstacles. If I were a betting man, I'd bet that maybe the spinal canal expanded as the horse grew older, and that remodeled some of the facets that were causing compression of the cord.
"I suppose it is possible (Schoen) had some impact with his treatment, whatever that was. But, like I said, if I were a betting man…."
Co-breeder Hertrich is less diplomatic.
"In the end, this horse has just overcome," he said. "The witchdoctor thing does not really appeal to me."
The third breeder, John Fielding, is so grateful to McCarthy and Hertrich for bringing him into the partnership that he is treating them to a Caribbean cruise on a yacht.
Meanwhile, Schoen is continuing his energy practice in Santa Fe on humans as well as horses, and is the author of a 2003 book, "Reconnective Therapy – A New Healing Paradigm."
Ketch and Schoen have split amicably. Ketch now is practicing a version of energy healing similar to Schoen's, and is working with about 20 wobblers. Most are so-called destruction projects he purchased for $1 each from insurance companies, but two horses were sent to him from Gainsborough. Ketch said he has gotten good results, and recently made a promotional CD.
Ketch says he is not sure he can see everything that Schoen sees, but his long-distance telephone bill is probably lower. Ketch claims he can treat a horse anywhere in the world, occasionally looking at a photo of the horse as a reminder.
One veterinarian called that notion "ridiculous," but Ketch defends the energy theories.
"There are a few veterinarians who really don't like what I'm doing," he said. "But for every one of those vets, I can give you 10 that think it's great.
"Horse people are very superstitious. And when they're desperate, if you can deliver for their horse, they don't care what you do. They don't understand it, but to tell you the truth, I'm not sure anybody knows exactly why it works."
Shamardal's recovery has helped Kowalski's standing in the thoroughbred industry. Last fall, she was asked to treat Funny Cide prior to his victory in the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
"Godolphin has asked me to call them," Kowalski said. "Maybe I'll get to lay my hands on (Shamardal) again someday. I'd love to see him again."
And for hundreds of other young racehorses diagnosed with the wobbles, news of Shamardal's improbable rejuvenation might mean the difference between life and death.
Forty-one years ago, a young colt by Bold Ruler was stricken at a Kentucky farm with a sudden and serious case of wobbles, late on a Sunday afternoon when veterinary offices were closed. A decision was made to euthanize him the next morning. But when Monday morning arrived, farm managers were in a more benevolent mood. Let's just leave him alone and see what happens, they said. Owned by Wheatley Stable, Stupendous not only recovered, he finished second in the 1966 Preakness and set a track record in the 1967 Whitney Handicap - all because he was fortunate enough to begin wobbling on a Sunday instead of a weekday.
Anabaa, a son of Danzig born in 1992, was discarded by his breeders once diagnosed as a wobbler. Anabaa grew up to win eight of 13 starts, including Group 1 stakes in England and France. In still another irony, Anabaa was bred – and given away – by Gainsborough Stud.
There surely are more stories of inspiration, and perhaps better ones. Yet the successes are few and far between. The odds still aren't good, but thanks to veterinary advances and Shamardal, the chances may be getting better.
Ketch has read published quotes from Johnston saying that the industry opinion of the disease was so negative that if it had been known Shamardal was a wobbler, no one would have dared to buy him.
"That's okay," Ketch said. "If they want to send me the horse, I'll give them their money back."