ELMONT, N.Y. -- With most of the racing world and a significant number of others watching either here or on TV, the great filly Go For Wand fell and lost her life yesterday, as she approached the finish line of what would have been her finest triumph.
Winner of 10 races in 12 starts and headed for No. 11 in the $1 million Breeders' Cup Distaff, the filly from Mrs. Jane Lunger's Christiana Stable had reached the 16th pole at Belmont Park when tragedy struck.
With the crowd of 51,236 roaring its approval of a battle with Bayakoa, Go For Wand, perhaps a head in front, suddenly fell as the result of a breakdown in her right front ankle. She suffered several ruptured ligaments. As jockey Randy Romero rolled away, trying to avoid further injury from trailing horses, Go For Wand got up and tried to limp away before she was caught.
Because of the severity of the injury, Go For Wand was humanely destroyed.
While the Belmont stewards posted an inquiry and studied videotapes, the delay seemed to draw emotion from horsemen associated with Bayakoa, who had gone on to win, and with other fillies and mares in the race.
Go For Wand was voted best 2-year-filly in the nation last year and was considered a cinch to win an Eclipse Award as the leading 3-year-old filly this year. Speculation among some voters yesterday indicated that she might draw a significant number of ballots as Horse of the Year.
Ron McAnally, trainer of Bayakoa, had to fight back tears, as he talked about Go For Wand being a "game filly."
Jockey Angel Cordero, who rode a long shot, Luthier's Launchdy, was crying over the incident.
Romero, who escaped serious injury, said: "She [Go For Wand] was home free. She was going great. She's never taken a bad step in her life. She just snapped her leg off. She was sound as a dollar. She's one of the all-time greats, and you hate to see this happen. This is a just a freak thing. You ask why, but I don't know. It just all went at one time."
Asked if he had been hurt in the fall, Romero said: "No, I'm just kind of heartbroken."
Trainer Billy Badgett was near the fallen filly in an emotional embrace with his wife, but he left quickly without commenting to the media.
Before he left, however, he told a security guard: "This was the fittest horse I ever had in my life. I can't believe it."
After the race, Belmont Park management offered to honor Go For Wand by burying her in the infield, near Ruffian, who died after breaking an ankle in a 1975 match race against Foolish Pleasure. Lunger, through a New York Racing Association official said she had an alternative, but she did not elaborate.
McAnally defended the condition of the track, but he did say: "The worst part of it was down on the rail."
Trainer Wayne Lukas, who saddled horses in five of the seven races, said: "Something's wrong here. There should be a serious inquiry into this track. I'm not a track-superintendent type of guy, but I know that something's wrong. There are too many horses breaking down here, and not just Breeders' Cup horses. Two broke down Friday, and we lost a filly [a half-sister to Housebuster] this week. We had to put her down."
Later, Lukas suggested that strong winds had dried the dirt track excessively in the past two days.
"It's bad," he said. "With the world watching [on NBC-TV], something like this had to happen. My heart goes out to Billy Badgett and the owner."
Bayakoa won last year's Distaff at Gulfstream Park. She is 21-for-36 and has won $2,896,274.
Tragedy also hit in the day's first race, the $1 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.
Mr. Nickerson, a 7-1 shot, suffered an apparent heart attack and died. His jockey, Chris Antley, suffered a broken right collarbone when he hit the ground hard. Shaker Knit, racing third from last, fell over Mr. Nickerson.
Last night, veterinarian Albert Saer said Shaker Knit suffered "acute trauma of the spinal cord, and has his head propped up on hay in his stall."
Trainer Steve DiMauro said: "There is no prognosis and no time frame. We'll have to make a decision. He's in shock and has lost his sense of balance."
Neither horse had been in a prominent position early.
Maryland-bred Safely Kept, winner of the Sprint last year, was on the front end as a 12-1 shot yesterday. She soon was joined on the outside by favored Dayjur, a speedster from England.
Dayjur eased in front with 110 yards remaining, and then -- about 50 yards from the wire -- tried to leap a shadow caused by a small shed used for a timing device atop the Belmont Park roof.
Jockey Willie Carson managed to stay on, but was shaken again when Dayjur tried to leap another shadow caused by the stewards' stand on the roof at the finish line.
Safely Kept then rushed back to the front to win by a neck under Craig Perret.