Tragedy of Go for Wand's spill lingers and recalls past unfortunate mishaps


November 11, 1990|By BOB MAISEL

Maybe it just seems that way, and we could say the same thing every year. Admittedly, I haven't done a lot of research on it, but somehow I can't help but feel that there have been more sports injuries this year than I can ever remember.

In baseball, the disabled lists of most teams were loaded throughout the season. In the National Football League, players go down with regularity, especially quarterbacks. Then, it was all brought into a dramatic spotlight by the sensational spill on national television that took the life of Go for Wand in the Breeders' Cup.

I could be wrong, but it is my opinion that long-term, lucrative contracts have been instrumental in overpopulating disabled lists in baseball, and to a certain extent, football. But how do you account for the serious injuries to so many of the prominent names in racing? As far as I know, horses haven't as yet gotten into the long-term contract game. It's still hay, oats, water and loving care for them.

Not so far back in baseball, the disabled list wasn't so well-stocked. I recall Paul Richards having to pull off a bit of chicanery to get somebody on the list when he managed the Orioles in the 1950s.

It serves no purpose to mention names at this point, but he had a rather obscure utility journeyman, a nice guy and a team player all the way, who would do whatever was asked without question. If Richards needed a spot on the roster to fill a weakness, he'd tell this fellow: "Pull up lame the next time you run to first. I'll put you on the disabled list and bring up somebody." The guy got to be good at it. The point is, Richards had to connive to get somebody on the disabled list. He wouldn't have that problem today.

It takes a special kind of person to play hurt and take chances when he already has the next three or more years guaranteed for big bucks, or even if he is shooting to get into that position. Cal Ripken does it; Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson could do it. But a lot can't. I doubt if I could.

I liked baseball better, thought it was a better game, when they played this year for next year's contract, but that is beside the point now, because those days are gone forever.

We know thoroughbreds are fragile animals, always susceptible to injury, but not to the extent that they have occurred this year. Almost every division has lost one big name after another.

Sunday Silence, Easy Goer and Criminal Type, all at one point having a good shot at Horse of the Year honors, or at least earning the top spot among older horses, were sidelined. Among 3-year-olds, top names such as Slavic, Rhythm, Grand Canyon, Champagneforashley didn't even get to compete in the Triple Crown. Even Eastern Echo, an unbeaten 2-year-old highly regarded as a Triple Crown prospect for next year, suffered a career-ending injury.

It was the life-ending spill of Go for Wand that has brought all of this into clearer focus. She was not only a great filly, but one that sort of reached out and touched people.

At a party for this year's Maryland Million at the Elberton Hill Farm of Frank and Martha Hopkins, my wife and I happened to be in the buffet line with Jane DuPont Lunger, owner of Go for Wand. When we mentioned the filly, her eyes lit up with the kind of love that horses bring out in some. She spoke of Go for Wand in terms others might not even use for people. It made seeing the dreadful accident even harder to take.

To me, it was a case of a 3-year-old filly going against a seasoned 6-year-old mare, the equally talented Bayakoa, two horses bred not to give an inch in competition. The great ones give everything they have, reach down for even more, and occasionally the strain just proves too much for those little legs. It's nobody's fault, just one of the unfortunate by-products of the sport.

Anyone who witnessed both incidents had to be taken back to that day over 15 years ago, also at Belmont Park, when the great filly Ruffian suffered a similar injury that eventually caused her destruction. The unbeaten, sensational 3-year-old was in a match race with Foolish Pleasure, that year's Derby winner.

Although they have great appeal, I never liked match races. There is something unnatural about them. The horse that gets the early lead usually keeps it. That's what happened in the 1975 race. Both horses had been trained for speed to get that early lead and were going at each other all out when the filly's leg snapped.

It was one of my toughest assignments in over 40 years on this job. I had a plan to write it a certain way if the colt won, another way for the filly. Suddenly, it was all over, way over on the backstretch, and I couldn't even get there. Also, it is never easy to write with tears in your eyes.

Injuries, accidents of that type have always been part of sports, but that doesn't make them any more pleasant to see, does it?

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