Injury in Belmont forces retirement of Cavonnier 3-year-old finishes with $1.1 million earned

June 10, 1996|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

ELMONT, N.Y. -- The morning after his near-disastrous Belmont, Bob Baffert was smiling again.

The affable, wisecracking trainer of Cavonnier, the betting favorite in Saturday's 128th Belmont Stakes, stood outside his barn at Belmont Park and -- with great relief -- announced Cavonnier's retirement.

The Kentucky Derby runner-up sustained a bowed tendon in his right front leg as he streaked for home in the 1 1/2 -mile Belmont -- won by the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Editor's Note.

After watching Cavonnier leave the track in a horse ambulance, Baffert said he feared the worst. Yesterday, he said the injury was bad enough to end Cavonnier's racing career, but not so severe as to threaten his life.

"Thank God they didn't have to destroy him," said Baffert, 43, who completed his first Triple Crown series. "It would be like losing a family member."

Cavonnier will spend the rest of his days at Barbara and Robert Walter's Vine Hill Farm near Santa Rosa, Calif., north of San Francisco, Baffert said. The Walters bred and own Cavonnier.

"It's in the wine country," Baffert said, the sparkle back in his eyes. "He's going to have his own little paddock. He's going to have a great life -- better than you and me."

Now, the Kentucky Derby winner and runner-up both are retired. Grindstone nipped Cavonnier by a nose in the tightest Derby finish since 1959 -- and five days later was retired because of a knee injury.

Cavonnier's connections could give the 3-year-old gelding a year off in hopes of his returning to lower-class competition but, Baffert said, that wouldn't be fair to such a dedicated champion. Cavonnier earned $1.1 million in 16 races. He won the $1 million Santa Anita Derby.

Baffert said the grueling campaign of preparing for and running the three Triple Crown races in five weeks should not be blamed for Cavonnier's early retirement.

"Predicting a bowed tendon is like predicting an earthquake," he said. "You don't know when it's going to hit."

Would he do anything differently in his handling of Cavonnier?

"The only thing I'd do different," Baffert said, "is win the Kentucky Derby."

Another trainer smiling outside his barn yesterday was Lukas. No surprise there, because Saturday's win by Editor's Note was Lukas' third straight in this classic and his seventh in the past eight Triple Crown races.

Fond of baseball caps with names of his champion horses or descriptions of his accomplishments, Lukas joked about starting a new Triple Crown streak. His streak of six straight victories in Triple Crown races ended three weeks ago in the Preakness.

"I'm ordering a new hat: 'One in a row,' " he said with a laugh.

Asked whether Editor's Note surprised him by rallying from 12th place to win the Belmont by a length ahead of Skip Away, Lukas said: "He more surprised me by going this long without winning. On any given day, he's as good as any in this 3-year-old crop."

Editor's Note lost nine straight before winning Saturday at 5-1 odds. With a reputation for unpredictable behavior before races -- biting, bucking, battling his lead pony -- Editor's Note acted sensibly at Belmont until the final 100 yards.

He lugged in toward Skip Away, forcing Editor's Note's jockey Rene Douglas to snatch him back toward the outside, sting him with a left-handed whip and ride him hard to the wire.

"That was the best I've ever seen him saddling," Lukas said. "But that last 100 yards he thought about screwing up. . . . I think he wanted to go inside and take a little bite out of Skip Away."

Editor's Note's next race probably will be Aug. 4 in the Haskell Invitational Handicap at New Jersey's Monmouth Park, he said.

And, finally, a trainer who looked neither happy nor sad, just tired, was Nick Zito. A native New Yorker, he was seeking his first Belmont Stakes triumph after finishing second four times.

He said his Saratoga Dandy bled. The colt finished 11th. His best entrant, Louis Quatorze, who won the Preakness, finished fourth despite a far outside post.

"That horse has a heart as big as this barn," Zito said. "He could have chucked it. But around those turns he dug in. He wanted to win that race."

Zito said the fast pace of the Belmont set up the race for a closer like Editor's Note.

"You're not allowed to have everything your way all the time," Zito said.

Pub Date: 6/10/96

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