Cup loses 'greatest' as Singspiel injured Broken ankle forces 5-year-old from Turf

November 07, 1997|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- Singspiel, who wore the crown of greatest horse in the world, fractured the cannon bone in his right front ankle yesterday while training for the final race of his career.

Tomorrow, the 5-year-old Irish-bred was to have concluded a spectacular career in the $2 million Breeders' Cup Turf. His appearance here at Hollywood Park was to have been the high point of racing's championship day.

Instead, Singspiel will undergo surgery today or tomorrow to stabilize the ankle and preserve a career at stud.

Dr. Larry Bramlage, a Breeders' Cup consultant and one of the world's foremost equine orthopedic surgeons, said the procedure is "as routine as surgery gets with horses."

He described the injury as "a common racehorse version of a seriously sprained ankle. When a human seriously sprains his ankle, he breaks off a little piece of the bone, and it takes the ligament with it. Singspiel's ligament has to be stabilized back to the cannon bone."

While breezing four furlongs on Hollywood Park's fog-shrouded turf course about 7: 40 a.m. Singspiel bobbled a few yards from the finish line. His regular exercise rider, Kevin Bradshaw, immediately pulled him up and jumped off.

Because of the dense fog, Bradshaw couldn't see the van that serves as the track's horse ambulance. He walked the horse back to the barn.

"By the time he got to the barn, he was dead lame," said John Harrell, a reporter for the magazine Thoroughbred Times. "It almost made you want to cry."

Asked whether walking could have worsened the injury, Bramlage did not answer directly. He said that since the horse was going to be retired, it was "not an issue."

Also, he said what Singspiel's trainer, Michael Stoute, had described Tuesday as a "pulse" -- apparently a slight inflammation -- in the horse's left front ankle had no effect on yesterday's injury to the right ankle.

Singspiel became the 10th horse in the past week lost because of injury or illness to the seven Breeders' Cup races. Others include the unbeaten Silver Maiden in the Juvenile Fillies, Kelly RTC Kip and Tale of the Cat in the Sprint, Twice the Vice in the Distaff, Anet in the Mile and Formal Gold in the Classic.

In recent weeks, physical setbacks also knocked out leading contenders Influent, Marlin, Rainbow's Dancer and Gentlemen.

Bramlage said that after tomorrow's races, he and others will "sit down and go over the injuries and see if they have anything in common." But he said he didn't think so. Nearly all were minor, and several afflicted horses might have strained or been pushed too hard "reaching to compete at a higher level," Bramlage said.

Trainers said the Hollywood Park dirt and turf courses were not the problem. Many attributed the rash of injuries to wear and tear at the end of grueling campaigns.

"When you hold this event in November, you can expect your share of attrition," said Mark Frostad, the trainer of Chief Bearhart, the new morning-line favorite in the Turf. A lot of these horses have had long campaigns."

Like other trainers of Turf entrants, Frostad acknowledged that Singspiel's absence helps him. But he took no joy in Singspiel's misfortune. "Nobody wants to see that happen to any horse, especially one as great as Singspiel," Frostad said. "It's heartbreaking."

Ron McAnally, trainer of Turf entrant Rajpoute, said: "It's good for us, but bad for them. I try to put myself in their place. It's happened to me. It's not a very happy time. Here's the horse that probably was the best horse in the world, dirt or turf."

Singspiel logged more frequent-flyer miles than probably any horse in history. He is the only horse to win Grade I or Group I races on four continents. He won two of the world's richest races: the Japan Cup on turf and the Dubai World Cup on dirt.

"The title of best horse in the world is a tricky thing, like saying one athlete is the best athlete in the world," said Alastair Donald, director of the International Racing Bureau. "But he's certainly the only international superstar in terms of what he's done on dirt and turf at racetracks around the world."

In last year's Breeders' Cup Turf at Woodbine, Singspiel finished second. He was 6-5 in the morning line to win this year. He would probably have been the day's heaviest favorite.

The new line lists Chief Bearhart as the 7-2 favorite. After finishing 11th at 20-1 in last year's Turf, the Canadian colt has won four of six races. He finished second in the other two.

The rest of the line: Rajpoute, 9-2; Val's Prince, 5-1; Awad, Borgia and Flag Down, 6-1; Majorien, 8-1; Dance Design, 15-1; Ops Smile, 20-1; Big Sky Chester and Buck's Boy, 30-1.

Bill Boniface, the Maryland trainer of Ops Smile, accompanied his horse yesterday on his cross-country flight and could not be reached for comment. But before departing his family's Bonita Farm and learning of Singspiel's injury, Boniface said:

"I never wanted to run against Singspiel, but I've learned that when you've got just one horse you're worried you can't beat, you ought to run. You never know what's going to happen. He might get a cough the day of the race or something."

Breeders' Cup

What: 14th running of racing's championship day; seven races worth $11 million, including $4 million Classic

Where: Hollywood Park, Inglewood, Calif.

When: Tomorrow, 1:30-6 p.m.

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Pub Date: 11/07/97

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