Against Million odds, Root Boy lived Progeny in '98 link with '93 near-tragedy

October 16, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Maryland Million Day celebrates the state's thoroughbred industry. From the grooms at the barns to the horse owners in their boxes, everyone involved holds their heads a little higher because of the role they play in one of the state's most important industries.

But five years ago, as the revelry of the day approached a crescendo, the celebration died.

The ever-popular Root Boy, running near the lead in the Maryland Million Classic, broke down. He lay in the dirt on the Laurel Park backstretch, his right front ankle shattered, his life imperiled.

Efforts that can only be described as heroic combined to save Root Boy. A month and a half later, he took up residence in Harford County to prepare for a career at stud. And tomorrow, for the first time, offspring of Root Boy will compete on Maryland Million Day.

"If one of his offspring wins on the day he got hurt, it'd be like a dream come true," said Richie Blue, who owns Root Boy.

Blue, 43, is a partner in the Baltimore real estate brokerage firm of Colliers Pinkard. Root Boy was one of the first horses he bred.

"He was special to me because I raised him," Blue said. "We all had fun with him. My three daughters -- the oldest one is 14 now -- saw him grow up."

Root Boy developed into an outstanding racehorse for the trainer Louis Bernier Jr. Of 32 races, Root Boy won 12, finishing in the top three 25 times. He won four stakes, including the Grade III Stephen Foster Handicap at Churchill Downs.

"He was a hard-knocking horse who did a lot of traveling and went up against some tough horses," Blue said. "You know how people like to follow a winner. Well, they took a liking to Root Boy, and he developed a pretty solid following."

On Oct. 9, 1993, Root Boy, 5, was the bettors' second choice in the 1 3/16-mile Maryland Million Classic. Rounding the clubhouse turn, Root Boy, with jockey Edgar Prado aboard, was barreling down the backstretch when his right front ankle snapped.

He lurched sideways into the path of the favorite and defending Classic champion, Reputed Testamony. Ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Reputed Testamony slammed into Root Boy. Both horses and jockeys crashed to the ground. All escaped injury except Root Boy.

Dan Dreyfuss, track veterinarian, first reached Root Boy, collapsed along the outside rail. The horse lay quietly in shock.

Dreyfuss discovered multiple, open fractures similar to ones that led to Union City's demise five months earlier in the Preakness. The difference was that Root Boy had a pulse in his foot, meaning that blood flow, crucial for healing, had not been severed.

As Dreyfuss cleaned Root Boy's ankle, applied a sterile bandage and then a small splint, the horse raised his head and looked back at him. Dreyfuss was crying.

"I had been around Root Boy essentially his whole career," Dreyfuss said. "He was a very likable horse."

Dreyfuss wasn't the only one. But if they were going to save Root Boy, there was no time for tears. Dreyfuss explained it all to Blue, who had driven to the backside from his box. Blue said: Save him if you can as long as it's humane.

"Nine times out of 10 people would put the horse down because of the cost and risk involved," Blue said. "But I had to give him a chance. He was running his heart out, doing what we'd trained him to do. We had to give him a shot to survive."

At the New Bolton Center, a large-animal hospital in Kennett Square, Pa., a surgeon repaired the ankle with a steel plate and 14 screws. Root Boy lost most of the hide from his right side when, simply, it died and peeled off because of the brutal impact of his fall.

But Root Boy survived, costing Blue about $25,000 in medical bills. "It was a miracle," Blue said.

The next year, 1994, Root Boy began a career at stud at Murmur Farm in Darlington. With a modest fee of $1,000, Root Boy has sired 50 named foals. The oldest are merely 3, so many haven't raced. But of the 18 that have, 14 have won.

Tomorrow, Root Girl, a 2-year-old filly, will compete in the Maryland Million Lassie. In three races, she has been first, NTC second and third.

Andimon, a 3-year-old colt whom Blue owns, will run in the Maryland Million Starter Handicap. Andimon won his last two races after credible performances in his first four.

They're both 12-1 in the morning line. But don't worry about the odds. A story about their sire in a national horse racing magazine a year after his near-fatal injury carried this headline: "Root Boy's Remarkable Maryland Odyssey A Million to One."

Md. Million Day

What: 11 races for horses sired by Maryland stallions

Where: Laurel Park

When: Tomorrow, first race 12: 35 p.m.

Feature race: $200,000 Maryland Million Classic, 1 3/16 miles TV: Ch. 45, 4-6 p.m.

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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