Labor Day at River Downs. Closing day at my local race track. The season finale is an eleven race card featuring the Cradle Stakes, a $200,000 race for two-year-olds at a mile and one-sixteenth on the turf course. It’s a great day for racing, temperatures in the 80’s, clear blue sky, just right. I arrive right before the 4th race on the card to a completely full parking lot and a jammed grandstand. As I make the long walk from my car, parked all the way up the stretch, I pass folks tailgating, and others playing our local version of horseshoes, cornhole.
The Cradle Stakes is the biggest race of the season and featured an exciting drive to the wire between Our Man Buck ridden by Perry Outz and Cherokee Triangle ridden by Jesus Castanon. When they turned for home, those two horses were separated by no more than a neck, with Our Man Buck eventually holding off the other one to win by a length. For more details, here is a link to a chart of the race, provided by Equibase.
The Cradle Stakes was race 9 on the card, and many departed soon after the Official sign went up.
Race 11 was a grueling mile and 7/8 on the turf. The starting gate was at the top of the turf course stretch and they went under the wire three times to complete that marathon of a race. The final time for the ultimate winner, Pirate’s Bid, ridden by Julio Felix, was 3:14.
Twelve horses and their riders started this race, eleven runners went under the wire, galloped out, and came back home. Ship’s Captain never made it down the stretch. From the chart, “…SHIP’S CAPTAIN unhurried early, made a good move after a mile, held on well to the stretch and was eased when lame.”
I left the track quickly after that final race, sadly thinking of the closing of a fun season, with no racing at River until next April. My walk through the lot to my black Miata takes me along the rail, past the folks still tailgating by the fence, and close to the route taken by the horses heading slowly back to the barn with their grooms after the finish of the race.
One horse remained on the turf course, noticeably in distress. The blue veterinary ambulance was pulled up near this animal, whose body language indicated something was clearly not right. I turned away several times, not wanting to watch this sad and painful scene, full well anticipating the outcome. I couldn’t help but look as they attempted to load Ship’s Captain into the ambulance. A few short steps, and then he went down. Making no attempt to stand, he rolled on to his side, apparently surrendering to his broken legs and pain. Quickly, the assistants pulled out the curtain to shield watchers from viewing what was about to happen. A lethal injection by the vet.
After the last race on the last day of the racing season at River Downs, a race horse named Ship’s Captain made his last stride through the green grass.