Martha D, motherhood, and more By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports October 14, 2021 at 7:19 pm On November 5th and 6th, the 2021 Breeders’ Cup World Championships will be held at Del Mar Racetrack outside of San Diego, California. These 14 races bring the top horses in the world together to compete for purses ranging from $2 million for some two-year-old races to $6 million for the Classic, the feature and final race on the program, run at a mile and a quarter for horses three years old and older. These races are not only financially lucrative; success in these events puts the winners in place to possibly win the most prestigious of equine awards, an Eclipse Award. These trophies are given in January to the best horses in each of the racing classifications based on age, gender, distance run, and surface, the most desired being, naturally, Horse of the Year. Winning any Eclipse can increase the value of any animal many times over, especially those who will be heading to the breeding shed, whether a stallion who will ultimately “cover” hundreds of mares or a mare who will drop a single foal a year. The step up to that level often hinges on their performance on those two days. This is, in other words, a pretty big deal. The Breeders’ Cup draws the best horses from all over the world to Del Mar, as well as the best trainers, jockeys, and many of the sport’s richest and most famous owners. Future stars like two-year-old filly Echo Zulu and colt Jack Christopher head up the early Juvenile contests. But the Classic is always the highlight of these races, and this year is no exception, mainly due to the still undecided result of the 2021 Kentucky Derby. As you might remember, Bob Baffert’s Medina Spirit won the race, but tested positive for a small amount of betamethasone, an anti-inflammatory steroid that is not allowed on race days. Kentucky banned Baffert from racing in its jurisdictions, and New York followed suit not long after. The NY ban has since been overturned, allowing Baffert to run his horses there until the case can be settled. As of this date, the winner of the Derby has not yet been made official, as Baffert and his owners are challenging the results of the testing used to determine the illegal drug. As of this writing, Medina Spirit is on schedule to run in the Breeders’ Cup classic, along with Essential Quality, the 2021 Derby favorite who ran fourth and later won both the Belmont and the Travers, and who currently is the favorite to win 3-Year-Old of the Year. But the best horses in this year’s classic might be the older ones, like Knicks Go, Art Collector, Max Player, or Maxfield. This is horse racing at its finest, most often dominated by individuals who can afford to breed horses or purchase ones to race at this level. These animals cost a lot of money, and they’re owned by people with a lot of money. For instance, last year’s Cup winning mare, and two-time Eclipse Award winner Monomoy Girl, was purchased as a young prospect for “only” $100,000, but in her career earned $4,700,000. She was subsequently sold for $9,500,000 to owners who planned to race her again before sending her off to be bred to one of the world’s top stallions, but a minor injury kept her from entering in this this year’s Cup races. Her consolation is to now prepare to become one of the most expensive broodmares in history. Not for nothing is horse racing called the Sport of Kings. Horse ownership can of course be viewed as a monetary investment, undertaken in the hope of making lots of money. It also can be looked at as an investment in the thrill of the races themselves, with attendant hopes of maybe making some money. But, like any investment, it’s a gamble, and, in the case of horse racing, one that can sometimes have uniquely tragic consequences. This past August, a young filly named America’s Joy, sired by Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, was preparing for her first race at the famed Saratoga Race Course. During a routine workout, she took a bad step, fell, was injured, and had to be euthanized. I don’t know much about the ownership or their reason for being in the game, but I do know that they paid $8,200,000 for America’s Joy and never got to see her run. In my racing career, the idea of racing at the Breeders’ Cup level – or anywhere close to it, really – was never a thought. Much like watching one’s child or grandchild get their first hit in Little League or score their first goal in Pee Wee soccer, I found the excitement of it to be pure joy, just for the accomplishment itself, not for any expectation of a professional career. Just being around the racing game and these wonderful creatures and being a part of a group of like-minded people was enough for me. The thrills, the routines, the rituals, the potential profits – that was all I needed. Glory’s nice, but it’s not necessary. *** Martha D wins in the mud. Trainer Andy at right with cane, his daughter fourth from left, holding blanket. Martha D was a special horse to all of us. I’ve written before about how her personality made her the barn favorite, and her determination to compete was exceptional. She both paid for herself and helped to pay the bills that we incurred from the others we owned but were not nearly as successful. After winning one and placing in several more races the following year as a 6-year-old, we again sent her to the farm for the winter, giving her time to relax and be a horse. Six months later, in her first race as a 7-year-old, she won again. Trainer Andy then sent her to Beulah Park in Columbus, Ohio. As luck would have it, the track came up muddy, her preferred condition, and won her second straight. Five more races followed those wins, but by then Martha had begun to show signs that she was aging; in those five, she only garnered two second and one third place finish. That fall, after a last place finish, Andy decided it was time to retire our warrior. Her career ended with 44 starts, 12 wins, 5 seconds and 9 thirds, meaning she hit the board in 26 of 44 starts, a tremendous record for a low-level claiming horse. The question we now faced was what to do with her. Our options were somewhat limited: we could sell her as a pleasure horse, pay what it would cost to let her live out her remaining years on the farm, or take a shot at breeding her, in the hope that she’d produce a successful foal, or foals, with something approaching her heart and stamina. Trainer Andy advised us against breeding, citing both the expense and the middling chances of profit. But we loved her and felt she deserved the opportunity to be a mom. So, after some cajoling, I convinced the other partners to join in the endeavor. All for Andy on her day of foaling Andy suggested that, if we were set on taking a shot at breeding Martha D, we might as well try to breed her to a stallion in Florida, rather than a much cheaper Ohio one. So in the spring we sent her to a nationally recognized farm in Florida to be covered by a young stud named Wheaton, a half-brother to the most expensive sire in the world at that time, named Storm Cat. One of the reasons that breeding is so risky is that, before anything else can happen, the mare must first get pregnant. Secondly, the gestation of a mare is a little over 11 months, so the expense of her pregnancy can amount to significantly more than just turning her out on the farm. And then, when and if the foaling is successful, you now have two horses’ care to pay for. Add to that the fact that the foal cannot race until age two, three long years after conception. That wait can be interminable, and the process of growing up, as it is for everyone, human or equine, can be fraught with illness and injury. Martha D and All for Andy We learned later that, around the same time we were trying to work out what to do with Martha D, Andy had begun to develop health issues. The information came in pieces, over time – Andy never said much about what was going on – but the feeling we got was that whatever it was, it wasn’t good. Thankfully, Martha got pregnant fairly easily and seemed to take to her new role of prospective mother quite well. Andy’s health, however, continued to get worse, and though he was only in his late 40s, after a while it became obvious that something was very wrong with him. By that fall, Andy was in the hospital. He passed away three months before Martha foaled that February. We named the cute little chestnut filly she delivered All for Andy, a tribute to the man who cared for Martha all her life and was instrumental in her success. All for Andy and Martha D in the barn Trainer Andy’s full name was Andrew Yakubik, and from day one, he was my guide throughout this entire adventure. He was the primary reason I got into this game, an unfailingly honest, blue collar, no-nonsense trainer, always short of barn help, never short on time or the willingness to drag a handful of enthusiastic neophytes into the light. He did it all. Poor of finances, but rich of heart. My gratitude to him is beyond comprehension. All the thrills I’ve had at the track would not have been possible without him. He was a great friend and mentor and a stellar human being. I miss him to this day.