Rough Sailing had the heart of a winner. And proved as much just months before sustaining a life-ending injury at the Breeder’s Cup last weekend.
On Aug. 8, the two-year-old left the gate at Arlington Park Race Track, and was quickly stuck in the back. It didn’t look good.
When he started to make his move, a wall of horses blocked him at the 3/16th pole. “He was completely shut off,” says trainer Michael Stidham, adding, “He was a little green.”
Undeterred, the horse and jockey Michael Baze swung out by six horse-lengths, and barreled up the stretch to victory. In his first race, Rough Sailing broke his maiden delivering the kind of performance that gives race fans shivers, and makes a veteran horse trainer smile.
“You’d have to have seen that race to understand how much potential he had. He was way back early, got shut off, and still was able to come flying up and win at the end,” Stidham says.
The burst of speed the horse put on to win it proved to owner Jack Smith III, of Jack Smith III Thoroughbreds, that he didn’t have a good horse; he had a great horse.
“This guy was pretty special,” Smith says. “When I bought Rough Sailing, it was the only time I bought a horse who lived up to expectations from day 1.”
Sire: Mizzen Mast
Sire’s sire: Cozzene
Dam’s sire: WoodmanSmith knew the minute he saw a video of Rough Sailing’s workout that the horse was different. “Most horses are trained to gallop to the Â¼ mile pole, but this one wouldn’t stop. He ran out to the 3/8th pole before they could get him stopped,” Smith recalls. “He just wanted to keep going; he was a horse that could carry himself over a mile.”
Going into the Breeder’s Cup Juvenile Turf last weekend, Stidham instructed jockey Rosie Napravnik to get as close to the rail as possible, knowing that with the stiffer competition, a wide swing around the field was less likely to work.
“She did a great job of that, and got him to about three off the fence.”
But, a horse just inside of the pair floated them out on the turn, putting him out at the crown of the track, and this is where he slipped on turf that was loose on top, Stidham explains.
The large, chestnut colt fell to the track, but hopped back up quickly. And as Stidham ran out to reach the horse, he thought he was fine. It was only after three veterinary exams revealed Rough Sailing badly fractured his right shoulder that it became clear the horse could not be saved.
It was a heartbreaking moment for Stidham, Smith and the rest of the horse’s connections.
“I’ve been in the business 33 years. I’ve had to deal with it. But, it really hits home when you’re on that horse ambulance and you’ve determined the horse has to be destroyed,” he says. “I don’t care how long you’ve been in this business, it has its effect.”
The loss, says Smith, was tragic.
“We lost a very talented horse, and I don’t know when we’ll see another like him again,” Smith says. “It’s touched a lot of people. I’ve had calls from around the country, letters and notes. You just don’t get an extraordinary horse all that often who makes it to the World Series of racing.”
Rough Sailing cut an imposing figure on and off the track. A 16.2 hand chestnut with a feisty personality, he was as smart as he was beautiful. (Please see Rough Sailing as photographed by Jamie Newell). Too tough to handle for many riders, says Stidham.
In this difficult business, Stidham has enjoyed success with several Grade 1 stakes horses, including Two Altazano, Sutra, and Tizaqueena.
And he was hopeful the spunky chestnut sired by Mizzen Mast would rank among the greats.
“He was such a young horse with such a promising future ahead of him,” Stidham says.
“I’ll never quite get over this one.”