As far as horse racing goes, it’s one of the most popular sports around the world. People flock in their millions to events across the globe to see the best horses and their jockeys battle it out on the track. However, there are also those people who do not like the sport at all. Some just aren’t interested in it, and that’s fine, but others think it promotes cruelty to animals.
Protestors constantly complain about the way horses are treated by owners, trainers and jockeys. And when they fall in a race an injure themselves, quite often they have to be put down, which again, riles up those who are against animal cruelty. To an extent, we agree, it’s never nice to put an animal down, but sometimes it’s the kindest thing to do if there is no way they can recover. And many of these horses are treated like royalty up until this point.
Don’t get us wrong, we hate to see animals suffering. Hence why everyone, including the horse racing community, were angered by scenes such as those at the Tokyo Olympics, where Modern Pentathlon coach Kim Raisner punched a horse. But it turns out that it isn’t always the case that it is the humans who harm the horses, as we saw at this year’s Forego Stakes on Runhappy Travers Day at the Saratoga Race Course.
Going into the race, which is worth around an estimated $600,000, it was Yaupon that sports betting apps were tipping to be the hot favorite on the day. The four year old colt has already enjoyed many wins in its time on the track, having won 5 of the last 7 races it took part in. And it was once again tipped to do well at the Forego stakes, especially being led by Jockey Ricardo Santana Jr. who would make it 3 wins out of the last 4 at the Forego Stakes.
And it was a closely fought contest, more so than many expected. Despite pulling away to create an early lead, the gap Yaupon had created was being closed down by Firenze Fire. They were duelling throughout much of the race when the eventual runner-up caught up to Yaupon, and it was looking like it could go right down to the wire as both horses were neck and neck.
However, that’s when out of the blue, Firenze Fire, lashed out at Yaupon and looked as if it was attempting to bite its rival whilst they were still racing around the track. It probably dampened Firenze Fire’s performance more though, as it then lost a stride as Yaupon fended off the attempted bite and took victory by a head.
Fortunately, neither horse was hurt during the race, and the Jockey’s were also unaffected physically. However, it still caused some shock as Santana Jr. later described the situation in a post-race interview: “That was kind of scary. That never happened to me before and the only thing I can think is ‘Don’t stop riding’”.
But not everyone seemed to be horrified by the incident. Many were reeling in the excitement around the drama, such as Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen who said “…the finish made it that much more dramatic. I will watch that replay many times in my future. For that to happen at a grade 1 at Saratoga with two horses on the lead, that will be memorable”.
It remains to be seen if the event hadn’t occurred, would Firenze Fire have caused an upset? And if it had bitten Yaupon, but went on to win, would it have been disqualified? Whilst we know a DQ would have been very likely, the answer to the first questions could also be yes too. Firenze Fire was gaining ground, and probably just edging it in the remaining furlongs before the incident, but the jockey trying to get the horse back under control impacted it too much.
Still it went on to finish an impressive second on the day. But it could yet have its revenge, as the two horses could yet meet again. Because both Firenze Fire and Yaupon are leading contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, another grade 1 race, that takes place at Del Mar on November 6th, 2021.
Hopefully, the next race will be as exciting in terms of that neck-and-neck battle, but we see less aggression in the form of trying to eat a competitor on the track. Still, it shows how unpredictable the sport of horse racing can truly be, and why so many people tune in to watch all the action unfold because you never know what you’re going to get when horses step out onto the track.