September 27, 2023

Her voice catches and tears threaten to stick to, but Randy Gootzeit wants you to know about how a strapping gray colt nicknamed Snowball introduced a pair of horse lovers back to the track, and how they got their hearts broken.

Snowball, recognized on the keep track of as Freezing Place, suffered a fatal breakdown in the course of an undercard race at Churchill Downs on Could 6, starting to be the seventh horse to die in an agonizing 8 days leading up to the Kentucky Derby. The fatalities, as still unexplained, have cast a pall in excess of this year’s Triple Crown and renewed thoughts about the security of the animals as the sport prepares for Saturday’s Preakness Stakes in Baltimore.

But for Gootzeit and her trainer Joe Lejzerowicz, the difficulties in horse racing are just a backdrop to their private grief.

“We’d have accomplished something to preserve him, but we could not,” Gootzeit mentioned. “We miss out on him desperately.”

Gootzeit, 71, lives in the vicinity of Phoenix. She galloped and trained horses in the 1970s and ’80s at Belmont Park, but still left the racetrack to return to school and develop into a actual physical therapist. She performs on humans, but has also applied what she acquired to horses.

She experienced not assumed a great deal about returning to the video game right up until she talked to Lejzerowicz about getting a 2011 Volkswagen from him. A veteran trainer, he had realized his horsemanship underneath the Corridor of Fame trainer Allen Jerkens and experienced labored for additional than 30 yrs in barns from New York to California. Lejzerowicz was in Phoenix as very well, offering automobiles and taking a split from the activity even though understanding to cope with Ménière’s sickness, a disorder of the inner ear that results in critical vertigo and ringing in the ears.

He and Gootzeit produced an quick connection. Their like of horses created them pals, but it was their shared perspective of how to address the animals that made them small business partners: Never drive them, maintain them sound, choose rest about medicine.

“We were being coming out of the pandemic, and it was obvious no one’s timeline was guaranteed,” Gootzeit explained, “I informed Joe that it was time to wager on ourselves.”

With Gootzeit delivering a bankroll of just $20,000, it took the pair some time to get again in the sport. They struck out at three auctions in advance of Lejzerowicz fell in like with No. 954 at the Ocala, Fla., 2-yr-outdated teaching sale last June. The colt was well balanced, muscled and declared by a vet to be properly audio.

Absolutely, they thought, they couldn’t afford him.

“He’s fantastic, but we never have a snowball’s opportunity in hell of having him,” Lejzerowicz informed Gootzeit.

Lejzerowicz was so specified that their digital bid would be topped that he was using a nap in his truck when another person knocked and informed him the colt was his for $13,000.

The pair took their time with the colt, whose official name was Freezing Stage (a nod to his sire, Frosted), figuring out his eccentricities and admiring his work ethic.

“He was a very little spitfire,” Lejzerowicz, 53, explained. “He was playful. I’d shake my finger at him, and he’d test to push it back again at me.”

Lejzerowicz took Snowball to Keeneland in Kentucky to get him ready to race. Gootzeit flew in just about every couple of months to aid with instruction and are likely to the colt. Snowball won once in a few tries as a 2-calendar year-previous and commenced catching the eye of further-pocketed outfits. Gootzeit turned down offers of $150,000, $480,000 and, following Snowball concluded third final month in the Lafayette Stakes, $600,000.

A person of Gootzeit’s mentors had suggested her a long time before to acquire an offer for a horse only if the dollars was lifetime-modifying. This was a good deal of revenue, but Snowball was currently lifetime-altering.

The gray colt had reconnected her to some of her happiest periods and made available an chance to use her knowledge of bodily therapy and test her theories about what makes a happy horse.

In Lejzerowicz, she experienced not only observed a friend but also a horseman who shared her values. “We beloved the horse much too considerably to consign him to any one else’s care,” Gootzeit reported.

And that is why the pair were being at Churchill Downs on the very first Saturday in Might. They viewed their horse operate in the $500,000 Pat Day Mile Stakes just a couple of hrs prior to the Derby.

They watched from the rail in the vicinity of the winner’s circle. Snowball broke cleanly from the beginning gate, but within a quarter-mile, Gootzeit and Lejzerowicz regarded their horse was in distress.

“His head popped up in the air,” Gootzeit explained. “It swung left. It swung right. Some thing took place. I understood something poor took place.”

Within 30 minutes, Snowball was identified with a damaged bone in his still left front ankle. Inside an hour, Gootzeit and Lejzerowicz had been expressing tearful goodbyes to him. Right after the colt was euthanized, the vet handed on a locket of hair from his mane as a talisman.

Snowball will in no way be changed, but the pair will push on. They are wanting for a further sound thoroughbred whose expertise they can enable area.

“We are not going to be pushed out of the sport,” Gootzeit stated. “We want to succeed truthfully and cleanly and give our horses the enjoy and regard they deserve. “

3-yr-previous gelding

Injured his left hind leg through schooling and was euthanized

The jockey for this gritty Texas-bred horse, Ken Tohill, has received more than 4,100 races, but the gelding’s victory in the Sunland Derby in March was his to start with in a graded stakes race. At 60, Tohill was established to turn out to be the oldest rider in Derby heritage. “A reward,” is how Tohill described Wild on Ice just one early morning previous month. He continued, “He’s properly bred enough and his expertise is beginning to display.”

3-yr-old gelding

Flipped in the paddock and broke his neck

This son of Empire Maker was promising more than enough to debut in Saratoga, but he did not stay up to his promise, failing to complete greater than fifth in 6 starts off. Code of Kings was staying saddled when he grew to become entranced by social gathering lights at a D.J. booth, according to his coach, and flipped at the time, 2 times and, finally, a deadly 3rd time.

4-yr-previous filly

Collapsed and died on April 29 during the eighth race at Churchill Downs

This filly experienced won two in a row and, with much more than $153,000 in earnings, had tripled her obtain cost. She was the next betting choice at odds of 2-1 and experienced Churchill’s top rider, Tyler Gaffalione, aboard. Mother and father Pride was sitting down a comfortable second in the backstretch when Gaffalione suddenly pulled her up. She was vanned off the racetrack, then collapsed and died in Churchill’s bottom.

5-yr-outdated gelding

Collapsed and died on May perhaps 2 immediately after ending the eighth race, in which he concluded past

This functional gelding experienced stakes victories on grass and grime. He made a believer out of Albin Jimenez two summers in the past at Monmouth Park when the jockey rode him as a final-minute substitution. “It was a very good surprise to choose up this mount,” stated Jimenez. “I said, ‘Great. Let us get the income.’” They did, earning the to start with-position check out in the My Frenchman Stakes.

Chasing Artie was trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., as was Parents Satisfaction. Churchill and point out regulators refused to enable Joseph’s colt Lord Miles race in the Derby.

“It crushes you. It knocks your self-confidence, it would make you doubt all the things,” Joseph claimed of the deaths.

3-yr-old filly

Was wounded and fell through a May perhaps 2 race and was euthanized

This filly was bred by Willis Horton, a rancher and builder who died last year. She was properly trained by his longtime coach, the Hall of Famer D. Wayne Lukas: “He experienced a good eye for a horse himself and he comprehended the activity,” reported Lukas at the time of Horton’s loss of life final yr. “He was sport, and he wasn’t afraid to step up and commit funds on a very good horse.”

Just take Charge Briana was ridden by Luis Saez, the exact jockey who was on Chasing Artie.

3-12 months-outdated gelding

Broke down through the second race on Kentucky Derby day and was euthanized

Chloe’s Dream was named for the daughter of a company associate of Brook Smith, who operates the Rocket Ship Racing syndicate. Smith and his spouse, Pam, are included with the Backside Understanding Center at Churchill, which delivers education and learning and wellness systems for racetrack staff and their households. Rocket Ship donates 10 % of its winnings to the heart. Smith took Chloe and her household to the paddock in which he claimed Chloe’s Desire seemed “beautiful.” When the gelding faltered coming out of the to start with convert, Smith said he and his get together had been traumatized.

“It leaves a hole in your tummy,” Smith explained. He included that he and his spouse have been not all set to return to the racetrack. “I cannot go by way of it again.”