Frank Sumpter, reflecting on Ice’s Wild journey, has spent the past few weeks working through his grief over the horse’s catastrophic injury just nine days before the supposed race in Kentucky Derby in Louisville.
Being so near has offered some solace during a tumultuous ride of feelings.
WATCH: Concerning increase in racehorse fatalities raises examination of safety practices within the industry.
The Texas owner and trainer expressed his feelings about his colt, which had to be euthanized following a pre-Derby workout at Churchill Downs on April 27. He remarked, “If heaven is anything like this, I am eagerly looking forward to reaching there.” He further added, “It completely upends your world. It is an incredibly heartbreaking situation for both myself, as the trainer, and his family.”
The suggestion is that horse racing is the safest sport for animals, as it has been since at least 2009. It draws fresh criticism every time it sends a horse mourning into stable, often out of sight and too far into death.
It is extremely painful to comprehend all the deaths that make their stunning impact. In many respects, majestic animals like the horse are considered family by their owners and handlers. Joe Trainer, as he frequently flips through his phone, brags about the photos of his horse, saying that it reminds him of his children.
In the last two weeks, more horses have been euthanized at Churchill Downs, including two on the undercard of the Kentucky Derby on May 6. The first of the seven thoroughbreds to die at the track leading up to the marquee race, Ice On Wild, was particularly felt in the grief of the recent spate of horse deaths at the home of the Kentucky Derby.
Apart from the renowned racecourse, the fatalities extend, yet at Churchill Downs, issues arise to address the emergency summit that has unsettled industry officials this week.
National Treasure, trained by the renowned Bob Baffert, emerged victorious and claimed the second jewel of the Triple Crown on a glorious day. Unfortunately, Havnameltdown, also trained by the legendary Bob Baffert, had to be put down due to a leg injury, casting a shadow over the Preakness undercard in Baltimore.
“When he got injured, it’s simply the most nauseating sensation a coach can experience,” Baffert stated.
After making the difficult decision to put down a horse, handlers, jockeys, trainers, and owners must move forward with the wrenching realization that the safety of their horses undergoes scrutiny while the sport endures. This is simply because healing a leg injury is considered difficult.
READ MORE: 7 equines perished prior to the Kentucky Derby. What measures are being taken to avert fatalities and harm?
The emotional difficulty is immense, particularly at smaller stables operated by Lejzerowicz and Sumpter.
Last night, in a corner stall at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, even in the freezing cold, trainer Lejzerowicz slept close to his horse, recalling their close relationship. Just like that, his Keeneland-based stable was brought down, as one horse choked up and the trainer struggled for words after 3-year-old Point Freezing went down with a leg injury during the Mile Day Pat Derby.
After his passing, he placed the horse’s harness outside a vacant stable.
Six races later, achieving victory, Freezing Point earned a notable sum of $102,910. Originally purchased for a mere $13,000 at an auction, this 2-year-old colt faced quite unfavorable odds. Recognized as “Snowball” by Lejzerowicz, the gray horse held a special connection with his owner.
He said, “I loved him and I cared for that horse deeply, just like many others did. Losing a child is a heartbreaking experience, and I understand how difficult it can be in the past.”
Without grief counseling, equestrians seek comfort and assistance within the surrounding community of the stables.
Other safety rules were implemented last year. The effect of these rules was the establishment of federally mandated rules and new anti-doping medication for horseracing, which took authority and integrity of safety into consideration. Horsemen interviewed for this story said that they understand the risks associated with racing large animals and give diligent attention to their training and safety.
The recent string of fatalities at the prestigious racing circuit is a poignant reminder that there remains a substantial amount of work yet to be accomplished.
Trainer Dale Romans said that sustaining an injury to his left leg at Churchill Downs on May 14 is always a hard blow. Unfortunately, his 3-year-old colt, Rio Moon, had to be euthanized. Romans expressed that race horses bring great joy and as owners, they have a responsibility to minimize the risk of injuries and breakdowns as much as possible.
Sumpter, a 69-year-old jockey, heavily relied on his faith and believed in his wife and special thoroughbred, Ida, who earned a stunning victory in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby at Sunland Park in New Mexico, with odds of 35-1, just like another special horse, Ice On Wild.
Sumpter is committed to fostering another contender towards the Derby.
He said, “I couldn’t stay in this business because I can’t look back so negatively.” “I will always be talking about him and I have the memories and pictures he gave us.”