The passing of a champion

This past Sunday marked the end of a courageous battle as Lost in the Fog, the greatest racehorse to come out of Northern California since the legendary Seabiscuit, was euthanized due to complications from cancer.

Lost in the Fog, or Foggy as he was affectionately called, was just 4 years old and was on this Earth for only a short time. But what a time it was. Racehorses today usually only compete in one area of the country, only traveling to go to the top races. But Foggy was a cross-country traveler; competing in New York, Florida and Arizona. He also raced on his home turf at Golden Gate Fields in the Bay Area, which does not regularly produce big-time horses.

And Foggy wouldn’t lose.

After bursting onto the scene as a 2-year-old in late 2004, the horse won the first 10 races of his career. He competed in sprints, but won by amounts that were usually only accomplished by horses running longer distances.

As a 3-year-old in 2005, Foggy did not race in the Triple Crown series because those races are longer distances. Because of that, he did not get as much mainstream national attention as the horses in those races do. But horse racing fans knew him, and they came out when he was in town. Track attendance doubled when Foggy was on the card.

The horse was owned by Harry Aleo, a blunt World War II veteran who had no problem telling reporters that their questions were stupid. His love for Foggy was evident by how he spoke about him and through his refusal to give him up. As Foggy racked up impressive wins during 2005, Aleo was offered millions of dollars to sell him, but the stubborn man refused. He did not need the money, but also, he said he had never had as much fun in his life as watching this beautiful sprinter.

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Foggy came into last year’s Breeders’ Cup, the Super Bowl of thoroughbred horse racing, with an undefeated record. The Breeders’ Cup consists of eight races, each one deciding who the best horse in the world is in that category. Foggy competed in the sprint, and he was the heavy favorite. I put all my winnings from a previous race on Foggy to win, believing, like everybody else, that this horse was invincible. In a shock to almost everybody, he finished in seventh place. Despite that one bad performance, Foggy was still named champion sprinter at the 2005 Eclipse Awards.

Foggy did not race for the remainder of 2005 after the Breeders’ Cup. His 2006 debut came in the spring. He finished second, and it appeared that his greatness had officially disappeared. But then Foggy’s next race was a remarkable win at Churchill Downs, and he proved his talent once again. He then turned in a clunker in the race that followed, finishing far back in the pack. But now we know why, Foggy was running with several cancerous tumors.

When doctors discovered the tumors last month, they said they could have been growing for at least a year, possibly explaining his other losses. But Foggy’s last win, which took place in June, was definitely accomplished with the tumors; making that victory all the more impressive.

Cancer is very rare in horses, and because of that there is limited research on the subject. At first, Foggy’s connections said he would be returned from the veterinary hospital at UC Davis to his home in the Bay Area, to live out his final days; there was no treatment possible. Then a few days later, it was determined that medicine would be used that could possibly shrink the tumors. But the medicine did not work.

Then chemotherapy was tried. Foggy did well with the first treatment, still remaining his feisty and playful self. His trainer, Greg Gilchrist, said he had some bad days, but Foggy still had the determination to live. Then on Sunday, Gilchrist said, the horse showed serious signs of discomfort. He told the San Francisco Chronicle, “I always said when it got too bad, Lost In The Fog would let you know. If he was a person, he would have said, ‘It’s time.'”

And Foggy was immediately humanely euthanized. His body will be cremated, and his ashes will be buried in Florida, where he was born.

This has been a depressing year to be a horse racing fan. Since the well-documented breakdown of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro at the Preakness Stakes, four famous horses have died. Favorite Trick, the 1997 Horse of the Year, was killed in a barn fire; Saint Liam, last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic winner and Horse of the Year, had to be euthanized after injuring himself severely from a freak fall while playing around; Electrocutionist, winner of this year’s Dubai World Cup (the richest race in the world), died from a sudden heart attack earlier this month. And now Foggy.

Two things could make this year of sadness end on a happy note. One would be the constantly improving Barbaro making it through his recovery. The other would be the passage of the anti-horse slaughter bill. The bill was already overwhelmingly approved by the House of Representatives on Sept. 7 and is now before the Senate. I’ve got my fingers crossed for both good things to happen.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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