SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Divine Fortune, who won the 2013 Eclipse Award as the nation's best steeplechase horse, was euthanized Thursday afternoon after suffering a fractured shoulder in the Grade I New York Turf Writers' Cup at Saratoga Race Course.
The 12-year-old chestnut gelding had led all the way in the day's first race as he approached the final hurdle of the 2 3/8-mile marathon. Then he fell heavily, unseating Darren Nagle, after clearing the fence. The horse stayed down for about five minutes, and the hushed crowd gave a yell when he suddenly got to his feet. Unfortunately, it was false hope.
Minutes later, Dr. Anthony Verderosa, the New York Racing Association's chief examining veterinarian, said: "After falling, the horse fractured his left shoulder and was taken in the ambulance back to the barn to be euthanized. You can't repair a fractured humerus."
Hall of Famer Jonathan Sheppard trained and co-owned Divine Fortune, who won 12 of 47 starts and earned $833,995 for Sheppard and William L. Pape.
The son of Royal Anthem was one of the best jumpers in North America for much of his career, distinguished by his exceptional stamina. Last year the Pennsylvania-bred won two of the country's most prestigious steeplechases, the 3-mile Iroquois Cup and the 2 3/4-mile Colonial Cup. He was 3-for-13 at Saratoga, where Sheppard has won at least one race for a record 47 consecutive years, starting in 1969. Among Divine Fortune's victories at the Spa were two renewals of the A.P. Smithwick (2010-11).
On Wednesday, Sheppard, a 74-year-old Englishman, won with a first-time starter in a 5 1/2-furlong turf race. He is the all-time leading money-earner among steeplechase trainers, with more than $20 million.
Sheppard has won the New York Turf Writers' Cup a record 13 times, and when Divine Fortune came to the final fence with the lead, it looked as if it might be his 14th. Yet no sport has more dramatic reversals of fortune than horse racing, and Divine Fortune's fall was the latest sobering reminder of how bad it can get within seconds.