Today’s Belmont Stakes was, by any definition, a down-to-the-wire, photo-finish thriller, with Union Rags in a come-from-behind win over Paynter. However, the media focused on the crushed Triple Crown hopes of I’ll Have Another, the Derby and Preakness winner that was forced to scratch yesterday because of a tendon injury. I have to admit I was impressed by the speed with which trainer Doug O’Neill and owner J. Paul Reddam made the decision to pull the favorite. As O‘Neill said, “It is a bummer, but far from tragic.” It was a selfless decision that was widely praised, one that any true animal lover would have made.
Race fans and all animal lovers still remember the universal anguish over Barbaro, the 2007 Derby winner that was euthanized after failed attempts to repair his shattered leg. The loss was not only a crushing disappointment to race fans, but it provided an opportunity for the animal rights lobby to defame all animal competitions. It is a continuing debate among dog show folk about when a dog should be retired from campaigning. After 40-plus years in the game, I believe that there is no easy answer. Every dog has his-her limit and almost all will make it abundantly clear when they are done.
I have never had the stamina myself to keep up the kind of grueling schedule that our top dogs maintain. However, I have had dogs that wanted to leave the house with me whenever I started the car, dogs that were much happier on the road and at shows than they were at home. I have to tell you that every dog I have seen campaigned heavily over the past four years has appeared to be happy to be at the shows. Here’s one of our sport’s truths. Those who would push a dog beyond its capacity to pursue a record or a top ranking will never stay atop our sport.
That being said, I would like to see the rankings revised so that campaigns aren’t the marathons they are today. The Cat Fanciers Association changed its national rankings decades ago to limit the number of shows that can be counted toward a national ranking. Cats are much more susceptible to stress than are dogs, but the basic premise still applies. For now, I am content in the knowledge that I have witnessed no rampant abuse of our current system. While I have seen a few dogs (my own included) that would prefer not to be at a show, it wasn’t because they had already been at 125 shows that year.
While all of us are disappointed that there will be no Triple Crown Winner this year, I believe all of us in the game were proud to see our shared principle of the animal comes first. And that’s today’s Back Story.