Sunday Silence, the 1989 3-year-old champion nobody wanted in his youth, was retired Thursday after suffering a slight tear in a ligament below his left front ankle in a workout in preparation for the Arlington Challenge Cup.
He was the final important victim of the Challenge Cup, a race that will be run Saturday without all its star horses and without national television coverage. The race already lost Easy Goer, who suffered a career-ending leg injury July 18 and Criminal Type, whose owners chose not to run him after the purse dropped from $1 million to $600,000.
Sunday Silence will be retired to stud at Stone Farm in Paris, Ky. Arthur Hancock, who owns Stone Farm, also owns Sunday Silence in partnership with Charlie Whittingham, Ernest Gaillard and Zenya Yoshida, who reportedly paid $2.25 million for a 25% interest in the 4-year-old colt earlier this year.
Sunday Silence will leave Arlington today to resume being a neighbor of Easy Goer, who is standing at stud at adjacent Claiborne Farm. The two horses began their lives together at the two farms.
"They'll be able to shoot the bull the rest of their lives," Whittingham said.
After Sunday Silence worked a half-mile at Arlington International Tuesday morning, some heat was discovered in his left front ankle. X-rays were negative, but Alex Harthill, the veterinarian who patched up the colt's foot shortly before he won the Preakness last year, examined the ankle with an ultrasonic scanner and found a slight tear in a ligament just below the ankle.
Sunday Silence jogged on the track Wednesday, and Whittingham said that he appeared to be favoring the leg. The horse was not lame and there was no swelling, but it was estimated that it might have taken three or four months of rest before he would be able to race again. That would have made him doubtful for the Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park in October, when he might have had a rematch with Criminal Type.
"If he was just a horse, you would probably race him again," Whittingham said. "But he's too good a horse for that, and he has a bright future at stud. He's done everything he can, and we're going to let him retire in a dignified way."
Whittingham, who has trained eight champions and other horses of the caliber of Ack Ack and Ferdinand, said Sunday Silence was the best horse he's ever had. Sunday Silence won nine of 14 races, was second in his five other starts and finished with earnings of $4.9 million, which puts him behind only Alysheba and John Henry.
His races against Easy Goer last year were classics. Sunday Silence beat Easy Goer by 2 1/2 lengths in the Kentucky Derby and by a nose in one of the most thrilling Preaknesses ever run. In the Belmont Stakes, Easy Goer gained his own victory in the rivalry, winning by eight lengths and costing Sunday Silence the Triple Crown sweep and a $5-million payday.
In their fourth and final meeting, Sunday Silence clinched horse-of-the-year honors by beating Easy Goer by a neck last November in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Gulfstream Park.
Sunday Silence twice went through auction rings before he ever ran a race, and no one wanted to pay as much as $32,000 for him, so Hancock retained ownership and later brought in partners.
The colt nearly died of stomach problems as a 2-year-old, and, on a van ride from California to Kentucky, the driver had an accident in Oklahoma, with the horse spending about two weeks in a clinic, recovering from his injuries.
Last November, shortly after his Breeders' Cup victory, Sunday Silence underwent arthroscopic knee surgery for bone chips.
He returned to action in June with a victory in the Californian at Hollywood Park before finishing second by a head to Criminal Type in the Hollywood Gold Cup three weeks later.
"It's heartbreaking, not being able to run Sunday Silence anymore, but you have to look at the good side," Hancock said Thursday night. "There's always the chance that there could have been a worst-case scenario, like there was with Ruffian, who died after breaking down on the track.
"He should make a really great stud. He had heart, speed and talent. This year, we wanted to do what was right for the sport and run against Easy Goer again. What he did this year shouldn't hurt his value any. He got beat by eight inches by a horse (Criminal Type) who could be horse of the year, and we had to spot the other horse five pounds."
The Arlington Challenge Cup purse will now be only $250,000 because of the loss of Sunday Silence. The purse would have been $1 million with both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer in the race and would have been $600,000 with one of them in it. The managers of Criminal Type, who has beaten Easy Goer in New York and Sunday Silence in California, didn't like the idea of running for a purse of less than $1 million and withdrew their horse shortly after Easy Goer was injured.
Wayne Lukas, who trains both Criminal Type and Steinlen, also withdrew Steinlen from the Challenge Cup on Thursday, right after he learned that Sunday Silence was out. Steinlen, who has raced on dirt once in his career, was a half-hour away from boarding a plane in Albany, N.Y., when Lukas told his crew there that the horse could be returned to Saratoga.
The loss of both Sunday Silence and Easy Goer makes Criminal Type the heavy favorite for horse-of-the-year honors this year. Criminal Type, who will run Saturday in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, beat Easy Goer in the Metropolitan Handicap, and a month later defeated Sunday Silence in the Hollywood Gold Cup.
The much ballyhooed Arlington Challenge Cup is left with a third-rate field, headed by Beau Genius and also including Royal Danzig, Triteamtri, Slow Fuse, Santangelo, Dibs, Western Playboy and Majesty's Imp. Only Beau Genius, Santangelo and Western Playboy were on the original list of invitees.
SUNDAY SILENCE CAREER RECORD
Date Event Place 6/24/90 Hollywood Gold Cup** 2 6/3/90 California Cup** 1 11/4/89 Breeders' Cup 1 9/24/89 Super Derby 1 7/23/89 Swaps Stakes** 2 6/10/89 Belmont Stakes 2 5/20/89 Preakness Stakes 1 5/6/89 Kentucky Derby 1 4/8/89 Santa Anita Derby* 1 3/19/89 San Felipe Handicap* 1 3/2/89 $32,000 Allowance* 1 12/3/88 $24,000 Allowance** 2 11/13/88 Maiden** 1 10/30/88 Maiden* 1
--1989 Horse of the Year
-- Career earnings: $4,968,554
* at Santa Anita; ** at Hollywood Park