Thunder Gulch, who emerged from the shadow of Timber Country, his more highly regarded stablemate, to win the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes this year, has been retired after fracturing a bone in his left foreleg in Saturday's $750,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park.
Michael Tabor, who paid $475,000 for Thunder Gulch in 1994, late in the colt's 2-year-old season, made the retirement announcement Sunday at Keeneland after X-rays showed that there was a crack in one of the horse's cannon bones. There is the possibility that a pin might be surgically inserted to fuse the crack and Thunder Gulch will go to stud next year at Ashford Stud near Versailles, Ky.
Thunder Gulch contested the lead for the first mile of Saturday's 1 1/4-mile race before fading to fifth place as Cigar beat him by 14 lengths. It was his worst performance in a year that netted $2.6 million in purses and also included victories in the Florida Derby and the Travers. Thunder Gulch won three other stakes in 1995, and his career totals were nine victories in 16 starts and purses of $2.9 million.
Wayne Lukas, who trained Thunder Gulch after the purchase by Tabor, had hoped for a rematch with Cigar in the $3-million Breeders' Cup Classic at Belmont Park on Oct. 28.
"That was not the Thunder Gulch we knew [on Saturday]," Lukas said Sunday. "I was concerned about the [drying-out] surface, and thought that maybe that would bother him, but obviously it was his injury."
Lukas was higher on Timber Country and his filly, Serena's Song, going into the Derby, but Thunder Gulch scored a 2 1/2-length upset at 24-1. Serena's Song finished 16th and Timber Country was third. Timber Country won the Preakness two weeks later, with Thunder Gulch finishing third. The rubber match between the two Lukas horses didn't materialize in the Belmont. Timber Country was scratched from the final Triple Crown race because of a fever, and Thunder Gulch won by two lengths. Timber Country also has been retired because of an injury.
Gary Stevens, who rode Thunder Gulch in the Derby and won four other stakes with him this year, admired the undersized horse's big heart and exceptional intelligence.
"He was as smart as any horse I've even been around," Stevens said.
Thunder Gulch is a cinch to be voted top 3-year-old colt at the end of the year.
"If you look back at 3-year-olds in the last decade, he should stand with them," Lukas said. "He's had a marvelous 3-year-old campaign. He has danced every dance. People thought he couldn't win the Swaps [at Hollywood Park] after the Triple Crown, but he won that race and the Travers too. He's a world-class racehorse. If there's one thing you want in a horse, it is the consistency he had, his heart and the way he tried."
Tabor had planned to race Thunder Gulch next year.
"I'm shell-shocked about this," said Tabor, who cashed a big bet on Thunder Gulch in the Derby. "I think the public really enjoyed watching him run. But I think [retiring him] is the right thing to do."
The day he announced Thunder Gulch's retirement, Tabor won the $200,000 Breeders' Futurity at Keeneland with Honour and Glory, a colt who's headed for the $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Belmont Park on Oct. 28. Another Tabor runner, Tipically Irish, won Saturday's $200,000 Oak Leaf at Santa Anita and is expected to run in the $1-million Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies.
Lukas saddled Honour and Glory and also won the $200,000 Alcibiades at Keeneland with Cara Rafaela, who became a probable for the Juvenile Fillies.