It’s hard on your heart. From the moment they arrive, the clock starts ticking. Eventually, they will be leaving. Fillies grow up to be broodmares. Colts with promise continue on to become stallions standing at stud. In a barn, horses come and go as they are claimed, sold or retired. The grooms (and their families) often lavish love, especially when a horse tries so hard and touches the lives of so many.
Goldencents is a charismatic 4-year-old who is a rock star of a horse. He interacts with everyone who comes by and has earned his oats by winning and then repeating in 2014 his Breeders Cup victory in the Dirt Mile. His groom, Dagoberto Lopez, has been by his side since they met at Del Mar in 2012. Dagoberto said that Goldencents was a “dumpling” back then and was proud that he grew up “to run with the big boys.” Together, they have journeyed to the pinnacle of horse racing, including the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and onward to Aqueduct, Belmont and his home at Santa Anita.
Often while the Breeders’ Cup victory parties are progressing, large silver semis lumber throughout the backside in the darkness of the night, picking up their charges and hauling them to the airport. It is the fork in the road of destiny. The European horses left in the middle of the night to cross the ocean. So did the horses heading to the Fasig-Tipton or Keeneland November sales in Kentucky.
As the sun rose on the Sunday morning after the Breeders' Cup, those who knew Goldencents greeted the dawn knowing that today was the day they were going to bid farewell to their friend. In the early morning hours, it was time to say private farewells.
As the California sun warmed the barns, a beehive of activity progressed. A fabulous luncheon of Mexican food was set up next to Goldencents stall by Santa Anita’s Rosie Ybarra from Clocker’s Corner. Champagne was readied and soft drinks were nestled in tubs of ice. A beautiful cake was carefully positioned and photographed by many.
One last time he was tacked up and brought into the sunlight. His coat was spotless, yet his groom Dagoberto carefully watched over him shadowed by his son Jayro. Goldencents stood regally and posed for photos with his owner, his groom and family and his fans. Dagoberto would reach over and smooth over Goldencent’s coat with his hand while his son Jayro tucked his head into Goldencent’s neck. All around, tears were being fought back because no one wanted to be emotional.
Family members, fans and media joined the swarm of people who then lingered around to visit with Goldencents. Jockey Jamie Spencer showed up for a quick hug and a photo as did America’s Best Racing ambassador Ciara Austin. Goldencents played along like a pro as HRTV personality Michelle Yu Hanson “interviewed” him.
I stood next to him and marveled at how calm he was. There was the quiet whir of cameras as he posed quietly for each fan and friend to come up to get one last final picture with him. You could hear people say, “What a good boy!” and, “Look how sweet he is!”
This is a business. Horses come and go. They arrive and you learn all you can about them. You do what you can to make them happy, whether it is treats, a special toy or a special rub after a warm bath. Hours become days that turn into months or years are spent in the company of a special horse. Dagoberto knows that Goldencents travels well. He knows every single habit of his friend, including his love of baths and how he loves to roll in a brand new stall when he arrives somewhere new.
Goldencents certainly returned the love during his going away party. He leaned over shoulders and laid his head close by with his eyes shut.
He stood quietly for his TV interviews. He let everyone lean over and pet him, touch him and pat him. His friends would start to say something and catch themselves as their eyes welled with tears. They would turn around biting their lips and gain their composure.
After walking several turns, it was time for Goldencents to return to his stall while more well-wishers gathered for photos and memories. A tight ball of hay ready for travel was hung outside his stall as his friend Sharla Sanders tucked carrots inside as treats. There were lots of “awwws” and laughter from the crowd as he ate his carrots like a gentleman. He nodded his head in pleasure at all the extra attention.
Champagne toasts were made. Then you heard it before you saw it. There was the deep rumble of a large semi truck backing into position.
They lowered the ramp and secured it into place. Everyone lined up along the road for one last round of applause for a horse that has the love of so many. It was time to say good-bye.
Slowly and carefully, Dagoberto and his son Jayro led Goldencents past his Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile victory flowers. Jayro was wearing his black Goldencents T-shirt and his dad was wearing his purple Goldencents baseball cap.
Quietly and professionally, Goldencents walked between the two. They stopped below the ramp and handed the lead line to W.C. Racing partner and owner Glenn Sorgenstein.
There was another horse in the trailer who whinnied a hello salutation. Goldencents replied and we all laughed. There were quiet cheers telling him to make beautiful babies. There were those who couldn’t even talk as they fought back tears.
Goldencents walked up the ramp and into his stall. There were only a few seconds for one final good-bye and a couple of photos. He turned and stared out the window at the crowd below the truck.
Too soon, too quickly, it was time. The ramp was pulled back in; the engine was fired up and the truck slowly pulled out.
Sorgenstein and Jayro were standing stock still and quietly in the road taking one last look as the truck pulled away. A loose lead line dangled from Jayro’s arm. They were lost in thought and the emotion of the day. Dagoberto had slipped away back into the barn.
It was time to cut the cake and celebrate the career of Goldencents. As the children hovered, the crowd once again cheered. But as the well-wishers ate cake, I noticed that the barn had gone back to work. Goldencents’ stall needed to be cleaned and disinfected as a new filly was arriving in the afternoon to take his stall.
It’s a merry go round of emotions. Within hours, you can go from the cheers of the winner’s circle to the tears of saying good-bye. As horses come and go, if you are lucky enough, the time you spend with them will give you a lifetime of memories.
As I settled back into my seat at Santa Anita for the rest of the racing card, I glanced at the breeding of the horses who were entering the track. I smiled as I realized that I had sat in the same spot and watched their sires run. I had asked several attendees at Goldencents farewell party what they wished for him in Kentucky. Everyone wants him to sire beautiful babies. As the cloud shadows slowly drifted across the San Gabriel Mountains, I also echo that wish. I am looking forward to the day when we will see the happy stallion’s colts and fillies take their place in the sunlight of Kentucky, New York and California. It will be a joyous day for all of Goldencents’ fans and followers who have loved him so.