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Nadal's retirement could have been worse

By Ron Flatter  ( 

X-rays taken before and after surgery on Nadal’s left front knee revealed how close the 3-year-old colt came to suffering a catastrophic injury and how two inserted screws closed a developing fracture. (Courtesy of George Bolton)

Las Vegas


George Bolton has been around horses almost all his life and owned thoroughbreds for more than 30 years. He knows the ups and downs.


As down as he had to be Thursday, when his undefeated Kentucky Derby favorite Nadal was injured and suddenly retired, he had to be the strong one for his family and friends.


“My crowd is crushed,” he said. “I’ve been trying to pick everybody off the ground all day. I am like, look, he did great things. Yes, he’s hurt. But he could have had a catastrophic injury.”


Barely four months after his debut win, less than four weeks after his victory in the split Arkansas Derby, and less than four weeks before he was figured to be one of the favorites in the Belmont Stakes, Nadal suffered a condylar fracture during a four-furlong workout at Santa Anita. Bolton and trainer Bob Baffert did not hesitate in retiring the 4-for-4 colt by Blame, preserving his stud career after his life was spared.


The news led both Circa Sports and William Hill Nevada to temporarily suspend their Kentucky Derby futures as did other books around the world. Circa reopened its nine-day-old pool late Thursday afternoon with Florida Derby winner Tiz The Law its new favorite at 475. Nadal had been 340 at Circa and 4-1 at William Hill when the news was confirmed.


“Terrible,” William Hill director of trading Nick Bogdanovich said in a text.


“Man, that caught me off guard,” Circa risk supervisor Paul Zilm said. “To say I was surprised is an understatement. When you’re managing a future pool that’s still three months out, you know you’re going to have times when horses come up lame or get hurt or get taken off the trail. I just did not expect it to happen to the overwhelming favorite today.”


Bolton said that Baffert’s team discovered the trouble as Nadal was cooling down Thursday after his workout.


“He came back off in his left front knee,” Bolton told VSiN by phone from Jupiter, Fla. “I’m sending you a photo of his left front lateral condyle. It has a crack in it that goes from the joint all the way to almost break off the side of the bone about five inches above (the knee). It’s about an eight-inch line.”


The crack is clear as a bell in the X-ray, almost like the hairline crack in the Liberty Bell above its famous gap.


“Remember the (1976) movie ‘The Omen,’ when everybody that was going to get whacked had a line through them in their photo?” Bolton asked. “It’s that creepy a line.”


Veterinary surgeons inserted two screws to start the repair – and end the racing career of a $700,000 Blame colt that earned $1,053,000 in his four starts. He figures to earn a lot more in a stallion career that Bolton said was saved by the surgery.


“This day could have been a freaking disaster,” Bolton said. “Instead, we have an outcome that has a lot of positives, because he got to show up for those four races. Thank God (trainer Bob) Baffert had him. No other trainer would have won on that schedule.”


For Baffert it was the punctuation mark on a bad week that began with reports that his other Arkansas Derby winner – Charlatan – and Kentucky Oaks prospect Gamine failed preliminary drug tests after their May 2 races at Oaklawn Park. They were said to have been flagged for an excessive level of lidocaine, an anesthetic that is legal to use on racehorses – to a point.


Expedited tests of the second splits of the May 2 samples was ordered by Arkansas racing leaders. If they come back negative, then it is no harm, no foul – other than the leaking of what was supposed to be a confidential finding from the first splits. But if either test comes back positive, Charlatan and/or Gamine would presumably be disqualified from their victories. They could still conceivably race in September if they were clean winners of points preps this summer.


The injury to Nadal might lead Baffert to change his plans again for Charlatan. Telling the Blood-Horse on Wednesday that he did not want his stable mates to face one another, he said that he was leaning against running Charlatan against Nadal but, instead, in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens sprint on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Baffert had not commented yet on what might happen now that Nadal is out of the picture.


Since Charlatan and Nadal were expected to bring the early speed, projecting the pace for the Belmont Stakes has become a guessing game for the moment. Zilm said reports of where Charlatan is going will color Circa’s first Belmont futures, which he now expects to post within the next 7-10 days.


Meanwhile, Charlatan reopened at 555 in Circa’s Derby futures. His stable mate Authentic, the likely favorite in next Saturday’s Santa Anita Derby, and last weekend’s Matt Winn Stakes winner Maxfield are each 7-1. Among Authentic’s challengers next weekend, Honor A. P. is 10-1.


As for any thoughts that Nadal could recover and return to racing as an older horse, Bolton said forget it.


“I said, ‘Bob we’re done,’” Bolton said, “We’re not going to bring him back and take the screws out of a 1,325-pound horse. He’s going to be a stallion.” He said he was in the process of working out a breeding contract for Nadal.


Bolton admitted that he was crushed “for everybody,” especially his mother, Aurelia Bolton.


“My Miss Aurelia was named after her,” he said. “She’s sitting in a wheelchair on Jupiter Island, Fla., in quarantine. (Nadal) was the highlight of her whole year, you know what I mean?


“Him vs. Tiz The Law? It was going to be great for horse racing. It’s a shame for the sport. That’s why the big loser is everybody. The only good news was that the horse didn’t give up his life. Thank God for that.”


Ron Flatter’s weekly racing column is posted every Friday morning – more frequently for big races – at You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod posted Friday mornings at On the current episode, owner George Bolton discusses the injury and sudden retirement of Kentucky Derby favorite Nadal, New York Racing Association analyst Anthony Stabile looks at the new season at Belmont Park and the revised Triple Crown, Paul Zilm of Circa Sports discusses Kentucky Derby futures, and VSiN’s Dave Tuley, Racing Post’s Paris correspondent Scott Burton and Japan analyst Kate Hunter handicap weekend races. The Ron Flatter Racing Pod is available via Apple, Google, iHeart, Spotify, Stitcher and at and is sponsored by 1/ST BET.

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