ELMONT, N.Y. -- In the dawn's early light Bill Badgett was giving orders to the people who tend to his other 29 horses. It was a day much like any other at Barn 41.
"But it's hard," he said, "walking past her stall and seeing it empty."
Until Saturday afternoon that stall was home to Go for Wand, the 3-year-old filly who may have been within a few strides of Horse of the Year when her right ankle broke off.
That stall was what Go for Wand was seeking, instinctively, when she scrambled to her three remaining feet and staggered a hundred yards to the inside rail, near the finish line.
"Her leg was flapping," groom Joe Schornstein said at the barn later, explaining how he knew the filly's agony was mortal. "You can't save a horse with a leg flapping."
Because Go for Wand staggered in the direction of the finish line, the public prints abound with accounts of her competitive courage, her will to win on three legs. Ivan Pavlov would have explained it another way.
"There is nothing you can say," trainer John Veitch told the television audience. "That's racing."
Horses under stress of unnatural speed "break down" and are "humanely destroyed" on race tracks all over, regularly. But not often before 51,236 customers and network TV.
"I hate for the owners and the public to see that," said Frank Whitham, owner of the winner, Bayakoa. Behind a blue screen that shielded a fraction of the multitude from the event, Go for Wand was given a lethal injection.
Go for Wand had a short neck in front of 5-year-old Bayakoa as they neared the 16th pole of the $1-million Breeders' Cup Distaff. there the race was as keenly contested as any in the Cup's seven-year history.
Bayakoa was "getting to" Go for Wand and jockey Laffit Pincay assured trainer Ron McAnally that "I had her." But Bayakoa hadn't "got to" Go for Wand for a half-mile of all-out trying.
When the younger filly collapsed, the $450,000 winner's share was Bayakoa's, moving her within $275,151 of Lady's Secret's earnings record. Bayakoa will also get a few votes for Horse of the Year.
Go for Wand will also receive a wistful few, but Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled filled the vacuum Saturday by winning the $3 ** million Classic.
"I didn't want to go down there [to the winner's circle]," McAnally said. "You put yourself in his [Badgett's] place and . . . It's no way to win." He was one of thousands in tears as Bayakoa's second consecutive Distaff trophy was presented.
McAnally has had to "put down" horses in his 36-year career. "But none of Go for Wand's stature," he said. "I'll tell you, I had to go have a couple of drinks. That was an awful thing."
The demise of Go for Wand, coming after two horses broke down and were destroyed in Friday's races, raised the predictable speculation that there is "something wrong" with the Belmont track. The surface could not be blamed for the death of Mr. Nickerson, who went down "in distress" in the early part of the Breeders' Cup Sprint Saturday. It was an apparent heart attack. Shaker Knit fell over Mr. Nickerson and suffered a severe spinal injury. He was put down late Saturday night.
"You knew somebody would say that stuff," said trainer Scotty Schulhofer. "This has been a good track for 30 years. I don't know of a better one."
Schulhofer's Fly So Free had no problem with the track in winning the Juvenile. Neither did Safely Kept (Sprint), unbeaten Meadow Star (Juvenile Fillies), Bayakoa or Unbridled.
The track was "too cuppy" for Dispersal, starting from the 12 post in the Classic. If anything "killed" Go for Wand, it was speed. But the track wasn't fast enough for Dispersal, his trainer said.
"We had no shot," trainer Buddy Delp said. "They went in :45 4/5 [for the half-mile], so we had to go in :45 to get with them.
"Anyway, [Eddie] Delahoussaye rode him good and bad. I didn't want to go head-and-head with those speed horses. I wanted to follow them. I had explained that to [Chris] Antley."
Delahoussaye got the mount after Antley went down with Mr. Nickerson and suffered a broken collarbone.
Billy Badgett's bride of three weeks, Rose, who galloped and worked Go for Wand, was not at the barn yesterday. "It'll take a while," Badgett said. "She loved Go for Wand more than she loved me."
In an attempt to match ABC's featuring of nonagenarian owner Frances Genter as Unbridled won the Derby, NBC was focused Saturday on the box where 76-year-old Jane duPont Lunger, Go for Wand's owner-breeder, was seated.
That camera, after the filly went down, showed Rose Badgett, a very pretty young lady with very long blond hair. She cried, "Oh, no!", then screamed in anguish before running down to the track.
"She took it hard," said Badgett. It was difficult to tell whether his eyes were swollen from weeping or from the sinus infection that has bothered him for a week.
Everybody was suspect of crying. Charlie Bradford, who gallops horses for Billy Turner, trainer of Seattle Slew to the 1977 Triple Crown, was embarrassed.
A horseman for 30 of his 50 years, Bradford determined to watch the Breeders' Cup on television. He invited a bunch of people to his home.
"When the filly went down . . . I couldn't help it," Bradford said. "I cried like a damn fool. I had to go into the bathroom until I got over it."
Billy Badgett was hard at work by 6 a.m. yesterday. "It's my job here to keep people pumped up," Badgett said as a set of four horses went out to exercise. "I have 29 other horses."
Asked if it was better for him to be busy with all those other horses, Badgett said: "If I had only the one horse I'd probably have taken a plane out of town." As it was, he said, "I didn't feel like getting out of bed this morning."
Then Billy Badgett began walking, briskly. "Excuse me now, guys," he said. "I got to go to the track with my horses."
He was wearing a white baseball cap with the blue letters Go for Wand.