INDIANTOWN, Fla. -- St. Jovite, the Irish Derby winner who was supposed to take America by storm, has been retired without making a single U.S. start.
The announcement came on St. Patrick's Day.
Owner Virginia Kraft Payson and trainer, Roger Attfield, had mapped out a North American campaign that was scheduled to start with the Pimlico Special on May 15 as the horse's first major goal.
But those plans were dumped after the horse bowed a tendon in a workout at Gulfstream Park 10 days ago.
Stable sources said yesterday that it is believed the 4-year-old colt first damaged the tendon last year in Europe and that an ultrasound of the horse's leg showed old scar tissue in the injured area.
"I truly believe this horse was going to be better on the dirt than on the turf," Attfield said. "Not only does he have extraordinary action on the dirt, but most offspring of Pleasant Colony [the Preakness-winning sire of St. Jovite] get better with age and are better dirt horses. Now, we'll never know what he could have done on U.S. tracks."
Payson, who owns a stud farm in Kentucky, also operates the Payson Park Training Center in Indiantown. Her horses are foaled in the Blue grass, but are shipped to Florida as weanlings and are raised there until they are sent off to race in Ireland or France as 2-year-olds.
St. Jovite followed that schedule. He was not only the champion Irish 2-year-old in 1991, but won the Irish Derby by 12 lengths last spring. He then beat older horses in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot. He was also second to Dr Devious in the English Derby. Despite a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Prix de L'arc de Triomphe, his last start, he was named Europe's Horse of the Year at age 3. He was trained in Europe by Jim Bolger.
Payson returned St. Jovite to the United States and put him in training this winter at Payson Park with Attfield, in hopes of having the first dual Euro-American champion in consecutive years.
Payson feels European racing is less stressful on young horses and that there is too high of a break-down rate among American-raced 2- year-olds. But she is now thinking of restructuring her stable plans and sending her best young horses to Attfield to train in Canada.
"Roger [a four-time Canadian champion trainer] conditions his horses in the European manner and I think we can work out that sort of program here," she said. "Last year I made 11 round-trip flights to Europe and was starting to think I lived on an airplane."
Payson describes owning and breeding racehorses as her second career.
For many years she was outdoors editor for Sports Illustrated and traveled the world on big-game hunting expeditions. "I was sort of their girl adventurer," she said. She has bagged an elephant, a lion, a tiger, grizzly and polar bears, "but always just one of a species," she said. "That, though, was at the end of an era."
It became an unusual occupation for an English graduate from Barnard College. "Most of the other girls [classmate English majors] went to work for fashion magazines," she said. "But I was interested in sports. At SI, I sort of carved out my own niche."
On a work assignment work for Sports Illustrated she met, and eventually married, her second husband, wealthy sportsman Charles Shipman Payson.
Both she and her husband started breeding thoroughbreds about 12 years ago. Their first major winner was Carr De Naskra, who won the 1984 Travers Stakes at Saratoga. After her husband died in 1985, she continued the horse operation.
"I have found a second career that I love and that is as rewarding and thrilling as the first one," she said. When St. Jovite won the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes, she said she accepted the trophy from Queen Elizabeth "with tears running down my cheeks. A horse, like St. Jovite," she added, "is a gift from God."
St. Jovite will stand at Payson Stud in Lexington, Ky. He will be bred to a small book of mares this spring because of his late start in the breeding season which began last month.