We said it a few days ago on the countdown, remarking that 2018 will be remembered for everything from Justify, Accelerate, Monomoy Girl, Diversify, Mind Your Biscuits and other stars of the sport. Sadly the year will also be remembered like many others for the losses the sport endured, from some notable pillars of the game to those behind the scenes but not less heartbreaking.
When we compiled the list of most read stories for our annual countdown many popped up in the Top 10. Since we didn’t want the annual series run during the holiday season to take on a somber mood we took the liberty of grouping them together and call it “Friends Lost in 2018.”
They might be friends of ours, friends of yours, friends of both or simply friends of the game.
One farewell piece that really hit home was Joe’s piece on Ronny Houghton, who passed away Sept. 23. Titled “Trainer, breeder, farmer Ronnie Houghton dies at 79,” the piece profiled one of the people behind Sylmar Farm in Pennsylvania and recounted an early memory of his wife-to-be.
Another loss in the Mid-Atlantic region came two weeks later when Kathee Rengert, a fixture at the Fair Hill Training Center for four decades, passed away. Joe’s piece “Fair Hill’s Rengert dies at 68” appeared Oct. 9 and detailed her long association at Far Hill. “Her job at Fair Hill was part record keeper, part safety monitor and part referee over track access, hours, workouts, training rules and starting-gate schedules,” Joe wrote. “She made it work, while also capturing Fair Hill with her award-winning photography.”
Two weeks later came another blow close to our home and heart with the passing of New York trainer Rick Violette. We posted an obit from the New York Racing Association shortly after Violette passed Oct. 21 at the age of 65 and Tom later followed up with a post on his In the Paddock blog titled “Farewell friend.”
The losses weren’t restricted to the autumn months by any stretch.
Our team at The Saratoga Special mourned in the spring with the news that longtime handicapper and friend Gaile Fitzgerald died April 3 at the age of 67. A racing enthusiast to the nth degree, Gaile couldn’t get enough of the action of the racetrack. Sean summed it up when he said “the quilt has lost a patch” in our remembrance piece “The Special loses one of its own.”
Less than two months later Fasig-Tipton and the rest of the auction game felt a similar sting with the passing of Bill Graves. One of the most respected horseman in the game, Graves died May 31 left a legacy of horsemanship, friendship and humor. Tom wrote about his personal connection to Graves in the piece “Legend Lost: All-star horseman Bill Graves dies” that appeared the day after his death.
Two days after Justify won the Triple Crown the racing world lost another original in Gene Weymouth at the age of 85. Joe penned a beautiful remembrance in his The Outside Rail blog, giving Weymouth credit for his career and recalling writing a piece on Fair Hill’s leading trainer in 1993.
“Weymouth told stories, laughed, cursed, showed us some horses, straightened his twisted back (a little) for a photo and we ended up with a pretty cool feature,” Joe wrote. “A few days after it ran, Weymouth called me to thank me for the article. He told me he liked it, then he tried to pay me. ‘I want to give you some money for doing that story.’ ”
We mourned the losses of many other greats, from Turf writers Bill Nack and Matt Graves, Churchill Downs’ John Asher, Dogwood Stables’ Cot Campbell, the NSA’s Charlie Colgan, horsewoman “Toots” Murphy and an exhaustive list of horses that includes Elusive Quality, Giant’s Causeway, Honour And Glory, I Want Revenge, Northern Afleet and Thunder Gulch.
Two days before we say goodbye to 2018 and hello to 2019, let’s raise a glass to all those lost this year and say thanks for the memories.
Check out the rest of the TIHR Top 10 for 2018:
No. 9: Three weeks…
No. 7: Newspapers, tragedy, life
No. 6: Far From Ordinary
Check back Sunday for No. 2.