TORONTO, August 21 – Calgary Cat’s unfortunate passing arrived as sudden as one of his trademark late rushes.
After finishing seventh in the Play the King Stakes on Saturday under Luis Contreras, Calgary Cat returned to his connections to be unsaddled and was walking home when he collapsed on the clubhouse turn.
“I watched him come back and he didn’t appear to be distressed. He was unsaddled and I watched him walk away for a bit and then I turned to walk away,” said track veterinarian Dr. Greg Taylor. “I walked back towards the grandstand and I turned around and saw him go up in the air a bit and then go down. We called for the ambulance and our other vet, Dr. Starmer, to attend to the horse and I headed over myself. By the time I got there, he was pretty well gone.”
It’s probable the seven-year-old son of Cowtown Cat suffered a cardiovascular event.
“I would think so, but as of yet we don’t know,” said Dr. Taylor. “The horse has been sent for a post mortem and until we have that result, it’s purely speculation.”
Calgary Cat in full flight…(Burns Photo)
While Conquest Panthera had his photo snapped for a trophy presentation, the commotion at the turn sobered the moment.
An array of outriders, starter Ian Ross, Dr. Taylor and trainer Kevin Attard huddled around the motionless Calgary Cat asking for a response. In 32 career starts, the gallant gelding responded with a win on 12 occasions. He won three graded stakes, hit the board in five more, and in 2014 was named Canada’s champion sprinter.
As owners Stephen Chesney and Cory Hoffman worked frantically down the Woodbine stretch towards their fallen star, a grief stricken Attard turned towards them, his anguished face leaving no words to be spoken. This time, there would be no response from Calgary Cat.
Inconsolable, gate crew member Sandy O’Connor all but carried Attard off the course.
Standing on the track, Calgary Cat’s owners froze.
“We loved your horse. Everyone on the gate crew loved him,” called out Ross as workers prepared to carry the champion chestnut off the track one last time.
It was a delicate comment demonstrating the shared empathy of horsepeople in the midst of a rare occurrence.
“We show so much respect to the animal afterwards. It hurts me to see it happen and people may not know this, but I’m Catholic, and I always say a little blessing for the horse,” said Ross.
After a brief moment of silence, Chesney and Hoffman turned and didn’t look back. The tears came as they reached the rail where their family waited.
On June 30, 2012, jockey Patrick Husbands won the Clarendon Stakes for trainer Mark Casse with the promising colt Uncaptured, who went on to be named champion two-year-old and Canada’s Horse of the Year.
In the post-race interview, an amused Husbands declared Uncaptured to be a ‘Chevy’ and advised that the ‘Jaguar’ (Calgary Cat) was still back in the barn.
The ‘Jaguar’ debuted as the favourite in the Colin Stakes on July 14 and clipped heels in a troubled trip landing fifth. He would win next time out comfortably.
Calgary Cat never truly found his stride in the Casse barn struggling with niggling problems, and when he was dropped in for a $25,000 tag on November 15, 2013, Attard reached for the handsome horse.
He made one more start that campaign for Attard, going two turns, and then was put away for the winter. When he returned, a fan fave was born.
Calgary Cat as a foal… (WinStar Farm Photo)
With Eurico Rosa da Silva in the irons, Calgary Cat made seven starts, including five wins, a second and a third, buoyed by top flight scores in the Grade 3 Bold Venture and Grade 2 Kennedy Road. He earned champion sprinter honours for his efforts.
"He gave me a lot of good memories. He was a very kind horse," said da Silva. "He would run with a lot of passion. When you turn for home and turn him loose, he was like a tiger. He enjoyed his job so much and he loved to win. He was a wonderful animal, so easy to ride and it was so easy to be with him in the morning.
“I enjoyed the connection I had with him and he was there for you like he was your best friend. A wonderful horse and one I’ll remember until the day I go.”
The duo then traveled to Santa Anita for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. At odds of 41-1, the chestnut was last of 14 as the field turned for home but Calgary Cat, flying the flag for Canada, swooped four-wide to finish an incredible fourth, just 2 ¼-lengths back of the victorious Obviously.
“He took us to California and although he didn’t win, it was probably one of the biggest thrills of my life,” said Attard. “It was a thrilling finish and he came home flying that day and made me feel really proud. We were on the biggest stage in the world of horse racing and he didn’t disappoint.”
A hug for Calgary Cat…(Penelope Miller/ABR Photo)
For a jockey, Calgary Cat provided Contreras the biggest thrill of all.
"That huge kick from the quarter pole to the wire," smiled Contreras. "He was so kind and such a happy boy. I’d work him in the morning and he was always good. He’s one of those horses that touched your heart so easily. He gave everything he had in the race and left everything on the track."
The ‘Cat’ came back in great form in 2017, missing by a head when third in the Grade 2 Connaught Cup. Following an awkward start in the Grade 2 Highlander, Calgary Cat was again flying at the finish to be second to well-regarded Green Mask. He earned a career-best 104 Beyer Speed Figure for his efforts.
Attard hopes that racing fans will remember the ‘Cat’ for his many accomplishments on the track.
“He tried each and every time,” said Attard. “He was a great horse and great to me and everyone involved with him. I’m going to miss him a lot.”
But for the trainer, it’s those little moments in the morning that will keep his memory alive.
“I used to pick him grass every day after he trained and he would look for me and wait for it,” said Attard. “He was like family and meant a lot to me. You can’t replace those types of horses and he’s going to be really sorely missed.”