Kentucky Derby Tragedy Ends Long Shot Bid For Wild On Ice

Written By John Brennan on April 27, 2023
Horse Racing Start

Texas-bred Wild On Ice, perhaps the unlikeliest horse in the 2023 Kentucky Derby field, was drawing some sentimental attention this week until a tragic Thursday pre-dawn workout led to a left hind leg fracture resulting in the gelding’s euthanization.

The Texas horse racing community pinned its hopes on the unlikely champion and his veteran jockey, Ron Tohill, to be the first Texas-bred horse in over 70 years to win the Run for the Roses.

Wild On Ice among longest-shots in the Kentucky Derby field

Trainer Joel Marr came into the Grade 3 Sunland Park Derby as a heavy underdog and won it to qualify for the first leg of the Triple Crown. When Kentucky Derby futures were posted, Wild On Ice was listed as high as 120-to-1 on the Las Vegas futures boards before news of the terrible injury.

In his pre-dawn workout Thursday, Wild On Ice ran five strong furlongs before pulling up on the backstretch at 5:40 a.m., according to a tweet from The Daily Racing Form’s Mike Welsch:

“Wild On Ice was evaluated at the Churchill Downs equine medical center and was subsequently transported to Lexington [Ky] to an equine surgical facility for further evaluation,” a Churchill Downs spokesperson said in a written statement at 7:15 a.m. EDT. “Trainer Joel Marr and jockey Ken Tohill, who was aboard for the breeze, were en route to Lexington as well.”

The gelding walked onto the equine ambulance without a cast or splint on his injured leg, per Horse Racing Nation.

The Sunland Derby triumph March 26 surprised the racing world as Wild On Ice entered at 35-to-1. Despite the odds, the 3-year-old had won two of his other four races.

Pain all around

Five years ago, Marr eagerly looked forward to watching his first horse compete on the day of the Kentucky Derby, the first leg of thoroughbred horse racing’s Triple Crown. But the horse, Blamed, suffered a similar right hind leg fracture during a workout a week before the Kentucky Oaks race for fillies.

Then there is Ken Tohill, who has been jockeying horses for 45 years and, at age 60, was to ride Wild On Ice and become the oldest jockey in Kentucky Derby history. The record is held by John Court, who, at age 58, rode Long Range Toddy to a 16th-place finish in the 2019 Derby.

Sunland Park was Wild On Ice’s qualifier to another gelding, Mine That Bird, who won the Kentucky Derby in 2009 as a 50-to-1 longshot.

The stars seemed to align for Wild On Ice, but the injury was a brutal reminder of the fragility of thoroughbred racehorses.

Wild On Ice, an unlikely champion, gave a lot to his team

“Wild On Ice gave us so many great moments,” owner Frank Sumpter told Felix Chavez of the El Paso Times.

“He’ll forever be remembered,” Sumpter said. “It’s a sad situation. My heart goes out to the team, trainer Joel Marr, and everyone who helped us get to this point.

“These horses give us so many great moments in life, and our team puts in so many hours taking care of the horses. He had a fracture in his hind leg and it was determined he couldn’t be saved. Wild On Ice had so much heart.” 

Texas is hardly a hotbed of horse racing, but Wild On Ice undoubtedly would have drawn interest across the vast state by Derby Day. No horse from Texas has won the Kentucky Derby since Middleground turned the trick in 1950.

Middleground, ridden by 16-year-old apprentice jockey Bill Boland after the legendary Eddie Arcaro turned down an offer, then finished second in the Preakness Stakes before rebounding to capture The Belmont Stakes.

Middleground’s fantastic run came up just shy of fellow Texas horse Assault, which won the Triple Crown in 1946 and is the only other horse bred in Texas (assault was raised on the King Ranch) to win the Derby.

Photo by Danny Johnston / AP
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