A once-in-a-generation filly, Go for Wand was one of those self-possessed racehorses who seem to know they are bred for greatness. “Two or three minutes before the race,” said her jockey, Randy Romero, “she would grunt like a hog. She did it almost every time. I’ve never heard anything like that in my life. I firmly believe she was getting herself psyched.”
If that’s what she was doing, it worked. She won her first and second starts by four and 18 1/4 lengths, respectively. In her first stakes race, the Grade I Frizette Stakes at Belmont, she went off as the even-money favorite, despite facing more experienced fillies. She came in second in that race—though she closed a two and a half length gap in the stretch to fall a half-length short to Stella Madrid. It was one of only two losses she would suffer in 12 starts.
In Go for Wand’s next start, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, she won by two and three-quarters lengths going away, and she secured for herself the Eclipse Award for Champion 2YO Filly.
In Go For Wand’s three-year-old debut, in April, she dominated the competition in a field of six, winning the Grade III Beaumont Stakes by eight and a half lengths. Her next start, the Grade I Ashland Stakes, at Keeneland, fell just 11 days later, and Go for Wand faced stiff competition from an unbeaten filly named Charon. Nevertheless, Go for Wand went off as the 3-10 favorite in a field of five, and despite a slow early pace, won the race in 1:43 3/5, just two-fifths of a second off the stakes record.
Go for Wand had a penchant for muddy tracks. So when the rains came to Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks day, victory for the filly seemed an almost sure bet. But Churchill Downs is a notoriously peculiar track, and horses either thrive or wither on it. While Go for Wand gave it her best, she never relaxed and ended up second to Seaside Attraction by three lengths.
Go for Wand would go on to win her next five races, all of them Grade I. She defeated second-place Charon in Belmont’s Mother Goose Stakes in June. Then, in spite of 53-day layoff and a slow break, she fought off nine rivals in the Test States at Saratoga. Over a grueling pace—the quarter in :22 1/5 and the half in :44 3/5—she won by two lengths in 1:21, three-fifths of a second off the track record. Jockey Randy Romero would later say, “They were too quick for her early. [But] I wasn’t concerned. I rode her like she was unbeatable…That day, she exploded.”
Go for Wand and Charon met again just seven days after the Test, in the Alabama Stakes. Go for Wand won handily, crossing the wire seven lengths ahead of Charon. She had run the mile and a quarter in 2:00 4/5, breaking the Alabama Stakes record set by Love Sign and falling just four-fifths of a second short of General Assembly’s 2:00 track record from the 1979 Travers Stakes. After the race, Charon’s trainer Eugene Navarro had only praise for Go for Wand. “It was a magnificent race,” he said. “I don’t mind losing. It will take a super horse to beat Go for Wand.”
The Beldame Stakes at Belmont in October cemented the filly’s place in racing legend. New York Times writer Steven Crist called her win in the Beldame “the single most outstanding performance of [the] year by a racehorse of any age or gender. Though there were five fillies running that day, in the end it was really a two-horse race: Go for Wand versus Colonial Waters. The two horses broke together and were nearly stride for stride through fractions of :23 2/5, :45 3/5, and 1:09 1/5. Running along Colonial Waters’ flank through the first six furlongs, Go for Wand began to make her move. She glided past and never looked back, winning by four and three-quarters lengths and completing the mile and an eighth just two-fifths of a second off Secretariat’s 1973 track record.
The racing press had put much pressure on trainer Bill Badgett to enter Go for Wand in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Though he considered it, he had mixed feelings about the idea. “Everyone says ‘Run her against colts; run her against colts,’” he said. “Then she gets beat and everyone will say ‘Why did you run her against colts?’”
What’s more, Go for Wand’s owner, Jane du Pont Lunger felt strongly that fillies should race only against other fillies, so Go for Wand was entered in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
She would face Bayakoa, the winner of the 1989 Distaff. The two had never raced each other, and Bayakoa, a six-year-old bay mare from Argentina, had a record of six wins from nine starts that year, and nine from eleven the previous year. She had been named Eclipse Champion Older Filly in 1989.
The horses all broke well, and Go for Wand and Bayakoa soon made their way to the front of the field. Go for Wand lead by a neck as they blazed down the backstretch and around the far turn. It was, in the words of the track announcer, “a battle of champions” in a “cut-throat duel.” Go for Wand was holding on to the lead as they barreled down the stretch, but at the sixteenth pole, Go for Wand took a bad step and fell, pitching Randy Romero over her neck.
Go for Wand, who had tumbled onto her back, got up and staggered across the track toward the finish line, where she collapsed. An outrider got of his horse and cradled her head while they waited for the track veterinarian. Security guards put up the blue screen between the stricken filly and the horrified Belmont crowd of 51,236, while the veterinarian injected a barbiturate that would put an end to her pain.
As Washington Post writer, Andrew Beyer wrote, “Trainer Billy Badgett and his new bride, Rose — who were looking forward to their honeymoon after the Breeders’ Cup – were racked with sobs as they watched. Nearby was one of the somberest winner’s circle ceremonies ever held. Trainer Ron McAnally had scored a great triumph, but he said, choked with genuine emotion: ’I can hardly talk right now. It’s terrible when something like this happens.’”
No one was to blame for the tragedy. In a story that ran in the Toronto Star and that began, “Grown men cried yesterday at Belmont Park,” Randy Romero confirmed that Go for Wand was a sound horse: “She was determined. She was going to win today. She took a bad step. She was fine at the start. Very sound. She just took a bad step and snapped her leg off.”
It’s always a tragedy when a horse breaks down. Before every race, I say a silent prayer to whatever gods may be listening that all the horses and their jockeys come home safely. But sometimes we who love the sport have our hearts broken. October 27, 1990, was such a day.
Go for Wand was inducted into horse racing’s Hall of Fame in 1996.