Devastated and Shaken by New York Thunder Tragedy, Trainer Delgado Finding It Hard to Carry On

Jorge Delgado | Sarah Andrew


After watching the best horse he ever trained, New York Thunder (Nyquist), suffer a catastrophic injury in Saturday's GI H. Allen Jerkens Memorial S., trainer Jorge Delgado had to get out of Saratoga. Shortly after the race, he drove back to his base at Monmouth Park, arriving there about 4 1/2 hours after the field crossed the wire in the Jerkens. It was 9 o'clock, but he needed to be with his horses.

“I had to go to his stall to make sure he wasn't there,” Delgado said. “It was still like I couldn't believe he was gone. I couldn't stop crying. I saw the other horses, them being happy, them being horses. I was happy to see that. These horses are my family. I individualize them. They are all different, they all have their own lives. If they run for $5,000 or $2 million, they are all the same to me. I love to be around them.”

Even before the Jerkens, it had already been a very difficult meet and a very difficult day for the sport. Earlier in the day in the fifth race, Qatar Racing's Nobel (Ire) (Lope de Vega {Ire}), the 9-5 post-time favorite for a 9 1/2-furlong turf allowance on the Travers Day undercard at Saratoga, broke down on the gallop out and was euthanized. That was the seventh fatality at the meet during racing and four more horses had broken down while training.

While Delgado, a 33-year-old native of Venezuela, felt for the owners and trainers who had lost horses during the meet, his focus was on the Jerkens. New York Thunder was the type of horse every trainer dreams of getting into their barns. He was 4-for-4 and coming off a blowout win in the GII Amsterdam S. Though facing two highly regarded horses from the Bob Baffert Stable in Arabian Lion (Justify) and Fort Bragg (Tapit), New York Thunder was made the 3-2 favorite. A win in the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint was well within the realm of possibility.

While getting ready to watch the race, Delgado thought about how far his stable had come since he started training in 2017 and what it would mean for him to pick up his first Grade I win. As the race was developing, Delgado grew more confident that New York Thunder was on his way to what would be the biggest win of his career.

“I am watching the race and hear people shouting 'come on Tyler [Gaffalione]' or 'beat those Baffert horses.' At the three-eighths pole, I know my horse and I know the way he had been working,” Delgado said. “I knew that he was going to romp. Once I saw that Arabian Lion couldn't catch him and that everyone else was pretty far behind, I thought we were home.”

So did those surrounding Delgado, who watched the race on television. Nearing the sixteenth-pole, New York Thunder had what seemed like an insurmountable lead. In the very moment that people were congratulating him, New York Thunder was crashing head first to the track. He suffered a catastrophic injury to his left front fetlock and had to be put down.

“People were starting to congratulate me and started celebrating,” he said. “A couple of people came to me to congratulate me and in that same second the horse went down. When he went down, my whole world went from being in glory to being in misery and hell. I couldn't believe it. There was all this noise in my mind and everything turned blurry.”

It was, of course, a tough blow for Delgado and the owner, AMO Racing USA. They had a certain Grade I win snatched away from them. But Delgado said none of that matters.

“I was never thinking what is next for me, when can I win a graded stakes race or be in the position I was in Saturday?” he said. “That hasn't crossed my mind. It's been all about the pain I felt losing the horse. I was heartbroken, devastated. I have had no good emotions. Just trying to stay strong.”

He knows it won't happen, but said he would do anything to bring New York Thunder back.

“I have been thinking a lot about this and it might sound corny, but that horse meant so much to me that if I could change my life for him in some way and that would bring him back I would do it in a second,” Delgado said. “There's nothing in the world I wouldn't do to have that horse back. Tell somebody they could shoot me in my knee and that would mean I could have that horse back I'd let them do it right now. What happened to us, I would never wish that on anybody.”

On the ride back from Saratoga Saturday night and during the hours he spent at his barn Sunday morning at Monmouth, Delgado had a lot of time to think. He said the reason that he got into training was because he wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, a trainer in Venezuela. His uncle is Gustavo Delgado Sr., the trainer of Mage (Good Magic). He found that while he enjoyed winning, he got even more pleasure from being around his horses.

“I was talking with my assistant trainer the other day and we talked about why we moved to this country and why we have been working in this industry. We came to the same conclusion, it's because we love the horses. We love being around them. They give us joy, hope, answers, happiness. There is nothing you can compare that to.”

But when you lose a horse that was on his way to a Grade I win in Saratoga, it becomes impossible not to focus on the fact that this game comes with more than its fair share of pain and tragedies.

“It makes you re-evaluate things, contemplate things,” Delgado said. “What should I do? I feel that I could do many different things in this industry. Being a trainer was the only thing I ever wanted to do. But now that I've gotten older and have gained experience and have had highs and lows, I have been contemplating things and trying to put things in balance. Is this worth it or is it not? It's times like this when you really have to look at yourself in the mirror and decided if this is really worth it.”

Delgado said he has no immediate plans to leave training, but added, “I don't think I will train forever.”

And, just 33, he worries that he might outlast the sport.

“I'd be lying to you if I said the sport is going in the right direction,” he said. “You see tracks closing , attendance is down, betting is less. There are fewer people trying to become trainers. You know deep in your heart that it's not the best time for the sport and I don't know that it will last for the rest of my lifetime. It's something that concerns me a lot. The sport is suffering a lot. The training profession is suffering. Its not easy for anybody.”

And a rash of high-profile fatalities has the sport reeling and in the midst of what feels like a losing fight against a changing society that views animal usage in a different light.

“Hopefully, this sort of thing will happen less in racing. That's very important,” Delgado said. “And, hopefully, this will be the last time it happens to me. I really don't know how I could get through this happening to me again.”

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