Trainer William Badgett Jr. shook off a case of burnout a few years ago, and is once again making regular visits to the winner’s circle at Saratoga Race Course.
But with all the recent hoopla surrounding outstanding fillies like Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta, the 57-old native of Mineola can’t help but think about his own great filly, Go for Wand, whose career burned brightly, yet ended tragically.
Badgett will be forever tied to Go for Wand, who is the only horse buried in the infield at Saratoga. Go for Wand gave Badgett a victory in his first Breeders’ Cup start, rallying off the pace to beat Stella Madrid for the 1989 Juvenile Fillies title.
The following season, the two-time Eclipse Award winner staged a brilliant duel with Bayakoa in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. While in the lead at the sixteenth pole, Go for Wand suffered a catastrophic injury, breaking her right ankle and throwing jockey Randy Romero. Although she got up and finished the race, she was euthanized at the track.
Go for Wand finished with three victories in four starts in 1989, and seven more wins in nine races in 1990.
Badgett hasn’t had a star like her since.
“She was sensational,” said Badgett early Monday morning as he took a short break in his office in barn 34. “We were blessed with her. There are a lot of good horses out there, but she was a great horse. I hope to get another one like her someday.”
Although there are constant reminders of the past, Badgett said he only occasionally thinks about Go for Wand.
“It’s kind of hard when you hear about Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta. Those are the kind of things that make you remember,” he said. “Working with Go for Wand seems like yesterday.”
Badgett said trainers can remember the past, but must live in the present. He’s off to a fine start this meet, with four winners in eight starts.
“We won the Luzerne for New York-breds, along with a couple of other races. We’re doing very well,” he said. “We’ve got 20 horses here. I thought we’d do very well in this meet, because we have quite a mixed bag of horses. I’ve got $35,000 claimers, and I’ve got horses who can run in all conditions and all types of races. That helps, especially with the weather we often have here. When we first came to Saratoga this year, the weather started off just like last year. It was déjà vu all over again. But we’ve been lucky lately.
“Horses usually like the weather we get at Saratoga. They love the cool nights and the hot days. You just never know about the condition of the track.”
Horse racing was in the Badgett family’s blood. Badgett’s father was a jockey from 1946-1950, and worked for the late Hall of Fame trainer Woody Stephens as an assistant trainer and exercise rider. Badgett followed his father’s footsteps and became a hot walker and later an assistant trainer for Dominic Imperio from 1970-1976. He worked as Joe Carley’s assistant for five years and then, like his father, worked for Stephens as an assistant trainer before going out on his own in 1985.
After his success with Go for Wand, Badgett took over the training of the Lobolly Stable, and it’s successor, Shortleaf Stable. He trained National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame Stakes and Lawrence Realization Handicap winner Filch, along with other stakes winners New Deal, Bevo and Timco before retiring in 2004.
“I wanted to spend some time with my kids, who are now 18, 16 and 14,” he said. “But to be truthful, I got burned out. They say you can’t get burned out as a trainer, but it’s a different lifestyle. You work seven days a week, all year round, and there are a lot of ups and downs.”
Badgett worked as a bloodhorse agent for three years before getting back in the business in 2007.
“I pretty much started off slowly, but we’re growing now,” he said. “Things are going very well.”
Badgett said he still looks forward to coming to Saratoga every season.
“Racing here is incredible,” he said. “This is the only place where you can actually talk to the owners in person almost every race. We always talk to the owners at other tracks, of course, but here, the owners actually show up in person. It’s a great place. They have the best horses, trainers, jockeys and owners in the world here.”
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