Autism Awareness, the winner of the 2008 El Camino Real Derby (G3), broke down in
Sunday’s seventh race at Santa Anita and had to be euthanized. It is a sad coincidence
that April is also Autism Awareness Month.
Johnny Taboada’s 13 year-old son,
Renzo, has autism, which is a cognitive developmental disorder, that according
to the CDC, occurs in 1 out of 88 children. Back in 2009 Taboada talked about
the horse and autism in the San Francisco
Chronicle, "Autism is something
we deal with every day, but Renzo is a very happy boy. He gets therapy and a
lot of help at school with his behavioral issues, but there's not a cure, so
it's important to keep this horse in the news."
Autism Awareness, the colt, was not a typical thoroughbred to
Taboada, "He has something we can't explain; the horse is here for a
reason, and it's a bigger purpose than racing."
Awareness was purchased as a yearling for $1,000 and in his career had a record
of 5-5-2 from 38 starts with earnings of
$356,482. That included a second grade three win in the Berkeley Stakes at Golden Gate Fields as a four year-old.
Autism Awareness had last
raced on March 1, 2012 at Golden Gate. He had been recovering from a minor suspensory
ligament problem for which veterinarians had recommended 4-6 months rest.
Autism Awareness returned
to the track in October after seven months on the farm. He had been working
steadily at Golden Gate; the Daily Racing
Form showed a series of consistent 6 and 7 furlong breezes. The trainer
felt that he needed a race to get to top condition. They would have preferred
to run on the Tapeta at Golden Gate, which was his favorite surface, but they
couldn’t find a race there.
Thus, they shipped to Santa Anita for an OC62/N2X conditioned allowance on the downhill 6.5 furlong turf
course. The vets think he took a bad step coming down the hill where the main
track crosses the turf.
I was able to speak to a
very emotional Taboada a few hours after the race when he said, “This is by far
the saddest day of my racing career. Autism Awareness has always had a very
special place in my heart. This is very hard to swallow, he was one of a kind.”
Awareness was also born in April. He was now eight-years-old. Taboada talked
about the decision to keep Autism Awareness racing, “The horse was sound and
there is no way that we would ever have raced him if he had not been perfectly
“I wanted to save him, I
would have done anything to save him, but the vet said there was nothing we
could do. He had broken his
sesamoid badly in two places.”
“We always took care of
him, when he needed a vet, we got him the best. I thought about retiring him,
but he wanted to race, he didn’t want to be a stallion, he wanted to race.”
As many of you know my son Riley, also has
autism. On Sunday afternoon Riley was spending the afternoon with one of his
longstanding babysitters, so I was spending that time off at Favorites, one
of the New Jersey off-track betting facilities.
I say time off because autism is always with the families of
children with the disorder. As I sat in a booth in the restaurant enjoying the
action at Aqueduct and Keeneland, a father and son sat down in the next booth
over. The boy was about the same age as Riley, but he was typical.
They were clearly having a father-son afternoon, the way many of us
spent time learning about horse racing with our dads. I felt a bit sad
that I would never have that kind of typical relationship with my son and
racing. Of course, I bring Riley to
the track and we enjoy it, but not in the typical kinds of ways.
Later that evening, when I was at home, I saw a tweet saying that
Autism Awareness had broken down at Santa Anita and that he had been
Riley is a year younger than Tabaoda’s son and when we talked on the
phone that evening there was an unspoken bond between us. We understand the
impact that autism has on our families. There was no question that the death of
Autism Awareness had us feeling as Taboada described, “deeply saddened”.
Photo of Autism Awareness courtesy of Johnny Taboada