Injury is unfortunately a part of any sport. The career ending ones are really saddening, especially when a player is just beginning to tap their potential. The game of Thoroughbred racing has seen this far too many times as things for these powerful yet fragile athletes can change in the swish of a tail. And that is exactly what happened last week to the horse we viewed as the top contender for this year’s Kentucky Derby. A hairline condylar fracture to the left front leg has robbed us of another superior athlete.

Even though he was only four races in, those with the right kind of eye knew Nadal was for real. Beginning his career in January of 2020, this son of Blame was brilliant right out of the gate. After winning that maiden special weight by 3 ¾ lengths, trainer Bob Baffert did not hesitate to throw him into stakes company. Facing some battle tested three-year olds in the seven furlong San Vicente at Santa Anita on February 9, Nadal  aced the competition. From there it was on to Arkansas where he faced some serious pressure throughout the Rebel Stakes on March 14 but still held serve.

His first three races were no doubt impressive, but what will likely be the final race of his career is where he really stood tall. Having been moved to May 2, The Arkansas Derby was so loaded they ran two divisions. Stacked in with the toughest competition, Baffert brought his horse in righter than rain. Understanding the level of competition at Oaklawn, the five-time Kentucky Derby winning trainer had the screws tightened on this stable star. The post parade saw Nadal on his toes and looking like a million bucks. Then the gates opened and he proved to be worth a lot more.

A runner that likes to be out front and determine his own fate, Nadal settled just off a talented and front-running Wells Bayou into the backstretch. Proving his promise with every powerful stride, Nadal overtook the Bayou on the far turn. Rolling into the stretch, Baffert’s charge was nothing short of sensational. As others tried to come at him, this son of Ascending Angel was more than equal to the task. As the wire drew closer the lead got bigger. Winning by a widening three lengths many now had their Kentucky Derby favorite.

Nadal is now recovering from successful surgery. It is likely he will make his next start in the breeding shed and not the race track. Instead of wondering what might have been, let’s celebrate the magnificence that was. Nadal…a real racehorse.