Nowadays, hardly a week goes by during which I don’t evangelize Illinois stallion Three Hour Nap to anyone who may listen. The first time I did so was on a Sunday, a year ago, the day before Super Nova’s debut.
It was the day before Labor Day. I was in the winners’ circle, standing along the rail, and chatting with Mike before the 6th. I told him how there was this horse I could not wait to play the next day: Super Nova. He had a full sister who had won first out for the same barn, one of my favourite angles. And, he was a first-time starter by Three Hour Nap. I gushed about how much I love Three Hour Nap babies on debut.
“Because they win a quarter of the time!”
A few minutes later, the race we were watching went off. Fittingly, another Three Hour Nap baby won: Kiss’n Rosie.
The next day, Labor Day, Super Nova made his debut in a $25,000 Illinois-bred maiden claimer going five and a half furlongs on the polytrack. I saw nothing to suggest my enthusiasm for him would be folly, so I put my bet in and watched the race from upstairs.
I spent most of those five furlongs wound up like a spring. Super Nova sat third, tracking pacesetter Just a Dixie Dunk on the inside. Stalking longshot Minimate fell away quickly, but heavy favourite Holy Bullex came in to make his run.
Super Nova, behind, tried to find room. He looked set to go between the leading pair. That hole closed. He then went inside to get between the rail and Just a Dixie Dunk. That hole closed. Super Nova and Constantino Roman angled back off the rail to try again, to get around on the outside of Just a Dixie Dunk.
That stayed open. He slipped past Holy Bullex and past Just a Dixie Dunk. Three Golden Rules was making up ground on the outside, but only well enough to nab Just a Dixie Dunk for second. After so much difficulty finding a way through, Super Nova got home a comfortable length in front. Not only did he live up to my expectations that he would graduate on debut, he made me excited to watch him going forward. His debut, so professional for a two-year-old first-timer, made me excited to see more from him.
Unfortunately, he never quite ran back to that. I was excited to see him entered in allowance company for his next start, but he was scratched and placed back in for $25,000 at Hawthorne in November. He finished third that day, and then second against similar there the next month. Oaklawn proved well over Super Nova’s head, and he got a lengthy break after being distanced there in February.
He returned August 11, back on the poly but dropping in class. He finished second on return, which was enough to get him sent off odds-on on August 27. That day, he finished third. Though he was not going to be Three Hour Nap’s Big Horse, as I once hoped he may be, he was hitting the board. He had found his level, for the time being.
Yesterday was Labor Day, a year since Super Nova’s maiden victory. Yesterday he ran again at Arlington. I watched it from the same place from which I watched his maiden victory: upstairs. He tracked close to the pace early, but by the time the field hit the far turn it looked unlikely that he would be able to repeat his performance on Labor Day of last year. Instead, he steadily retreated to finish last.
After the race, I saw the horse ambulance show up on the track. I saw it try to back toward the winners’ circle, toward the tunnel, toward somewhere I had never seen the van at Arlington try to go. I saw ponies, outriders. I saw people come out of the van and walk toward the tunnel. I saw someone carrying a screen, rolled up. I had no idea what had happened, but knew things had to be bad. I had to go downstairs and find out.
I hated what I found out, that a horse had collapsed after the race. I hated even more to find out who had: Super Nova.
It hurts to lose any horse, but it stings more to lose a horse you followed so closely, a horse you had very specific memories about, and a horse for whom you had such hopes.
Rest in peace, Super Nova. I’ll always remember how you helped cement my enthusiasm for Three Hour Nap babies. And, I’ll always remember you at your best, in that debut race a year ago: shut off over and over again, and still able to get through.