Whosleavingwho leaves racing

Updated: March 1, 2006, 5:45 PM ET
By Jeremy Plonk | Special to ESPN.com

Imagine 2002 Horse of the Year Azeri galloping into the sunset sometime in 2006. Or 2003 champ Mineshaft&or Ghostzapper from '04& or Saint Liam from '05 for that matter.

American Quarter Horse racing said goodbye to one of its longest-running acts Feb. 25 when co-2002 AQHA World Champion Whoseleavingwho finally left the building. A fifth-place finish in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos Winter Championship won't go down as tear-jerking farewell, but fans of the racing game should applaud this gelding's long-standing success.

The Winter Championship loss dropped Whosleavingwho's career record below the .500 mark - yes, .500 mark. He closed his remarkable career 23-for-47 despite four straight losses as the sun set. But it wasn't as if Whosleavingwho ran out the twilight of his career in total silence. He was a Grade 1 winner of the Go Man Go Handicap as late as September of his seven-year-old season and a mainstay in the season-ending Champion of Champions until the very end.

Whosleavingwho likely would have been ushered off to a breeding shed long ago if not for being a gelding. In that respect, he's a lot like the loveable Thoroughbred Funny Cide, hero of the 2003 Kentucky Derby and Preakness. But Whosleavingwho did something Funny Cide could not - continue to race at the highest levels beyond his early prime. Funny Cide, a year younger, has struggled to remain at the Grade 1 level and his 2006 prognosis looks bleak through the beginning of March.

Whosleavingwho wasn't one of those late-in-life stars to pop up, ala Cigar or John Henry. Consider him the antithesis of the modern Thoroughbred. He was first-class nearly from day one, qualifying for all three legs of Ruidoso's Triple Crown as a juvenile in 2000. He won Grade 1 stakes in 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2005 en route to $1,334,843 in earnings - many of those wins with his neck bowed. Before sharing the '02 World Champion crown with Streakin Sin Tacha, Whosleavingwho was AQHA Champion Three-Year-Old Gelding the year prior.

Others may have been more brilliant, setting world records while busting stop watches and etching out their place in history. Legendary Qs such as Dash For Cash and Refrigerator need-not scoot over when Whoseleavingwho inquires about a stall of immortality at the Hall of Fame. In fact, "The Fridge" is the only horse in history to earn more Champion of Champions appearances (five) than Whosleavingwho (four). But few in history have had his kind of sustained success.

Credit should be given to co-owners Kim Kessinger and Jim Geiler, who joined reigning AQHA Champion Trainer Paul Jones in magnificently managing the gelding's career. They gave him long breaks when need-be, resting and re-charging the battery of the cantankerous gelding. Cattle ranchers from Colorado and New Mexico, Kessinger and Geiler enjoyed the ride of a lifetime. And while Jones wins American Quarter Horse races at a pace never-before-seen, Whosleavingwho proved to have been the most-special runner in a barn jam-packed with winning racehorses.

Kessinger, Geiler and Jones all resisted the temptation to push on beyond the horse's capabilities and retired him sound. It was not a storybook ending of the champ going out on top; nor was it a case of an athlete overstaying his or her welcome and making a mockery of the success once known.

While no guarantees exist in the rubick's-cube world of racehorse breeding, Whosleavingwho's legacy could be carried on by his half-brother, Way Down Town. The two-year-old colt by First Down Dash, purchased for $130,000, is owned by the same partners who raced big brother. Any fraction of Whosleavingwho's success will be icing on the family cake.

The departure of Whosleavingwho does not leave the American Quarter Horse racing landscape without an active World Champion, however. In fact, two remain. The reigning champ, '05 titlist DM Shicago, is working toward his four-year-old campaign. The 2004 All American Futurity and 2005 All American Derby winner is expected to take aim at the Grade 1 Remington Park Invitational Championship in June. Meanwhile, 2004 World Champion Be A Bono is expected to resume training in March for his five-year-old campaign following knee surgery. He's being aimed for the Grade 1 Vessels Maturity trials June 2 at Los Al.

Both DM Shicago and Be A Bono already have experienced remarkable careers. A second AQHA World Championship run in 2006 for either would put them in prime real estate; but even then they'll have to stand an even longer test of time to appreciate what Whosleavingwho has left behind.

Quarters And Change
Los Alamitos continues to enjoy a wagering renaissance early in 2006 with its ever-popular pick four guaranteed pools. With a nightly guarantee of $75,000 on Fridays and Saturdays, the wager averaged more than $102,000 on Friday nights during the first two months of the year and $93,000-plus on Saturday nights&Remington Park opens its first race meeting of its "racino era" March 10 when the AQHA season springs from the gate in Oklahoma City. Increased purses are just one of the plusses of the slots revenue - another came in the form of a $1,047,584.40 check the track presented the state superintendent of schools in late February. The seven-figure contribution came in just the first 72 days of casino operations at Remington Park.

In addition to being a longtime contributing writer to ESPN.com's Horse Racing section, Jeremy Plonk is the editor of The HorsePlayer Magazine.