07/03/2009 11:10AM

The Doctor is In.

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Ah, the Suburban Handicap!  Presidents come and go, and fads like the Rubik's Cube and the Hula Hoop dissolve over time, but the Suburban has been a constant on the racing calendar since Stromboli won the 1915 running at the old Empire City after the race took a one-year hiatus (Sam Jackson finished second that year, for you trivia buffs out there). 
Before the breeding industry robbed us of our handicap horses, the Suburban was one of the three races that comprised the New York Handicap Triple Crown.  Back in the day, the best of the best older runners locked horns in the Metropolitan Handicap, the Brooklyn Handicap, and the Suburban to find out who was top dog in the division.  Only Whisk Broom II (1913), Tom Fool (1953), Kelso (1961), and Fit to Fight (1984) were able to pull off a clean sweep of the Triple. 
There's been talk of Dr. Fager recently on FormBlog, and he did the 1968 Suburban proud by winning under 132 pounds.  That season's Handicap Triple was hotly-contested to say the very least. 
In Reality won the Metropolitan at Belmont on May 30 at 3-5 odds for owner Frances Genter, and the son of Intentionally came within 1/5th of Count Fleet's 26-year-track record. 
To show the depth of the division, In Reality returned in the Suburban on Independance Day, and was dismissed as the 6-1 third choice in the field of five.  Dr. Fager went favored at 4-5 with the great Damascus sent away at 7-5.  Receiving one pound from Damascus, Dr. Fager went right to the front, and was never headed while equaling Gun Bow's track record of 1:59 3/5 for the 1 1/4 miles.  In Reality finished last. 
Understandably, In Reality wanted no part of the "Big Two" in the Brooklyn on July 20, and this time it was Damascus, in receipt of five pounds from Dr. Fager, who turned the tables on his speedy rival.  Damascus's rabbit, Hedevar set the pace from a rank Dr. Fager through a first half-mile in a wicked 45 4/5.  Hedevar soon backed up, and Dr. Fager, carrying 135 pounds, opened up a clear lead leaving the backstretch.  The fractions took their toll, however, and Damascus came rolling on the outside to win by 2 1/2 lengths. 

Here's what the legendary turf writer, Charles Hatton, had to write about Dr. Fager in his "Profiles of Best Horses" column in the 1969 American Racing Manual:

"Dr. Fager was a singular performer as a four-year-old in 1968.  He was appropriately awarded Horse of the Year honors, which is the ultimate accolade, and excelled in more departments and divisional titles than any horse since the DAILY RACING FORM and The Morning Telegraph poll was instituted in 1936.  William McKnight's Tartan Stable homebred also was proclaimed the handicap, turf course and sprint champion all rolled into one.
Dr. Fager set and tied records from seven furlongs to a mile and a quarter, slashing the world mile mark to 1:32 1/5 en route.  He did everything with flair, though he was not tested at cup routes and his stamina was not incorruptible by the iconoclasts.  His prodigal wire to wire speed, his impartiality concerning track conditions, his bravery under fire and his ability to make light of enervating weights, elicited widespread acclaim..."

"...Nevertheless, any statistical summary of Dr. Fager's record has a ring.  At four, he won seven of eight races and earned $406,110, then retired to the breeding paddocks at Tartan Farm, Ocala, Fla., in sound condition.
In three seasons of his active career, he won 18 of 22 starts and placed ninth on the roster of all-time money leaders with $1,002,642.
Dr. Fager is partially syndicated for stud duty, with his breeder retaining 24 shares and his trainer and one-fourth owner, John Nerud, disposing of three of his eight shares at the heady rate of $100,000 each.  The horse is insured for $3,500,000, and this seemingly hysterical evaluation places him in the front rank of first season sires.  Two decades ago, one could scarcely give away a Florida-bred, and the fact Dr. Fager is out of a gift mare is more romantic than the gospel according to Vuilliers, Lowe, and other proponents of breeding theorem."

"...Dr. Fager's knees and ankles were mushy as a young horse and he was not nominated to the futurities.  He was afforded time for the bones to develop, before the introduction of X-ray programs for yearlings' underpinning, which has made some significant differences to horses' conformation, concerning the soundness of the species.
In the course of the '68 season, Dr. Fager won the Roseben, Californian, Suburban, Whitney, Washington Park Handicap, United Nations and Vosburgh, and placed in the Brooklyn.  He won from seven furlongs to a mile and a quarter, under weights ranging from 130 to 139, carried 134 pounds a mile in 1:32 1/5, winning the Washington Park 'Cap by 10 astonishing lengths, and gave Advocator 22 pounds and a beating in his only start on grass in the United Nations.
It required the combined efforts of Damascus and his surrogate, Hedevar, to negotiate his defeat in the Brooklyn, run in 1:59 1/5 for the 10 furlongs.  At three, the Tartan flyer won seven of nine starts and $484,194, including the mile and a quarter New Hampshire Sweepstakes at Rockingham in track record time of 1:59 4/5.
Conceivably, Dr. Fager was his own formidable foe.  Except for being at once arrogant, conceited, impetuous and ingenuous, he might never have known defeat.  A rank, headstrong individual who was a hard puller with a hard mouth, he always led trumps.  Little Willie Shoemaker, with his delicate hands, never really fit him.  Braulio Baeza got on fairly well with him, through cajolery and exercising care not to antagonize him."

"Dr. Fager could never tolerate following a rival or stalking the pace once his blood was up, and his impatience had a low threshold.  Rival riders knew this and in the Woodward, when he was three, they made a dead set at getting him on the muscle early in the race, yelling alongside him and slapping their whips to excite him into excessive use of his resources.  Somewhat similarly, Hedevar had only to prompt him into the first turn to set him up for Damascus in the '68 Brooklyn. 
Nerud was delighted, naturally, to find the colt had phenomenal speed at two - and he made the most of it.  Could he have foreseen what manner of horse Dr. Fager would become, the trainer might have endeavored to teach him to wait, rating behind horses in his work.  But then this tactic often has the effect of confusing and at length discouraging a horse so that he does nothing well.  Considering Dr. Fager's mettlesome, volatile nature, it is quite possible he would have been utterly spoiled and too hostile for any use.
The NYRA's learned Dr. M. A. Gilman sized up Dr. Fager with standard and tape last September.  The colt's vital statistics:

Height,  16 hands, 2 inches.
Point of shoulder to point of shoulder, 15 inches.
Girth, 73 1/4 inches.
Withers to point of shoulder, 29 inches.
Elbow to ground, 38 1/2 inches.
Point of shoulder to point of hip, 48 inches.
Point of hip to point of hip, 24 inches.
Point of hip to point of hock, 41 inches.
Point of hip to buttock, 24 inches.
Poll to withers, 43 inches.
Buttock to ground, 57 1/4 inches.
Point of shoulder to buttock, 69 1/2 inches.
Circumference of cannon under knee, 8 1/2 inches.

Dr. Fager's easy competency at eliminating time and space is explicable in his conformation, which implements his fluent action.  For the sake of comparison, he girths a quarter-inch more than did Kelso, but the latter measured 43 inches from hip to hock.
Buckpasser girthed a substantial 75 1/2 inches and measured 43 inches from hip to hock.  All have in common the fact they proved intuitively genuine race horses.  The action, heart, nerves and combustion of oxygen into motivation power for the muscles are things one cannot see studying a horse in his box.  They are the most crucial factors..."

"Dr. Fager is something of a sport, or freak, as old-time horsemen say..."

Sadly, the excitement generated by Dr. Fager, and other great Handicap Triple competitors like Buckpasser, Bald Eagle, Bold Ruler, Nashua, Busanda, Assault, Armed, Devil Diver, Eight Thirty, Equipoise, Grey Lag, and Forego has been transferred to breeding farms around the world.  It is all about the money, after all. 

While the Suburban has unfortunately lost its once-lofty stature in the racing world (heck, it's not even a Grade 1 race anymore despite its veritable who's who listing of winners), this year's running looks like a solid betting event full of capable Grade 2 and Grade 3 types.

IT'S A BIRD seems solid favorite as he's won three of his last four, and has become one of the top horses in a weak handicap division.  His good inside post coupled with his tactical speed should put him in a cozy spot tracking the early speed of both FINALLYMADEIT and SAMHOON. 
I'll take a shot with COOL COAL MAN, an inconsistent son of Mineshaft trained by Nick Zito.  On his best day, Cool Coal Man is capable of winning races like the 2008 Fountain of Youth at Gulfstream Park.  When he doesn't feel like running, he gets beat by runners like Giant Moon as he did in the Grade 3 Excelsior on April 4.  Cool Coal Man's most recent race, a three-horse listed stakes event, was more like a paid public workout.  He went right to the front, set solid fractions, and coasted home under an extremely-confident John Velazquez.  Cool Coal Man doesn't need the lead to win, and may be sitting with It's a Bird with the hope of getting the jump on closers like ASIATIC BOY and READY'S ECHO.

I'm also guessing that WARRIOR'S REWARD won't disappoint in the Dwyer, and will look for the venerable 10-year-old battler, BETTER TALK NOW, to run down the game and genuine PRESIOUS PASSION in the United Nations.

More importantly, who do you fancy this weekend?  I want to know.


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Now as carrying weight goes, didn't Ouija Board carry considerably more weight, more often, than Zenyatta while racing in Europe? I'd like to see OB in her prime against Zenyatta on pro-ride AND turf. Unfortunately it'll never happen but those two against each other would make for a great Breeders cup Classic at Santa Anita!
hairy

Let's take a look at her past performances:

Download Ouija Board

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congrats to jerrry for finishing first under the line in the HandiGambling 140 exercise.  He gets to select next week's race.

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Enjoy the holiday weekend.

Dan