Updated on 09/17/2011 9:40AM

Champion Pleasant Colony dead at 24

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Champion and prominent sire Pleasant Colony, winner of the 1981 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, died in his sleep in his paddock in Upperville, Va., on Dec. 31, Blue Ridge Farm officials confirmed Thursday. Pleasant Colony, the sire of champions Pleasant Tap and Pleasant Stage, was 24.

Pleasant Colony, a His Majesty stallion, was pensioned from stud duty in the spring of 2000, when Lane's End Farm sent him to the Kentucky Horse Park. He moved in May, 2000, to Blue Ridge, near his birthplace, the late Thomas Mellon Evans's Buckland Farm.

"Pleasant Colony had a good life here," Paul Maxwell, Blue Ridge manager said. "He died sometime in the night of Dec. 31. He had been doing great physically and had a good place to live. His stall was attached to his paddock, so he could walk in and out whenever he liked, and he had his good buddy Housebuster [1990 and 1991 sprint champion] right next door."

Pleasant Colony only raced for two seasons, but left his mark on the sport with his Triple Crown near-miss that helped make him North America's 3-year-old champion colt in 1981.

The lanky, almost black colt was typically slow into his best stride during races, but his late run and stamina made him a tough and classy competitor. He came to Louisville, Ky., following a three-length win in the Wood Memorial. He was lightly accomplished until then, but trainer John Campo was boastful of his horse's chances in the Triple Crown races.

In the Derby, Pleasant Colony justified his trainer's confidence with a powerful late run that propelled him from 17th on the backstretch to first inside the three-sixteenths pole. At the wire, he was three-quarters of a length in front of Woodchopper.

In the Preakness, Pleasant Colony was rated in mid-pack before unleashing his closing kick during the final three furlongs to beat Bold Ego.

But Pleasant Colony's late kick failed in the Belmont. He had trouble loading into the gate, broke slowly, and ran in 11th early while Bare Knuckles set a soft pace of a half-mile in 48.40 seconds. He finished a mild rallying third, finishing behind eventual winner Summing and Highland Blade.

After a narrow loss to Willow Hour in the Travers, Pleasant Colony won just once more, in the 1 1/8-mile Woodward. He left the racetrack with a lifetime record of 14-6-3-1 and $965,383 in earnings.

Pleasant Colony began his stud career at Buckland. His first crop featured the sturdy Lac Ouimet, a multiple Grade 2 winner, and Trim Colony, runner-up in the Grade 1 Hollywood Starlet. Although he had some classy juvenile winners - most notably the 2-year-old champion filly Pleasant Stage - Pleasant Colony was best known as a sire of durable horses who did their best running at distances more than one mile. His top two runners exemplified that tendency. Pleasant Tap earned his crown as champion older horse with wins in the 1992 Jockey Club Gold Cup and Suburban Handicap. St. Jovite, an Irish champion at 2, improved further at 3 and was highweighted in Ireland and France at 11 to 14 furlongs.

Pleasant Colony's other top runners include State Shinto, a champion in France; Behrens, a multiple Grade 1 winner and earner of over $3 million; and Grade 1 winners Colonial Affair, Forbidden Apple, Denon, Sir Beaufort, Pleasant Variety, Colonial Waters, Shared Interest, Roanoke, and Cherokee Colony.

Pleasant Colony had sired 18 crops to race and at the time of his death had more than $50 million in lifetime progeny earnings.

Pleasant Colony was moved to Lane's End near Versailles, Ky., in 1998 and stood two seasons there before being pensioned and relocating to Blue Ridge.

"He had visitors here almost every day," Maxwell said. "Some of them came a couple of times a year, and we kept a bag of peppermints out there for people to feed him, because he lived for his peppermints. He even got a couple of Christmas cards this year.

"He was very kind and a pleasure to be around, just a wonderful horse, and we'll miss having him."

Pleasant Colony's body was taken to nearby Buckland, where he was buried near the barn in which he was foaled.