03/19/2015 12:46PM

Crist: Ogygian was short on races but not talent

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Barbara D. Livingston
Ogygian after his racing days. He was a favorite at Old Friends retirement farm.

When it was reported that Ogygian died last Saturday, three days short of his actual 32nd birthday, it triggered a flood of memories about one of the most talented and frustrating racehorses of his era.

Ogygian, a Tartan Farms homebred by Damascus, was named for the mythical Greek island of Ogygia, home to the nymph Calypso in Homer’s “Odyssey.” He won his debut at Belmont on June 13, 1985, beating the highly touted Mogambo and paying 27-1, in part because clockers had confused him with another Tartan 2-year-old named Roy. Ogygian won his second start by 8 1/2 lengths, trouncing Danzig Connection, and then turned in the best performance by any 2-year-old that year, winning the Grade 1 Futurity by 9 1/2 lengths over Groovy. Sore shins cut his campaign short, but his blazing talent earned him co-highweight status at 126 pounds with Tasso, the divisional champion, on the Experimental Free Handicap.

His 3-year-old season was a mix of brilliance and disappointment, and he missed more important races than he contested. Bone chips knocked him off the Triple Crown trail, and he resumed racing at the end of April, losing a photo to the older King’s Swan, but then winning an allowance by nearly 10 lengths. He would have been odds-on in the Colin on the Belmont undercard, but the race was scrapped when only two victims could be enlisted. Instead, he ran in the Riva Ridge, winning easily, then ran away from Personal Flag and John’s Treasure in the Dwyer.

It was on to Saratoga and an expected bid to take over leadership of a good crop led by Snow Chief and Ferdinand, but one thing after another went wrong, and he was scratched from both the Jim Dandy and the Travers. Instead, he edged Mogambo to win the Jerome on Sept. 1, but that would be his last victory. He was entered to run in the Marlboro Cup against Precisionist and Turkoman but was placed in a seemingly easier spot at the Meadowlands, where he ran third as the 2-5 favorite against Danzig Connection and Broad Brush in the Pegasus. He went to the sidelines again and completed his career with a dismal outing in his only start as a 4-year-old.

He retired a winner of 7 of 10 starts, all for trainer Jan Nerud, with earnings of $455,520 and the aura of a horse who had more than enough talent to be a champion had things broken a bit differently. He went to stud at Claiborne Farm and was pretty much a bust, though he later turned out to be a good broodmare sire: His daughters produced seven Group 1 or Grade 1 winners, including Johannesburg and Street Boss. Ogygian was exported to Japan in 1995, standing at three different farms over the next decade.

Then in 2005, Michael Blowen was in the early days of starting his Old Friends retirement farm and was working with Madeleine Paulson to repatriate her Fraise from Origasa Farm, from which Old Friends had purchased Sunshine Forever a few months earlier. When Paulson heard that Ogygian was available, she paid 1.5 million yen – about $13,400 at the time – to bring him back as well.

“He colicked after a week, and I thought he was going to die,” said Blowen. “But he pulled through and proved to be the toughest horse at the farm.”

Ogygian was a farm and fan favorite from the start “first because of his personality, then because of his age,” Blowen said.

“He had that imperial look of the ones who know they’re good,” he said. “A lot of the good ones are really intelligent. Ogygian was one of those. I’ve got some of my $3,500 claimers at the farm, and I love them, but they’re not too bright. If you could go to a sale with IQ scores on all the horses in the sale, you could forget about conformation and pedigree and the rest of it.”

Blowen recently worked with the Beverly Lewis family to bring Silver Charm back from Japan, and he hopes to repatriate other old friends when they retire from Japanese stud duty.

“There are so many good ones there that we’d love to bring back someday,” he said. “Charismatic’s at the top of the list, and you’ve also got horses like Empire Maker, Came Home, and I’ll Have Another.”

As for Ogygian, the sympathy cards and tributes have been pouring in all week.

“Ogygian was really popular and could be really sweet, letting people feed him grass,” Blowen said. “But he could also be really playful – well, in his own way.”

His own way?

“One winter I built a snowman in his paddock with a carrot nose. He went right up to it and ate the nose and then began circling the snowman trying to find more carrot. When he found out there was no more carrot, he stomped that snowman to death.”