03/19/2015 1:46PM

Crist: Ogygian was short on races but not talent

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.”

philcoforde More than 1 year ago
Hope Old Friends can bring back War Emblem someday
Diane Treadway More than 1 year ago
RIP Sweet Ogygian.. And please rescue all those Champion Horses from Japan & bring them back to old friens when there Stud duty is no longer able. What they did to Champion Ferdinand when he was 25yrs old sent him to slaughter house was despicable & heartless & horrific. Those Japaneese are disgusting ruthless & Heartless people.
Ken Goldfarb More than 1 year ago
Exceller met the same fate in the hands of the despicable Hunt brothers. Wound up in a slaughterhouse in Sweden. What is the matter with these people?
George Escowitz More than 1 year ago
Steve: It looks like he almost made it to Travers. http://escowitz.com/mydrf.html#Ogygian
Rich Pavone More than 1 year ago
I have very fond memories of this horse. I was always a big Johnny Nerud fan and took $20 flier on him when he broke his maiden. He looked absolutely spectacular in the paddock that day.
nicholas More than 1 year ago
major wet track influence----ogygian as broodmare sire and a wet track hit the windows---horses ware just better in the 50's-80's than they are today by far
Yuwipi More than 1 year ago
I can still remember a much younger (weren't we all) Bill Finley on Harvey Pack's evening wrap up show literally drooling unbridled enthusiasm over Ogygian. Seems like yesterday, seems like another lifetime.
Micclay Micclay More than 1 year ago
With Ogygian passing, it pretty leaves Gulch of the best still alive of that generation, A better sprinter and miler I don't remember. Gulch is also at Old Friends.
Beth Fischer More than 1 year ago
yes he was very talented ! Endured alot , even the loss of one eye, among others, Almost the same fate as Ferdinand
Ken Wiener More than 1 year ago
The IQ comment and the carrot story are both truly funny. Can you imagine sales catalogues with an intelligence score for each horse to be sold? What would the price be for a good looking horse which is not very bright!
Harvey Connors More than 1 year ago
You would have to call an escort service to find out.
mike More than 1 year ago
Really? Please
Anna Villafane More than 1 year ago
Ogygian was also known as the horse that kept Angel Cordero from hanging them up. A very talented horse at a time when there were some terrific competitors around.