10/30/2008 11:00PM

A hero's welcome for Alysheba

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LEXINGTON, Ky. - Two-time champion and 1988 Horse of the Year arrived Friday at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, where he was greeted by several hundred of his fans.

Though his surviving owner Pamela Scharbauer was not on hand, breeder Preston Madden, trainer Jack Van Berg, and jockey Chris McCarron were at the welcome ceremony when the 24-year-old stallion made his way from a horse van into the Hall of Champions pavilion. He will reside in John Henry's stall at the Hall of Champions, where he will be on view to park visitors.

Alysheba stepped off the van shortly after 1:15 p.m. and walked slowly toward the pavilion, ears pricked, on a lead shank held by groom Owen Campion, who accompanied him from Saudi King Abdullah's Janadria Farm in Saudi Arabia. The overflow crowd of spectators stood in awed silence for a moment before bursting into applause. The champion was clothed in a blue and white cooler reminiscent of Dorothy and Pamela Scharbauer's racing colors, and several spectators held handmade signs, including one that read, "America's Horse Home Again."

The champion's arrival sparked memories in his fans and connections.

Van Berg regaled the crowd with stories from Alysheba's 3-year-old season of 1987, when he won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and narrowly lost to 1986 Derby winner Ferdinand in the Breeders' Cup Classic. One of the defining moments of Alysheba's career came in the Derby, when he clipped heels with Bet Twice in the stretch but recovered to win.

"Willard Proctor probably gave him the greatest compliment," he said. "He said, 'Most horses going a mile and a quarter are looking for somewhere to lay down. Alysheba laid down, got back up, and still beat 'em."

"When people ask me, 'Who's the best horse you've ever ridden?', well, I'm not happy he's gone, but I'm glad John Henry is not here to hear this, but I always said Alysheba," McCarron said.

Breeder Madden recalled being stopped by a television reporter in the clubhouse after Alysheba's Derby and asked whether he thought he would breed another Derby winner.

"My answer was quick and to the point: 'It took me 52 years to breed the first one, and if I live another 52 years, I might breed another one,'" Madden said. "Alysheba is a great horse, and Kentuckians are delighted to have him returned to his original Kentucky home."