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Updated on 09/17/2011 12:04PM
Hirsch's half century
JOE HIRSCH began writing about Thoroughbred racing for Daily Racing Form and its sister publication, The Morning Telegraph, in 1954. His articles read like a history of the sport for the last half century, with many datelines that are sadly gone from racing's lexicon. It would be impractical to print all of Joe's columns. But in the occasion of his final submission as executive columnist, here is a chance to read excerpts of Joe's work from his six decades on the job. The excerpts were selected by researcher Paula Welch, who reviewed hundreds of pages from the two newspapers. The excerpts are not always taken from the beginnings of the articles, and some have been edited slightly. Datelines through 1981 reflect the dates the articles were written. Datelines after 1981 reflect the date of publication.
EAST BOSTON, Mass., May 19 - After suffering through a spring meeting liberally laced with rain, Judge Pappas's luck held out for the 20th running of the Massachusetts Handicap today. While New England will never be mistaken for Miami, particularly at this time of the year, the sun appeared in mild fashion and the crowd in enthusiastic numbers. The Massachusetts is definitely a community event here in Boston, much like the Derby in Louisville.
[A crowd of more than 25,000 was on hand on a Wednesday to see Wise Margin win.]
Foiled betting scheme
PAWTUCKET, R.I., Aug. 13 - Chalk up another score for Vince Murphy and the New England field office of the Thoroughbred Racing Protective Bureau. Fitting the pieces of the puzzle together with their customary discretion and dispatch, the TRPB crew climaxed a week of investigation yesterday with the arrest of three men accused of operating a small transmitter and receiving setup in an effort to beat the races. Acting on a tip from the mutuel department, Murphy and his men investigated and discovered that the trio was attempting to gain a few seconds' advantage with the start of each race. One man, standing at the rail near the paddock runway, would covertly signal to the other two, in front of clubhouse and grandstand mutuel windows, equipped with "hearing aid" receivers. If the horses that this gang had handicapped previously broke well, they would plunge on him. If he faltered, they'd hold their bets. Since the windows here are closed only when the recall flag is dropped on a signal from the steward's stand, there is an interval of a second or two to place a wager, and it was this slight delay upon which the group sought to capitalize.
Nashua and Swaps match race
LINCOLN, R.I., Aug. 26 - You Pays Your Money: That equine "Meeting at the Summit," the Nashua-Swaps match race at Chicago's Washington Park next Wednesday, has aroused the national interest like few sporting events in recent years. The depth of this interest can better be measured by the race's effect on people in the trade; men who live and work with horses 365 days out of the year. Even with these professionals, the race has caught on and is a topic of avid and heated discussion in ever increasing frequency along the backstretch in the morning and in the stands during the afternoon.
[Seventeen of the 27 people polled, including John Nerud, opted for Nashua, as did Hirsch himself.]
Bad boy Needles
LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 1 - A Colt and a Virtue: It was a hot, humid Saturday morning and Hugh Fontaine had spent a trying hour or more with Needles on the track, trying to work the striking son of Ponder in preparation for the biggest test of his life, which was to come a week later. A number of reporters and photographers had come down to the barn early to accompany Fontaine and Needles to the track. They spread out midway of the backstretch and when joined by a group of interested horsemen and visitors, it made for a sizable crowd.
Fontaine, outfitted in leather chaps, was on a pony and at first moved around the track with Needles in an effort to get him started. But the colt would have none of it and bowed his neck and pranced along in mincing little steps, while Dave Erb, who was on him, did his best to look patient. Then Fontaine galloped around the clubhouse turn and pulled up at the head of the backstretch, an eighth of a mile away from the cluster of people. Harry Trotsek, in shirt sleeves, who had been leaning against the outer rail with a stopwatch in his hand, waiting for Needles to make his move, walked over to Fontaine.
Earlier, when Needles had begun his fatiguing performance, Trotsek and several other horsemen had remarked how heartbreaking it was for a trainer under such circumstances - the whole world looking at the horse, and he won't break off. Now Fontaine was standing up in his stirrups, peering across the wide infield and the bordering hedges at Needles, who was sulking on the far turn. Hughie, who had cataracts removed last fall and whose vision is still somewhat limited, turned to Trotsek and asked anxiously, "Did he break yet, Harry?" and Trotsek, concentrating on the distant speck that was Erb and Needles, shook his head slowly, and Fontaine seemed to slump in the saddle.
[Needles eventually worked 10 furlongs in 2:09. He won the Derby and the Belmont.]
Charlie Whittingham in Chicago
HOMEWOOD, Ill., Aug. 3 - From Out of the West: At the far end of the shedrow, the area was littered with water buckets, tack boxes, trunks, and other stable equipment. Standing in front of a stall door, two grooms were nailing down a large panel board, tastefully tinted in fuchsia with purple cross sashes, designed to let all those who pass know that this is the Llangollen Farm outfit. On a small patch of adjacent grass, a stablehand was washing down a horse who had recently returned from the racetrack. And rounding the corner of the barn in short, mincing steps, carefully supervising the myriad activities taking place, was Charlie Whittingham, who had brought the western division of Liz Lunn's far-flung racing string from California by train only the night before. Actually, the move was made in two phases. Last week, Whittingham flew into Chicago with Mister Gus and Porterhouse in time to capture the $100,000 Arlington Handicap on getaway day at the North Side course, a training feat which brought him considerable praise from Midwestern colleagues. Whittingham planed back to the coast over the weekend, put the other 20 head in his care on the train, and accompanied them eastward on the journey over the mountains.
A noteworthy overnighter
LEXINGTON, Ky., April 13 - One-Eyed King, who registered fractions of :22 2/5 for the quarter, :46 3/5 for the half-mile and :58 4/5 for five furlongs, was easily the most impressive horse on the course this morning, and Woody Stephens was beaming upon his return to the barn. The gracious and capable trainer, who appears to have settled a once highly strung colt, talked like he wanted to give One-Eyed King a short race and then send him out in the Blue Grass Stakes.
Should Stephens choose a seven-furlong overnighter next Friday as a vehicle for The King, this $5,000 affair called the High Hope might result in a contest of unusual interest. The reason: Calumet may also send out its sophomore aces, Gen. Duke and Iron Liege.
[Iron Liege beat One-Eyed King and Gen. Duke in the High Hope. Neither one made it to the Derby.]
Gen. Duke scratched on Derby morning
LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 4 - Jimmy Jones phoned Churchill Downs president Bill Corum with the news of his decision at 9 a.m. this morning, in an effort to insure that the public would be informed prior to the opening of the wagering on the Derby itself. Calumet stable agent Dee Brooks reported to the racing secretary's office at 9:14 with the actual scratch slip, although Calumet legally could have withheld its declaration until 45 minutes before post time.
The declaration of Gen. Duke represented a soul-searching decision on the part of Jones and reflected highest credit upon his integrity. The temptation to run the colt must have been tremendous, and for Jones, who has handled himself with remarkable grace all week in the face of a crushing burden of questions and probing from the press, it was another demonstration of his character and ability to view a painful situation realistically.
Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe
PARIS, Oct. 7 - Oroso, who finished sixth in last year's Prix de l'Arc and was beaten by six lengths by Tanerko in the recent Prix du Prince d'Orange at a mile and a half, turned in the finest performance of his checkered career. The rather ordinary-looking black colt picked up 132 pounds and ran the 2,400 meters in a brisk 2:33 2/5, best time for the Arc in four years.
A good deal of the credit for Oroso's well-earned victory must go to the 20-year-old French jockey Serge Boullenger, who placed his horse superbly in the midst of the thundering herd that was the Arc field, then timed his move with the coolness of a veteran and appeared to outfinish Guy Chancelier aboard the hard-hitting filly Denisy. Boullenger, who was called up for two years of Army duty only last month, received special permission of the service to accept the mount.
C.V. Whitney's Career Boy, lone American entry in the field of 24, finished 18th after making a mild move about a half-mile from home. Career Boy, ridden by Sammy Boulmetis, pulled up a trifle dinky after the grueling test, and trainer Syl Veitch observed that he injured the inside of his left ankle, with the exact extent of the mishap unknown at this time.
Interview with E.P. Taylor
ETOBICOKE, Ontario, June 7 - In the directors' lounge, a handsomely appointed aerie with a commanding view of New Woodbine's 800 acres and much of the surrounding countryside, E.P. Taylor could relax over a cool drink and speak of the state of Canadian racing and its future with pleasure and confidence. It wasn't too many years ago that this would have been impossible, but then Taylor, who is president of the Ontario Jockey Club, decided to do something about it. You've heard of a "ballplayer's ballplayer"; it's the ultimate accolade for a professional by a professional. Well, Taylor is an "industrialist's industrialist." He gets things done in all the diversified activities in which he has interested himself. If there is a board of directors in the Dominion of which Taylor isn't chairman, or at least an active member, it's the exception that proves the rule.
Claiborne Farm's first Derby horse
LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 1 - "If there's one race I want to win," Arthur "Bull" Hancock has frequently said, "it's the Kentucky Derby. For a hardboot like me, there's no race like it." And tomorrow, the all-orange silks of historic Claiborne will be carried for the first time in the blue riband of the American turf by Dunce, a homebred son of Tom Fool and Ghazni for whom Hancock is reported to have turned down a legitimate offer of $400,000.
If you're surprised to learn that Dunce is Claiborne's first Derby horse, remember that Hancock is primarily a market breeder and usually races only a few fillies to prove their worth as broodmares. To this end, he has been remarkably successful on the racetrack, his Delta, Doubledogdare, and Bayou ranking with the best fillies this country has produced in recent years.
The tall 2-year-old
Atlantic City Race Course
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Sept. 6 - A wayfarer from the Midwest, still brimming with admiration over the racy Crozier and his spectacular, record-breaking triumph in Saturday's Washington Park Futurity, had quite a surprise in store this morning as he dropped by the Levy-Hilton (stakes barn) for a comparative look at the pride of the East. Hail to Reason, on hand for Saturday's $100,000 World's Playground, was easily the biggest 2-year-old a man had seen in some time, every bit as deep through the girth as Calumet's Beau Prince and a good deal taller at 16.2 hands of a seal-brown race horse.
An uninspiring bunch
Garden State Park
CAMDEN, N.J., Oct. 13 - A much-maligned generation of 3-year-olds passes in what amounts to a final review before entering the handicap ranks in Saturday's Ben Franklin, a 1 1/16-mile test which appears as wide open as old Tia Juana on a Saturday night. The highweights, Calumet's Beau Prince and Ogden Phipps' Hitting Away, have earned almost $350,000 between them since this season began and might be expected to attract the bulk of support, except for the fact that their recent form has been awful.
Carry Back stuns Kelso
OCEANPORT, N.J., July 16 - The applause for Carry Back began as he passed the sixteenth pole - despite the fact Kelso was 4-5 - built in intensity as he crossed the wire, and continued until he returned to the winner's circle. This is one of the most genuinely popular Thoroughbreds of our time, not only with fans in the East but throughout the country as well, if his fan mail is any criterion. He also happens to be a very fine race horse and is at the peak of his form though he's started 47 times now. We suspect he'd have beaten Kelso on Saturday at level weights, and if he can hold his form for another couple of months, he'll conclude his career with the coveted "Horse of the Year" title.
The Carry Back Story is really remarkable in retrospect: the product of a chance mating, trained by a retired businessman, hero of the Kentucky Derby, top handicap horse, winner of over $1,000,000 in purses. Even a Hollywood script writer would hesitate to combine such heady ingredients, if this were a piece of fiction. How we'd love to see [Jack] Price take his colt to France this fall! Carry Back has accomplished so much that the mile and a half of the Arc de Triomphe does not seem beyond his scope, even though he'd be meeting the best of the Europeans.
As for Kelso, he does not seem to be the horse he was last season, nor did he make a particularly noteworthy appearance in the paddock, preceding the Monmouth 'Cap. He's never been robust, but almost every horseman with whom we chatted remarked at the dullness of his coat and the prominence of his hip bone.
[Carry Back eventually ran in the 1962 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, finishing 10th.]
Woody and Never Bend
LEXINGTON, Ky., April 18 - "It's time to get serious now," Woody Stephens remarked at the barn this morning as he reviewed the five-horse lineup for tomorrow's 7-furlong Forerunner Purse. Stephens will saddle Cain Hoy's Never Bend for the Forerunner, hopeful recent history can repeat itself. In 1957, Calumet's Iron Liege forecast his subsequent Derby triumph with a victory in the Forerunner, while his stablemate, Tim Tam, pursued the same course the following year. In 1959, Fred Turner's Tomy Lee set a track record of 1:21 3/5 in the Forerunner and projected that form to win a Derby in which he was not the best horse. Roman Line and Decidedly finished one-two in last year's Forerunner, then reversed that order in the run for the roses. Little wonder that Kentuckians will flock to this sporty course tomorrow in search of a sign for the impending first Saturday in May.
They will see a running horse. Canted knees or not, Never Bend has been so impressive on so many occasions, has such pedigree and care behind him he is coming up to the Derby with as good a chance to win it as anyone else. The only question mark is his temperament, a condition that goes with the Nasrullahs, but racing should settle him down and the Forerunner could be helpful in the Cain Hoy march on Churchill Downs.
[Never Bend won the Forerunner but finished second in the Derby.]
Kelso's place in history
OCEANPORT, N.J., July 17 - We hasten to add Kelso's place in American racing history is secure, regardless of how he fares in the Monmouth, or in future stakes. He has turned in too many wonderful performances in too many important races against the best horses in training over too long a period of time to challenge his status. His shadow will grow longer with each passing year, and racing fans will come to boast: "I saw Kelso run."
[Written on the eve of the Monmouth Handicap. At age 7 and as a four-time champion, Kelso finished second by a neck to Mongo.]
Jimmy Jones retires
Atlantic City Race Course
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Sept. 30 - Jimmy Jones officially retires today as head trainer of Calumet Farm after an association of 25 years, and while he is looking forward with considerable enthusiasm and anticipation to his new post as director of racing at Monmouth Park, one doesn't give up a way of life over a quarter of a century without a few backward glances. Blessed with the excellent memory most horsemen seem to have about horses and races of the past, the Missourian can recall in detail the events leading up to the hiring of his father, the late Ben Jones, by the late Warren Wright in September of 1939. He can trace in detail B.J.'s skillful handling of the willful Whirlaway, and his own work with such cracks as Citation, Two Lea, and Armed.
Of all the horses that passed through Jimmy's gifted hands, the one that occasioned the most regret, and co-incidentally provided his greatest moment on the turf, was Gen. Duke. This beautiful colt by Bull Lea out of the brilliant Wistful beat the best 3-year-olds this country had seen in many years when he won the Florida Derby of 1957 from Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and others of that memorable generation. Major Jimmy, normally the most conservative sort in forecasting the outcome of any race, let alone a classic, said flatly at Keeneland that spring Gen. Duke was a lock to win the Kentucky Derby.
Buckpasser and Graustark
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., Aug. 9 - Graustark must be something special. His accomplishments read awfully big in the charts to those who have never seen him run. Those who have seen him run - including men like Webb Everett and Oscar Otis, who have been around good horses for years and have a basis for comparison - regard the John Galbreaths' Ribot colt as the most remarkable 2-year-old in the breadth of their experience. Unfortunately, he has developed a splint, is to be fired this week end, and will probably be out the rest of the season. It is certain he must miss the $350,000 Arlington-Washington Futurity, the world's richest race, on Sept. 11, and that is a shame, for there is a colt coming from the East for the Futurity who just might be able to test Graustark at 7 furlongs.
We didn't think Ogden Phipps' Buckpasser could win the Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park last Saturday. Leonard Fruchtman's Our Michael, a winner of four stakes, seemed to be much the more mature colt, and we thought he was a lock. Nor were we alone in that opinion. Our Michael went off at 3-5, and the 38,500 on hand were still storming the windows at post time in an attempt to drive the price even lower.
[Buckpasser shipped in for the Arlington-Washington Futurity after seven straight victories. In the absence of Graustark, Buckpasser won as the odds-on choice. The two would never meet.]
Bubble bursts for Graustark and Galbreath
LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 2 - "This is the most disappointing thing that has ever happened to me in sports," John Galbreath said softly over the phone from Alton, Ohio, Sunday afternoon several hours after he'd learned from trainer Loyd Gentry that the bubble had burst for Graustark. One minute a man has the favorite for the Kentucky Derby and the next minute all the hopes and plans many months in the making are dashed to bits. It's not a new story in the rich lore of the run for the roses, but it's never a bit less tragic each time it happens.
"You've got to be able to take the bitters," Galbreath philosophized. "You can't stay in this game unless you're prepared to accept major disappointments at times. Sure we're coming down to the Derby regardless. We'd invited so many friends and we're not going to let this upset the trip. But gosh, I wish he could have been right for this one."
The Matchmaker Stakes
Atlantic City Race Course
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Sept. 26 - It's one thing to have a great idea. It's another to make the idea materialize. Bob Levy, a veritable fountainhead of fresh and intriguing thoughts on racing since his accession to the presidency of this race track last year, has hit the jackpot with the Matchmaker Stakes. The race hasn't even been run yet - it will have its debut Saturday - and already it has captured the imagination of racing men throughout the country, to the extent its position as an annual feature of unusual importance is secure. Virtually every track offers a filly-and-mare stake. None, however, except the Matchmaker offers the owner of the winner his choice of seasons to three of America's leading stallions.
You think it's tough to get front-row seats to "Man of La Mancha?" Well try booking your mare to Hail to Reason. Shares in this brilliant young stallion went for $163,000 and $162,000 at Saratoga last year, and would probably bring more this year.
Round Table is one of the country's leading sires of stakes winners this season, one of the "hottest" studs of 1967. And Jaipur, whose first horses are just coming to the races, has had several stakes winners, as if this terribly handsome and talented son of Nasrullah is going to make it.
[Seasons to other prominent stallions were offered in the early years of the Matchmaker, including Northern Dancer, Ribot, and Buckpasser.]
Rematch: Forward Pass and Dancer's Image
BALTIMORE, May 17 - The Kentucky Derby winner versus the winner of the Kentucky Derby is expected to attract a crowd of 40,000 fans here Saturday for one of the most intriguing confrontations in the recent history of the American turf.
Heading a field of 10 in the 93rd running of the $195,200 Preakness Stakes - Middle Jewel in racing's Triple Crown series for 3-year-olds - will be Calumet Farm's Forward Pass, who was awarded first money in the Kentucky Derby upon disqualification of his principal Preakness rival, Peter Fuller's Dancer's Image.
Dancer's Image finished a length and a half in front of Forward Pass at Churchill Downs two weeks ago, but was in effect placed last by the stewards after a three-day hearing, when his post-race urinalysis proved positive for the analgesic Butazolidin.
[Forward Pass would win the Preakness while Dancer's Image was disqualified yet again, this time from third, for interference.]
Dr. Fager's defining moment
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., Aug. 26 - For what was essentially a one-horse race, the 41st running of the Washington Park Handicap became a memorable afternoon in mid-America through the sheer brilliance of Dr. Fager.
Breaking from the No. 9 post position under 134 pounds, he was rated off Angelico's early pace but didn't care for that a bit. He was fighting Braulio Baeza's hold, and finally Braulio had to turn him loose at the half-mile pole. In a twinkling, he had passed the leaders and was three lengths in front turning into the stretch. As he began drawing away the applause built up steadily, and the stands were in crescendo as he crossed the wire with a 10-length margin on Llangollen's Racing Room.
There was another outburst when the Teletimer lit up the final figures: 1:32 1/5, a world record for a mile.
Age restrictions in Florida
Hialeah Race Course
HIALEAH, Fla., Jan. 29 - Miss Barbara Mackle, daughter of Robert Mackle, president of the Florida division of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, attended Hialeah's opening two weeks ago. Miss Mackle is only a couple of months from her 21st birthday, and 21 is the minimum legal age for attending the races in Florida. Some refugee from a mental institution wrote a letter of protest to the governor's office, which was referred to the state racing commission and eventually to the management of Hialeah.
The letter, hopefully, will serve as a lever to do away with the ridiculous law presently on the books which suggests that a young lady of 20 - or a person of any age - cannot enjoy an afternoon at the races without impairment of his morals or his character. Fortunately, most states have seen the light and have removed all age restrictions, with the understandable reservation that minors will not be permitted in the betting ring. Isn't it high time that Florida got with it, too?
[Florida finally ended its age restriction for attending races in 1987.]
Frankel and Barometer
OCEANPORT, N.J., July 14 - Bobby Frankel is respectful, but not terrified. Barometer's conditioner is well aware that Nodouble is the world's leading money-winning racehorse in training with earnings of $846,749, and that he is being pointed for Saturday's $100,000 Amory L. Haskell Handicap. But the news of Nodouble's participation hasn't shaken Frankel, who still plans to ship Mrs. Marion Frankel's Suburban Handicap winner here. More to the point, Frankel thinks Barometer has a good chance to win the Haskell.
The two horses met once before, in the Metropolitan Mile on Memorial Day, and Nodouble was the winner while Barometer, the 5-year-old Petare gelding Frankel claimed for $15,000, finished sixth. They were to meet again in the Suburban on July 4, but Nodouble came down with a slight fever and did not run. In his absence, Barometer became a national name in racing circles.
[Barometer finished 10th of 13 in the Haskell for 29-year-old Bobby Frankel while Nodouble did not run.]
The best young horse in the U.S.
Garden State Park
CHERRY HILL, N.J., Nov. 15 - Lucien Laurin was shaking visibly in the paddock, his color pale, his hand trembling as he tightened the girth on Meadow Stable's Riva Ridge, the even-money favorite of the 32,099 on hand in mild weather for Saturday's 19th running of the $293,809 Garden State Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Fortunately, Laurin's colt played it cool all the way, from eventful start to uneventful finish, and won like the champion he is: the best young horse in the United States.
A world of talent - and trouble
HALLANDALE, Fla., Feb. 10 - "Sometimes at night I lie awake and think of the races this horse would have won if he hadn't gotten hurt," Nick Gonzalez said at the barn this morning, his eyes riveted on Kosgrove Stable's Bold Reasoning. The muscular 4-year-old son of Boldnesian from a Hail to Reason mare, a winner of 7 of his 9 starts last season, had just returned from his daily gallop. A rub rag was busy in the hand of his groom as the slanting rays of an early sun danced off his gleaming black coat. Handsome is as handsome does, they say. But then they say so many things. The facts speak for themselves. The facts are that Bold Reasoning, who never started at 2, won his first seven races as a 3-year-old, including the Withers Mile and the $100,000 Jersey Derby.
There are some who feel he never should have been beaten, but again there are the facts. They show that he finished second to a stakes-winning older horse at Monmouth Park last summer and that he was unplaced in Saratoga's Jim Dandy when he sustained the knee injury which cost him the remainder of the season. He packed it in with earnings of almost $155,000, but it's the ones that get away you never forget.
[Bold Reasoning raced three more times, setting a six-furlong track record at Belmont and finishing second in the Met Mile. From his first crop came Seattle Slew].
Doubts on the eve of the Derby
LOUISVILLE, Ky., May 2 - Ron Turcotte was philosophical back at the barn as he stripped off the rubber suit that protected his clothes. He was rushing to catch a plane to New York, where he would ride this afternoon, but he seemed confident and assured in discussing Secretariat, who two weeks ago was the toast of the American turf.
That was before the Wood Memorial, and the pall it cast on those who were anticipating the second coming of Man o' War. Like Watergate, it didn't seem possible, but there it was.
"It might have been that work on the Tuesday before, when he went a mile in 1:42 2/5," Turcotte said. "A horse got loose on the track, and I was very careful with him. Perhaps I took too much hold and he resented it, and maybe he was still resentful for the Wood. Who knows? You go over these things in your mind, searching for answers.
"I do know that he never ran an inch, and in a way, that is good. If he had run and been beaten a length, we might have concluded that he wasn't good enough, plain and simple."
[The doubts about Secretariat's classic potential were short lived. He went on to become the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years, including a 31-length victory in the Belmont. But for a disputed clocking at Pimlico, Secretariat would have set track records in all three events; his Derby and Belmont records still stand.]
Secretariat's final start
Atlantic City Race Course
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Oct. 29 - The last hurrah was a rouser.
There was just enough competitive action to set up Sunday's Canadian Championship as a tour de force for Secretariat's farewell to racing. If he had gone to the front at the start and smothered 11 opponents, the 35,000 on hand at Woodbine, in chilling rain and stygian gloom, would have loved it. They had come to see the Big Horse win big. But it might have been just a trifle flat ...
How good is he? Certainly one of the greatest horses in American racing history. Everyone agrees to that. Some, who remember the brilliance of Count Fleet, the power of Citation, the matchless reign of Kelso, might prefer to wait before according the ultimate tribute. No need for a rush to judgment. Time has a way of affecting initial assessments. It suffices that he thrilled a continent with a score of magnificent afternoons and left the stage on a high note.
[Secretartiat won by 6 1/2 lengths.]
Pair of aces for Woody
LOUISVILLE, Ky., April 29 - Woody Stephens will be looking both ways before he crosses the street this week. He is in approximately the same position as Sir Edmund Hillary, poised a few yards below Everest's summit and prepared for the final surge to the top.
Of course, horses are like butter. They go bad quickly. But with Seth Hancock's Judger, a smashing winner of the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland last Thursday, and John Olin's Cannonade, equally smart in bringing off the Stepping Stone Purse here on Saturday, no one is in better position to bid for the 100th Kentucky Derby than the 60-year-old Kentuckian with so many good horses to his credit.
[Cannonade won the 1974 Derby as part of a favored entry with Judger, who was nearly last in the 23-horse field early, then finished eighth.]
Young sensation named McCarron
Atlantic City Race Course
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J., Sept. 4 - He pulls them down in bunches, like grapes in a vineyard. Five winners, three winners, two winners. On Tuesday, it was four winners here for Chris McCarron, and this morning, with a soft rain spattering lightly against the roof of the Frenchman's Kitchen, the engaging, red-haired Bostonian was explaining over coffee how much he loved to ride.
And how he has ridden! He accepted his first mount at Bowie on Jan. 24. Now, less than eight months later, he leads the nation with 300 winners and will do his best to maintain his advantage toward a national championship.
Serious and articulate at 19, he is a quick study. In that first ride, aboard a horse named Most Active for his contract employer, O.D. Clelland, he broke last and finished last. Two weeks later, he had his first winner, Erezev. Of course he has momentum - and the "bug" - but he also makes fewer mistakes than most riders of his limited experience. In eight days of racing here, he's ridden 17 winners, for a percentage of 30.
[McCarron set a single-season record of 546 winners in 1974, almost 150 more than his nearest pursuer, Darrell McHargue. The mark has been surpassed only once, by Kent Desormeaux with 598 winners in 1989.]
Foolish Pleasure vs. Ruffian
Belmont Park, July 6
Foolish Pleasure, ridden all season by Jacinto Vasquez, had a new jockey up for the match. It was Braulio Baeza while Vasquez had the mount on Ruffian. Conditions called for the start to be effected in the rarely used mile-and-a-quarter chute, leading into the backstretch.
Foolish Pleasure came out of the gate first. He'd been honed for speed by trainer LeRoy Jolley, who zipped him five furlongs in 56 2/5 three days prior to the match. Ruffian, who drew the number one post position, broke to the inside. Then Vasquez hustled her to Foolish Pleasure and she took a slight lead. The filly was struggling in the deep going of the chute and she was bearing out just a bit. Baeza, seeing this, permitted Foolish Pleasure to drift, too, avoiding a bumping. The two horses brushed on several occasions, but neither was knocked off stride.
After a quarter-mile run down the chute, the duelers entered the main track, Ruffian still enjoying a slight lead. She appeared to be doing her best, and Foolish Pleasure appeared to be racing evenly under a light hold when Ruffian suddenly fractured both sesamoids in her right foreleg. It was apparent from the stands she had gone wrong and she swerved to the outside, bumping Foolish Pleasure. He quickly recovered and went on with his race.
[From 1975 Racing in Review, 1976 American Racing Manual]
Honest Pleasure's Blue Grass
LOUISVILLE, Ky., April 23 - They came to witness the coronation of a king but had to settle for a trooping of the colors, and they were disappointed. So was trainer LeRoy Jolley, initially, but in the calm of the morning after, Honest Pleasure's race in Keeneland's $112,350 Blue Grass Stakes Thursday looked much better. The 102nd Kentucky Derby still has a solid favorite.
The 20,901 who jammed every inch of the stands and grounds on a glorious spring afternoon sent Honest Pleasure off at 1-10, creating a minus of $41,876.20 in the win pool and then settled back to watch him triumph by the length of the stretch. Jolley had announced to the world that he wanted to get the colt a bit tired in the Blue Grass, that he would let him run to compensate for a light campaign of three races. It was "all systems go" but Braulio Baeza never pulled the switch.
[Honest Pleasure won the Blue Grass by 1 1/2 lengths in 1:49 2/5, his ninth straight victory. Nine days later, he finished second in the Derby at 2-5.]
Gold Cup gets a new script
JAMAICA, N.Y., Oct. 20 - The Jockey Club Gold Cup was enriched from $100,000 to $300,000 last year and the distance was shortened from two miles to a mile and a half with the express purpose of attracting the best horses in training in the United States for a championship event at weight-for-age.
Last season's Horse of the Year, Forego, was injured before the Gold Cup and did not participate in the Oct. 23 renewal. This year's running, on Oct. 15, was competitive, but it is likely that 1977's Horse of the Year, whomever he may be, did not run in the race.
"Consideration will be given next year to an earlier date for the Jockey Club Gold Cup," racing secretary Tommy Trotter said. "We've always been asked to present it toward the end of the Belmont fall meeting but now there is sentiment for an earlier running, in the hope that more of the top horses will be available. Our season is virtually year-round now and many good horses simply wear out by late fall."
Forego's last hurrah
ELMONT, N.Y., June 20 - Nellie Melba in her prime - the toast of two continents - never made a comeback to equal Forego's return to the races on Monday.
Before he set foot in the walking ring, and just as he entered the paddock from the horse path that leads to the stable area, he was spotted by the large crowd who cheered him to the echo. Once saddled and walking the ring, he drew more applause, and when his partner, Bill Shoemaker, walked into the paddock to receive instructions from Frank Whiteley, the crowd went wild.
Emotions ran high at Belmont, all directed at the 8-year-old Forego and the 46-year-old Shoemaker. Everyone knew there won't be many more of these appearances and all wanted so much to cheer a victory.
They weren't disappointed. Dr. Patches, who ran a mile in 1:33 3/5 to equal the track record in his last start, made the pace, and was still in front at the furlong pole after six panels in 1:09 4/5. But Forego, ranging up on the outside in the fashion he has made so popular, nailed him in the final 30 yards to score by a neck.
[Forego won the seven-furlong allowance race in 1:21 3/5, the last of his 34 career victories.]
Pincay's ride in the Travers
Saratoga Race Course
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., Aug. 21 - There is some question if Laffit Pincay, riding slightly ahead of Alydar, saw the Calumet colt preparing to come though on the inside. If he did see him, then the foul was patently flagrant and merits the most serious punishment. If he didn't see him, then this veteran of 15 seasons of riding is guilty of grossly careless riding. One of the cardinal rules of riding is that one looks before one changes lanes, if only to protect one's fellow riders.
By his actions, whether through negligence or momentary loss of poise, Pincay ruined what should have been, and what was going to be, one of the most glorious afternoons in the long history of American racing. No one could have predicted the outcome of the Travers at the point of the foul.
[Affirmed finished first but the Travers was awarded to Alydar by disqualification, the final meeting in a 10-race rivalry. Affirmed won seven of the meetings.]
Exceller and Seattle Slew
ELMONT, N.Y., Oct. 16 - In years to come, when they tell the story of Saturday's $321,800 Jockey Club Gold Cup, this memorable encounter will be compared to the great races of our time, such as the Trenton Handicap of 1957 at Garden State Park, when Bold Ruler beat Gallant Man and Round Table; the Woodward Stakes of 1959 here at Belmont Park, when Sword Dancer beat Hillsdale and Round Table, and the Woodward of 1967, when Damascus overwhelmed Buckpasser and Dr. Fager.
In victory, Nelson Bunker Hunt's Exceller was the same outstanding horse he has been for so long. A winner of Group 1 stakes in France, England, Canada, and the United States, he has retained his competitive edge at age 5 this year under Charlie Whittingham's expert tutelage and even expanded his area of excellence, which had been limited in the past to the turf course. In defeat, Seattle Slew ran perhaps his greatest race, and there isn't much doubt that at this time he is the best horse in the country and quite possibly the world.
A vote for Coastal
ELMONT, N.Y., June 8 - Trainer Lucien Laurin, a member of Racing's Hall of Fame at Saratoga, is a keen student of the sport, as well as a participant. He admires Spectacular Bid for his accomplishments, but feels that Coastal's performance was so brilliant in winning the recent Peter Pan by 13 lengths that he is the one to beat for all the money this weekend.
"He's a fresh horse with great ability, racing on his home track," Laurin said. "He's comfortable and confident here, and I just think he's going to be awfully tough to beat. He's trained up to the Belmont beautifully."
[Coastal upset Spectacular Bid by 3 1/4 lengths.]
Codex, Cordero, and controversy
Pimlico Race Course
BALTIMORE, May 19 - Less admirable - again - were the tactics employed by Angel Cordero Jr., aboard Codex. It should have been obvious to the nation's premier rider that he was on the best horse in the race. There was absolutely no need for him to carry Genuine Risk out past the middle of the track, to wave his whip in front of her face, and to strike her on the head. Had he held the course Codex was on turning into the stretch, there is every indication his horse would have been a comfortable winner, earning the admiration that properly would have been his instead of being a storm-center of controversy.
Should Codex have been disqualified in the Preakness? On the basis of what the stewards saw from the videotape patrol, we are inclined not to argue with their decision. What they saw, and what the media saw on the press box monitors, was a horse drifting a bit wide on the turn - beyond the line that distinguishes race-riding from recklessness - and a second horse outside the drifter being carried wide with no significant contact. There is a difference between a brush and a bump that knocks a horse off stride, and the stewards undoubtedly took this into account.
They also must have taken into account the fact that the Preakness is a classic. We have only four classics in this country (the Coaching Club American Oaks for fillies merits that status along with the Triple Crown races), and they are in a special category. A horse has few chances to win a classic, and most professionals feel that if the best horse wins decisively, disqualifications are not in keeping with the occasion.
Spectacular Bid in a walk
ELMONT, N.Y., Sept. 22 - It was a rare treat to a great Thoroughbred, and an unfortunate turn of events.
When the only horse in the country who could have given Spectacular Bid a run for the money at level weights went wrong the day prior to the Woodward Stakes, Spectacular Bid had a walkover which, though unpopular, enhanced his stature.
Fortunately, Winter's Tale may race again. The prognosis is good, Mack Miller reports, but he'll never have another shot at Spectacular Bid, and the sport is the poorer for that.
As for "Bid," he was impressive as ever with his mile and a quarter in 2:02 2/5, all by himself. The majority of horses in training can't run that fast in the heat of competition. "Bid" did it on his own. With a razor-sharp Winter's Tale alongside, these two might have gone in 1:58, but that, of course, is speculation.
An international gathering
ARLINGTON HEIGHTS, Ill., Aug. 29 - It might be appropriate here to take note of the debt American racing owes to England, which gave us the sport itself and its rules; its first Epsom Derby winner, Diomed, an ancestor of the brilliant stallion Lexington; and the blood of so many outstanding horses, such as Rock Sand, Blenheim II, Mahmoud, and countless others. When John Schapiro launched the Washington D.C. International at Laurel in 1952, English horsemen were among the first to support his race, and it was the British flag that was raised when Wilwyn won under the late Manny Mercer. Now, with the inaugural of the Million, once again the English, above all others, have supported an American feature in sporting fashion, providing four of the 14 starters.
Will the English - or the other visiting nations represented - go home a winner? Virtually all of those entered in the Million have the credentials to win this race without occasioning surprise, but the weather may be against them. Rain in this area throughout the week has left the grass course distinctly on the soft side, and it seems doubtful if the going can be firm for Sunday. Under such circumstances, it requires a horse with a special ability to carry the day.
[John Henry caught European invader The Bart in the final stride.]
John Henry's Gold Cup
ELMONT, N.Y., Oct. 12 - On a glorious afternoon of racing, the Sunshine Boys came through again. Dominating the scene at the finish of the $568,000 Jockey Club Gold Cup were two veterans of the racing wars, 6-year-old John Henry and 50-year-old Bill Shoemaker, partners in a superb performance that surely set the seal on Horse of the Year honors for the former.
They are two champions, John Henry and the Shoe, tested under fire time and again and found equal to the most demanding occasion. As a matter of fact, the 63rd Jockey Club Gold Cup was not so demanding as the Arlington Million, and the winner was much the best horse. As Shoemaker himself commented in post-race remarks, he may have moved a trifle soon, slipping between horses on the turn and taking command after straightening for home. John Henry was a length and a half in front at the furlong pole and obviously relaxed, but responded when Murray Garren's 50-1 Peat Moss posed a late challenge on the rail.
Birth of the Breeders' Cup
LEXINGTON, Ky., April 23 - A spectacular afternoon of racing, consisting of seven events with total purses and awards of $15,000,000, designed to stimulate new interest in the sport by the public and the media will officially be proposed Friday.
John R. Gaines of Gainesway Farm in Lexington, heading a group of leading American breeders, is to articulate the plan in an address in Louisville to the annual kickoff luncheon of the Kentucky Derby Festival Committee at the Galt House.
Noting the inability of Thoroughbred racing to retain its share of the sports dollar and its poor image with the media, Gaines will propose a race for 3-year-olds and up at a mile and a quarter with a purse of $5,000,000.
Other events in the series will include a grass race at a mile and a half for $2,000,000; a steeplechase race with a purse of $500,000; and four events, each with purses of $1,000,000, for 2-year-old colts, 2-year-old fillies, fillies and mares, and sprinters. The series is to be inaugurated in 1984.
[The first Breeders' Cup Classic in 1984 had a $3 million purse. The purse was raised to $4 million in 1996.]
Combining Champagne and Gold
ELMONT, N.Y., Oct. 6 - Some racing men are upset that the $200,000 Champagne for 2-year-olds is being offered on the same program as the Gold Cup. They feel this detracts from the importance of the Champagne and is being done merely to insure an interesting show for television.
We can't agree. The combining of these two Grade 1 features on the same afternoon offers a marvelous attraction to the public. It's a concentration of quality racing, the same principle that is the basis of the Breeders' Cup program. As for giving television an interesting show, what's wrong with that? Racing has been trying for years to make an impact via television. One race of two minutes' duration as the highlight of an hour-long show isn't very much action. The Champagne should lend considerable punch to the national telecast, not only for its significance of the moment but for its portent in terms of next spring's Triple Crown classics.
A special filly is Horse of the Year
The French filly was indeed something special, and after she went on to capture the Washington D.C. International at Laurel, her fourth Grade 1 victory in the space of six weeks, there was no question that this filly was a champion. Although she had run only twice in America, she was, at season's end, voted this country's Horse of the Year 1983.
The Horse of the Year poll, originated by Daily Racing Form in 1936, was merged with the TRA poll in 1971, at which time the National Turf Writers were also invited to participate in the balloting. In the 47-year history of the poll, All Along became the first Thoroughbred, based in a foreign land, to be voted America's Horse of the Year.
[From 1983 Racing in Review, in 1984 American Racing Manual]
Behind the scenes at the Breeders' Cup
INGLEWOOD, Calif., Nov. 3 - Construction is proceeding at a lively pace here in these final days prior to the inaugural Breeders' Cup next Saturday, Nov. 10. As confirmation calls from leading racing personalities throughout the world and many important business and political figures in the United States flood the switchboard, working crews are on every level of the magnificent new five-story Pavillion of the Stars that is the centerpiece of the $30,000,000 first phase of an eventual rebuilding of the entire plant.
The road to completion of this remarkable project - 18 months' work crammed into an eight-month period - has not been entirely smooth. Twenty-six huge glass panels, custom-designed to be part of the spectacular atrium entrance to the Pavillion of the Stars, arrived from the manufacturer in shatters, necessitating some last-minute substitution. There have been other emergencies as well, all part of the construction process, but each posing a challenge that had to be met.
Sizeable sections of the stable area have been torn down and relocated, state-of-the-art barns replacing outmoded wooden buildings. The space acquired is being blacktopped now and vast new parking sections are being added to accommodate a crowd of 75,000 or more.
The highlight of the Breeders' Cup program will be the $3 million Classic at a mile and a quarter, featuring Slew o' Gold, who is undefeated in five starts this year, swept the Woodward-Marlboro Cup-Jockey Club Gold Cup series in New York, and is widely regarded as the best racehorse in America. He's sure to be favored, but may have his job cut out for him if Thursday's work by Ken Opstein's hard-hitting Gate Dancer is any indication. The Preakness and Super Derby winner went a mile, and to the delight of trainer Jack Van Berg, completed the last quarter in 24 seconds.
[Slew o' Gold was put up to second behind Wild Again after a rough stretch run.]
Courageous performance by Spend a Buck
ELMONT, N.Y., May 29 - There may have been faster horses than Spend a Buck, and they may have been gamer horses, but there haven't been many who combined speed and courage in such impressive fashion as the Buckaroo colt did Monday at Garden State Park in the $1,000,000 Jersey Derby. To their credit, the 30,360 who witnessed this ancient feature first run in 1864 recognized the effort he made and gave Spend a Buck a roaring welcome upon his return to the winner's circle.
First he had to deal with a determined foe in the speedy Huddle Up, who pressed him through six furlongs in 1:09. Then Creme Fraiche, one of the most honest colts in training, ranged up on the inside and passed him entering the stretch. Many thought Spend a Buck was beaten at that point and he had every reason to tire. But Laffit Pincay Jr. dug down deep and found the reserve that distinguishes the champions. As El Basco ranged up on the outside with another formidable challenge, Spend a Buck came again and carried the day gloriously, to the delight of the thousands who bet him down to 1-20.
[Traditionalists were horrified when Spend a Buck, the Kentucky Derby winner, skipped the Preakness to try for a $2 million bonus in the Jersey Derby, and his victory was lost amid the uproar. Creme Fraiche went on to win the Belmont Stakes.]
Lady's Secret on cruise control
Saratoga Race Course
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., Aug. 5 - Saturday's Whitney Handicap at nine furlongs was a turn-on for the 43,520 on hand in showery weather who were thrilled to see Gene Klein's magnificent filly, Lady's Secret, lead the colts all the way around and then treated her to a resounding ovation when she passed the winning post four and a half lengths in front of her closest pursuer. She won it as topweight, too, conceding weight (via the sex allowance) to six opponents who never seriously threatened.
The Whitney was as good as over at the start when King's Swan failed to break sharply. He had the speed to make Lady's Secret run a little, and when he failed to show among the leaders, Pat Day was able to let the filly run her own race, setting the terms, as it were.
"She was on cruise control," Jeff Lukas said Monday morning, "and it was really one of her easier races."
Personal Ensign takes aim at a title
ELMONT, N.Y., Oct. 14 - Still another highlight of Saturday's program was the victory of Ogden Phipps' Personal Ensign in the Grade 2, $139,400 Rare Perfume Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.
You may recall that Personal Ensign (by Private Account) broke her maiden by almost 13 lengths last fall after hesitating at the start, then won the Grade 1 Frizette in her second appearance. Prepping for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies before emplaning for California, she fractured her left hind pastern and was stabilized with five compression screws. She resumed last month, winning easily at first asking, then won again by almost eight lengths. Now she is 5 for 5, after winning Saturday by almost five lengths.
"We will choose between the $250,000 Beldame here on Sunday and the $200,000 Spinster at Keeneland on Oct. 31," trainer Shug McGaughey commented. "Then she'll be flown to Hollywood for the Breeders' Cup Distaff. If she were to sweep, I'd think she would merit consideration for the 3-year-old filly title. It's a division without a leader at the moment, and perhaps she can supply some leadership."
[Personal Ensign won the Beldame but did not run in the Breeders' Cup Distaff. Sacahuista won the Distaff and the 3-year-old filly title.]
Alysheba and Personal Ensign
LOUISVILLE, Ky., Nov. 8 - Alysheba can beat any horse in America. Shug McGaughey had Seeking the Gold at a peak for the Classic Saturday, but Alysheba proved best in the drive and appeared to be pulling away at the wire. Alysheba was good last winter, when he won the Santa Anita Handicap. He was good in the spring, when he won the San Bernardino. He was good in the summer, when he won Monmouth's Philip Iselin Handicap, and he was good in the fall. A horse for all seasons, and all reasons.
Personal Ensign's victory over Winning Colors in the Distaff was one of the great moments in American racing history. It was a classic performance, with Winning Colors loose on the lead and setting her own pace until Goodbye Halo began to put a little pressure on her around the turn. It didn't seem possible Personal Ensign could get up in time, but she was great and she did. If the program had ended at that point, everyone would have had their money's worth. Her perfect record is a jewel that will shine brighter with each passing season.
There was a winner, but no loser
Pimlico Race Course
BALTIMORE, May 24 - A classic classic!
Everyone in the record crowd of 90,145 at Pimlico last Saturday - and millions of others who watched on television - will remember the 114th Preakness and its remarkable stretch duel as long as they live. Certain races never fade from memory: Jaipur and Ridan in the 1962 Travers; Gun Bow and Kelso in the '64 Woodward, and Affirmed and Alydar in the '78 Belmont. Perhaps a few others, but very few. These races are uplifting. They make the spirits soar. Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were generosity personified as they battled at Old Hilltop. No quality of the Thoroughbred is more admired by racing men than courage, and these two outstanding colts gave everything they had in the Preakness. There was a winner, but there was no loser.
Santa Anita Park
ARCADIA, Calif., Feb. 3 - The test of time.
That is the greatest test of all, for time is the premier analyst. Flaws that might not be revealed over a brief period, and strengths as well, come into sharp relief with the passage of time.
Over four decades and a bit more, ample time for the most discerning assessment, Bill Shoemaker stands out, not only for the remarkable skills he demonstrated at his high-risk profession but also as a human being. With a greater fame than most, Shoemaker has always conducted himself in responsible fashion and set a high standard for his colleagues.
As for his distinction as a rider, the facts, as they say, speak for themselves. He not only won more races than any jockey in history, and had a higher percentage than most, but so many of his victories came in important races, when the stakes were high and the competition at its keenest. Hemingway called it grace under pressure. Shoe was the epitome of grace; a Fred Astaire of the saddle.
Champions never coast
ELMONT, N.Y., Oct. 31 - There were six Breeders' Cups that came before and, hopefully, many more to come, but the one that will remain vivid in memory is Breeders' Cup VII. Alternating between triumph and tragedy, it was a searing exercise in all aspects of human behavior and emotion. In the end, despite heartbreaking losses, the class and dignity of those most directly affected lifted racing to new heights. Racing's Thoroughbreds, those with four legs and those with two, have always been the strength of our sport, and never more substantively than last Saturday.
Because of her greatness, acknowledged by all, the loss of Go for Wand cuts the deepest. She was a magnificent filly with a magnificent record and a generosity that taxes the imagination. She went down trying in the toughest battle of her career, just as Ruffian did 15 years ago. Only the best of the breed will try to the death. The average horse, once he's had enough, will coast home, but the champions don't know how to coast. They only know how to win.
No place like home
ELMONT, N.Y., July 5 - The home-field advantage. It means as much in racing as in other sports, and perhaps a little more. Horses may not be able to discern the object of a crowd's affection, but they do know where they've been racing. In most cases, familiarity breeds audacity. As creatures of habit, they have fewer concerns at home and will often produce their best form in front of the home folks.
All of which enhances Lite Light's performance in the recent Mother Goose Stakes, when she was beaten half a nose by Meadow Star in one of the greatest races ever run at Belmont Park. Jerry Hollendorfer, whose preparation was outstanding, took cognizance of the situation and attempted to deal with it by training Lite Light at Belmont for several weeks in advance of her race. The situation is a bit different for Saturday's $250,000 Coaching Club American Oaks, when Lite Light and Meadow Star meet again as Hollendorfer has made an adjustment.
"The Mother Goose was a very demanding race," Hollendorfer said, "and our filly found the Belmont track tiring. I thought it would be easier on her if she trained at home for the Oaks, and it seems to have worked out nicely. She breezed with ease at Golden Gate Fields, and it took nothing out of her. She is a good shipper and we have no qualms about her arriving in New York a few days before the race."
[Lite Light easily won the Coaching Club American Oaks rematch and became the first filly to beat champion Meadow Star.]
Whole picture tells the story
LOUISVILLE, Ky., Nov. 6 - Horse of the Year? Voters are on their own, for there are no guidelines, nor should there be. These coveted awards have been made since 1936 and there has never been an unworthy winner. A moderate winner, perhaps, but he or she was always best of the moderates. Some of my colleagues are inclined to limit the choices to a handful of horses. We would expand that list, for just as the title should never be awarded for a single performance on Breeders' Cup Day, so, too, it should not be withdrawn because of poor luck or circumstances in the Breeders' Cup. Look at the entire picture and the choice will be much clearer.
Trying to figure Florida dates
HALLANDALE, Fla., March 15 - It now appears likely that the issue of Florida racing dates, disputed and confused as usual, will be set aside by the state legislature for a special session later this month. This will give Tallahassee a chance to avoid another tragic mistake, the latest in a long series dating back some 20 years to the reorganization of state government, which removed the administration of racing from a strong and knowledgeable commission and shifted responsibility to a bureaucracy that has displayed little knowledge, understanding, or sympathy for racing and its people.
The dates arrangement proposed in Tallahassee, callously taking 54 dates from one track (Calder) and giving it to another (Hialeah), is neither fair nor sensible. Everyone is delighted that Hialeah resumed racing last fall after an unfortunate absence of two years, due in part to the intransigence of management. Hialeah may well deserve more racing dates than the allotment of 50 it was granted this season. But to more than double the allotment and take it from one source is completely wrong, and another illustration of the confused thinking that has made Florida racing the laughingstock of the industry for years.
John Nerud's influence
Santa Anita Park
ARCADIA, Calif., Feb. 6 - The 10th Breeders' Cup, which will take place here at Santa Anita on Nov. 6 during the Oak Tree meeting, will have a special, celebratory flavor, befitting a decade of achievement. It is not unreasonable to state that the Breeders' Cup has had the biggest positive impact on racing since the 1930s, when the starting gate, the photo-finish camera and the film patrol all came into widespread use.
Aside from John Gaines - the founder, architect, and brilliant conceptualist - no individual has done more to strengthen, promote, and sustain the Breeders' Cup than Johnny Nerud. Over the last dozen years, Nerud's knowledge of racing, his recognition of the importance of the Breeders' Cup, his remarkable energy, and his fierce insistence on control of the project and the maintenance of the highest standards have been greatly responsible for its growth and international acceptance as American racing's championship day - its Super Bowl.
Nerud, whose training exploits with such cracks as Dr. Fager, Gallant Man, Switch On, and others earned him Hall of Fame honors, was active in the breeding, racing, and management of horses for the Tartan Farm of the late W.L. McKnight when John Gaines publicly proposed the Breeders' Cup in 1982. Nerud became chairman of the Breeders' Cup marketing committee and has devoted most of his time in the interim, with no compensation, to furthering the cause of the organization. He remains a key factor in policy decisions, though he will endure his 80th birthday Tuesday.
Ambassador 25 or bust
NEW YORK, Nov. 17 - When it came to characters in racing, no one could top Saul Silberman, president of Miami's Tropical Park. He was a fetishist, with an unbelievably long list of fetishes. Here are some of them:
1) No waiter could approach him with a napkin on his arm. Saul considered it unsanitary, but waiters are born with napkins on their arms. It would be easier to get Notre Dame to give up football than to get a waiter to give up his napkin, and the battles that took place in restaurants throughout the country were legendary.
2) Saul drank nothing but 25-year-old Scotch, and since Ambassador 25 was the only brand nationally available, that was his drink. If restaurants didn't stock it, they had to send out for a bottle then and there, and since Saul was a good customer, they did. All over America, restaurant bars have dust-covered bottles of Ambassador 25, waiting for Saul's return.
3) Saul expected to be obeyed. The Baltimore native, a dead-ringer for actor Edward G. Robinson, made it a practice to stroll the grounds of the track and hand out sealed envelopes to his patrons every New Year's morning, each envelope containing a $20 bill. The Tropical New Year's programs began early so that those who attended could get to the Orange Bowl for a 3 p.m. kickoff. Many of Saul's customers celebrated the night before and weren't fully coherent New Year's morning. When intercepted by the regal Silberman, accompanied by aides carrying the gift envelopes, a few hestitated to accept, agitating Saul to no end. "Take it, dummy," he would bellow, and they usually did.
[From a recollection of some of racing's colorful characters written for the Daily Racing Form's 100-year anniversary edition.]
Miller and Mellon, over and out
ELMONT, N.Y., Oct. 27 - There will be no Rokeby Stable horse in Saturday's Breeders' Cup XII. Paul Mellon's famous colors of dark gray and yellow braids are winding down to a major dispersal here at Belmont Park on Nov. 21, as the 88-year-old distinguished sportsman prepares to take orderly leave from his long and glorious association with American racing.
His veteran trainer, Hall of Fame horseman MacKenzie Miller, will supervise next month's dispersal as his final duty on the racetrack that has been his life for more than half a century. Miller, 74, will retire after the sale to his home and family in Versailles, Ky. In time, he and his wife, Martha, may do some of the traveling that wasn't possible when he was on duty, but for a while, at least, he wants to lean back and watch the world go by.
Mellon is not leaving the turf entirely. He'll continue to have a small stable in England, where he raced his greatest horse, Mill Reef, winner of the Epsom Derby and Arc de Triomphe in 1971. Mellon began his racing career in 1933, two years after attending Cambridge, with the purchase of an Irish import, Drinmore Lad. Trained by Jim Ryan, Drinmore Lad won his first start in Mellon's colors, a timber race at Far Hills, N.J. Later he was sent to England and trained there by Ivor Anthony. In 1937, he was one of the favorites for the Grand National but was injured and unable to run.
Jewel of the desert
Nad Al Sheba Race Course
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, March 30 - Some enchanted evening!
A balmy night on the Arabian Peninsula. Soft breezes and sweet music fill the air. Colorful mounted drill teams, their standards fluttering, gallop past the stands jammed with distinguished visitors from around the world. The ruling Maktoum family, in flowing robes and traditional headdresses, enters the Royal Box. An outstanding field of international Thoroughbreds makes its way to the distant starting point. A few yards beyond the packed car parks, the endless desert stretches silently below the twinkling stars.
The first $4 million Dubai World Cup was a theme out of Arabian Nights, with Sheikh Mohammed in the role of producer Cecil B. DeMille and Cigar heading a superb cast as a four-legged Rudolph Valentino. He duels desperately for his life as the crowd goes wild with excitement, the coup de grace to thunderous applause as the house lights illuminate the dramatic finale. This socko production plays to the largest crowd in the brief history of the jewel-like Nad Al Sheba course and a global television audience estimated to be in the tens of millions. It was great theater and great racing, and it assures the Dubai Word Cup of instant acceptance as a feature of the first order, an eagerly anticipated destination each year for the finest horses in training as the long winter gives way to spring.
The great Cigar
ELMONT, N.Y., July 17 - Cigar is at Saratoga, basking in well-deserved adulation after a resolute and affirmative answer to Arlington's $1.05 million Citation Challenge Sunday.
We live in a world full of uncertainty and disappointment. So many of our heroes prove to have feet of clay. But Old Reliable comes through every time, and leaves his audiences with a feeling of exhilaration. That is his great gift to racing; that and his charismatic appeal. There were more than 34,000 at Arlington to see him, which means he personally accounted for between 17,000 and 20,000 people. They came to see him win, and there was just enough drama to make it a great show. Those who saw it on television throughout the world had to be as thrilled, for he won like a great horse. He lived up to his billing.
Is he as good as Citation? As Man o' War? As Secretariat? There are no answers to these questions, of course, nor does it matter. What does matter is that beyond question he is a great horse, with admirers around the world. Ever since he beat the best in America and Europe, in the Breeders' Cup Classic and in the World Cup in Dubai, he has been held in special regard. Many in Europe saw the telecast of the Citation Challenge, and with the dramatic growth of simulcasting in recent years, it is reasonable to think that Cigar is the first true Horse of the World.
[Cigar, who won 16 straight races, holds the earnings record of $9,999,815.]
Empty spot in the corner
ELMONT, N.Y., June 7 - For more than, 15 years, an attractive Triple Crown presentation has been hanging in our cranny here at Belmont Park. The work of Jaqueline Pfeiffer, it consists of 11 rectangular portraits of the horses who swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The small portraits have been arranged in rectangular fashion, with one corner left blank to accommodate the 12th Triple Crown winner.
Several times, as the years passed, we anticipated filling the empty spot, but it wasn't to be. The principal reason for the failure of the Derby and Preakness winners in these Belmonts was their inability to stay the trip - to get the mile and a half successfully. They were good horses, too, and it was frustrating to see them falter on the threshold of Thoroughbred racing's greatest prize.
And yet those failures added to the allure and mystique of the Triple Crown, perhaps the most coveted award in all of sport because it is so rarely and dearly won. This isn't an annual presentation that inevitably must go to a mediocre individual or team holding a hot hand. No ordinary horse can win the Triple Crown. Its components and its ruthless time frame are too demanding. Indeed, even the extraordinary horse who is not incredibly lucky will fail, for it takes all of that, and a little more, to accomplish a sweep of the classics.
[Written before Silver Charm's failed attempt to become the 12th Triple Crown winner.]
Skip Away returns to Hollywood
INGLEWOOD, Calif., July 1 - This was the seventh consecutive victory for Skip Away, six of them Grade 1 stakes, and the $600,000 first prize boosted his earnings to $8.9 million, about a million dollars from Cigar's record. Even more significant, perhaps, he was recording his second major victory in the West in the span of seven months, having beaten a strong international field last fall in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park.
Over the years, many outstanding Eastern-based horses have flown to California to try their luck. Few have been successful and, offhand, we can't think of another horse who has won two races of this caliber.
No wonder that Skip Away, returning to be unsaddled, received a generous and sincere ovation from the splendid crowd of 32,505, the largest turnout for the Gold Cup in several years. The fact is, he is one of the best horses of our time, and one of the most consistent.
[Skip Away would fall just under $400,000 short of surpassing Cigar's earnings record.]
Three secrets to Lukas's success
Saratoga Race Course
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., Aug. 7 - There are turning points to every career, incidents that shape future progress. D. Wayne Lukas points to three events that were helpful to his unparalleled success. The first was his purchase of Terlingua at Keeneland in the 1970's for $275,000. She was his first good horse, gained his stable much favorable publicity, and became the dam of Storm Cat, a sire that has been the source of many good horses for Lukas.
The purchase of Effervescing, also in the 1970's, was significant when he won two Grade 1 stakes in the same week, one on the dirt and one on the grass. He, too, helped focus the spotlight on Lukas at an important time. The third turning point cited by Lukas was the support of the famed horseman, Johnny Nerud, who sent him horses to train. One of them was Codex, who won the Preakness of 1980 to become Lukas's first classic winner.
Lukas hopes to keep training as long as health permits and has at least two goals to keep him competitive. He'd like to pass the $300 million mark in purses won, and he feels he has a chance to pass Ben Jones's record of six Kentucky Derby winners. Lukas has four now, and is a threat just about every spring.
[Lukas was interviewed before his induction into the Hall of Fame.]
Sale of Garden State Park
JAMAICA, N.Y., Dec. 10 - The news item sounded pretty definite. Developers bought Garden State Park and will use the property to build houses, shops, offices, and hotels.
And so we lose another track to the passing parade. Narragansett Park, Jamaica, Tropical Park, Ak-Sar-Ben, Longacres, Washington Park, Bowie. They fall like autumn leaves, with only memories of great horses and magic moments left behind.
Given the statistics of recent years, it is understandable the passing of Garden State Park causes little comment or excitement. But in its heyday, the 1950's and 1960's, it was one of the most vibrant tracks in America, drawing huge crowds, distributing large purses, and showcasing the best horses. Its Garden State Stakes for 2-year-olds in the fall was the country's richest race, and its Jersey Derby for 3-year-olds on Memorial Day was frequently hailed as the fourth leg of the Triple Crown.
Point Given is retired
Saratoga Race Course
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y., Aug. 31 - His place in racing history, as one of the outstanding 3-year-olds of our time, is assured. Point Given was brilliant in winning the Santa Anita Derby and, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby, when flawed tactics may have contributed to his defeat, every succeeding appearance added to his stature. Those who saw him win the Travers here last weekend left with a keen anticipation of his next triumph, never guessing that an injury would force him into retirement so soon.
It is regrettable that he was unable to complete the season and certify the widely held opinion that he would have been equal to the challenge of beating older horses. He was a box-office star of great magnitude and could have done so much for racing in the months ahead. But we were fortunate to have him as long as we did, and we will treasure the rich memories he left us.
The death of Ogden Phipps
LEXINGTON, Ky., April 22 - Ogden Phipps was one of the greatest American breeders of the 20th century. As chairman of The Jockey Club in the 1960's and 1970's, he also played a key role in American racing at a time of great change and development. He had formidable responsibilities in both roles, stood up to them purposefully, and left the racing and breeding scenes better for having passed this way.
His accomplishments as a breeder were enormous, and he takes a distinguished place alongside such other giants of the American breeding scene of the century as John E. Madden, Arthur B. Hancock Sr. and Jr., Calumet Farm, and Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney. He learned about breeding from a remarkable source, his mother, Mrs. Henry Carnegie Phipps, whose Wheatley Stable under Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons was highly regarded annually during the 1930's, 40's, 50's, and 60's.
With an outstanding background, Phipps bred such cracks as Easy Goer, Numbered Account, Personal Ensign, Queen of the Stage, Relaxing, Miner's Mark, My Flag, Vitriolic, Polish Navy, Seeking the Gold, White Cockade, Impressive, Finder's Fee, Heavenly Prize, and so many others.
But if he had bred none of the above and bred only one stakes winner - Buckpasser - his success as a breeder would have been assured.
Recalling the Cup's biggest upset
ELMONT, N.Y, Oct. 23 - Victory by a longshot in Breeders' Cup competition is not a great surprise. With horses coming from all parts of the world, and with training schedules carefully adjusted for these races, unexpected results often follow.
That is why we've seen winners such as Lashkari at 53-1 in 1984, Spain at 55-1 in 2000, One Dreamer at 47-1 in 1994, and Volponi at 43-1 in 2002. But the upset of them all - the triumph of France's Arcangues at 133-1 in the Breeders' Cup Classic of 1993 - was a distinct surprise . . . or was it?
Arcangues had little support, surprising in itself because he was owned and bred by Daniel Wildenstein, one of France's leading horsemen, and was trained by the brilliantly successful Andre Fabre.
None of Europe's top riders seemed interested in the Breeders' Cup mount on Arcangues, and it was only in the last few days before the race that Jerry Bailey was named.
"I had never ridden for Andre Fabre and didn't know what he looked like," Bailey recalled the other day. "The paddock was crowded, so I went directly to the horse and met the traveling lads. They gave me instructions, but it was all in French and I didn't understand a word."
Bailey had ridden European horses before, and knew they preferred to settle into stride and then come on in a sustained drive.
The favored Bertrando cut out a lively pace and led into the stretch with Arcangues directly behind him. At the sixteenth pole, Bailey sent Arcangues around Bertrando to score by a decisive two lengths. An audible gasp filled the warm air over Santa Anita as the 55,000 on hand realized the winner of the Breeders' Cup Classic was going to pay $269.20.
Bailey rode Arcangues into the winner's circle, where he finally met a smiling Andre Fabre.
"He had a lot to say," Bailey recalled, "but it was all in French. I gathered he was pleased."