The Greatest “Rabbit” Punches in Racing History

It is time for one final history lesson before we hit the Derby trail. And this is one topic you don’t normally read about. This one you can say is about horses and trainers having a bad “hare” day. ~ Steve Haskin

The Greatest “Rabbit” Punches in Racing History

By Steve Haskin

One aspect of Thoroughbred racing that has been an integral part of its history, but hardly gets mentioned, is the use of “rabbits,” those fleet-footed sacrificial lambs that are used to either assure a fast pace for their late-running stablemates or are on a kamikaze mission to soften up a particular speed horse and preventing him from stealing a race.

For these unfortunate steeds, several of whom were either champions or record holders in their own right, their names live in infamy, a symbol of unfair tactics and compromising the chances of far more accomplished horses.

But rabbits, named for the mechanical rabbits that greyhounds chase in races, have been in the sport for as long as people can remember. In Europe, they are major part of the game, but are more commonly referred to as pacesetters, as they are entered simply to assure an honest pace for their more illustrious stablemates and not directed at one particular horse. It is a totally different game there and great horses rarely “steal” the major mile and a half and mile and a quarter races, which are run on grass and where the pace is far slower than our dirt races.

In this country, rabbits or pacesetters have been responsible in determining championships, the winners of classic races, and for track and world record-breaking performances. There have also been times, however, when rabbits have backfired, leaving their trainers with egg on their face. 

Let’s turn back the pages and follow Alice down racing’s rabbit hole and see what adventures we find on the other side.

The story most told is of Hedevar who is best known as the rabbit who softened up the brilliant Dr. Fager for his stablemate Damascus in the 1967 Woodward Stakes, dubbed “The Race of the Century.” Also in the field was the defending Horse of the Year Buckpasser, who also had a rabbit in the speedy Great Power. This was nothing new for the late-running Buckpasser, who rarely won a race by more than a length. This would be the 11th time in his career he would be accompanied by a rabbit or pacesetter. But more on Buckpasser and his bunny brigade later. With Horse of the Year at stake, Frank Whiteley, trainer of Damascus, and Eddie Neloy, trainer of Buckpasser, were not about to let the freakishly fast Dr. Fager, who hated having a horse in front of him, have a free ride on an easy lead. Whiteley also did not want to blow the 3-year-old championship to the good doctor after Damascus’ incredible campaign.

As big a race as the ’67 Woodward was, no one at the time realized the true magnitude of the event. You had three Horses of the Year and three Hall of Famers who, between them, would capture an amazing 12 championships, equal or break 11 track records, set two world records, and win carrying 130 pounds or more 12 times. Six of those records have never been broken. When Dr. Fager set a world record for the mile at 4, he broke Buckpasser’s previous record. When Damascus broke the 1 1/4-mile track record at Aqueduct, he broke Dr. Fager’s previous record. When Damascus broke the 1 1/8-mile track record at Arlington Park, he broke Buckpasser’s previous record. When Damascus equaled the 1 1/4-mile track record at Saratoga, he equaled Buckpasser’s previous record.

In 81 combined starts, they won 64 races, 54 of them stakes, and finished out of the money only three times – Dr. Fager on a disqualification after finishing first by 6 1/2 lengths in one of the most controversial stewards’ decisions of all time, Damascus after being eased in his final start with a bowed tendon, and Buckpasser in his first career start, in which he finished fourth, beaten 1 1/4 lengths going 5 1/2 furlongs. So, for all intents and purposes they never finished out of the money in 81 starts.

Of course, no one wanted to see the race compromised by the use of not one but two rabbits. As Dr. Fager’s trainer John Nerud said, “I think if I was confident I had the best horse I would not be using up two to beat one.”

But no one apparently reminded Nerud of the 1957 Belmont Stakes when he used a rabbit named Bold Nero to kill off Preakness winner Bold Ruler to set it up for Gallant Man. Bold Ruler broke like a rocket, but was hounded for almost a mile by Bold Nero, as the pair opened a 10-length lead on the field. With Bold Ruler softened, Gallant Man blew by him in the stretch, winning by eight lengths in track record time.

Back to the ’67 Woodward, Dr. Fager drew post 2, with Hedevar and Great Power directly to his inside and outside. Although Great Power was not expected to hang around very long, Hedevar had previously held the world record for a mile and was second to Wheatley Stable’s great champion Bold Lad in the Met Mile. With the Doc’s regular rider Braulio Baeza committed to Buckpasser, Bill Boland was given the mount.

The start was quite a sight, as Ron Turcotte, on Hedevar, pushed hard coming out of the gate, and then gave his mount two right-handed whacks with the whip, while Bob Ussery stung Great Power four times in rapid succession. Turcotte then went to the whip two more times entering the clubhouse turn. All the time, both riders were screaming in an attempt to stir up Dr. Fager even more. Here were two of the fastest horses in the country in an all-out drive under the whip and neither could outrun Dr. Fager, who was under a stranglehold by Boland.

Ussery later said, “Mr. Neloy never said to kill off Dr. Fager. He just said to go to the lead at all costs. That’s what the man wanted and he was paying me to do my job.”

As expected Great Power didn’t last very long and quickly retreated after a quarter of a mile, but the classier Hedevar clung to Dr. Fager and pushed him through torrid fractions of :22 2/5 and :45 1/5. Boland, like all riders, was no match for the sheer strength of Dr. Fager and couldn’t hold him any longer. When he let him go, the Doc blasted away from Hedevar and opened a 1 1/2-length lead after three-quarters in a suicidal 1:09 1/5, with a gap of six lengths between Hedevar and Handsome Boy in third. But the damage was done. Damascus and Buckpasser both put in their runs and closed in for the kill. But it was Damascus, with his extraordinary acceleration and cat-like quickness, who ran off from Buckpasser and flew by Dr. Fager at the quarter pole before drawing off to a resounding 10-length victory, nailing down Horse of the Year.

The following year, Damascus and Dr. Fager hooked up again in the Suburban Handicap, with Damascus carrying 133 pounds and Dr. Fager 132. Once again, Hedevar was entered, but was scratched the morning of the race with a minor injury. When Nerud heard the news at the racing secretary’s office he said to whoever was listening, “Well, the race is over.”

Not only was Dr. Fager the fastest horse in the country, he was impossible to crack if you looked him in the eye and was virtually unbeatable on an uncontested lead. When Dr. Fager cruised to the lead on his own, Damascus was now on a solo mission. His rider Manny Ycaza had no choice but to put the colt into the fray early and test Dr. Fager, who had managed to get away with an opening quarter in :24 and half in :48 2/5, which was trotting horse time for the Doc. Most people had to believe the race was over at that point. Damascus made three moves at Dr. Fager, but they were repelled each time. The Doc finally put Damascus away at the quarter and went on to score by two lengths over Bold Hour, who had been laying back waiting to pick up the pieces, with Damascus, who was a bit short for the race with only one easy allowance score in five months, finishing third. Dr. Fager, despite the slow early fractions and carrying 132 pounds, equaled Gun Bow’s track record of 1:59 3/5 for the mile and a quarter.

The next act came in the Brooklyn Handicap only 16 days later. This time Hedevar was healthy and back on his search-and-destroy mission. Dr. Fager now was carrying 135 pounds with Damascus toting 130. Hedevar, as expected, broke like a bullet, but there was no Dr. Fager eyeballing him. Baeza had a stranglehold on the Doc and let Hedevar scoot off to a clear lead through a half in :45 4/5. But down the backstretch he could no longer hold the headstrong Dr. Fager and had to let him go. The Doc roared by Hedevar and quickly opened a four-length lead in a rapid 1:09 4/5. That is a scorching pace going 1 1/4 miles under 135 pounds. Around the turn, Damascus, who had been far back this time, exploded with his patented rapid-fire acceleration. Like in the Woodward, he charged past Dr. Fager and drew off to win by 2 1/2 lengths. His time of 1:59 1/5 not only broke Dr. Fager’s short-lived track record, it still stands after 52 years.

That ended the heated Damascus-Dr. Fager rivalry. Hedevar actually would show up again against Dr. Fager in the Washington Park Handicap, this time on his own, and was trounced by the Doc. Despite carrying 134 pounds and being eased up the entire length of the stretch, winning by 10 lengths, Dr. Fager still was able to run the mile in a world record 1:32 1/5, a time that has still not been broken on dirt.

Now getting back to Buckpasser, it was his stablemate Impressive who set blazing fractions in the Hopeful and Champagne Stakes setting it up for Buckpasser’s late charge. In Buckpasser’s 3-year-old debut, a seven-furlong exhibition allowance race at Hialeah, Neloy also entered Impressive and another fast colt, Stupendous in the five-horse field. Impressive once again did his job, setting fast fractions, but someone forget to tell him not to keep going. He drew off to a four-length victory over Buckpasser in 1:21 4/5. Buckpasser would go on to win the remainder of his 13 starts at 3, so it was Impressive who prevented him from having an undefeated season. 

However, Impressive did pay Buckpasser back by cutting out scorching fractions of :43 3/5 and an insane six furlongs in 1:06 4/5 in the one-mile Arlington Classic, enabling Buckpasser to break the world record, which Dr. Fager broke two years later. Other than the ’67 Woodward, Buckpasser’s fleet-footed stablemates never really targeted one particular horse. They were in there to kill off anyone who happened to be near the lead and to make sure no one got loose to steal a race on Buckpasser. Impressive would go on to be champion sprinter that year.

One famous rabbit was Angle Light even though he most likely was not an intended rabbit at all for Secretariat in the 1973 Wood Memorial. His owner, Edwin Whitaker, always felt Angle Light could beat Secretariat, and it likely was because of him that Lucien Laurin ran both horses. But with the up and coming star Sham shipping in from California fresh off a victory in the Santa Anita Derby it surely would not hurt having the speedy Angle Light in there in case Sham and trainer Frank Martin had any visions of stealing the Wood. But as we all know, Secretariat was suffering from an abscess in his mouth and never fired. By the time Jorge Velasquez on Sham realized Secretariat was not a danger it was too late to catch the front-running Angle Light. Needless to say there has never been a grimmer looking person in the winner’s circle than Laurin after the Wood. Angle Light had done the job of a rabbit, but there was no one to take advantage of it.

Another successful rabbit punch came in the 2005 Woodward Stakes when trainer Rick Dutrow entered the recent $75,000 claim, Show Boot, a sprinter with good early speed, to run the brilliant Commentator into the ground for Saint Liam in a four-horse field. Commentator had just beaten Saint Liam with a front-running performance in the Whitney and Dutrow was not about to let that happen again. Show Boot did his job well and Saint Liam came along to pick up the pieces.

For every Hedevar, Impressive, Bold Nero, and Show Boot, there are rabbits who have failed miserably at their job, although it often was not of their doing. In the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup, trainer Laz Barrera entered Life’s Hope as a rabbit to kill off Seattle Slew for that year’s Triple Crown winner Affirmed, who had just been beaten by Slew in the Marlboro Cup. In that race, once Seattle Slew was allowed to get away with a :47 1/5 half Affirmed had no shot, especially when Slew flew home his final five-eighths in :58 4/5, covering the mile and an eighth in a blazing 1:45 4/5.

Now, stretching out to a mile and a half, Affirmed was going to need help. But no one apparently told him of the strategy. When Life’s Hope charged to the lead from the outside to engage Seattle Slew, there was Affirmed between the two of them battling head and head with not only Slew but his own rabbit. Steve Cauthen tried to pull back on the throttle and get Affirmed out of this mess, but when he did his saddle slipped costing Affirmed any shot of winning. The pace was brutal with a half in :45 1/5 and the three-quarters in 1:09 2/5. Despite that, Slew still battled back when headed by the late-running Exceller and was just nosed at the wire in one of the gamest performances of all time.

Then there was Todd Pletcher entering Eugene Melnyk’s mediocre sprinter Bishop Court Hill as a rabbit for Melnyk’s Travers winner Flower Alley in the 2005 Jockey Club Gold Cup. The move most likely came out of fear of the California invader Lava Man. Bishop Court Hill was another who did his job well, but unfortunately the horse he ran into the ground was Flower Alley, as the two battled eyeball to eyeball for the first three-quarters of a mile before Bishop Court Hill quickly retreated, followed by his stablemate. Lava Man also was victimized by the fast pace and faded badly, which enabled the other California invader Borrego to sweep to the lead from last place and draw off to a 4 1/2-length victory with Flower Alley beaten more than 15 lengths, done in by his own rabbit.

Bishop Court Hill was a son of Holy Bull, who was one horse that shrugged off a rabbit and went on to a gutsy victory in the 1994 Travers Stakes.

Trainer D. Wayne Lukas had his Preakness and Belmont winner Tabasco Cat in the Travers, but needed help up front to push Holy Bull, who was suspect at 1 1/4 miles, so he entered a rabbit named Comanche Trail to expose Holy Bull by pressuring him all the way. That he did, forcing Holy Bull to set brutal fractions of :22 4/5, :46 1/5, and 1:10 2/5. No Travers had ever won setting fractions that fast. Even though Tabasco laid a few lengths back, he couldn’t handle that quick a pace and backed out of it, leaving the big closer in the race, Concern, as the only threat to Holy Bull, who looked beaten when Concern came charging up and was right off his flank at the eighth pole. But Holy Bull wouldn’t quit. He dug in and held off Concern to win by a neck with a 17-length gap back to Tabasco Cat in third.

One of the strangest uses of a rabbit came in the 2005 Kentucky Derby when the rabbit and the horse he was supposed to help were trained by two different trainers. The big dilemma all trainers in the Derby had that year was how to beat the brilliant Bellamy Road who had won his two starts by 15 3/4 lengths and 17 1/2 lengths, the latter being the Wood Memorial in which his time of 1:47 flat earned him a monstrous 120 Beyer speed figure. 

Pletcher had a talented colt for Coolmore named Bandini, a six-length winner of the Blue Grass, as well as the aforementioned Flower Alley, winner of the Lane’s End Stakes and a well-beaten second to Afleet Alex in the Arkansas Derby. Patrick Biancone, meanwhile, had a lightning fast colt for Coolmore named Spanish Chestnut who had tired badly in the Lane’s End and Blue Grass, finishing up the track in both races. Biancone said at the time he wanted no part of the Derby, but whether it was through Pletcher’s prodding, as Biancone claimed, or strictly Coolmore’s decision, Spanish Chestnut was entered for the sole purpose of killing off Bellamy Road to help Bandini.

Spanish Chestnut, as expected, shot to the lead and set the fastest pace in Derby history, going :22 1/5, :45 1/5, and 1:09 2/5, eventually finishing 17th. That was enough to kill off Bellamy Road, who faded to seventh, but it also killed off Bandini, who was only 3 1/2 lengths off that torrid pace and wound up finishing 19th. Flower Alley also was cooked by the pace, which set it up for 50-1 shot Giacomo to rally from 18th for the victory.

Another unusual use of a rabbit occurred in the 1985 Jersey Derby at the new Garden State Park when Wayne Lukas used one to help a horse who wasn’t even in the race. Spend A Buck had just demolished his field in the Kentucky Derby, opening a big lead early and romping by 5 1/4 lengths, running the third fastest Derby in history. Instead of coming back in the Preakness, owner Dennis Diaz broke tradition and went for the Jersey Derby’s $1 million purse and $2 million bonus given to any horse who won the Cherry Hill Mile, Garden State Stakes, Kentucky Derby, and 1 1/4-mile Jersey Derby. Spend A Buck had won the first three by a total of 25 1/2 lengths and Diaz went for the big purse rather than pursue the Triple Crown, which caused a great deal of controversy.

Lukas, meanwhile, had won the Preakness with Tank’s Prospect a week before the Jersey Derby, and he figured if Spend A Buck had plans to come back in the Belmont Stakes he wanted to make sure he didn’t have an easy race in the Jersey Derby, so he entered a speedball named Huddle Up with the sole purpose of eyeballing Spend A Buck as long as he could and exhausting him to the point that it would knock him out for the Belmont.

Huddle Up did just that. He pressed Spend A Buck through brutal fractions of :22 4/5 :45 2/5 and 1:09 flat. Spend A Buck looked wobbly legged at the head of the stretch when Creme Fraiche slipped through on the inside to stick his head in front. But Spend A Buck kept battling and managed to eke out a gutsy neck victory in a three-horse photo. As it turned out, Lukas’ strategy worked, as Spend A Buck passed the Belmont, but Tank’s Prospect was eased in the race, pulling up with a career-ending injury, so it was all for nothing.

We don’t see rabbits as much as we used to, but you can bet when the occasion arises and you have a brilliantly fast horse appearing to be the only speed in a major race, some trainer will pull a rabbit out of his hat and toss him in the ring. It’s just the nature of the game.

1967 Woodward Program available for purchase, please inquire at

Leave a Reply

30 Responses to “The Greatest “Rabbit” Punches in Racing History”

  1. Paula Higgins says:

    Steve, my friend Dave alerted me to this great article. Sitting
    here in the hospital recovering from Covid. This was just what
    I needed. I just loved it. Featuring my great love the Doc (and the Deacon’s and Dave’s too) and your great love, Damascus, it doesn’t get better than this. It is as if you are actually there. Then of course the great Buckpasser. The greatest time in horse racing when you look at those decades. What a gift.

  2. Deacon says:

    RIP my sweet Goldikova, you were one of the greatest turf milers in horse racing history. You gave us so many great thrills.
    What an accomplishment, to win 3 BC Turf miles.

    • Paula Higgins says:

      Steve, my friend Dave alerted me to this great article. Sitting
      here in the hospital recovering from Covid. This was just what
      I needed. I just loved it. Featuring my great love the Doc (and the Deacon’s and Dave’s too) and your great love, Damascus, it doesn’t get better than this. It is as if you are actually there. Then of course the great Buckpasser. The greatest time in horse racing when you look at those decades.

      OMG Goldikova died. I have been so sick I missed this. Just heartbreaking.

  3. Matthew W says:

    Steve I know you’re getting ready for your Derby columns, there are three I have become enamored with—the recent maiden winner Roman Centurion, who came from well back and was moving away late—very impressive……Senor Buscador–who has freaked twice from Zenyatta-like closing tactics—both times paying 7/2 odds, from 15-1 morning lines….Hidden Stash—2 for 2 in two-turn races, his latest–the more I watch the race the more impressed I am, because he has much room for improvement–yet he won the race….Kentucky Derby winners are those types–horses who overcome.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I have all three in my Virtual stable. Senor Biscador will be ranked very high on the first Derby Rankings. Roman Centurian was very explosive. Hidden Stash hasnt worked since his last race so we’ll have to wait and see with him.

  4. Robert Goldberg says:

    Thanks for the great history lesson on an incredibly interesting topic

  5. Davids says:

    Pacemakers is one thing, the use of rabbits, for me, is poor sportsmanship and I loath seeing these tactics used. Whoopee, it took two horses to defeat the better horse.

    Something, even more abhorrent than using rabbits, is the more sophisticated use of ‘team tactics’ in a race. In recent years, without naming names, ‘team tactics’ have appeared to be in play in major races on both sides of the Atlantic. Stables with multiple runners can form a peloton and use this device, not only to control races, but to also block other competitors within the race. These tactics are against the spirit of the sport and hopefully, will be more than ‘frowned upon’ in the future.

    Steve, no matter how many times I read your retrospectives on the golden years of racing there is always a few more new golden nuggets to add to the folklore. Mind you, the defeat of Dr. Fagar, through the use of rabbits, is never ameliorated on repeat reading. Good stuff.

    • Marc M says:

      As a suoer Dr Fager fan who saw him run more than once.. keep in mind the 2nd time Dr Fager was beaten by Damascus.. even with Hedevar rabbiting him, he still gave Damascus 5 lbs and himself equaled the track record on 159 3.. so a better Dr fager in 1968 than 1967 still was able to run an extraordinary race

  6. Mary Ellen says:

    Those great races involving Dr. Fager, Damascus, and Buckpasser still thrill me today, especially in your retelling, Steve. Deacon said it best: we’ll never see racing like the 1960s and ’70s again.

  7. Deacon says:

    We will never see horse racing ever again like it was in the iconic 1960’s & 1970’s.
    The trainers of yesteryear wanted to beat the pants off each other.
    This trip down nostalgic lane was a gut wrenching reminder how great these horses were and how important the races were.
    Steve writes this blog with such eloquence giving us perhaps hope of a brighter horse racing future.
    Anytime I can read about these greats my heart skips a beat. Reading anything Steve just makes the reading more enjoyable. The respect I have for Steve is immeasurable, he was there. He covered these great races, great horses, jockeys & trainers alike.
    He knows how all of this stuff went down. Brilliant read maestro as always……

    Happy New Year

  8. Mike Sekulic says:

    I always enjoy these articles that reflect upon the halcyon days of racing. Good job!

  9. Nelson Maan says:

    Brilliant article! This topic really entails not only a profound knowledge of Horse Racing but also a great memory as well… Steve’s examples certainly support the notion that rabbits are sometimes truly relevant when seen through the crystal of a historian.

    Imagine the 1967 Woodward without those two rabbits… it would have let Dr. Fager to just dictate the terms of the race and most likely conserve enough energy to fend off the final assault of Damascus and Buckpasser. We can only theorize about Dr. Fager winning the “race of the Century” and getting Horse of the Year title that year but not about the damage done by Hedevar and Great Power.

    Even an all-time great like Citation got his own rabbit in the champion Coaltown.

    However, I sometimes think that some great horses like Seattle Slew are just “rabbit-proof” (as attested by his monumental performance in the 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup) … or Justify who was able to overcome Good Magic’s lethal pressure in the Preakness Stakes.

    We certainly don’t have those patrician stables of the past who could count on superior fast horses to help the cause of their stars with closing power. It is said that Buckpasser had as many as four rabbits: Impressive, Stupendous, Great Power and Poker (all Stakes winners). Even modern mega stables like Judmonte or Godolphin cannot boast those kind of Stakes horses assembled in one American season.

    Perhaps Chad Brown with a powerful and plentiful stable has the luxury of controlling the tempo of some grass races.
    I remember Judmonte assigning the task of rabbit to Inordinate for Flintshire in the 2016 Sword Dancer… Aaron Gryder opened the rail with Inordinate coming to the homestretch (fouling Roman Approval in the process) and Flintshire took the opening to win very easily. I am not sure if Flintshire needed a rabbit in the Sword Dancer but he subsequently lost his final two races: the Joe Hirsh to Ectot and the BC Turf to Highland Reel; both won going wire to wire in an uncontested fashion…
    Frosted was not a rabbit but did favor Keen Ice in the 2015 Travers. The brilliant gray miler did weaken American Pharoah by pushing him to run 23 flat and 23 3/5 for the 3rd and 4th quarters and the TC champion was only able to finish in 26 3/5 to complete the 1 ¼ mile. Not enough to repeal an astute Javier Castellano with Keen Ice in the last yard. However, American Pharoah’s only defeat in 2015 was most likely a case of the TC Champ being just exhausted coming into the Saratoga marquee race. Steve has mentioned many times the mileage accrued by the Pharoah during 2015. This perception is supported by Pharoah’s scintillating BC Classic two months after the Travers registering an astounding Beyer of 120.

    The last deep closer crossing the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby was Orb eight years ago. Palace Malice, sporting blinkers for the first time, became an unexpected rabbit in that Derby … was this proof that you need a very fast rabbit if you want your closer to win the Derby?

    • Matthew W says:

      Except ‘Slew didn’t win that race—-a real rabbit-proof horse was Spectacular Bid—who would settle back behind horses out of the gate—and make monster early moves up to the lead—and enter the stretch in front by many lengths—Bid defied racing logic, time and again—his only two-turn losses were twelve furlongs on dirt—every other two turn race was a big win, and a fast time—not too shabby for a horse who had a tendon hot-spot, and couldn’t train too hard……

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Yes Mathew… any great horse with The Bid aura of invincibility could be regarded as immune to any pacemaker or to any other adverse circumstance in any given race.

        This theme is indeed broad and interesting… one point is that sacrificial rabbits are not supposed to win but sometimes they raise above expectations. I.e. Sir Barton who was supposed to be the pacemaker for the highly regarded entry-mate Billy Kelly in the Kentucky Derby but the underdog not only breaks his maiden in the Derby but also goes on to win the Preakness and the Belmont. Pacesetters Impressive and Poker defeated favored Buckpasser in an Allowance and in the Bowling Green respectively.

        Again, horses from the Golden Era (Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, Spectacular Bid, Foolish Pleasure, Bold Forbes) would not need help from rabbits to win and no rabbit would deter them from winning even more.

        • Davids says:

          Nelson, I’ve never minded having pacemakers in a race as their aim is to prevent a dawdling, boring, race. Albeit, to ensure the pace is favorable to the superior runner from their stable. With rabbits, however, their aim is to deliberately ‘upset’ the normal running of a competitor in the race while at the same time deliberately attempting to assist the superior runner from their stable in winning a race. Always seems like cheating to me, or poor sportsmanship to say the least.

          Not sure if you have seen races in Europe where obvious ‘teams tactics’ are in play but it’s somewhat even worse than using rabbits.

        • Marc Mink says:

          Nelson,Bold Forbes was a barn burner.. he was a front runner so he would not have wanted rabbits.. still when Honest Pleasure ran with him in the Preakness, he was set up and lost to Elocutionist. Slew.. same thing.. he didnt need the rabbit to make the pace. Affirmed in fact needed a pacemaker when he lost the first time to Seattle Slew just as Bid needed one against Affirmed.. As great as Bid was especially as a 4 year old, i am not convinced he wanted to go head and head with anyone. Some believe he was just that superior so he didnt have to but when he did.. see Belmont/Coastal 1979 and later that year against Affirmed, he didnt really put up much of a fight.. if that means it was just a 4 year old Affirmed that made him look that way.. well that tells you just how great a horse Affirmed was. Also, Affirmed had Alydar.. who was not just a great horse, but he demolished any horse he ran against other than Affirmed for three years racing..and it was a great crop..even then as four year olds, Alydar was never going to finish ahead of Affirmed . Wisdom here is most horses including great ones, improve at 4 over 3.. not all..with Secretariat we will never know, but i suspect as he was so great the fall of his 3 year old year that he might have gotten even better..With Dr Fager, any horse that ever ran head and head with him would lose-period..In their first meeting, Damascus and Dr Fager.. Fager actually ceded the lead then went outside Damascus and outgamed him to the finish.. as to the Woodward 1967.. i will never believe that Buckpasser healthy, nor Dr Fager unimpeded, would have beaten Damascus that day.. much as i hate to admit it

      • Mike Sekulic says:

        SPECTACULAR BID was a perfect 24 for 24 in the 7 to 10 furlong range. As a 2 year old he lost at 5-1/2 and 6 furlongs, while his only other losses were the 3rd in The Belmont Stakes and the 2nd in the Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes, both at 12 furlongs.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Great stuff, Nelson. An excellent addition to the column. Also, I neglected to mention we had a rabbit as recent as last year’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile when Jackie’s Warrior was killed off by Keepmeinmind’s rabbit.

    • Davids says:

      Good post, Nelson. With reference to a closer’s aptitude in winning the Kentucky Derby, I would also throw in the size of the field as another reason for the closer’s lack of success in winning. Trying to avoid a dozen or so colts who are heading the wrong direction is no doubt infuriating for the jockeys.

      The mantra of shortening the number of runners in the Derby is a vain hope but you can always wish for a better race.

  10. Toni Earl says:

    Can a horse be his own rabbit? I think Secretariat was in the Belmont Stakes. According to Bill Nack, during the race, everyone thought he and Sham were cooking themselves in the early going – that neither of them could win.
    I sometimes think that Secretariat was very smart and figured out Sham’s top speed during the stretch run of the Derby; overtook him on the clubhouse turn of the Preakness (not Turcotte’s idea) and then settled down to Sham’s top speed, staying 2 1/2 lengths in front, preventing him from catching him; and then cooked Sham in the first 6f of the Belmont. I know that’s crazy thinking, but I think mythological creatures such as Secretariat are expected to have magical powers.

  11. Matthew W says:

    They also used to employ rabbits for human races—I believe Roger Bannister used a couple of rabbits when he ran the world’s first 4-minute mile….

  12. Matthew Wohlken says:

    Charles Whittingham used a rabbit for the 1972 Big Cap—against some tough as nails four year olds named Unconscious and Triple Bend—for his Cougar II….but the plan failed when Buzkashi ran over the temporary railing and ran through the Santa Anita infield—The Big Cat was beaten a nose by Triple Bend, who inherited the lead that would have been Buzkashi’s.

  13. Jo Yuhnke says:


    Another great article. Loved watching Angle Light.

  14. Porgy Kowalski says:

    If I ever have the money Rick Dutrow will be my trainer and Steve Haskin will be a minority owner as a gift. Rick Dutrow is a far superior trainer and treats his horses way better than most and did far less damage than many trainers who have never been punished. A travesty of a suspension. Great article Steve and it really got me thinking about Dutrow.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much. Rick did indeed get shafted in a disgraceful act. Suspended is one thing but 10 years is a black eye.