Secretariat

The Forgotten Horse Who Nearly Saved The Meadow

The Derby Rankings take a break this week as we look back fifty years ago, when history was almost changed by a horse whose name has faded over time. But for a brief period in the winter and spring of 1972, it was Upper Case who looked to be the one who was going to help save one of America’s most iconic racing and breeding operations. ~ Steve Haskin

The Forgotten Horse Who Nearly Saved The Meadow

By Steve Haskin

If there’s one thing we can take from this year’s overall Kentucky Derby picture it is the number of top trainers who have had multiple serious contenders on the Derby trail. We’re talking about Steve Asmussen with Epicenter and Morello, Kenny McPeek with Smile Happy, Rattle N Roll, and Tiz the Bomb, Bob Baffert/Tim Yakteen with Taiba and Messier, Chad Brown with Zandon and Early Voting, Brad Cox with Cyberknife and Zozos, and of course Todd Pletcher with Mo Donegal, Charge It. Pioneer of Medina, and Emmanuel. Some of these have recently fallen off the Derby trail while others are about to.

There is no doubt that a majority of the contenders come from a select few barns run by America’s leading trainers.

It is interesting to envision the different scenarios than can unfold on Derby Day just from these half-dozen trainers. Many of the scenarios we have seen before throughout the history of the Kentucky Derby.

We have had trainers with multiple Derby horses left with nothing on the first Saturday in May and we have had trainers who saddled as many as five horses in the Derby. Nick Zito and Todd Pletcher saddled five horses (in 2005 and 2007, respectively) and none of them finished in the money.

There were Triple Crown winners who had stakes-winning stablemates in the Derby – Citation and Coaltown, Secretariat and Angle Light, and American Pharoah and Dortmund.

On several occasions we have had the Derby won by the weaker half of the entry – Real Quiet over Indian Charlie, Charismatic over Cat Thief, and Cannonade over Judger. And there was 24-1 Thunder Gulch beating Timber Country and Serena’s Song.

And finally we come to the scenario that pertains to this story, and that is a stable with two strong contenders on the Derby trail who had one not make it to the race but winning it with the other horse.

We have seen that with Devil’s Bag and Swale, Gen. Duke and Iron Liege, Eskendereya and Super Saver, McKinzie and Justify, and Life is Good and Medina Spirit (yes I am including Medina Spirit). In each case it was the stable’s big horse that failed to make the Derby only to have either the lesser regarded of the two or the horse who came on the scene late emerge victorious.

Racing researchers can look all these up or go strictly by memory. But there was one prominent horse on the Derby trail who over the years has been totally forgotten and even researchers would have to stumble upon him by accident to remember him, and even then have only a vague collection of him.

But this was a horse who at one point on the Derby trail looked as if he might be the savior of one of America’s leading breeding and racing operations. However, it was his stablemate who proved to be the savior of the farm and is a member of racing’s Hall of Fame.

Going into 1971, the once powerful Meadow Stable was in decline as its owner and founder Christopher Chenery lay in a hospital bed, his faculties diminishing each year. That is when his daughter Penny Tweedy was summoned from her home in Denver, Colorado to help save the farm on which she grew up.

That year, Meadow Stable unleashed a brilliant 2-year-old son of First Landing named Riva Ridge. It was their first big horse since the heroics of champion filly Cicada in the early ‘60s. By the end of the year, Riva was the overwhelming 2-year-old champion, winning the Flash, Futurity, Champagne, Pimlico-Laurel Futurity and Garden State Stakes, becoming the early favorite for the Kentucky Derby, a race that had eluded Meadow Stable, who had come close in 1950, finishing second with eventual Preakness and Jockey Club Gold Cup winner and Horse of the Year Hill Prince.

All eyes were on Riva Ridge as the 1972 season began. It didn’t look as if there was a 3-year-old around who was as fast and classy as Meadow’s gazelle-like colt with the loppy ears. Riva was given a four-month layoff over the winter and wouldn’t be seen again until the seven-furlong Hibiscus Stakes at Hialeah on March 22. During his absence, trainer Lucien Laurin sent out a regally bred colt by Round Table, out of Bold Experience, a granddaughter of Meadow’s foundation mare Hildene, by Bold Ruler named Upper Case, who ran well, but didn’t exactly set the world on fire, running in four allowance races at Gulfstream Park in January and February, three of them on grass, with two victories and two seconds. As a 2-year-old, he had a win and a second in four starts, so he was never mentioned in the same breath as Riva Ridge. As March rolled around, he had yet to compete in a stakes race despite having made eight starts.

The colt’s main problem was that he had a breathing issue, having lunged at the starting gate as a youngster hitting himself just about the nose, damaging his sinuses. From that day on he would be fine some days and others he would “choke up,” as jockey Ron Turcotte described it, losing his air.

On March 2, with Riva Ridge still in the barn, Upper Case finally made his stakes debut, rallying from sixth to win the Florida Derby by a length. Just like that, Meadow Stable had a powerful one-two punch with this latecomer having a pedigree and running style almost guaranteeing he would have no problem getting the mile and a quarter of the Kentucky Derby.

“I had to beg Lucien to run him in the Florida Derby, Turcotte recalled, “He kept saying no, that he felt he was a grass horse and wanted to keep him on the grass. But my agent and I kept after him telling him the horse was doing so good he deserved to be in the race. Lucien also felt he had a Derby horse in Spanish Riddle, who he also ran in the Florida Derby, but we beat him.”

Laurin decided to run Upper Case back only nine days later in the nine-furlong Flamingo Stakes and he finished a well-beaten second to Hold Your Peace in a sharp 1:48 2/5. Although he was beaten he still was considered a leading Derby contender who would get better with the added distance,

Eleven days later, on March 22, Riva Ridge finally made his 3-year-old debut, easily winning the seven-furlong Hibiscus Stakes in a quick 1:22 4/5. Now that Riva had shown he had made an excellent transition from 2 to 3 and was the same brilliant colt he was the year before the future was starting to look bright for The Meadow. Penny had come, had seen, and had conquered in a short period of time and was now the face of the operation.

However, on April 1, Riva Ridge went off at 3-5 in the Everglades Stakes and couldn’t handle the sloppy track, finishing a disappointing fourth, beaten nearly six lengths. Questions began to arise whether it was the slop that got him beat or whether it was the mile and an eighth. Did the colt have too much speed to handle the mile and a quarter?

Laurin then sent Upper Case to New York to point for the Wood Memorial. But instead of waiting six weeks between the Flamingo and Wood he dropped the colt back to a one-turn mile in the Gotham Stakes. At the eighth pole he was way back in eighth, 6 ½ lengths off the lead, but closed like a rocket to finish third, beaten 1 ½ lengths.

That set him up perfectly for the Wood Memorial. Laying close to the pace this time over a sloppy track, he took the lead on the far turn, opened up a four-length lead at the eighth pole, and was not urged the rest of the way by Turcotte, winning under a hand ride by 1 ½ lengths over Darby Dan’s classy, late-running True Knight, who would go to a productive career, eventually defeating Forego in the Suburban Handicap.

“We went to the front early and he just galloped home,” Turcotte said. “He looked as if he was going to be our big Derby horse.”

Racing fans and the media also started wondering if it was Upper Case and not Riva Ridge who was Meadow’s main Derby hope. He had already won two of the biggest mile and an eighth races on the Derby trail, had the right running style and the breeding to run all day, and all Riva had to show for himself at that point was a victory going seven furlongs and a fourth-place finish in his only start at 1 1/8 miles.

But when Riva Ridge bounced back and easily won the Blue Grass Stakes by four lengths, he eased a lot of fears and once again became the Derby favorite. Laurin decided to go with only Riva in the Derby and point Upper Case for the Preakness.

Riva went on to score a decisive victory at Churchill Downs, giving the Meadow its most important victory since it was founded by Chenery in 1936. He took the lead early and never looked back, winning in hand by 3 ¼ lengths over the late-running No Le Hace, winner of the Louisiana and Arkansas Derbys.

A week Later, Upper Case ran in the Preakness Prep, but he went right to lead and tired at the head of the stretch, as his breathing problem acted up. At the finish, he was fifth, beaten 5 ½ lengths, by the improving Key to the Mint.

Then came the Preakness a week later, and when heavy rains turned the track into a quagmire it was Upper Case who Laurin scratched and not Riva Ridge, despite the latter having run poorly in the slop in the Everglades and Upper Case having won the Wood in the slop.

“I asked Lucien and Penny why would they scratch Upper Case and not Riva Ridge, and Lucien said he wasn’t convinced Riva didn’t like the slop,” Turcotte said. And having already won the Derby so easily there was the Triple Crown beckoning.

This is where the careers of both colts took dramatic turns. Riva as everyone knows, went on to a Hall of Fame career, but Upper Case continued to be plagued by his breathing problems. After a terrible performance in the Jersey Derby, in which he “choked up” again according to Turcotte, he was sold to a group from Ireland for breeding purposes for $750,000 because of his strong pedigree. They continued to race him, but in his next seven starts he finished out of the money in six of them. He managed to win an allowance race on the grass at Belmont in late September when they shortened him up to seven furlongs and the breathing was not a problem.

At the end of 1972 Upper Case was retired to stud in Ireland where he sired a few good horses. But for Americans, he quickly became a forgotten horse with his name fading into obscurity over the years.

“He was a tough horse, especially to gallop” Turcotte said. “But when he was able to get his air he could really run. He was a very good colt and at one point we thought he was the big horse.”

Now, 50 years later, the story of Upper Case can be told, about how for a few months in 1972 he was the horse who was going to help save The Meadow. Of course, it was all a prelude to the following year when a big red horse came along to elevate himself and The Meadow into immortality.


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91 Responses to “The Forgotten Horse Who Nearly Saved The Meadow”

  1. Rob Whiteley says:

    Many thanks for another beautifully crafted preservation of important racing history.

  2. Beth Koch says:

    I knew a lot (so I thought) about Meadow Stable, but not about Upper Case. Great story; there are so many great horses that just missed being legends for one crazy reason or another.

    And thanks, Steve, for adding Medina Spirit to your list of KY Derby winners who won when their stablemate couldn’t – after all is said and done, personally, I still include him in the list.

    I don’t post comments on anything very much, but I have added a few regarding your articles here and there over the years, and I just recently re-read your books on John Henry and Dr. Fager. Speaking as someone who had a 40-year career in writing, I so appreciate your beautiful prose. Modern writers could learn a lot from you.

  3. Rick Capone says:

    Riva Ridge is still my all-time favorite racehorse. I had heard about Upper Case, but did not know his story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  4. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    I had a moment of weakness last week. flip-flopping trying to find a price horse, rather than taking what the race is giving.

    I’m back to Epicenter and Mo Donegal, my original picks.

    Really think Zandon is going to be the clear favorite, maybe 3-1. Hoping for 9-2 on Epi.

    • Matthew W says:

      Epicenter will be the favorite….

      • Since Lil E. Tee says:

        Because of Mattress Mac money? Zandon has recency bias, striking visual prep, best workout, best looking, here’s the talk of all the racing sites. Everything points to Zandon imo. Except maybe mattress money. 🙂

        • Matthew W says:

          I don’t think Mattress MacMillan bet enough to make the favorite…I just think Epicenter easily beat Zandon and then he easily won the LA Derby, is all…not saying Zandon isn’t good, saying Epicenter, whom I’m going to try and beat. …will go off the race favorite!

  5. Suzie Thompson says:

    Loved this article about Upper Case. I had never heard of him. Thanks, Steve, for writing this article.

  6. AMY HURLEY says:

    Thanks, Steve, I thoroughly enjoyed this. I must admit I had never heard of Upper Case. Good momentary side trip from this year’s Derby Trail – but still looking forward to the final columns and picks next week!

  7. Matthew W says:

    Santa Anita suffered its 4th horse death, and it led this morning’s local news..times have changed….

  8. Matthew W says:

    When we were kids our dad used to make up contests, all about picking sports games and horse races…he moved us from the Bay Atea to SoCal, because the company he worked for was moving….well his company shut down after only one month, and my brother and I had to get paper routes, and our dad did, too–a bigger auto route, for the LA Times, brother and I had bike routes, for the Santa Ana Register, I worked my bum off for $58/month, and that included COLLECTING, at night…a 10 year old going door to door with a pocket full of money—another time, for sure…..

    So we all had some money, and one day my dad said “Want to see the world’s fastest horse”?…and that was at Los Alamitos, where the Great Quarter Horse Kaweah Bar raced, he was called “The Palomino Express “…my very first wager was on a Quarter Horse named Mr Mars Bar, and he won….my dad said that might be a bad omen, beginner’s luck—-It began a lifetime of looking at past performances, and the intrigue of trying to find the keys to a race—

    My parents divorced, and one night with my mon at the smoky Los Al Clubhouse I met Mr Ward, in his 3 piece suit and hat–and web-based goodfriends, me a tall skinny 13 year old, he 94 year old Black man who thought I was a grown up man! Always calling me sir, I would come up to his home in Inglewood, where his daughter (64 years old) would make me an early breakfast and drive me to thehorseman’s gate at Hollywood Park, where an old trainer named Kieth would drive me in, and I’d spend weekend mornings inside the carnival world of Horse Racing, mostly listening to Kieth and his stories, and feeding Ancient Title sugar cubes, twice with Charlie Whittingham, I told Charlie ‘Title was my favorite horse and he just said “mine too”, even though he didn’t train him he loved his heart!

    I really only stayed at Mr Ward’s house 5 or 6 times, because he became infirm, but I remember those days as the best days, even though my home life had deteriorated, and I was growing up too soon….when I bet on a horse it’s fun, and it’s also supporting that inner world of Horse Racing, and the people who inhabit it.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Loved that story. Thank you for sharing.

    • Since Lil E. Tee says:

      What an awesome dad, and cool story Matthew.

    • John Goggin says:

      Matthew W-yep, remember Kaweah Bar. In fact, there is another commentator on horse racing sites with the internet name of Travel Vic that said Kaweah Bar was the fastest QH he’s ever seen race….I believe Travel Vic used to work up at the old Cloverdale Race Track in BC….I believe that it is now called Hastings Park….for me I’m partial to Dash For Cash and Tolltac.
      Speaking of newspapers in the LA area do you remember Professor Gordon Jones that used to offer his picks in the now defunct Los Angeles Hearld Examiner for years in the 60’s and 70’s?

      • Matthew W says:

        I saw Kaweah Bar race several times, and he never won! I saw his final race. A 550 yard straitaway dash, in the deepest mud I ever saw, and he was 5 lengths behind the pack, as he was being walked back I stare he was smiling, he was always happy! Another time I was in the dusty Los Al stables, which were easy to go into, there were no guards…and some cowboy said “Ya wanna see something funny”??? And there were five or six guys, all having a beer, and Kaweah Bar was drinking one ALL BY HIMSELF,holding it and twisting his head sideways and chugging it! Kaweah was sold for $10k after that, and was to he ridden in a big parade in Idaho, and raced one final time, but he flipped back in his trailer and had a heart attack, is buried at Los Al, and it was a sad ending, he was DONE, they should have made him an outsider at Los Al, or something….
        Dusty rows of barns, and then the all-green grassy D Wayne Lukas shed rows, with sod brought in and his big green and white Lukas signs, the guy went first class! Also knew Prof Jones, and I think he is still with us, close to 100 by now….Prof Jones was always running around interviewing trainers, and such, and a good guy!

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Talk about an introduction to horse racing! That story is magical, Matthew W!

  9. Since Lil E. Tee says:

    Since this week’s article is a look back in time, what’s your history of how you got into horse racing?

    I grew up in Foster City, CA very close to Bay Meadows racetrack. As a kid I could see the horses warm up on the practice track in the mornings as we drove to my parents tailor shop for a day of work.

    A friend of the family took us to Bay Meadows to watch the races for the first time, I was probably 10? I called so many winners that day, just picking names that jumped out at me from the racing program. I remember the first winner was #2 Demolition Derby and the last was #9 Grandma Bojack. I swear I thought I had esp from that moment on. Soon after, I somehow caught Sam Spears on tv replaying the races for the day, and I was hooked. Watching the Bay Meadows racing report every day, trying to predict winners, again by their names.

    Jump to high school, we started playing golf in the Bay Meadows infield (9-hole course). And hung out in the grandstands at night doing what kids do. I started going to the last few races each day regularly (admission was free late in the day) and started betting small. There was nothing I looked forward to more than the newspaper with the racing entries for the day and the one-liner comments for each horse like “mows em down in the lane” and “sitting on a biggie”.

    Right after college I got my first job in Bay Meadows marketing. I also worked for Xpressbet on track at Bay Meadows and Golden Gate Fields. I no longer work in racing, but it’s still in my blood. I love the horses. I love the challenge of picking winners. And I have enjoyed Steve’s columns forever, year after year.

    Maybe I just wrote all of this for myself lol. It was fun to think back and remember the journey. 🙂

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you for sharing that; i love hearing how people got hooked on racing. It sure is in your blood

    • Liam says:

      Since Lil E. Tee – What a terrific post. Thank you. Reading through got me thinking of my early experiences going to the track. 1st off, seeing the name Grandma’s Bojack was a smile indeed. I grew up not too far from Los Alamitos so I remember him well from my youth. He was a hard knocking Quarter Horse who won often. I have an older brother who fortunately for me, let me tag along with him to the track on occasions. I can recall my first bet he ever made for me. It was a sure bet. I bet a horse to show named, Twofortheshow. He ran 3rd and I won .20 cents. I believe that’s the last show bet I have ever made.

      Secondly, my junior high school english teacher was a thoroughbred horse owner and it was then that my interest was sparked from the Quarter Horses onto the Thoroughbred game. Her family raced claimers at Santa Anita at the time. It wasn’t until we had a substitute teacher one day for that class and he would answer all my questions regarding the track. His name was Craig Lewis. When he became an established trainer I got to tour the backside and see his barn of horses. Something I’ll never forget.

  10. Jeff says:

    Thanks Steve appreciate all that you do. I can read these stories every single day. It takes me to a therapeutic place. Thanks again, truly…

  11. Mike Relva says:

    Good news regarding CC.

  12. Matthew W says:

    Mike Smith says the new 20 horsr gate is a tight fit, for bigger animals….said he thought it cost Midnight Bourbon, coming out of there…

  13. Paul Revere says:

    You mentioned First Landing (“Lazy Bones”), who was quite a story himself. Champion 2 year old with almost 800K in earnings. I have original photos of Arcaro in the Meadow silks expressing his disappointment not winning the Kentucky derby in 1959.

  14. Larry Buzby says:

    Steve. Great column. As I’ve said before, I love the history and it’s great to have someone writing about it. I remember Upper Case, but not the whole story. Thanks for filling us in.

  15. Matthew W says:

    I guess you’re not ranking them this week cuz you have not changed your opinions? Cyberknife worked g old last week but Saturday’s penultimate work looked pretty good, for a horse who has been flighty, at the least—-Flo-Geax said he really woke up in thar Fairgrounds race, and has-been on an upward trajectory since—he has natural speed, three year olds can and do make form jumps, as they grow—and this guy still has room for improvement—just one more question, in an intriguing Kentucky Derby puzzle!

  16. Matthew W says:

    I remember Upper Case, all right, the 1969 filly crop was better than the colors, Brilliant Numbered Account—and Hooper’s big and strong and sound Susan’s Girl! She ran on both coasts, and she was always a top mare!

    • Matthew W says:

      Colts, not Colors, my cheapo phone!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Dont forget Summer Guest

      • Matthew W says:

        Steve you MUST remember a 3yo filly, in 1973….looked like an Aardvark, head leaning way forward….Cal-bred named Windy’s Daughter—won the Acorn….won the Mother Goose by a diminishing nose, and there was talk about possibly TWO Triple Crown winners, that year….except NOBODY thought Windy could win the Coaching Club American Oaks, and she didnt…..but she WAS one of Secretariat’s first girlfriends……

    • Larry Buzby says:

      That was indeed a great crop of Fillies1

  17. TommyMc says:

    A terrific and interesting story. I didn’t start following horse racing until 1973 and have never heard of Upper Case. Riva Ridge is usually mentioned in most stories about Secretariat. I had forgotten that Nick Zito ran 5 horses in the 2005 Derby. Mr. Zito rarely shows up in the entries now and seems in semi-retirement. I think that it’s good that Steve Haskin reminds us that trainers with multiple entries has been happening for many years and that we shouldn’t panic about the apparent trend of having “mega-trainers” controlling the sport.

  18. EddieF says:

    All that I remembered about Upper Case was that he was among the giant photographs of Florida Derby winners at the “old” Gulfstream Park (maybe it was the photo at the top of this piece), and that I saw his name in pedigrees not too often. We’re thankful to have at this site the premier racing historian bringing these wonderful animals of the past to life!

  19. Derek Manthey says:

    Steve, I love when you breakout your way back machine. The only thing I can say is that it makes me feel young again!

  20. Profsdottir says:

    Thank you, Steve, for a very enjoyable and informative article. A horse I owned some years back had Upper Case in his dam’s family via his son Flying Pidgeon, a very tough, durable, always-shows-up G1-winning turf horse.Except, alas, for the G1 wins, those traits seemed to be passed along to his offspring. Flying Pidgeon looks to have been Upper Case’s most successful offspring, and after his stud career, he ended his days at Old Friends. Thanks for the memories!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thats great. I remember Flying Pidgeon well

      • Deacon says:

        Great read Steve, I had totally forgotten about him. To this day I always have heard that Riva Ridge saved Meadow Stable. Of course Secretariat didn’t hurt the cause.

        I don’t remember Flying Pidgeon but I remember a nice west coast filly named Pink Pidgeon.

        Thanks for 15 plus weeks of the Derby Rankings. You haven’t lost a beat.

        I would nominate you as a National Treasure if I knew how. You are horse racings premier expert.

        Hope you win some money on Saturday..

        God Bless

  21. Navycounsel says:

    Great story from the glory days with the greatest of the great from horse racing. I never knew of Upper Case. It was great to see the names of the all-time preps. I lived not far from Garden State Park.

  22. Lynda King says:

    Thank you Steve.
    Never knew about Upper Case and here I am thinking that I knew a lot about The Meadow.
    I always get a bit sentimental and nostalgic when I read stories about those “Glory Days” of horse racing from 50 plus years ago and long for their return.

  23. Ms Blacktype says:

    Great story, Steve! I remember being so impressed by Upper Case in the Florida Derby and was very confused by his absence in the Derby. Duh, never realized he and Riva were kept a part because they were from the same stable until now, just as 7.5 Furlongs said. Sports Illustrated had a great picture of Upper Case showing his heels to the runner up (Spanish Riddle, I presume) in entering the stretch in the Florida Derby. Such a gorgeous horse.

  24. 7.5 Furlongs says:

    Steve Haskin-

    Thanks for the article on Riva Ridge and Upper Case. Didn’t know that Upper Case was a Meadow Stable colt. Have seen his name in articles and pedigree analysis, but never put two and two together. Enjoy stories about Riva Ridge, maybe even more than those about his more famous stablemate. The 1970s was a great decade for horse racing. So many stars came alive. There was less politics and less commercialism in those years. It was a pure, enjoyable sport. As were the 1960s.

    Thanks for the Meadow Stable article.

    7.5 Furlongs

  25. Mike Relva says:

    Wonderful read Mr. Haskin. Bravo!

    • Alysheba says:

      Great story Steve. Kind of reminds me of Alysheba’s journey to the 87 derby. He had numerous ailments early on that year and didn’t make his first prep until March that year. And then when he did run in the Blue Grass, he got disqualified for interference and everyone fell off his bandwagon after that. But not me and you know how that story went on that first Saturday in May.