Riva Ridge Maiden Win was ‘Key” to Lasting Rivalry

Wednesday, June 23 marks the 50th anniversary of Riva Ridge’s maiden victory, which turned out to be the beginning of a Hall of Fame career as well of one of racing’s great rivalries. ~ Steve Haskin

Riva Ridge Maiden Win was ‘Key’ to Lasting Rivalry

By Steve Haskin


June 23, 1971 was just another Wednesday at Belmont Park. There certainly was nothing to indicate that 50 years later I would be writing a column on the anniversary of this day. There were no stakes being run and no horses of any major significance were on the card. And writing a column, or anything for that matter, would have never entered my mind considering I was not a writer. I had recently been promoted from assistant librarian to head librarian at the Morning Telegraph after the previous head librarian left to join the advertising department.

My two days off were Wednesday and Sunday. There was no Sunday racing back then, so Wednesday was the only day for me to go to the track. Because of my work schedule I wasn’t able to be among the record crowd at Belmont Park three weeks earlier to witness Canonero II’s attempt to become the first Triple Crown winner since Citation in 1948.

Before I offer an explanation why this particular Wednesday was so important and why it warranted a 50-year anniversary column I have to go back to my introduction to racing in 1967 when a friend of a friend told me about an up-and-coming young horse that he was following named Damascus and also turned me on to his favorite all-time horse Graustark, who with his sire Ribot were standing at stud at Darby Dan Farm. It was that person who exposed me to this new exciting world and I Immediately became obsessed with racing. Knowing nothing about it, I naturally latched on to both his horses. They became my new sports heroes and literally changed my life, which is a story I have told before.

I dug up everything I could find on Graustark’s racing career and fervently followed his and Ribot’s offspring and even traveled to Darby Dan twice in 1969, the first time taking a bus from New York, to visit both stallions, as well as Damascus at Claiborne Farm. But most of all I wanted to see Graustark’s yearling full-brother, later to be named His Majesty. Yes, I was 22 years old, but when it came to horses I was a starstruck 12-year-old who had been exposed to a wondrous new world.

In the winter of 1968 I had started a scrapbook on Ribot’s promising son Arts and Letters, my new favorite horse who was owned by Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stable, and as a result I also became a big fan of Rokeby’s great grass champion Fort Marcy.

With that background firmly established we can return to June 23, 1971. What made that day special at the time was the career debut of a son of Graustark, who was owned by Rokeby Stable and was also a half-brother to Fort Marcy. His name was Key to the Mint and he had all the elements to become my next favorite horse and racing’s new young star.

It was obvious the word was out on Key to the Mint, who was made the 4-5 favorite, but I couldn’t understand why another colt in the field named Riva Ridge was only 2-1, having finished seventh, beaten 15 lengths, in his career debut two weeks earlier. He had been bumped in his first race and was getting blinkers on, so I could only surmise by his low odds that his stable and the savvy New York bettors were still high on him and that his first race was a throwout.

But I have to admit I paid little attention to Riva Ridge because of his dismal debut. Key to the Mint, however, was all class with near flawless conformation to go along with his royal pedigree, and this surely looked like it would be his coming out party. I made my way along the fence behind the saddling stalls to get a good photo of Graustark’s son, knowing there was a good chance he would be a major player in the 2-year-old division and a long-range prospect for the classics. He certainly looked the part with his rich bay coat, and much to my delight he provided a slight arch of the neck to add a regal touch to my one and only photo.

Little was I aware, however, of the importance of this race to Riva Ridge’s owner Meadow Stable. While Rokeby Stable was thriving with back-to-back Horses of the Year in Arts and Letters and Fort Marcy and a budding superstar in Europe named Mill Reef, Meadow Stable was on the decline and no longer the dominant force they were in the 1950s and early ‘60s with champions Hill Prince, First Landing, and Cicada. Owner and founder Christopher Chenery was ill and had been in the hospital since 1968 and becoming senile. Several family members wanted to sell the farm and horses, which were no longer profitable, but Chenery’s daughter, Penny Tweedy, a housewife with four children in Colorado, fought to keep the operation going for her father’s sake in the hope of seeing him live out his dream of winning the Kentucky Derby. She slowly attempted to build up the stable, first firing trainer Casey Hayes and then hiring Roger Laurin, who had the job a short while before taking over as trainer for the powerful Phipps family. Roger recommended his father, Lucien, who was in the process of retiring after a successful career training for Claiborne Farm and winning the Belmont Stakes with Reginald Webster’s Amberoid in 1966.

The Meadow’s best horse in 1969 and ’70, Hydrologist, had won the Excelsior, Discovery, and Stymie Handicaps, and placed in a number of major stakes in his 50 career starts, but Penny needed a much bigger splash than that to keep her family at bay and the Meadow operation going. She needed an exciting and brilliant young colt who could command the headlines and hopefully take her ailing 84-year-old father to the Kentucky Derby winner’s circle, at least in spirit, before he died. Only then could she make a case to keep the farm and racing stable going.

Riva Ridge, a half-brother to Hydrologist, by First Landing, looked to be their best chance despite his disappointing debut. Although this was only a maiden race, it would help determine whether Meadow Stable had a potential star, as they hoped, or another bust. A big improvement off his first start was expected, but was the colt talented enough to defeat this highly regarded Rokeby Stable colt that was being bet down to odds-on favorite? This would be Penny’s glimpse into the future. Would her efforts be in vain? Was she about to see the empire her father built and devoted his life to crumble or would some miracle horse come along and help save the farm just like in the movies?

A 2-year-old maiden sprint was not going to answer those questions, but it sure would be a good start and at least provide some much needed optimism. But first Riva Ridge had to improve many lengths off his debut and defeat one of the most highly touted 2-year-olds of the year.

Riva Ridge, breaking from post 2, got the jump on Key to the Mint, who came out of post 5 in the eight-horse field. The Meadow colt held on to a narrow half-length lead through an opening quarter in :22 3/5. But nearing the head of the stretch Key to the Mint stuck his head in front. Penny soon would find out what her colt was made of and whether or not he was the horse they were hoping for. Down the stretch, Riva Ridge, under jockey Chuck Baltazar, began to draw clear, opening a two-length lead at the eighth pole. He continued to pour it on, winning by 5 ½ lengths, with the Key to the Mint finishing 3 ½ lengths ahead of the third horse.

It took just a minute and five seconds for Penny Tweedy and Meadow Stud to see a ray of hope for the future. Penny now knew she had a colt who was fast, classy, and talented enough to crush one of the leading prospects in the country. All he had to do now was show he could carry his speed longer distances and prove he was classic material. But that was still a long way off. Right now he was just a very fast 2-year-old with good early speed.

No one could have predicted at the time that this little 5 ½-furlong maiden race would prove to be the launching pad to two championships and two classic victories for Riva Ridge, including the Kentucky Derby, a championship for Key to the Mint, and a stirring three-year rivalry between the two colts who would face each other 10 times. Ironically, this would be the only time they would finish first and second.

Christopher Chenery would pass away on January 3, 1973. He lived long enough to realize his dream of winning the Kentucky Derby, but would never know that his newly turned 3-year-old Secretariat would go on to set new standards of greatness and become one of the most iconic athletes in the history of American sports, and that his daughter would become the First Lady of the Turf and one of its most beloved figures.

As for Key to the Mint, he would bounce back from his defeat two weeks later at Aqueduct, breaking his maiden by two lengths in the exact same time of 1:05. The future surely looked bright for both colts. Two days after Key to the Mint’s victory, Riva Ridge showed up in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race. Looking back now, people might not understand running a promising young colt in three straight 5 ½-furlong races. Did Laurin feel he was more of a sprinter than a classic horse? But in those days good 2-year-olds ran early and often worked their way up through the sprints and then point for the 6 ½-furlong Hopeful and Futurity Stakes in August and September.

All I knew was this time I was going to get a better look at the colt who vanquished Key to the Mint with such authority. So off I went to Aqueduct. I took my usual spot on the clubhouse side of the paddock, right near the entrance where I could get a good close-up look at the horses as they entered from the track. When Riva Ridge walked into the paddock it was as if my camera lifted itself up, placed him in the viewfinder, and snapped the shutter on its own. I was too busy being captivated by this colt, who had such an appealing look about him. He was unlike any horse I had ever seen. As he entered the paddock he looked directly at me, his lop ears jutting out like airplane wings. He had these soft kind eyes that made an instant connection and I knew right then that he and Key to the Mint would share equal space in my heart.

But there was no way I could have known that this lanky, amiable-looking 2-year-old with the funny ears would one day become the savior of the once powerful Meadow Stud, at least until Secretariat stormed on the scene and into racing lore.

Riva would make it two in a row in the allowance race, carving out rapid fractions of :21 4/5 and :45 1/5 before drawing off to a four-length victory over the quick-footed Wheatley Stable colt Big Bluffer in 1:04 1/5.

Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint would hook up again, but not before both had lost some of their luster. Any thoughts of Riva being Meadow Stable’s next big classic horse all but evaporated when he was forced to steady in the Great American Stakes and faded to eighth as the 6-5 favorite, while Key to the Mint could only finish third, also as the 6-5 favorite, in a 5 ½-furlong allowance race. But both colts bounced back impressively with Riva Ridge winning the six-furlong Flash Stakes at Saratoga under new rider Ron Turcotte in a swift 1:09 4/5 and Key to the Mint scoring a hard-earned victory in a six-furlong allowance, ironically also ridden by Ron Turcotte.

The two colts met for the third time in Belmont’s historic Futurity Stakes. When Riva Ridge won the Futurity by 1 ½ lengths with Key to the Mint tiring to finish fifth under regular rider John Rotz it looked like both careers were heading in different directions. But the Rokeby Stable colt did have one last chance to turn the tables on Riva Ridge in the rich Garden State Stakes. By then, Riva was a bona fide star having romped by seven lengths in the Champagne Stakes and 11 lengths in the Pimlico-Laurel Futurity. Key to the Mint was beaten a nose in the Cowdin Stakes before finishing first in a prep for the Garden State, but was disqualified. He came right back to win a seven-furlong allowance race at Aqueduct by two lengths over up-and-comer No Le Hace.

1971 Garden State Stakes Program Interior

The Garden State Stakes was one of the most anticipated races of the year, not because of any possible rivalry between Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint, but an intriguing confrontation between Riva and Ogden Phipps’ wonder filly Numbered Account, pitting male vs. female for 2-year-old supremacy. It also matched father and son against each other, with Roger Laurin having left Meadow Stable earlier that year. The younger Laurin was well aware of Riva Ridge. But as good as Riva looked, he knew Numbered Account was one of the best 2-year-old fillies seen in many years, winning eight of her nine starts, including romps in the Spinaway, Matron, Frizette, Selima, and Gardenia Stakes by an average margin of over five lengths. Now, after a long campaign, she was coming back only one week after the Gardenia.

Garden State Park played the race up big, taking out ads and giving patrons a choice of buttons as they entered the track, one saying “I Like the King in the Garden State” and the other “I Like the Queen in the Garden State. But there was always the presence of Key to the Mint lurking in the background. Riva Ridge was made the even-money favorite, with Numbered Account 2-1 and Key to the Mint 5-1. As it turned out, the race was not as competitive as people had hoped, as Riva Ridge drew off to a 2 ½-length victory over longshot Freetex, with Key to the Mint third and a weary Numbered Account finishing fourth.

So Penny Tweedy had the Derby horse she was looking for and The Meadow’s future finally was starting to look brighter. Although Riva Ridge had beaten Key to the Mint in all three of their meetings, their rivalry was only beginning.

Key to the Mint ended his 2-year-old campaign with a game victory in the Remsen Stakes and many felt with his classic pedigree he would only keep getting better as the distances stretched out. Unfortunately, a back injury prevented him from being ready for the Kentucky Derby, but he returned to win the Derby Trial by 2 ½ lengths and the Preakness Prep by the same margin, setting up another confrontation with Riva Ridge in the Preakness Stakes. Riva had romped in the Blue Grass Stakes and then gave Christopher Chenery his Kentucky Derby victory, winning the Run for the Roses wire-to-wire by 3 ¼ lengths over No Le Hace. But more important, he had brought The Meadow back from the brink, finally silencing those who felt it was not worth tying to save.

But the Preakness turned out to be a disaster for both colts, as they floundered in the mud, with Key to the Mint finishing third and Riva Ridge fourth behind longshot Bee Bee Bee. It did, however, mark the first time Key to the Mint finished ahead of Riva Ridge.

Things returned to normal when Riva Ridge decimated his opponents by seven lengths in the Belmont Stakes, with Key to the Mint fading to fourth. The Meadow colt was clearly the leading 3-year-old in the country and arguably the best horse in the country at any age. Many believed if not for the sloppy track at Pimlico, which proved to be Riva’s Achilles heel, he would have been the first Triple Crown winner in 24 years.

Penny Tweedy had stood firm despite all the forces against her and she could now look ahead to re-establishing The Meadow as a leading force in the racing and breeding industry. “Riva’s success was crucial,” she said in 1998. “If he hadn’t turned into such a good horse, the family members and Dad’s financial team probably would have decided to sell all the horses and invest in the stock market. He made me look good enough to keep the stable alive.”

Following the Triple Crown both colts went their separate ways. Lucien Laurin and Penny decided to ship Riva Ridge to Hollywood Park just three weeks after the Belmont for the mile and a quarter Hollywood Derby, where he would have to carry 129 pounds and give away substantial weight to several hard-knocking California horses. Riva, under constant pressure the whole way, had to fight off several challenges in the stretch to eke out a neck victory in 1:59 3/5, giving 15 pounds to runner-up Bicker. The race took its toll and Riva never seemed quite the same the rest of the year. Even Penny admitted years later, “That race cooked him.”

Key to the Mint, however, finally became the horse everyone at Rokeby thought he’d be, defeating older horses in the Brooklyn Handicap and Whitney Stakes and then defeating the tough little Tentam in the Travers Stakes, missing the track record by a fifth of a second.

Riva Ridge could only finish fourth in the Monmouth Invitational Handicap, but Penny and Laurin did not like the way the colt looked or acted and requested post-race blood and urine tests, which revealed the presence of a tranquilizer. The FBI and the Thoroughbred Racing and Protective Bureau were notified, but all that came of this controversy was the knowledge that someone had gotten to the colt and the race was a total throwout.

Riva was then entered against the previous year’s Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Canonero in the 1 1/8-mile Stymie Handicap, giving the older horse 13 actual pounds and 18 pounds on the scale. The two Derby winners battled head and head for over a half-mile before Canonero, equipped with blinkers, drew off to win by five lengths, setting a new American record.

Even with Riva Ridge having dominated the Triple Crown and winning a major stakes in California, Key to the Mint’s string of impressive victories in prestigious stakes, two against top-class older horses, put him in the running for the 3-year-old championship, which would be decided in the mile and a half Woodward Stakes, run on a sloppy track, for which Riva Ridge had shown a disdain on several occasions. But by then Riva was a battle-weary horse, having competed at seven tracks from coast to coast, and was no match for Key to the Mint, who won by 1 ¼ lengths, with Riva Ridge fourth.

Riva did have one last chance to face Key to the Mint and regain his place as the leading 3-year-old in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, but he had no business being in that race. Although he had won the Belmont on an easy lead most of the way, he clearly was not a two-mile horse. After hard campaigns both he and Key to the Mint fell victim to the top older horse Autobiography, who Key to the Mint had defeated in the Woodward. The Rokeby colt did manage to finish a well-beaten second with Riva Ridge third, enabling him to snatch the 3-year-old title away from the colt who had once dominated him. 

The following year belonged to Secretariat, and Riva Ridge had to race in his stablemate’s shadow all year. As far as his rivalry with Key to the Mint, they would face each other three more times. Key to the Mint was coming off an impressive victory in the Excelsior Handicap in near track-record time and Riva Ridge had easily won a six-furlong allowance sharpener when the two met for the eight time in The Met Mile. When the track came up sloppy, Riva Ridge, as expected, showed little finishing seventh, while Key to the Mint ran a strong second to Tentam.

Riva Ridge bounced back to win the Massachusetts Handicap equaling the track record, while Key to the Mint scored an impressive allowance victory going 1 1/8 miles. That set up their penultimate meeting in the 1 3/16-mile Brooklyn Handicap. Key to the Mint for some reason was very rank early and wound up dueling for the lead through testing fractions of :46 2/5 and 1:09 2/5, with Riva Ridge rating beautifully in third. He collared Key to the Mint after a scorching mile in 1:33 3/5 and put Tentam away after a brief battle. But then Darby Dan’s mighty mite, True Knight, who always came from the clouds with a big stretch run, again rallied from far back and closed in on Riva Ridge, who was giving him 10 pounds. Riva dug in and just held off the furious charge of True Knight to win by head, and his time of 1:52 2/5 shattered the track record and established a new American record.

The following morning I visited Riva at the barn to see how he had come out of the race, and so typical of Riva, I found him outside fraternizing with a kitten who had perched himself atop the fence post (shameless promotion: click to view and obtain photo), as the two seemed quite taken with each other. He was still the same kind-hearted soul I had seen that day at Aqueduct.

Coming off such a hard race, Riva Ridge skipped the Suburban Handicap, run only 17 days later. Key to the Mint did show up after his disappointing fourth-place Brooklyn finish and took complete charge from the start, then held off True Knight to win by almost two lengths.

The final meeting between Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint came in the inaugural Marlboro Cup, but the rivalry ended ignominiously when Riva Ridge finished a strong second to Secretariat in world-record time and Key to the Mint never ran a lick. He inexplicably had gone off form, and after another poor performance in the United Nations Handicap on grass he was retired to Gainesway Farm. Riva, however, maintained his good form winning the Stuyvesant Handicap in record time under 130 pounds. He, for some odd reason, was entered in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and was annihilated by Prove Out who simply ran him off his feet. It was not the way his career was supposed to end. Penny admitted years later that being new to the sport, she, as well as Laurin, made a lot of mistakes with Riva.

So the rivalry was over. Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint had faced each other 10 times, with Riva finishing ahead of his rival in six of them:

1971 – Riva Ridge 3 (3 victories), Key to the Mint 0  – Riva Ridge named Champion 2-year-old

1972 – Key to the Mint 3 (1 victory), Riva Ridge 1 (1 victory) – Key to the Mint named Champion 3-year-old

1973 – Riva Ridge 2 (1 victory), Key to Mint 1  – Riva Ridge named Champion Older Horse

There has been no greater rivalry than the one between Affirmed and Alydar later in the decade. But few people think of Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint, who danced every dance for three years. They raced a combined 59 times, winning 31 races and competing in 44 stakes, while earning three championships. Yes it was a glorious time in racing that saw many of the greatest horses of all time compete. The Cinderella story of Canonero II and his Triple Crown quest was the opening act of the ‘70s, but in many ways racing’s Golden Decade began in a maiden race on a Wednesday afternoon at Belmont Park.


Photos courtesy of Daily Racing Form, Steve Haskin,, Hollywood Park, and New York Racing Association


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90 Responses to “Riva Ridge Maiden Win was ‘Key” to Lasting Rivalry”

  1. Nick says:

    Wow thank you so much what a fantastic amazing article !!

  2. Davids says:

    Steve, your chronological reflection on the battles between Riva Ridge and Key to the Mint bring back so many memories. As much as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile races are thrilling to watch, I miss the yesteryear build up to the US Classic races. Europe and Australia basically still have the same formula to their 3 year old Classics.

    Granted, occasionally an European 2 year old with Classic potential may run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile but usually the better colts are put away for the following year.

    Essential Quality’s triumph in winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Belmont Stakes was a throwback to yesteryear. Watching 2 year old year olds progress from winning short sprints to eventually winning a Belmont Stakes was what breeding/training were the epitome of excellence. I miss those days and relive that history of racing a lot more than today’s fleeting moments. Thanks, Steve.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I couldnt agree with you more, David. You are spot on. When the New Year rolled around we were so familiar with all the classic contenders watching them develop through the sprint and allowance ranks. We never had Derby horses 3 or 4 lifetime stakes who went from a maiden sprint into graded stakes company.

      • Davids says:

        Steve, the only regret I have about the golden age of racing was not having the technology of modern times. Too many races are only recorded in your mind’s eye. When Nijinsky won the Epsom Derby, a few of us had hidden a crystal set radio under a desk so we could hear the race. Imagine having a smart phone then, watching the race streaming live during class. Lol.

  3. pro vet says:

    As you all know, i’m known for my kindness, so i will give you all this little gift……You probably have not seen this interesting video on youtube…….i think people will like it……although it is a story about a FAMOUS HORSE….not a racer……there are 3-4 videos about him…..make sure its the one with David Hoffman Steve probably knows the story…..but this is a good video…
    right up steves alley….a good story……

    THE SMARTEST HORSE THAT EVER LIVED…..a true story David Hofman

    You’re welcome…….

  4. Steve Haskin says:

    If you have been enjoying the historical columns, there will another one very close to my heart that will be posted on Monday. Some of you might have read bits and pieces of it in old Bloodhorse columns, but this combines two experiences and a good deal of it is new. The week after that I will have a pictorial column of photos of old-time horses never before posted along with text. Hope you enjoy both columns.

    • Ms. Black Type says:

      Old-time horses? Be sure to include Fitz Herbert, the long forgotten champion of 1909/10. IF you can find a photo.

      Although I’m thinking you are planning something more recent. LOL at myself.

  5. Mike Relva says:

    Had an appt. the manager, Eddie treated us like royality and also gave us memorabilia. At the time,MTB looked great. Thanks for your comment. Had private visit with CA Chrome 3 yrs ago and flew to Reno last Nov. to have dinner with Coburn’s. Unlike the blowhard who insults almost anyone/everyone on here, I actually know people. A big difference!

  6. Dewey Hebert says:

    As is your gift, you rekindle the memories of past decades that fed us witnesses of those eras a banquet of great racing. The 70’s were the best decade of my life as a racing fan with the rivalry between Key to the Mint and Riva Ridge being just one of many treats offered on racing’s menu.

    With regard to the Garden State Stakes, if I’m not mistaken, that, at the time, was the richest race offered in America ($300,000). In the 1971 edition, it is noteworthy that Riva and Key were joined by the exceptional filly, Numbered Account. Now, we’ve seen fillies compete against colts as 3 yos and older, but as precocious 2 yos? I’m scratching my head trying to remember if I’ve ever seen that happen before or after. Does this 2 yo filly vs colt competition happen at that age?

    I’ve only seen Riva Ridge race once in person. I was at Monmouth Park that day in Aug. ’72 when Riva Ridge finished 4th as the heavy favorite in the Monmouth Invitational. Someone tampered with Riva, but they never discovered who. I’ll bet it was one of the Sopranos. lol

    Good read, Steve. With these stories of past generations, you not only expose younger fans to the rich history of this great sport, but you also recover some of the youth for us veteran players. Always enjoy reading these well written stories and look forward to coming attractions from your keyboard. Thanks!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much, Dewey. I really dont think I’m getting through to younger fans as its only the older generation that responds, here and on Facebook. I ear history in general will be forgotten by future generations. Scratch your head no further. Priceless Gem, a very precocious 2yp filly owned and trained by Hirsch Jacobs upset Buckpasser in the Futurity Stakes. As fo the Monmouth Invitation, I didnt include it in the story, but around that time an admitted race fixer told a House committee in Washington that he would cash tickets by drugging the heavy favorite.

      • Ms Black Type says:

        Going further on the wayback machine, in the early 60s, Tosmah beat the boys in the Arlington Classic and John B Campbell, Silver Spoon beat future Preakness winner Royal Orbit in the 1960 Santa Anita Derby. And let’s not forget Bewitch knocking off stablemate Citation in the Washington Park Futurity in his 2YO year.

        And no, I didn’t see any of these races live, not having been “into” the horses until 1966.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          I think he was referring to 2 year old fillies beating colts. So only Citation and Bewitch would apply. For older horses there are dozens of examples.

        • Dewey Hebert says:

          Yes indeed, Ms Black Type, I remember those gals and others like Derby winners Regret, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors who showed the boys a thing or two. My take was the extremely rare instances where a 2 yo filly would beat the boys. It’s almost unheard of at that young age.

      • Dewey Hebert says:

        Priceless Gem. Wow! ace reporter, Steve Haskin does it again. Thank you for that “gem”. I missed that one as I was in the Army stationed in Hawaii and spent my weekends as a beach bum. We didn’t get much racing news on the islands.

        I revisited Buckpasser’s stellar record and in addition to his awesome win record (25 of 31), I was astounded to see that he went off as a prohibitive favorite (less than even money) 23 times in 29 races (two races were non-wagering events). When you can’t make money on a winning machine like Buckpasser, that’s means you’re watching a superstar. Johnny Nerud had to be super proud of
        his “Buck”.

      • sceptre says:

        I witnessed that Futurity. The truly brilliant Priceless Gem inflicted upon Buckpasser what was, arguably, his only deserved defeat. What a race it was. Two of the most magnificently bred *La Troienne tail-female descendants competing at the highest level against one another. In retrospect, a race for the ages, but not then, or now, enough appreciated.

    • Profsdottir says:

      If you go back pretty far, there were Cleopatra and Beatrice both winning the Champagne Stakes in 1919 and 1924. Cleopatra was also second to Man O’War in the Hopeful.

  7. sceptre says:

    I believe Key To The Mint retired to stud at Greentree where I visited him often.

  8. dance with fate says:

    Riva & Key, an incredibly enduring rivalry! Enjoy your magical, insightfully woven stories of thoroughbreds of yesteryear & today, tales always infused with passion & reverence. Your Riva & kitty is a sweet, peaceful image (in my collection of Riva & Red for sure). Thank you!

  9. Marc Mink says:

    Outstanding.. so glad Riva gets real credit for saving Meadow.. prior to Secretariat.. .. When Riva was at his best he was a truly fine HOF performer.. just gives you an idea how good Secretariat was as he dominated Riva .. Key Bridge was some kind of producer for Mellon…clearly Graustark improved upon Amerigo as mates for Key Bridge.. not taking anything away from Fort Marcy…Collectors of racing programs and forms will tell you the maiden races of these superstars are always harder to come by.. who knew there was a reason to keep them so early in their careers? So unusual that you were all over these two at such an early time.. I loved that you actually got on a bus and rode to Kentucky to make real what had been admiration only from afar.. I confess to doing the same thing to the complete non-understanding of my friends and family..

    Thanks so much!

  10. Derek Manthey says:

    In 1971 I was 15 years old and I was starting to really grasp and understand the sport. looking back I think I was lucky for when I was born. I loved one of your last points that they both danced every dance and these days I think were watching WALLFLOWERS. Your response to Eddie F. pointing out that without handicaps we can’t compare the horse of today with yesteryear. The bar has been lowered by the trainers and owners not the horses, and if we could ever ask the horses I think the the answer would be lets go back to the way it was. LET ME OUT OF THE BARN!

  11. David D says:

    Thank you, Steve, for a great article about one of my favorite horses. In those days, owners like Penny Tweedy felt they had an obligation to take their star horses to different parts of the country so that fans in those areas could see them. Riva’s race in the Hollywood Derby was one of his greatest. The speed horses took him on early, then Finalista made a big run at him, and the lightweight Bicker was charging at the end, with Quack not far behind either.

    Simply keeping Riva off sloppy ground after the Preakness would probably have won him the Eclipse for best three-year-old, and he was even sent to the DC International to run on turf so boggy that the Irish horse Boreen nearly fell.

    • SJ says:

      Riva was right behind him, unable to avoid Boreen had he gone down. Penny said she would have blamed herself had something disastrous occurred.

  12. SoloSolo says:

    You are a master storyteller and historian, Steve. I came to be a horse racing fan late in the game, and I’ve learned so much from your articles. Alas, I’m the fan that has to follow on tv and social media, but your stories bring racing alive for me. Thank you for that.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I’m so happy to hear that, thank you very much. Bringing the past alive is the main reason I’m still writing. To many racing fans now the past is the 1990s. I need to keep the 60s, 70s, and 80s alive to those who were not around to experience it because racing was a very different sport back then and far more colorful in my opinion.

      • EddieF says:

        I just read a April 2021 story in Sports Illustrated entitled, “Pheasant Colony and the Crown of Thorns.” Pleasant Colony, the trainer John Campo, the veterinarian Janice Runkle and her mysterious death, Mark Gerard and the Uruguayan horse-switch scandal….and more. Colorful indeed. 🙂

  13. John Goggin says:

    Found it odd and puzzling that Riva Ridge was basically nonexistent in the movie “Secretariat” even though it was Riva Ridge that perhaps rescued Meadow Stable from going under financially.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      It was sad and an injustice, but it wasnt puzzling. There were two choices Disney had: Leave Riva out and make Secretariat the savior of the farm or don’t make the movie. You cant do both. you cant have a movie titled “Secretariat” and make another horse the hero. If a the plot of the movie was saving The Meadow and the star was Penny Tweedy then you can have both horses and tell the story as it happened. But if the star is Secretariat and about his life and winning the Triple Crown and becoming a national hero, then he has to also be the savior of the farm, which is important for sure, but still a sub plot.

      • SoloSolo says:

        Excellent explanation of the subtleties of plot and purpose, Mr. Haskin. This retired English teacher gives you an A+. As to characterization, I found that the movie “50-1” characterized Baffert in a very unpleasant, inaccurate way. I remember his quote (since I’m a huge Mine That Bird fan) after the Derby, something to the effect that Pioneer of the Nile showed up, but “those cowboys, they brought a good horse.” I thought that film portrayed Bob as supercilious and snobbish, which I don’ think to be true—but, it served the plot of that movie.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          Agree on the characterization and the need for it to enhance the plot. Thank you so much for that A+. I never even got an A in high school.

          • SoloSolo says:

            Proof positive that grades do not reflect a student’s intelligence or abilities beyond school, and this from a teacher that doled out grades!

            • Steve Haskin says:

              I was a good student until the 5th grade when I had a horrible teacher who used to single me out. One day she said, “Today is a holiday, class. I bet the boy in the second row third seat doesnt know what holiday it is.” She never even called me by my name. It was a terrible year and from then on I hated school and never applied myself. I barely made it out of high school.

              • Mike Relva says:

                That’s incredible! In my opinion, one important factor making you a great writer is you write from the heart. I’ve never read better material regarding racing.

              • SoloSolo says:

                That makes me so sad, Steve. I regret that many a budding student is stunted and discouraged by a poor, cruel teacher–=I also had a similar experience in 5th grade with a math teacher, who humiliated me. Since then, math has been my poorest subject and caused me much grief. I’m so glad you found your passion, as did I. Onward and upward!

        • Mike Relva says:

          Flew in 2018 NM,saw him for an hr.

          • SoloSolo says:

            That is so awesome, Mike! I have never seen him in the “horseflesh.” I live in El Paso, not far from Sunland Park racetrack. On Derby day, I was too lazy to watch the Derby at Sunland Park, and watched it on tv at home that day. Had I been there, I would have plunked down $5 across the board on him, amateur bettor that I am. I regret that to this day— I would have made a chunk of change. He is an awesome little gelding. I recall Steve calling him, prior to the Derby, “a plain brown wrapper of a horse, but he moves well.” Did he ever!

          • CLOWNSKILL says:

            A whole hour!!! How lucky you are

      • Laudie says:

        The movie bothered me from a horse perspective both because of Riva and I think they underplayed the Belmont call (among other things), but I enjoyed it because it was Penny’s story. She and my mother were the same age and I thought it gave a good perspective on women of that era. I later chatted with a Smith classmate of Penny’s who thought of her as a basically a debutante and filled her in on Penny’s accomplishments. I think I changed her opinion.

        • SoloSolo says:

          Didn’t know Penny was a Smithie. She certainly rose to the occasion with grace and grit in saving Meadow Stable. I liked her portrayal in the movie—she evolved big-time.

  14. Laura L Lanham says:

    Wow! Many thanks for sharing

  15. EddieF says:

    Steve, thanks for another vivid voyage in the wayback machine. Your attachment to the horses and events adds a personal touch rarely seen in racing journalism.

    Was what we now see as the golden age appreciated at the time? And will the best horses of the past 20 years be revered in the same way 30 to 50 years from now?

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much Eddie. I definitely believe it was appreciated to the point where everyone was was expecting another Triple Crown with Bid. We had gotten spoiled with great horses every year. The horses in the past 20 years as a whole will not be as revered because they didnt race as much and didnt accomplish as much and you didnt have all the negativity we have now, Horses back then we seen in the flesh and not on television or cell phones. And horses were able to prove their greatness in handicaps giving tons of weight. We cant use that as a barometer of greatness anymore.

      • EddieF says:

        Sad, but true. However, a Triple Crown is an achievement that can’t be ignored.

      • Laura L Lanham says:

        I agree that those were the last of the old “iron horse” days. Nobody is willing anymore to test them like that. Handcapping is also becoming a lost art.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          The reason handicapping is becoming a lost art is that you used to have PPs and nothing more and had to use your own tools and devices. Now you already have the tools, whether it be Beyer, Brisnet, Ragozin, Thoro-Graph etc. All you have to do is interpret them. Also, a big part of handicapping back then was going to the paddock and looking at the horses — behavior, coat, movement, negative signs etc. Now fans sit by the TV monitor and interpret the speed figures and dont really get to see who they are betting on.

  16. Mike Relva says:

    Mr. Haskin, thanks for time spent composing great articles as always- stellar!!!!

  17. Tommy V says:

    Hi Steve. Great story that brought back wonderful memories. You may not remember but i wrote a story titled, Riva Ridge, the Forgotten Superstar, who I felt always got lost in the luster of his illustrious stablemate after his amazing Derby-winning year. I was at the Big A for that Brooklyn Handicap and, to this day, believe it was the most exhilarating race I’ve ever witnessed in person. When Angel Cordero got True Knight cranking in the stretch I thought it was all over for Riva Ridge but the blue and white blocks prevailed in a record-shattering performance. As I remember, besides Key to the Mint, Tentam, Riva Ridge and True Knight there was another really talented horse named Quiet Little Table in that field. A gathering of superstars, no doubt. Thanks again for such a thoughtful piece.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Hey, Tommjy. Great to hear from you. That was an amazing race and people foget what a talented crop that was. I dont think the horse you mean is Quiet Little Table. He came along later in the 70s beat Forego in the Suburban in 1977 when Forego had to carry 138 pounds

      • Tommy V says:

        I’m sure you’re right. The brain gets a little fuzzy at my age! BTW, I was at Belmont when Seattle Slew broke his maiden. Who knew at the time just what we were watching. All I remember is that I didn’t bet him that day!!

  18. Sheila L says:

    I remember that rivalry well. Always was a Riva fan which in those days meant (to me at least) you really could not like the other guy cuz you already chose your side. It’s so nice to now have the wisdom and maturity to sit back and appreciate both horses for all they accomplished and to realize how fortunate I am to have seen them both race. And its so nice to have you to remind us of exactly that. But my heart will always belong to Riva.

  19. Ms Black Type says:

    Wonderful and very personal retelling of that exciting rivalry, Steve. Who knew you could work for the Morning Telegraph and not get to the races on Saturday! And I was not aware of Riva Ridge and Canonero facing each other in the Stymie Handicap. I’ll have to look that one up on YouTube, if the video it exists.

    Thanks for keeping us so entertained!

    • Steve Haskin says:

      My pleasure. It was tough working Saturdays and missing a lot of big races in person. Many times all the editorial guys would give me bets and I would make them at an OTB shop near my house in Brooklyn. It was fun sitting in one of the offices with everyone watching the big race. It was also fun going to the races on Wednesday, Not that crowded. But once in a while I would take a Saturday off and go to the track.

  20. Matthew W says:

    Riva Ridge was a bad weather day away from becoming a Triple Crown winner himself….

  21. Matthew W says:

    I saw Canonero II work at Santa Anita–I think was 1972 but is it possible it was 1973? Did Canonero and Rive Ridge meet up at Belmont in Spring 1973?….

    • Matthew W says:

      Canonero II “honked” when he breathed, during his work, you could hear it from a furlong away….

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I dont know when it could have been. He never ran at Santa Anita. Buddy Hirsch stabled at Santa Anita in the winter, so it would have to have been in ’72. He was retired at the end of ’72

      • Matthew W says:

        I was in the infield, he worked between races…..he didn’t race at Santa Anita but he did work—he also ran at Del Mar as a two year old, you know that—June Darling beat him and all the other colts in the Del Mar Futurity…

  22. Matthew K W says:

    I thought Ack Ack’s becoming a champion was a good start to the decade….top weights…sprints….turf….10 furlongs….Charlie took a miler and turned him into a multiple Eclipse winner, in the first Eclipse voting year….

  23. Rita Pierce says:

    Great story Steve as always. Love hearing about anything Penny Chenery, Riva and Big Red of course. Everyone knows Riva did not get all the love for being the great horse he was. I love hearing all the history on all of our great ones though. It was sad he had to be in the shadow of Big Red but I am sure he knew he was loved by his owner for saving the farm and being the sweetheart he was.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Penny and Lucien made several really bad decisions with him that made his record look a lot worse than it was. Penny of course loved Secretariat, but Riva was her favorite.

  24. Sharon Brock says:

    Another great review of racing’s past stars. I favored Riva Ridge over Secretariat and to this day, I cannot explain why. Thank you Steve.

  25. Stephanie says:

    It was an awesome time for racing. I love that you had the same fervor for such a great rivalry as we did for Affirmed/Allydar . And yet again a Fabulous article.❤️❤️❤️