Secretariat

Suburban, Brooklyn, Spa Evoke Special Memories

F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in The Great Gatsby, “And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.” For me it was the summer of 1968 when life began over again. Racing had become an obsession and my world was now encompassed by names like Damascus and Dr. Fager. In Upstate New York, the siren calls emanating from the small town of Saratoga were luring me to a place that existed only in my dreams. This is the story of that magical summer, which proved to be the foundation for the rest of my life. ~ Steve Haskin

Suburban, Brooklyn, Spa Evoke Special Memories

By Steve Haskin

 

The Suburban Handicap, to be run on July 3, is not the race it used to be, but to me the name will always bring back memories of summers past, with the Brooklyn Handicap to follow and the grand finale of the summer, Saratoga. This column is about my earliest memories of all three, so let’s go back to where it all began.

It is late June, 1968 and as exciting a time in racing as I have ever experienced. Racing’s two titans and bitter rivals Damascus and Dr. Fager are finally set to meet in the Suburban Handicap, their first showdown since the previous year’s Woodward Stakes. The Doc’s trainer John Nerud has been waiting some nine months to get his revenge on Damascus after his 10-length demolition of Dr. Fager and Buckpasser.

I had recently finalized my plans for my first trip to Saratoga. I would take the Adirondack Trailways bus to the Spa and stay at Grossman’s Victoria Hotel on South Broadway, within walking distance to the track.

First, though, I would have to get through July. But that should be easy with the Suburban and Brooklyn Handicaps the likely battlegrounds for Damascus and Dr. Fager, who had been on a collision course for the past two months.

Another top-class colt, In Reality, who had futilely chased Dr. Fager and Damascus throughout 1967, had taken advantage of Damascus’ first ever vacation and Dr. Fager’s serous bout with colic and emerged as the temporary big dog in town, with victories in the John B. Campbell Handicap, Carter Handicap, and Met Mile. With all three heading to the Suburban there were sure to be fireworks at The Big A on the fourth of July.

Dr. Fager’s legion of fans wanted desperately to see their hero take on Damascus without the aid of Hedevar, who had cooked Dr. Fager in the Woodward, forcing him into a suicidal pace. But the word from the Damascus camp was that trainer Frank Whiteley had every intention of again using Hedevar, a former world-record holder for the mile, again to soften up Dr. Fager, who had proven to be unbeatable when left alone on the lead. And Damascus was a confirmed closer, so he would be at a huge disadvantage if The Doc were allowed to set an easy pace. No horse had ever looked him in the eye and been able to pass him.

What made Dr. Fager and Damascus such compelling rivals was that they were nothing alike. Dr. Fager, although a kindly, sensitive horse in his stall who hated being yelled at, was a brute on the racetrack; a wild thing confined in a world of restraint who ran with reckless abandon. With his long mane blowing in the breeze, he was more like an untamed mustang dashing across the plains. And like the leader of the pack, his place was in front and he dared any horse to take the lead away from him. And that even went for In Reality, his childhood buddy at Tartan Farm, who tried to sneak up inside him on the backstretch in the rich New Hampshire Sweepstakes only to have Dr. Fager attempt to savage him.

Damascus, on the other hand, liked to come from well off the pace and needed constant urging to keep his mind on the task at hand. Most of his defeats came when he would refuse to leave his opponents. But when persevered with he would turn on the afterburners and explode, turning in the most devastating move on the far turn I have ever seen, even after 50 years. Unlike Dr. Fager, who ran with his head high, Damascus would get down low and was amazingly quick and agile, pouncing on his foes like a cat its prey. His jockeys just had to keep after him. To give you an idea how explosive his turn of foot was, in the Travers Stakes he was 16 lengths off the lead on the backstretch and won by 22 lengths, equaling the track record.

If In Reality was going to finally have any chance of knocking off the dynamic duo, this would be it, as both Damascus and Dr. Fager had strikes against them going into the race and still would have to give In Reality good chunks of weight. Dr. Fager had to go straight into the Suburban coming off his colic attack, which left him gravely ill and forced him to miss the Met Mile. Damascus, the iron horse who thrived on competition and needed a steady diet of racing to get himself fit, had been given four months off after a debacle in the Strub Stakes run in a quagmire. Ron Turcotte, subbing for the injured Bill Shoemaker, said he begged Whiteley to put mud caulks on Damascus, but he didn’t want to risk hurting the horse. The only other horse who didn’t wear caulks finished last and Damascus wound up losing three shoes in the race and came back with his legs all cut up and bloodied. Yet he still finished second, beaten a half-length. Turcotte said Damascus was the second best horse he ever rode behind Secretariat.

Damascus had only that one easy allowance victory at Delaware Park 17 days before the Suburban and was not as finely tuned as Frank Whiteley would have liked. But the Suburban had always been his target and there was no turning back now. This was a horse who had raced 19 times in an 11-month period, 18 of them stakes, and actually kept getting better throughout his 3-year-old campaign. So, of the three big horses, only In Reality was coming into the race dead-fit and in top form.

To demonstrate how much racing has changed, Damascus was assigned highweight of 133 pounds, with Dr. Fager at 132, and In Reality in with 125. NYRA racing secretary Tommy Trotter said he had never weighted two horses that high in a race.

On the morning of the Suburban I took the Pioneer bus to Aqueduct and made my way into the grandstand to find my usual seat around the eighth pole. That’s usually where the main action was.

Just about the same time, in the racing secretary’s office, a mini-drama was being played out that would have a major impact on the race. Nerud spotted Whiteley going into Tommy Trotter’s office. As Whiteley was walking out, Nerud overheard a jockey’s agent say that Hedevar had just been scratched. When Whiteley looked over at Nerud and didn’t deny it he knew it was true. Nerud promptly stood up and said to whoever was listening, “Well, the race is over.”

As the crowd of more than 54,000 began to settle in, the familiar voice of track announcer Fred Capossela could be heard over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, in the seventh race, number 1A Hedevar has been scratched.” That sent a buzz rippling through the grandstand.

Hedevar, it was reported, had taken a few bad steps following a six-furlong workout, and Whiteley didn’t want to take any chances running him.

Dr. Fager was sent off as the 4-5 favorite, with Damascus 7-5. Damascus was always quick out of the gate, and, as usual, he broke on top from the rail before being taken back by jockey Manny Ycaza. Dr. Fager, under Braulio Baeza, shot to the lead as expected. Baeza gave a peek over his left shoulder to make sure he was clear of Damascus before easing over to the rail.

With no one to get his blood boiling, Dr. Fager rated kindly and cruised to a clear lead going into the clubhouse turn. He quickly opened up by two lengths and was in complete control of the race. In Reality, who was supposed to put pressure on The Doc, had broken on his wrong lead and apparently took a bad step, causing an injury that would lead to his retirement. He raced in fourth during the early going, about four lengths back, before retreating to finish last.

With Dr. Fager loose on a slow, uncontested lead, Damascus was now on a solo mission, and 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.

Ycaza took Damascus off the rail and started pushing hard to get him to close the gap on Dr. Fager. Although taken completely out of his game plan, Damascus was able to use his quickness and rapid-fire acceleration to collar Dr. Fager as they headed down the backstretch. The battle everyone had wanted to see for so long was on. Damascus pulled to within a neck of Dr. Fager, but that was as close as the Doc would let him get.

The pair battled through the third quarter in a torrid :22 3/5, and that’s with over 130 pounds on their back. With his initial attack thwarted, Ycaza backed off slightly and let Damascus regroup. This was not his game, and Ycaza had to make sure he saved something for the end, especially with Damascus not being fully cranked up. Once he and Damascus were able to catch their breath, Ycaza began pushing hard once again, trying to crack Dr. Fager, which, without Hedevar, was a study in futility.

Dr. Fager, with his head held high, seemed to dwarf Damascus, even though the two were about the same height. Damascus was now straight as a string as he mounted his second attack. The Doc knew he was in for a fight, and dug in once again. As hard as Ycaza pushed he couldn’t get by the tenacious Dr. Fager.

Around the far turn, Dr. Fager began inching away, putting a good half-length between him and Damascus. But, amazingly, Damascus wasn’t through. He gave it one final desperate try, pulling back alongside Dr. Fager for the third time, and actually might have gotten his nose in front nearing the quarter pole after a testing quarter in :23 3/5.

Turning for home, a weary Damascus had no more to give. As fresh as he was and having to play Dr. Fager’s game, he began to retreat under the impost following a brutal mile in 1:34 3/5. Dr. Fager, who was built to carry weight, bounded clear, opening up by two lengths at the eighth pole.

The improving Bold Hour, carrying only 116 pounds, had been eyeing the battle several lengths back and moved in for the kill, hoping to pick up the pieces. He collared Damascus, from whom he was getting 17 pounds, and set his sights on Dr. Fager. But Baeza was sitting chilly on the Doc, whose long mane was still blowing wildly in the breeze. Baeza seemed unfazed by Bold Hour’s feeble attempt to close the gap. He merely hand rode Dr. Fager to the wire, maintaining his two-length advantage. Even with the sluggish opening half and carrying 132 pounds, Dr. Fager still was able to equal Gun Bow’s track record of 1:59 3/5.

Despite his gut-wrenching attempts to crack Dr. Fager, Damascus, who wound up third in the Suburban, came back only nine days later in the 1 1/4-mile Amory Haskell Handicap at Monmouth and finished third again behind Bold Hour under 131 pounds after stumbling badly at the start. As difficult as it might seem to believe, these two races actually were just what Damascus needed to get him tight and razor-sharp. He returned only a week later in the Brooklyn Handicap for his rematch with Dr. Fager. When I went to the paddock to look at Damascus, I knew this would be a different story. Not only did he have Hedevar back he bounced around the paddock on his toes with his neck arched and muscles bulging from his shoulders and hindquarters. He was ready to tackle Dr. Fager, who was carrying a staggering 135 pounds to 130 for Damascus.

Hedevar was now healthy again and this time he showed up for his search and destroy mission. Nerud didn’t bat an eye over Dr. Fager picking up three pounds. He understood the concept of handicap racing. He was more concerned about Hedevar than the weight.

Hedevar, as expected, shot to a clear lead, as Baeza took a stranglehold on Dr. Fager. Tommy Lee, aboard Hedevar, broke from the outside, and when he looked over to his left to eye his target, much to his surprise, Dr. Fager was nowhere to be seen, as Baeza kept pulling back on the throttle. Before Lee knew what was happening, he had opened a three-length lead. But Dr. Fager was not a happy camper. His head was up and he was fighting Baeza, and when Dr. Fager fought you it was only a matter of time before you caved.

Ycaza, meanwhile, had Damascus well back in the pack where he liked to be. Hedevar was on a kamikaze mission, with or without Dr. Fager, and he still blazed the opening half in :45 4/5, with Dr. Fager a length and a half back. That’s 2 3/5 seconds, or 13 lengths, faster than Dr Fager had run in the Suburban. And this time he was carrying 135 pounds.

By the time they passed the five-eighths pole, Baeza no longer had any say in the matter and he was forced to let Dr. Fager go. He blew right on by Hedevar and quickly opened a four-length lead. But the Doc was out of control, his three-quarters in a blistering 1:09 2/5, while Damascus was in high gear and cutting into Dr. Fager’s lead with every stride. The cat was back in his comfort zone and ready to strike, as he did in the Woodward and so many other races.

It was obvious this time it was Damascus who had the advantage. With one of his typical explosive moves, he collared Dr. Fager at the quarter pole and began to draw clear, but the Doc wouldn’t give up, despite the pace and staggering weight. Baeza even resorted to the whip, something Dr. Fager detested, and he threw his tail up in defiance. He fought hard through the stretch, but Damascus was always in control, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. His time of 1:59 1/5 broke Dr. Fager’s short-lived track record, and, amazingly, still stands more than a half century later. All Dr. Fager had done was run back-to-back mile and a quarter races in 1:59 3/5 carrying 132 and 135 pounds in a span of 16 days.

And for Damascus, who seemed to be held together with fibers of steel, this was his third major stakes at 1 1/4 miles in 16 days, carrying 130 pounds or more in all of them, culminating with a track record.

Sadly, this would be the final time Dr. Fager and Damascus would face each other. Nerud had other worlds to conquer for Dr. Fager, and the paths he and Damascus took never would cross again.

Before I knew it, July was over and it was now time to get ready for my long-awaited trip to Saratoga. The Victoria Hotel was not quite what I expected. It was an old hotel with Victorian furnishings right out of the 1930s. It was pretty modest and in no way even remotely resembled the Adelphi, the last of the great old hotels, which in turn bore no resemblance to the massive, ostentatious Grand Union and United States Hotels that catered to the opulent and often decadent tastes of America’s tycoons, high rollers, and silver spoon-fed upper crust.

Walking to the track each morning up Lincoln Ave was like driving down Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn with my father as a kid and then seeing the light stanchions of Ebbetts Field in the distance. You felt as if you were approaching hallowed ground. The track had recently begun serving breakfast on the apron porch, where you were greeted by a tuxedo-clad maitre d’. If you didn’t mind that the price of breakfast was outrageous and tips on the races normally were hotter than the food, it was a great experience, with the smell of bacon wafting through the crisp mountain air, the clanging of dishes and silverware, and some of the finest Thoroughbreds in the country galloping and working in front of you. Once in a while you’d see a top trainer having breakfast, and you could listen in on Bill Johnson’s Saturday morning radio show at one of the tables. The atmosphere was intoxicating.

After training I would go across the street to the National Museum of Racing, looking at the same things each day. But I didn’t care, I just loved being there immersed in history. It was like a sanctuary where you could escape to another time. And before leaving I would take the free color postcards at the admission desk of Damascus, Dr. Fager, and Buckpasser.

A few days after arriving in Saratoga, I managed to find a shopping center that had a camera store, and bought myself one of those little Kodak Brownie Instamatic cameras. I had to capture all these indelible images and the beauty of Saratoga.

My first morning at the track with my new camera I shot just about everything I saw — the grandstand, adorned with flowers, Rokeby Stable trainer Elliott Burch watching the works with his sons, my hotel, and even the McDonalds across the street from the Victoria.

Travers morning, a blanket of humidity hung over Saratoga and a thunderstorm was imminent. On the track, horses were winding down their morning’s activities, while the patrons in the clubhouse apron dining area were finishing breakfast.

As training hours drew to a close, the skies, which had been clear all morning, were now dark and foreboding, and it was obvious that one of those wild Saratoga thunderstorms was moments away. Just then, from high up in the grandstand, I could hear a faint voice over the public address system announce: “Ladies and gentlemen, coming on to the track is Dr. Fager.” It was not the custom to make announcements, but this was the exception.

I could see The Doc emerge from the end of the grandstand. Two weeks earlier I had watched on TV as he romped by eight lengths in the Whitney under 132 pounds. Now here he was right in front of me, like a heavyweight prizefighter stepping into the ring. I had never been this close to him. He looked like no other horse, seemingly taller than his 16.1-hands frame who had a powerful presence about him.

It was the Saturday before the Washington Park Handicap at Arlington Park, in which the Doc would be gunning for the one-mile world record, and on this morning he would be having his final work before heading to Chicago.

Just as he made his way on to the track the rain started and the railbirds quickly retreated for cover under the grandstand. I, however, was not going to blow an opportunity to take a picture of the mighty Dr. Fager, especially with my brand new Brownie Instamatic. So I remained at the rail.

Dr. Fager walked right past me accompanied by his pony, an Appaloosa named Chalkeye. The exercise rider, Jose Marrero, and the pony rider simultaneously turned and looked at me, as if wondering what kind of idiot would be standing in the rain to take a picture of a horse. But this was no ordinary horse.

Like some majestic shrouded figure, Dr. Fager seemed larger than life to a novice, wide-eyed 21-year-old who was floundering about trading over-the-counter stocks on Wall Street and hating it. As the Doc, sporting his figure-8 bridle, walked past me oblivious to the elements, he had his game face on, focusing straight ahead and arching his neck ever so slightly. He had worked up a mouthful of saliva and his flared nostrils already were bright red. Even through the murk and rain his burnished blood-bay coat had a radiant glow to it. There was no doubt The Doc was in a zone and I managed to take one shot of him before high-tailing it back under cover.

I stood under the grandstand and watched Dr. Fager breeze five furlongs in :59 flat under no pressure whatsoever from Marrero, who had to weigh close to 160 pounds. A week later The Doc broke the world record for the mile, winning eased up by 10 lengths under 134 pounds in one of the most awe-inspiring performances of all time. It would become the most sought after record in racing, and still has not been broken in over half a century.

For years I carried that photo of Dr. Fager in my wallet. Although taken in haste under adverse conditions with a little Instamatic, it remains to this day my favorite photo. I still look at it and think back to when everything was new – my camera, my first trip to Saratoga, and my newly found obsession with horse racing.

This was the first of many memorable trips to Saratoga, where 11 years later I would propose to my beautiful wife and where our daughter would celebrate her first birthday and where my one-year-old grandson, like his mom at the same age, would sit on his first horse . And, amazingly, where my name would one day be inscribed on the walls of the museum.

Saratoga was also where I got my first look at an up-and-coming 2-year-old named Secretariat, who came roaring by me as I was having breakfast on the apron with a friend. I wouldn’t have paid much attention to him if I hadn’t heard him first. He sounded like a locomotive coming down the stretch and I only surmised it was him from his blue and white checkered blinkers and his massive stride.

And so it is time once again for my two harbingers of summer – the Suburban Handicap and Saratoga. The Suburban, although relegated to Grade 2 status, still evokes images of those memorable Handicap Triple Crown days. And as for Saratoga, well, it is still Saratoga where time stands still. The Victoria Hotel is long gone and the museum has expanded to three times its original size, but those same paintings and trophies and other artifacts still serve as a portal to racing’s past.

Saratoga has seen substantial growth over the years, but I know once I arrive there next month I will once again become that 21-year-old, walking down Lincoln Avenue and into the wondrous new world I had recently discovered. And if after 53 years I ever take Saratoga for granted and those early days begin to fade from my mind I always have a photograph of Dr. Fager to jog my memory.

 

Photography courtesy of New York Racing Association, Braulio Baeza, and Steve Haskin


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96 Responses to “Suburban, Brooklyn, Spa Evoke Special Memories”

  1. Terri Zeitz says:

    Thanks Steve for sharing you memories of Dr. Fager and Damascus and the The Suburban Handicap.
    One of my best memories of the Suburban is when Mike Smith rode Mucho Macho Man to win the Suburban in 2011. And then that weekend, Darley announced the retirement of his grandsire, Holy Bull. What a cool thing to happen and to honor Holy Bull.
    Changing the subject, but referring to the late owner of Shadwell. Sheikh Hamdan. The Sheikh’s daughter, Sheikha Hissa Hamdan Al Maktoum, will be taking the reins of Shadwell’s breeding and racing operations. She’s a terrific horsewoman who loves horse racing; I am sure that she has been groomed by her late father. How cool is that?

    • Steve Haskin says:

      That really is cool. I’m sure the operation will remain classy. Sounds like she has the passion for it.

  2. Jiffy says:

    This is one of your best columns, Steve. You really captured the feel of Saratoga in those days when the horses were saddled under the trees and you could stand a few feet away from them. In a recent discussion the 70’s were described as the golden age of racing because of the Triple Crown winners, but I thought the 60’s were even better with Buckpasser, Graustark, Dr. Fager, Damascus. Arts and Letters, all the two-year-old Bold Rulers, and, of course, Kelso. Those really were the days.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks very much. That really was a great time, and I’ll add the fillies like Gallant Bloom, Shuvee, Ta Wee, Dark Mirage, Gamely, POlitely, Moccasin, Cicada, Tosmah and so many others.

      • Jiffy says:

        Yes, indeed; the list could go on and on. And it’s important to remember that before the Breeders Cup, if you wanted to be Horse of the Year, the race to win was the Jockey Club Gold Cup at two miles. The top horses of that era had no problem with two miles, even with a lot of weight on their backs. You don’t see much of that today.

  3. Mike Relva says:

    Condolences for passing of Arazi.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I posted a column on him on Facebook that I did several years ago. I cant believe its been 30 years. What a time that was when he arrived in Kentucky for the Derby.

      • Matthew W says:

        Bertrando was already a good horse, and he held 2nd by five lengths….Arazi ran right by him! Best performance I ever saw in the Breeders Cup—The Breeders Cup, starting in 1984—before that, you had to travel east to win an Eclipse, and you never really knew which race would be the deciding factor–for two year olds there was The Garden State…for older horses there was the Woodward—Garden State is no longer there, and the Woodward is the “Whitney lite” now! But the Breeders Cup is 37 years in, and has had many epic races—Arazi’s “move” rates at the very top!

          • Dewey Hebert says:

            Steve, thanks for the link to your Arazi story. It brought back the excitement that we all felt when Arazi unleashed his amazing run in the ’91 BC Juvenile. I remember that the anticipation for the ’92 Derby was so intense, as you described.
            I was at Gulfstream for Arazi’s last race in the BC Mile. The crowd was applauding him in the paddock, but he would go out on a disappointing note in a losing effort. Sad ending to what could have been a classic career. Poor decisions by Mr. Paulsen against the advice of his brilliant French trainer, Francois Boutin, proved to be Arazi’s undoing. Nevertheless, his name will endure in racing’s folklore. RIP Arazi.

          • EddieF says:

            That was a great piece on Arazi. Considering all that he had to overcome to get to the Derby, it was amazing that he was odds on. Of course, if AP Indy hadn’t been scratched, the odds would have been significantly higher. I had no idea about the report of Arazi swallowing his tongue. Is that just a horseman’s way of saying that the horse displaced the soft palate? I can’t imagine that a horse could actually swallow his tongue.

  4. Paula Turner says:

    You did it again, Steve. –Got me in the throat, the Heart.
    Spring, ’67, probably Laurel, maybe Delaware Park. It’ll be another couple months before this total greanhorn hotwalker’s earned the opportunity to actually get aboard any of the horses dragging me around Gene Weymouth’s shed row. A couple good rock throws away, ‘other side of the drive, at the near corner of a barn I see this skinny guy–khaki pants and a hat. He’s sitting on an overturned, white plastic bucket, in one hand a leadshank to a head-hanging, dozing racehorse, in the other, a water hose he’s directing on that horse’s leg -or legs. Three cooled out horses later he’s still there, hosing away, same horse.

    While I hold a fourth racehorse, Pete, my tall, skinny black mentor sloshes suds over it’s steaming body. I nod toward the man with the hose. “What’s that guy doin’, Pete?”

    “He’s hosing down legs. ‘Cools ‘em out, tightens ‘em. One of the best things you can do for ‘em. That’s Whiteley “ Pete’s sponge paused against his horse; he looked to me with genuine pride beaming through that big grin of his. “And the horse? That’s Damascus.”

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Wow that is so great Paula and so well written I could see it all. What an introduction to The Fox. Little did you know you would one day be working and breaking another of the all-time greats and a Triple Crown winner. Thanks so much for a wonderful post and look back to a special time in racing. One of the highlights of my career was when Frank was on his death bed and told Mike Bell he wanted me to write his obituary. Mike called me in my hotel when I was in Kentucky covering the Derby to tell me and it blew me away. Frank and I were good friends for years.

      • Paula Turner says:

        Now you’ve really got me choked up, Steve.
        What an honor. WHAT an honor.
        Whiteley.
        –Like those he brought out the best in… among the Great Ones.

    • SJ says:

      Though I wasn’t there for Damascus years, I witnessed Lake Whiteley from Barn 5.

  5. Davids says:

    Steve, your 1968 reprise reads like an anthropologist’s ethnographical study of a community with you as one of the major participants. How different racing was then to now. Isn’t it marvellous that racing, Saratoga, among other tracks around the world, still has the ability to excite as it did more than 50 years ago. That’s staying power. Ha ha

    I’m looking forward to the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown Park this Saturday a little more than the Suburban Handicap but that’s life, as Joni Mitchell warbled “something’s lost, but something’s gained…In living every day.” Marvellous writing, as always, Steve.

    Will St Mark’s Basilica be able to handle Mishriff on good going should be fascinating.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you very much, David. I have never seen back-to-back words that long in a comment. Now I’ll have to go look them up. I wish more people would comment other than the few that have seen these horses run. I was hoping to get younger people interested in these great horses of the past but I havent been successful. The Eclipse should be a great race. St. Mark’s Basilica is going to be facing tough older horses, far better than what he beat in France. But he can be any kind. Big question is whether Addeybb is ready not having run since the Champion Stakes.

      • sceptre says:

        Steve,

        I think there’s much value in rekindling the memories of those who had witnessed it, or had read about those days, those horses, those races…it’s difficult for me to understand why the newer generation isn’t more interested in learning of racings’ past, if indeed this is so.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          I wish I had the answer but there doesnt seem to be much interest in history in general. But I do enjoy rekindling the memories for those who are interested.

          • EddieF says:

            I really don’t know why the younger generations would be interested in horse racing, let alone its history. I’m just glad that my grandfather introduced me to racing and that it became an enjoyable part of my life.

            • Steve Haskin says:

              If we became interested at an early age why wouldnt they? BTW thre is a restaurant in Saratoga called Eddie F’s New England Seafood.

              • EddieF says:

                My guess would be that there are fewer folks around now to introduce sons and daughters (and grandsons and granddaughters) to racing. Also, that there’s SO MUCH else to compete with horseracing for a young person’s interest. I also think that younger folks are more sensitive than those of previous generations to matters of animal welfare. They may not have a balanced viewpoint on that subject, but there’s a lot to be critical of in regard to the treatment of thoroughbreds.

                Someone a while back on this blog asked me if I was Eddie F of Saratoga restaurant fame. Ha! Just a coincidence.

              • EddieF says:

                Speaking of restaurants in Saratoga. It’s been many years since I was last there. Just traveled around Google Maps and Street View to see if any of my favorite restaurants were still around. Seems there’s been a great turnover in dining establishments. Several of my favorites are gone: Eartha’s on Court St., Bruno’s Pizza right across the street from the track, Moon’s Lake House just outside of town. But Hattie’s Chicken, Scallions, and Wheatfields are still there. So is the Olde Bryan Inn, though I wasn’t wowed by that place even though a Saratogian of many years raved about it.

                I do miss the place.

                • Steve Haskin says:

                  you make all good points, but I was referring to young people who are already racing fans, but care little about its history.

                  Bruno’s had great pizza. A lot of restaurant turnover. Scallions and Wheatfields are both very good. The early days had the Ashgrove Inn. Lillians, Joe Collins, Canterbury Inn.

                  • EddieF says:

                    Oh. OK. But I don’t know any young people who are racing fans. 🙂

                    I recall Lillian’s. It was on Broadway across from an oddly located motel, right? I don’t think I ate there. I do remember that it was always busy.

                    • Steve Haskin says:

                      Lillian’s was THE place to go for many years. Those motels on Broadway are still there and still going strong. The one across from Lillian’s has a swimming pool right in front. Our favorite was the Ashgrove Inn outside of town

                  • SJ says:

                    Several years ago I was eating at the bar at Longfellow’s, reminiscing with bartender. Recalled days, many, many years prior when coming back from night at The Rafters, we’d stop at a place called Canterbury Inn.
                    “This IS the old Canterbury Inn!” bar keep replied. Introduced Mr. Sweat to his 1st Irish Coffee there : )

                    • Steve Haskin says:

                      Yep, its the same place. When I talk to you I have a funny story about eating at Canterbury Inn with Joan’s parents the night after Joan and I announced our engagement. I might have told it to you already.

      • Davids says:

        Steve, although grossly generalising, unless young people these days are experiencing the moment themselves ‘it’ doesn’t exist. Everyone’s a star. Ha ha

        Surrey is expecting rain on Friday and Saturday which could advantage St Mark’s Basilica or at least I hope so. Should be a fascinating race.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          I think you said it perfectly. Also its amazing how many good horses are called great horses now.

          • Davids says:

            That is so true, Steve. The UK racing media loosely use ‘great’ to describe every 2 year old colt that wins a few consecutive races. Lol. In the US, winning a few prep races for the Kentucky Derby and they’re described as the second coming of…take your pick. I guess racing needs that hyperbole to create an interest or following.

            • Steve Haskin says:

              Its like going to a Broadway show now. No matter how good or bad a show is the audience gives a standing ovation. I beieve its because they spent so much money for tickets they have to convince themselves they saw a great show. We hunger so badly for a great horse that we throw the word around haphazardly to convince ourselves we saw greatness.

              • Davids says:

                Couldn’t agree more, Steve. I see quite a few shows and a truly good show/performance often will get the same applause as the most mundane boring rubbish.

              • EddieF says:

                My experience is limited, though I’d agree that standing ovations are typical. But there’s a difference between a polite S.O. and a genuinely enthusiastic S.O.

      • Davids says:

        Well Steve, St Mark’s Basilica “Eclipsed” his older opponents. The colt is getting better in every race.

    • sceptre says:

      Hi Davids,

      Rooting for Mishriff, but also much like the underachieving Japan who would seem the smart wager. Hope Coolmore decides to stand Japan next year. He should be fairly reasonably priced, has some charisma (with his pedigree and looks), and feel he has a good chance to succeed. Actually, I’d prefer him to all Galileo sons standing at Coolmore.

      • Davids says:

        Hi sceptre, you would presume that Japan will be given a chance at Coolmore in Ireland or possibly Australia. I can understand why you prefer Japan over the other sons of Galileo standing at Coolmore. Unfortunately, the Eclipse Stakes has been reduced to only four runners with rain on the horizon.

        The Eclipse field has been reduced to 4 with Mishriff at 6-4, just ahead of St Mark’s Basilica at 13-8, with Addeybb next at 11-4 and El Drama 28-1. Obviously, tactical advantage will be of high priority. I’m hoping that Ryan Moore catches them napping and accelerates home with St Mark’s Basilica in triumph. Good luck.

      • Davids says:

        Brilliant win by St Mark’s Basilica in the Eclipse Stakes. Mind you, I don’t we’ve seen the best yet. Exciting race.

        • Steve Haskin says:

          He looked great. I thought Moore was never going to get him out from behind the two leaders

          • Davids says:

            You weren’t the only one, Steve. Moore timed it perfectly though, St Mark’s Basilica’s acceleration made two very good horses look slow. It’ll be interesting to see where Coolmore goes from here.

            • sceptre says:

              Hi Davids,

              I know you love him so I was hesitant to comment. Choice was to say nothing, or be honest. I’ll try the latter. Yes, I suppose I’m a bit prejudice, because SMB isn’t my type, and i really hadn’t much admired his accomplishments. Well, I saw the race differently. Even though the pace was relatively slow, I felt that Mishriff did the heavy lifting in pressing Addeybb (who, likely also wasn’t at his best). I do buy Gosden’s comments that Mishriff tired due, in part, to the going/not at his fittest. I see it as less SMB’s so-called acceleration, and rather more the fact that the two leaders tired. I’m not much buying into either Moore’s or O’Brien’s “company men” post race comments. Tme may tell how really good is SMB.

              • Davids says:

                Hi sceptre, I would agree with most of your argument. St Mark’s Basilica isn’t my favored type either but sometimes emotions override the eye. Not that St Mark’s Basilica is lacking in physical type either, the final bid confirms that.

                As for the race, I agree with you that St Mark’s Basilica benefitted greatly by sitting in the slipstream with Mishriff pressing Addeybb as well as having race fitness, weight advantage however, I feel St Mark’s Basilica does have a turn of foot which will enable the colt to zoom past his rivals and snatch victory. O’Brien has stated he has the perfect mind to take advantage of that turn of foot.

                I’m looking forward to the next encounter where the tables may be turned but I hope not.

                • sceptre says:

                  Yes, David, it’s sometimes difficult to suppress emotion, and on this occasion I may be guilty.
                  It’s not as if i dislike so much his pedigree, but i don’t much care for his look, and also feel too many are premature in extolling his abilities.

                  • Davids says:

                    Yes, the accolades are a bit over the top but that’s UK racing now. Hopefully, the progression continues and he’s not whisked off to stud in a couple of months. Having won with four different jockeys in three different countries bodes well for the future, hopefully.

  6. Stan says:

    Wonderful. Thank you for transporting us back in time with your magical storytelling.

  7. SJ says:

    Ah, that Dr. Fager mane, and those Damascus eyes.

  8. Laura L Lanham says:

    Wow you have outdid yourself again. Thank you so much for sharing this.

  9. Mike Relva says:

    Great article Mr. Haskin. Enjoyable reading.

  10. Bill Harman says:

    >Excellent article,my friend!!~ Very, very well written & knowledgeable~ The good ol’ days, hey!? Very few can compare to these two as far as rivalries go. & Not many Suburbans or Brooklyns..just a handful. ‘Have to go way back in that case! lol Yes; I was a young kid back then-but I sure Do remember. & Damascus and his Triple Crown try. “Shoe” said he just didn’t like the Churchill track and just wasn’t grabbing it. I was very disapointed when Buckpasser had his quarter-crack & couldn’t compete in the Triple. & Then Graustark went down. To be honest, I doubt Kuaui wins either had those two ran. But also, I doubt there would’ve been a Triple Crown winner had both run in the classics. ‘Caught Buckpasser’s WR Mile but just missed the Doctor’s beating his. Yeah-the ‘Good Doctor’ and his tearing up the tracks back then!~ Too bad he never went in that ’67 Triple~

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you, Bill. You certainly were on top of things then. What Triple Crown we would have had if Buckpasser and Graustark had run. Baeza once said Graustark was the best horse he ever rode. He would have been one of the great ones. Nerud did not like the Derby and never had any intentions of running Dr Fager. He said he wasnt ready for it.

      • Marc Mink says:

        Nerud also had an atrocious experience with Gallant Man in the 1957 Derby that he never forgot.

      • sceptre says:

        As I think of it, there was likely never four better horses within such a short span of time as were Buckpasser, Graustark, Dr. Fager and Damascus.

  11. Paula Higgins says:

    This column is one of the best ever written about two a rivalry for the ages.
    You had two of the best horses ever up against each other. You were so
    lucky to have witnessed such greatness and then the amazing Secretariat.
    We will not see their like again. The weights they carried were incredible and then they raced with so little time between races. Not happening today. Loved the description of the Victoria Hotel. I can just picture it. Great column, great racing history, and great memories.

  12. Marc Mink says:

    Steve Wow.. pretty personal for me too.. i actually dug out my programs for those two races and the morning telegraphs for those days i still have saved. My favorite part of the story however was you taking the picture in the rain of Dr Fager going out for a workout.. I can imagine how thrilling that personal moment, public though private it was .. later that year i was at Belmont for a race by Damascus, and as he walked from saddling through the pass through in the stands , i stood at the fence and reached out and softly patted his hind quarters.. he was calm, undisturbed and friendly and a big smile on the jock’s face made the moment..
    Thanks so much for sharing this time with us as well

    Marc

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thats great that you have the programs and the Tellys for those races. Terrific memorabilia. Unfortunately, Damascus’ two races at Belmont were both disasters. But its great you got that close to him.

      • Marc Mink says:

        Damascus had a bad time there.. still in my mind he was still the horse that tow-roped the Doc and Buckpasser in the same race.. regardless of whether or not all three were in their best shape, i cannot imagine a race that had three such horses together.. surely 3 of the top ten horses of all time..As with Affirmed, without Alydar one could only guess how good he was.. without each other, Dr Fager and Damascus would not have had the confirmation of their respective greatness.. Over the years i’m not sure people understand just what a great horse Buckpasser was. During his win streak, we would stop our Saturday poker game to watch the races from the big A.. “Death Taxes and Buckpasser”, was the saying we all used. I know Charlie Hatton was smitten with his flawless conformation as well.
        So glad you wrote this, Steve..

        • Steve Haskin says:

          I did a column recently about Graustark and Buckpasser — The Rivalry That Never was. How different that TRiple Crown would have been.

  13. EddieF says:

    Thanks for the beautifully written remembrances of Saratoga things past. There really isn’t anyplace quite like Saratoga Springs. Regardless of the era, memories of the track and the town are indelible.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thanks Eddie. Maybe I’ll run into you up there one day

      • EddieF says:

        That would be amazing! Odds are good. 🙂

        • Steve Haskin says:

          Just let me know when you go. We go up several times and stay with our good friends who have a home right on the Oklahoma training track. Every morning we sit on their back porch and watch the horses train as trainers like Wayne Lukas and Bill Mott and Steve Asmussen come right by the gate on their pony. Imagine waking up every morning to the sound of horses’ hooves right outside your window. From their back porch you can almost throw a stone and hit Shug McGaughey’s and Chris Clement’s barn. And Mott is right next to them. Maybe I’ll catch you up there sometime and you come by the house one morning for breakfast. Rhoda always put out a spread every morning and often makes quiches.

          • EddieF says:

            Oh man! That’s the life. Many thanks for the invite. To paraphrase a religious promise…Next year in Saratoga!

  14. Amy Hurley says:

    Good column, as usual. A bit before my time, but I love reading about these old rivalries that just don’t develop these days, with the vast majority of top horses being whisked off to the breeding shed after a handful of starts.

    Enjoy your summer at the Spa, Steve! (But it would be pretty hard not to, of course.)

  15. John Goggin says:

    Thanks Steve-a ride down memory lane during the ‘golden era’ of horseracing. Actually, in my humble opinion of all time greats I have Dr. Fager #1 and Secretariat #2 because of the weight he carried and won in fast times in different tracks….saw Dr. Fager six weeks previous at Hollypark to win by 2 and half lengths over the mare Gamely.
    That said and because of the weights, handicaps, weight by age and so forth I’ve to really come hate this procedure and to have complete distaste for this method of trying to ‘handicap’ horse so races can be more competitive.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      The concept of weights and handicaps were to bring all the horses together back when there was no exotic wagering, just one daily double on the first and second races. If there was a 3-5 favorite you either had to try to beat it or skip the race Now there are so many ways in bet a favorite and make money thee is no need any longer for handicaps. You shouldnt be penalized for the being the best. Racing used to be the only sport with wagering, so you had to find a way to make it fair for the bettor

      • Marc Mink says:

        Funny thing about weight and handicaps, Nerud, who of course had the advantage in Dr Fager and Ta Wee to haul enervating weights like feathers, often said..”it’s simple, really good horses in top form carry weight successfully and often easily”.
        When he hauled Fager out to Hollywood in 1968 he was under the impression he would be carrying weight in the 126 range, but found out once arriving it would be 130 lbs.. he was unfazed and in the last Vosburgh in 1968.. he was said to ask Trotter to assign Dr Fager in the mid 140s.. and Trotter would not do it.. The fact that we sit in amazement at the weight carrying of those 1960s stars like Buckpasser and Damascus ands Fager, , maybe means that we are missing something without them.. even though it is impossible to argue the best horses should not be penalized for their successes..

  16. Joyce Gray says:

    I often feel like you are a kindred spirit. I was 12 the summer of 1968 and it was an amazing time in horse racing. My obsession with Dr. Fager influenced my entire life. I grew up in NY watching the races on Saturdays with Win Elliot and Dave Johnson. That helped to fuel my passion. I went to college at SUNY at Cobleskill for Animal Husbandry-Horse. At the time, Tartan Farms often hired on graduates from Cobleskill. I started working at Tartan in June of 1977. Unfortunately Dr Fager had died the summer before but I was very fortunate to work with his last crop of foals. So many great horses…that summer a small group of mares and foals returned from being bred in Kentucky. I was awe struck as one of the mares was Ta Wee. Also in that group was Killaloe and her foal by Mr Prospector – Fappiano! Tartan Farms was a very special place. I worked there until the dispersal and continued to live there until 1994.
    I have enjoyed reading your writings for all these years. I want to thank you for putting into words the way I feel about these remarkable horses. You are able to capture the memories of these horses like no one else can.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Thank you so much, Joyce. That was a fantastic post. I wish the columns on the horses of that era attracted more people, especially the younger generation, but history in general does not seem to interest them, so as long as I can rekindle memories of those who were around back then and saw these horses that will have to suffice. Working at Tartan around those horses had to be so special. And to see Fappiano as a foal and watch what a dominant sire he’s become has to make it even more special. I wrote a book about Dr. Fager and there is a lot about John and Tartan Farm in the book. Thanks again for your wonderful post.

      • Joyce Gray says:

        Yes, that book is part of my library! I was very glad that you were the author that wrote Dr. Fager’s story.

      • Marc Mink says:

        Steve, the fact there is so little high quality film of them running makes it difficult to interest these generations that grew up with instant video and communications…a lot of your memories are part of your own experiences at the track as well..there is nothing like it…I remember totally the 1968 Vosburgh.. alone by myself in uniform in a packed Big A.. watching the duel with Kissin George which quickly became a tour de force for Dr Fager flying down the stretch.. the roar from that crowd was deafening, as all knew it was his last race,., it’s hard to get that shared emotion from afar.. we are social creatures..so these memories are burned into our psyches ..

  17. Matthew W says:

    Very rare to get two great horses from one crop….I loved the Silver Charm/Free House races, so many were close—but neither horse was “great”, both were very good….the Sunday Silence/Easy Goer 4-race rivalry was epic—because both were great, like Dr Fager and Damascus, like Swaps and Nashua, who were from the same crop but only faced off twice.

    • Matthew W says:

      Of course Affirmed/Alydar was epic…..two great horses from same crop, they faced off 9 times, I think….their last race–The Travers—could have been another epic horse race—we’ll never know.

  18. Angela Whyland says:

    Just amazing. IMHO. You seem to just keep getting better and that’s a bit scary as my eyes kept misting while I tried to read. I came late to horse racing, and Saratoga–so not so young with history but especially appreciative of your ability to so vividly bring this year and these horses to life. And the closing; there’s magic.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I really appreciate that, Angela, thank you. I am hoping to reach people who are not that familiar with these great horses of the past, so your comments mean a lot.

  19. Ms Black Type says:

    In my office is a bookcase decoupaged with horse racing pictures clipped from the Blood-Horse some 50 years ago. Dr. Fager’s win over Damascus is on at top center.

    Between the two of them, I can never pick a favorite. Or decide which was the greater horse.

    Thank you, Steve, for bringing tears to my eyes.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      No need to decide. They were both very different from each other and both all-time greats doing it their way. We should appreciate each one and be thankful they came along in the same year.

      • Ms. Black Type says:

        I used to “handicap” them, along with 100 or so other greats of the 20th century. I think I started when I was 14 or 15. Man O’ War was first, of course, with 143 pounds, followed by Citation (142). When Secretariat came along I placed him first, with 146 pounds. Dr. Fager and Damascus were in the high 130s, along with Buckpasser and Kelso (139). (I used to have all the Kentucky Derby winners measured by heart, but now I can’t remember who won three years ago!)

  20. Fernando says:

    Hermosa historia, la lei sin respirar..!! te admiro Steve..!! yo tambien tuve una historia en el Suburban H. 2008, que fui a cubrir por la actuacion de Invasor, y al llegar desde Argentina patra cubrir la carrera tres dias antes, y despues de 12 horas de avion, me entere que Invasor tenia una lesion y no correria… tristeza y decepcion, lo fui a visitar al box en Belmont Park, y gracias a Kiaran Mac Louglin y Fernando Jara que posibilitaron ese encuentro, me emocione al encontrarme solo con el campeon en su box, el que pude ver en accion el Churchill Downs y Dubai, y le dio tantas alegrias a todo el Rio de La Plata..!! un abrazo Steve y gracias por tu historia.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Fernando’s translation — Beautiful story, I read it without breathing .. !! I admire you Steve .. !! I also had a story in the Suburban H. 2008, which I went to cover for Invasor’s performance, and when I arrived from Argentina to cover the race three days before, and after 12 hours on the plane, I found out that Invasor had an injury and I would not run … sadness and disappointment, I went to visit him at the box in Belmont Park, and thanks to Kiaran Mac Louglin and Fernando Jara who made that meeting possible, I was excited to find myself only with the champion in his box, the one I could see in action the Churchill Downs and Dubai, and gave so much joy to the entire Rio de La Plata .. !! a hug Steve and thanks for your story.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        Thank you so much, Fernando. I really appreciate your kind words. Actually, Invasor won the Suburban. He got sick before the Jockey Club Gold Cup and had to miss that race. I also went to visit him at the barn at that time and really got to know him and became a big fan of his since that first up close meeting and saw what a great personality he had. Little did Know that he would change my life and and my family’s and allowed us to travel to Uruguay and meet so many wonderful people.

  21. Jo Anne says:

    I got chills reading your account of these races. And now I’m digging a little more into their backgrounds. Great storytelling as always.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Than you, Joanne. If you felt like you got to know these horses and could appreciate what they accomplished then I did my job.

  22. SJ says:

    Saratoga will always have a special spot for me, as well.

  23. Marcy Koch says:

    It was a magical time. And even though my trips to racetracks have been limited as my work took me to the farms, I watched every race on Saturday’s Race of the Week.

  24. union avenue lightning says:

    i’ve spent many an afternoon, under the spa grandstand, in the dark,
    then the lights really went out, when august dog days, began to bark,
    saratoga memories for me, always include, black skies and rain in sheets,
    while haskin rightfully remembers, the ponies and trainers, and breakfast treats…
    thanks steve