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Will Rich Strike Ever Run Again?

Tuesday, January 16th, 2024

Before we begin the long arduous journey on the Derby trail, let’s pick up some of the leftovers from the 2023 season and look back and hopefully ahead at a one-time big name horse before he becomes one of today’s many forgotten stars. ~ Steve Haskin

Will Rich Strike Ever Run Again? 

By Steve Haskin

 

As we launch into 2024, we have to acknowledge one of the most bizarre stories of the decade, maybe even the century and that is really saying something considering just how crazy this last decade has been. We have had three Kentucky Derby winners disqualified, two from the race and one from his previous race, and we have had the trainer of one of the disqualified Derby horses banned from Churchill Downs, despite having won six Derbys, and the trainer of the disqualified Derby horse sentenced to four years in prison.

And that brings us to the 2022 Derby winner whose trainer actually gave him up over a dispute with the owner. When we say the Rich Strike story is bizarre here is why in its most simplistic summation, and we don’t even know whether the story is over or not:

He is bred by Calumet Farm, one of the most iconic names in Thoroughbred racing and after one terrible race runs for a $30,000 claiming tag and gets claimed by lesser known trainer Eric Reed for Rick Dawson while winning by a staggering 17 1/4 lengths.

He toils around Fair Grounds then Turfway Park all winter and early spring and then is pointed for the Kentucky Derby, even though he is highly unlikely to make it into the field. As expected, his quest appears hopeless, especially when Churchill Downs removes his security guard, and Reed makes plans to ship out of Kentucky and point for the Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park.

Then the day before the Derby Rich Strike miraculously gets in after a late scratch and proceeds to shock the world, winning at odds of 80-1, the second longest priced winner in Derby history and longest in 109 years. Then he shocks everyone again by becoming the first Derby winner in 38 years to pass the Preakness while perfectly sound and instead go straight to the Belmont Stakes.

Then he fails in the Belmont and Travers. Returning to Churchill Downs, he has the Lukas Classic won in the final furlong until his jockey Sonny Leon pulls one of the most head scratching moves seen in years, costing him the race by a head. Leon then gets suspended 15 days for intentionally attempting to interfere and impede the progress of a rival by repeatedly making physical contact with another rider in the race.

He then loses the race a second time when protests by his connections, based on photographic evidence that the winner was wearing illegal shoes, is overruled.

Then he is well beaten in his next three starts followed by the weirdest incident of them all in which Eric Reed reaches an agreement with a production company headed by former NFL quarterback Peyton Manning for a documentary about the trainer’s career, which has its share of tragedies, both professionally and personally. But owner Dawson takes exception to the documentary for naturally using parts of Rich Strike’s story, to which he claims to own the trademark. The two disagree about the intent of the documentary and Reed promptly and shockingly resigns, with Rich Strike being sent to trainer Bill Mott, who thus far has failed to get the colt back to the races.

Rich Strike is sent to Margaux Farm in Kentucky for light exercise, while being treated for nagging front leg issues. Finally, after discussing the situation with veterinarians, Dawson announces Rich Strike’s retirement and decides to sell the colt at the Keeneland November sale. Whether or not it was due to lack of interest from buyers, Dawson withdraws him from the sale, saying he will attempt to return to the races after continued light exercise.

Then in late November, Rich Strike received his first stem cell treatment, with no exercise planned other than walking and daily trips to his paddock for “some horsing around activities,” whatever that entails. He is still turned out at Margaux Farm, where an ultrasound in early February will be performed to determine the horse’s future.

So where does the Rich Strike story go from here? Who knows? How will the colt be remembered? Who knows? As we saw with 50-1 Derby winner Mine That Bird in 2009, all it took was one glorious day in racing’s biggest spotlight to inspire a full-length motion picture that is a must-see for all racing fans. So how can you separate Eric Reed’s story from Rich Strike’s story? You can’t. Neither would have had their day in the sun and made history without the other, and Reed’s story would have remained hidden in the family archives.

Although the impending documentary on Reed and his family should be extremely powerful and heartbreaking, the addition of Rich Strike’s story obviously is needed and would surely make it more compelling. But we will have to see just what is allowed. After all, the conflict between owner and trainer was so strong it apparently forced Reed to give up his Kentucky Derby winner.

So if Rich Strike never runs again how should he be remembered? Anyone who has been in racing for a long time is well aware that the standards today are not as lofty as they were decades ago. We seem to remember the horses more on their story and single race splashes than their overall accomplishments. Even a horse with all-time great talent like Flightline has his detractors because of his short six-race career, and who knows how he will be remembered and for how long. Recent horses on the verge of stardom who were retired at 3 such as Essential Quality and Arcangelo do not have the opportunity to leave much of a legacy on the track, and the latter likely will be more remembered because of his trainer. Even a Triple Crown winner like Justify already seems to be remembered more for his early success as a stallion.

You can make a claim that Mine That Bird will be remembered more than the aforementioned horses based on that one-race splash, along with his compelling back story and subsequent movie. That could very well be the way Rich Strike will be remembered if his story is told correctly and in full. Then, like Mine That Bird, there is no need to go beyond his one shining moment, even though a documentary usually does not garner the recognition and public appeal of a full-length motion picture with well-known actors.

As for Rich Strike, I have no idea how talented he is or was, but I do believe he had more talent than his record would indicate, and we still don’t know what physical challenges or ailments he had, or has to overcome, and how much they may have compromised his post-Derby performances.

So, whatever is going on with him, let’s hope his return is not just a pipedream or a move of desperation, and that we can actually witness the rare sight of a Kentucky Derby winner racing at 5, especially in a year when the older horse division looks like it could be very thin. If there is one thing you can say about today’s racing  fan, they don’t ask for much.

Photo Courtesy of Heather Jackson

 

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

 

Arts and Letters was Born Noble

Monday, January 8th, 2024

The recent impressive maiden victory by Born Noble has given us a reason to tell the story of Arts and Letters, a horse who was very important in my life at a time when I was at a crossroads and needed to find a direction. ~ Steve Haskin

Arts and Letters Was Born Noble 

By Steve Haskin

 

The word was out early on the 2-year-old colt Born Noble, another member of Todd Pletcher’s annual juvenile juggernaut. No matter how brilliant they are first time out, some make it and some don’t, so look for the intangibles as much as statistics such as time and margin of victory.

In the case of Born Noble, the son of Constitution is owned by Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds, which has had a knack in recent years for partnering up on top-class horses.

Purchased as a yearling at Keeneland for $725,000, Born Noble showed those intangibles in his December 30 career debut at Gulfstream when he drew off to an impressive victory despite racing very greenly in the stretch. But there is plenty of time to discuss him in detail when the Derby Rankings begin on January 22. Right now we admit to be using his pedigree not only as a major indicator of his speed, class, and extreme stamina, but as a portal to the past when horses did things they surely wouldn’t be asked to do today, but still went on to win classics, championships, and get elected to the Hall of Fame.

First off let me say that Born Noble’s third dam, Rokeby Rosie, is a half-sister to the $3 million earner and Hall of Famer Silverbulletday, winner of such major races as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Kentucky Oaks, and Alabama Stakes. But the key word here is Rokeby, the name of Paul Mellon’s powerful breeding and racing empire that produced so many top-class horses and champions in the 1960s and ‘70s and all the way into the early ‘90s. Among those were Belmont and Travers winner Quadrangle; Hall of Famer and Horse of the Year Fort Marcy; champion 3-year-old Key to the Mint; Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero; Coaching Club American Oaks winner Summer Guest; Marlboro Cup, Travers, and Whitney winner Java Gold; the legendary Mill Reef, winner of the English Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe; and the horse we are here to write about, Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Arts and Letters.

You see, Born Noble’s fifth dam, Rokeby Venus, a daughter of Quadrangle, happens to be a half-sister to Arts and Letters, whose dam, All Beautiful, was carrying him in foal to Ribot when she was sold to Mellon for $175,000 at the Foxcatcher Farm dispersal at Timonium. Mellon bought All Beautiful, a granddaughter of Man o’ War, to be bred to the great Sea-Bird, who had just retired following his dominating victory in the 1965 Arc de Triomphe and was heading to Darby Darn Farm, the home of Ribot. Although All Beautiful’s Sea-Bird filly, Bell Bird, won only two of 28 starts, Mellon got far more than he could ever have hoped for from All Beautiful’s Ribot colt, who he named Arts and Letters.

I have written a number of columns about Arts and Letters and his memorable Triple Crown campaign, his epic battles with Majestic Prince, that amazing 1969 crop of 3-year-olds, and Arts ad Letters’ heartwarming friendship with fellow Belmont Stakes winner Stage Door Johnny at Greentree Stud and then Gainesway Farm. Both lived into their ‘30s and were inseparable, with each one holding the title as oldest living Belmont winner.

But this column goes beyond the bare facts of Arts and Letters’ career, and delves deeper into the talent, toughness, and fortitude of this little 15.2-hands giant of a horse.

I am also taking this opportunity to reveal just how important Arts and Letters was to my life. Having left the world of Wall Street at age 22 for good and with no other career to turn to it was Arts and Letters who kept my spirits up by giving me something or someone to care about and take my mind off my seemingly empty future, while fueling my obsession for horse racing that began two years earlier. Because he was by Ribot, the sire of my beloved Graustark and his full-brother later to be named His Majesty, both of whom I visited twice at Darby Dan Farm in 1969, I fell in love with the then unknown Arts and Letters and actually started my first ever scrapbook on him, clipping out every mention of him.

During those uncertain times in 1969 I became immersed in that year’s Derby trail, then the Triple Crown followed by my visit to Saratoga to see Arts and Letters run in the Jim Dandy and his Horse of the Year showdown with Nodouble in the Woodward Stakes, which he won by two emphatic lengths. Seventeen days later, still riding high from the victory, and 11 days before Arts and Letters cemented his year-end honors with a 14 length romp over Nodouble in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, I was hired as a copy boy at my racing bible, the Morning Telegraph, the main edition of the Daily Racing Form, with the intention of becoming the assistant librarian, which I did shortly after.

The reason I was hired in the first place was due to my love of Graustark, a story I told in a previous column. Moving into the library surrounded by horse photos, Racing Manuals, bound volumes of the Telegraph going back over 100 years, and other publications was a dream come true and the ultimate kid in a candy store scenario. The longshot odds of getting hired at the “Telly” and during the peak of Arts and Letters’ success just added to my love of the Rokeby colt, who got me through those trying nine months and who I have always felt contributed in some way to the turning point of my life.

After a year I became the librarian when my boss moved to the advertising department and the rest as they say is history. If I hadn’t been promoted to librarian I surely would have been back on the street, as were all the non-essential employees when the “Telly” shut down in 1972 and moved to Hightstown, New Jersey as the Eastern edition of the Daily Racing Form.

So now that we have that aspect of Arts and Letters’ importance on my life out of the way, let’s look and see who this remarkable colt really was.

** First off, let’s acknowledge the fact that Arts ad Letters in the winter of his 3-year-old campaign stood a mere 15.1 hands. Despite a hard Derby trail campaign, competing in the Everglades, Flamingo, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes and finishing first or second in all of them, he put on weight and by late summer had grown to around 15.2 hands, still diminutive by Thoroughbred standards.

** Following two gut-wrenching stretch battles with Majestic Prince in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, in which he had a new jockey in Braulio Baeza after regular jockey Bill Shoemaker was injured, trainer Elliott Burch ran him right back 13 days later in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap against older horses even though he would have to change riders again, going to Jean Cruguet, with Baeza committed to ride Ogden Phipps’ 1967 2-year-old champion Vitriolic.

** In the Met Mile, Arts and Letters came from 10th to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths over Nodouble in a swift 1:34 flat, closing his last two quarters in a spectacular :23 2/5 and :23 1/5. With the Belmont only seven days away and coming off a fast mile race, Burch worked him five days later. Despite having to go 1 1/2 miles in two days, Arts and Letters blazed a half-mile in :45 1/5 after three furlongs in :33 4/5 and then galloped out five furlongs in an insane :57 3/5, pulling up six furlongs in 1:11 flat. Two days later he demolished Majestic Prince by 5 1/2 lengths, running the fastest final half-mile in Belmont Stakes history. And, amazingly, he was only starting to get good.

Arts and Letters, inside on rail, draws away in the 1969 Belmont Stakes with Majestic Prince three-wide.

** Burch , who had won the Belmont Stakes with Sword Dancer and Quadrangle by using the Met Mile as a prep, knew his horses, and always claimed Arts and Letters was his toughest horse ever and knew how to take care of himself, sleeping when he needed to and running and training hard and fast when he needed to. As Burch said, “The more he trained the more he put on weight.”

** He showed that trait again in the 1 1/4-mile Woodward, coming off a 10-length romp in the Jim Dandy Stakes and a 6 1/2-length score in the Travers, in which he equaled the track record. Before the Woodward, which was to decide Horse of the Year, Arts and Letters worked six furlongs in 1:12 2/5, then seven furlongs in 1:24 flat. Three days later he worked a mile seven days out in 1:36 2/5. Then two days before the race he worked another sizzling half in :45 4/5, out five furlongs in :57 3/5 and was pulled up six furlongs in 1:10 3/5. The Woodward was never in doubt as he charged past Nodouble to win by two lengths in 2:01.

** With his stamina, the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, again facing Nodouble, looked to be a mere formality. A week out, Burch, wanting to put more speed in him to keep him closer to the speedy Nodouble, worked him a mile in a slow 1:38, out 1 1/8 miles in 1:51 4/5, but had him cut out fast early fractions of :47 and 1:11 3/5. To demonstrate what it was like to train Arts and Letters, two days before the race Burch not only worked him six furlongs in 1:13 2/5, out seven furlongs in 1:27, he vanned him from Belmont to Aqueduct for the work because he felt the colt was “getting bored with things at home.” Afterwards he said Arts and Letters seemed to enjoy the change in scenery. Two days later he cantered home by 14 lengths in the Gold Cup.

** What is most amazing about Arts and Letters’ consistently fast works close to his races is that he was able to maintain them and his durability all year. He worked before the Flamingo Stakes in :45 3/5, :58 1/5, out in 1:10 flat and worked five-eighths in :58 2/5 before the Florida Derby. He then went on to romp in the Blue Grass Stakes, missing the track record by two-fifths of a second, finish second by a neck in the Kentucky Derby and second by a head in the Preakness, both gut-wrenching stretch battles, and win the Met Mile and Belmont Stakes, all five races in the span of six weeks. Oh, yes, in the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness he worked a half-mile in :47 3/5 the Saturday before the race and six furlongs in 1:11 flat the Wednesday before the race.

** To demonstrate his versatility he won the Blue Grass Stakes on the lead, won the Belmont and Jockey Club Gold Cup coming from second, won the Woodward and Jim Dandy coming from third, won the Travers coming from fourth, won the Everglades and Grey Lag coming from seventh, and won the Met Mile coming from 10th.

** At 4, carrying 128 pounds in the Grey Lag Handicap, he turned certain defeat into victory with a dramatic late burst to nail the swift and classy Never Bow, making up five lengths inside the eighth pole. He was then sent to Hollywood Park for the Californian Stakes as a prep for of all races the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France. But he bowed a tendon in the race and was retired, putting an end to the most memorable and tumultuous time of my life that began thankfully with a newly discovered hero to help me through nine months of unemployment, no skills, and a foreboding future.

Arts and Letters proved so popular that NYRA vice president of public relations Pat Lynch said on Jim Dandy day, “I haven’t seen that many people around a horse since Native Dancer ran here. He is a horse people come to see.” Ten days later the crowd around Arts and Letters’ saddling tree for the Travers swelled to 10-12 deep, unlike anything seen before at Saratoga.

As I sit here 55 years later following a very special Christmas with my still beautiful wife of 43 years, my wonderful daughter and her husband and my two precious grandchildren, I have to thank a 2-year-old colt named Born Noble for giving me a reason to open up an old scrapbook and pay thanks to a special friend who kept me going long enough for fate to step in and guide me the rest of the way.

Photos Courtesy of Steve Haskin, New York Racing Association

 

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

 

More Champions: Just the Facts Part II

Monday, December 25th, 2023

To close out the holiday season, we go back into the annals of American champions with the hope of once again enlightening racing fans with facts they may not be familiar with. ~ Steve Haskin

More Champions: Just the Facts Part II 

By Steve Haskin

If you thought after last week’s column you now know all the facts about our champions, well, we have more for you. And let’s start with some of the filly champions who were able to defeat the boys in major races.

Of course we will only briefly go back to pre-World War I when fillies beat the colts on a regular basis. Some of the more well known were Ruthless, Tanya, Beldame, Artful, Pan Zareta and Imp.

Imp, known as the “Coal Black Lady,” ran an incredible 171 times, 50 of those starts as a 3-year-old, and became the first filly to win the Suburban Handicap, followed a few years later by Beldame. One of the greatest upsets came in 1904 when Artful shocked the racing world by beating the undefeated wonder horse Sysonby In the Futurity Stakes, his only career defeat. Then in 1915, Regret became the first filly to win the Kentucky Derby, and the publicity she received launched the Derby into national prominence. What most people might not realize is that when Regret won the Derby she had made only three career starts and her previous start was in the six-furlong Hopeful Stakes 8 1/2 months earlier.

Fillies’ success continued throughout the 1920’s, which brings us to our first fact.

** To demonstrate the high esteem in which fillies were held, C.V. Whitney’s undefeated Top Flight was made the 8-1 winter book favorite for the 1931 Kentucky Derby, despite the fact that the race was still more than five months away and she hadn’t yet been nominated?

** The 1940’s saw a resurgence of fillies’ success against colts following a slowdown in the ‘30’s when new and lucrative stakes for fillies were added. But in the ‘40’s, top colts such as Citation, Armed, Stymie, Devil Diver, Pavot, Hoop Jr. ad Better Self all fell victim to fillies. The queen of them all was champion and Hall of Famer Gallorette, who competed against males in a amazing 42 stakes races, and in 1946 won two legs of the Handicap Triple Crown.

** In 1948, fillies ran first and second in the Brooklyn Handicap, with the 17-hands giant Conniver beating Gallorette by a head. It was three lengths back to champion and Hall of Famer Stymie.

** In the 1940’s, Calumet Farm twice defeated champion males with fillies when Bewitch upset stablemate Citation in the Washington Park Futurity and Twilight Tear crushed handicap champion Devil Diver by six lengths in the Pimlico Special. And in 1951 their 5-year-old mare Wistful defeated eventual Belmont Stakes winner and Horse of the Year Counterpoint in the Ben Ali Handicap.

** What champion filly defeated a Kentucky Derby winner and a Horse of the Year, and in two different years? It was Tosmah, who beat Derby winner Lucky Debonair in the 1966 John B. Campbell Handicap and Horse of the Year Roman Brother in the 1964 Arlington Classic.

** Last week we mentioned champion Gamely. Did you know that not only did she finished second to the great Dr. Fager in the Californian Stakes and the leading older horse Nodouble in the Santa Anita Handicap, she had the distinction of winning at Saratoga and Hollywood Park carrying over 130 pounds each time?

** What Suburban Handicap winner was bred to a Suburban Handicap winner and produced a Suburban Handicap winner? Busanda was bred to Tom Fool and produced Buckpasser, all Suburban winners.

** What filly ran in the Santa Anita Derby and Santa Anita Handicap? C.V. Whitney’s Silver Spoon won the Santa Anita Derby easily defeating eventual Preakness winner Royal Orbit and then finished a respectable fifth in the Big Cap the next year, beaten only 2 1/2 lengths.

** Speaking of Buckpasser, he was upset at odds of 3-5 in the 1965 Futurity Stakes by Priceless Gem, who would produce the great Allez France, who defeated colts in eight stakes in France, including the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

** There was a Hall of Fame filly who was upset by a 10-1 shot in the Test Stakes who also would be elected to the Hall of Fame. Can you name both fillies? Yes, none other than Filly Triple Crown winner Mom’s Command who was upset by the great “Iron Lady” Lady’s Secret.

** Champion filly and Hall of Famer My Juliet not only defeated Kentucky Derby winner Bold Forbes in the seven-furlong Vosburgh Handicap, she also finished ahead of Preakness winner Master Derby when finishing second in the Omaha Gold Cup and defeated Jockey Club Gold Cup winner On the Sly in the Michigan Mile and an Eighth.

** Last week we made several references to the Washigton D.C. International. You may not be familiar with the 1975 winner Nobiliary, who won wire-to-wire and like Dahlia was owned by Nelson Bunker Hunt. But it is worth noting that earlier that year she became the first filly since 1916 to finish second in the Epsom Derby when runner-up to the great Horse of the Year Grundy.

** It wasn’t until the 1980’s that fillies made a major impact on the Kentucky Derby when Genuine Risk and Winning Colors captured the roses in 1980 and 1988, respectively. Genuine Risk would become the only filly to place in all three Triple Crown races, finishing an unlucky second in both the Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

** What is the greatest family connection in Breeders’ Cup history? Whitney winner Personal Ensign won the Distaff. Personal Ensign’s daughter My Flag won the Juvenile Fillies. My Flag’s daughter Storm Flag Flying won the Juvenile Fillies.

** When discussing the great filly champion sprinters who defeated colts, mention must be made of Xtra Heat, who won 26 of her 35 races, 34 of them sprints, and finished in the money 33 times while competing at 13 different racetracks including Nad al Sheba in Dubai. In her final 19 starts she earned 17 triple-digit Beyer speed figures, with the other two being a 99. Along the way she ran a remarkable 120 Beyer, a 118 and a 117. Racing against colts, she won the Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland, finished second, beaten a half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Belmont, and was third in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai.

 Let’s Get Back to the Boys

** What two champions and Hall of Famers were deprived of unbeaten championship seasons by losing to their own stablemate? The first we gave you earlier, and that was Citation losing to Bewitch, his only defeat in nine starts at 2. The other was Buckpasser, who was beaten by stablemate Impressive in a seven-furlong exhibition allowance race to start his 3-year-old campaign. Buckpasser went on to win his next 13 races that year. But Impressive, who became a rabbit for Buckpasser, made it up to him by setting up his world record mile in the Arlington Classic by setting blazing fractions of :43 3/5 ad 1:06 4/5.

** Did you know that Assault is the only Triple Crown winner who did not go off as the favorite in the Belmont Stakes? The favorite was Lord Boswell who closed fast in the Preakness and just missed catching Assault by a neck.

** Did you know that trainer Elliott Burch won three Belmont Stakes with horses who competed in the first two legs of the Triple Crown and then ran in the Met Mile in between the Preakness and Belmont? They were Sword Dancer and Arts and Letters, who both had hard races in the Derby and Preakness and then won the Met Mile with ease, and Quadrangle, who finished second in the Met Mile to Olden Times. To show how much that took out of them, all three horses went on to win the Travers, with Sword Dancer and Arts and Letters named Horse of the Year en route to the Hall of Fame.

** Name the only horse to win the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on dirt and Grade 1 Hollywood Invitational on grass, and did it in back-to-back races. That was Exceller, who later that same year won the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup on dirt and Grade 1 Oak Tree Invitational on grass in back-to-back races.

** Name the greatest three-horse rivalry hardly anyone is aware of. First the appetizer. In 1996, Will’s Way won the Travers with Skip Away third. Early in 1997, Formal Gold won the Donn Handicap with Skip Away second. Now the action begins. In the Mass Cap it was Skip Away first, Formal Gold second, and Will’s Way third. In the Suburban Handicap it was Skip Away first, Will’s Way second, and Formal Gold third. In the Whitney it was Will’s Way first, Formal Gold second, and Skip Away third. In the Iselin Handicap it was Formal Gold first and Skip Away second. In the Woodward it was Formal Gold first, Skip Away second, and Will’s Way third.

** Now we come to the greatest two-horse rivalry hardly anyone is aware of. We’re talking about champion and Hall of Famer Precisionist and the grossly under appreciated Greinton. Seven times they finished first and second, all Grade 1 or Grade 2 stakes, with Precisionist holding a 4-3 edge. It actually ended 4-4 with Greinton winning the Santa Anita Handicap and Precisionist finishing sixth. Their crowning achievement came in a three-race span in 1985 in which Precisionist beat Greinton in the Mervyn LeRoy Handicap covering the mile in a blazing 1:32 4/5. Greinton came right back and beat Precisionist in the one-mile Californian Stakes in 1:32 3/5 and then beat him again in the mile and a quarter Hollywood Gold Cup in 1:58 2/5.

** If you want an excellent example of how racing has changed over the years, Carry Back at 2 raced 14 times before stretching out in distance…to six furlongs. He actually began his career on January 29 going three furlongs, and then raced three times in February alone, all at three furlongs. He closed out his 2-year-old campaign with victories in the Garden State Stakes and Remsen Stakes in his 20th and 21st starts of the year and then went on to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and a number of other major stakes until his retirement at age 5, having made 61 career starts.

** Even workouts have changed dramatically over the years. In the 1967 Woodward Stakes, called the “Race of the Century,”If there was a concern about defending Horse of the Year Buckpasser it was that he was coming into the race off a two-month layoff (Now who doesn’t?). To compensate, trainer Eddie Neloy worked him a mile in 1:38 2/5 17 days before the race. He came back four days later and worked him five furlongs in the slop in :59 flat. Four days after that and nine days before the race he worked him a full 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 1/5. Five days later he was back on the track working six furlongs in 1:11 flat four days before the race. And how about the victorious Damascus, who in a 10-day span before the race worked  seven furlongs in 1:27 2/5, then three furlongs in :36 1/5 four days later, then another seven-furlongs in 1:27 the next day, and then blew out three-furlongs the day before the race in :34 4/5. Again, this is four works in the 10 days leading up to the race.

** What 2-year-old champion and early favorite for the Kentucky Derby with decisive victories in the Flamingo Stakes and Florida Derby ended his career at age 9 racing at Lincoln Downs and Narragansett Park, both in Rhode Island? It was Top Knight, who scored impressive victories in the Hopeful, Futurity, and Champagne Stakes at 2 and twice defeated future Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Arts and Letters at 3. He lived to a ripe old age at a small farm in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

** What 3-year-old champion was named after a song his owner and breeder heard through the walls of Saratoga’s Reading Room where he was staying and decided because it was so catchy to one day use the name for a horse? The owner and breeder was Hirsch Jacobs and the song was the Lloyd Price hit “Personality.” The colt Personality that Jacobs named after the song would win the Preakness, Woodward, Jersey Derby, Wood Memorial, and Jim Dandy Stakes.

** Name the champion who is the only American horse to run in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe twice and actually finished a good fourth behind the legendary Ribot. It was C.V. Whitney’s Career Boy, who first ran in the Arc the year before, along with his stablemate Fisherman.

** As a follow-up, name the only two American classic winners to run in the Arc. The aforementioned Carry Back in 1962 finished 10th of 24 starters, but was beaten only 5 3/4 lengths. In 1965, Preakness winner Tom Rolfe finished sixth behind the great Sea-Bird under Bill Shoemaker.

** Name the Horse of the Year who ran four triple-digit Beyers in his last five starts, all at different distances. It was Ghostzapper, who ran a 120 in the seven-furlong Tom Fool Handicap, a 122 in the Met Mile, a 124 in the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic, and a 128 in the 1 1/8-mile Iselin Handicap.

** Animal Kingdom is the only horse to win the Kentucky Derby in his first start on dirt.

** Big Brown was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby with only three career starts since Regret 93 years earlier and the first horse to win from post 20.

** Name the horse who began his career at Philadelphia Park, Meadowlands, and Garden State, then was sold after losing eight straight races, and two years later was voted Horse of the Year? It was Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Black Tie Affair, who closed out his career with six consecutive graded stakes victories at five different tracks for little-known Chicago trainer Ernie Poulos.

** This last one is from far out left field, but worth mentioning. What Hall of Famer was from an unplanned mating when two paddock mates, one female and one male considered infertile, mated and produced a colt who  would toil around in cheap claiming races in West Virginia? Here’s a better hint. He was turned into a jumper and became the first horse owned, bred, and ridden by an American to win England’s Grand National Steeplechase. His name is Jay Trump.

This is the last column for 2023, so Merry Christmas to those reading this on Monday and to all a Happy New Year. All your wonderful comments throughout the year are greatly appreciated.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

A Championship Gift Package for Christmas

Monday, December 18th, 2023

Our Christmas gift to everyone this year is a game of Championship Trivial Pursuit that hopefully will enlighten and entertain. And what better day to post it than Monday, December 18, the 50th anniversary to the day of Secretariat being named Horse of the Year, as well as Champion 3-Year-Old Male, and Champion Male Grass Horse. ~ Steve Haskin

A Championship Gift Package for Christmas 

By Steve Haskin

It is Christmas time and in the world of horse racing that means it is time to start thinking about championships. Who wins the 2023 Eclipse Awards has no bearing on this column, as we are just using it as an excuse to provide some interesting facts about past champions, some of them I’m sure most racing fans did not know. So try to keep up, as they will be coming fast and furious, and along the way you can test your knowledge about our champions over the years.

Let’s actually begin with a horse who did not win a championship, and that is because I consider her the most accomplished horse to hold that dubious honor. Alydar may be the most talented non champion, but no horse was more accomplished than Optimistic Gal.

Just imagine a filly winning the Adirondack Stakes by 9 ¾ lengths, the Matron by 6 ½ lengths, the Frizette by 3 ¼ lengths, the Alcibiades by 21 lengths, and the Selima by 2 ¼ lengths and not being voted 2-year-old Filly champion. This was back in 1975 when these were basically the biggest races in the country. Although she won seven of her nine starts, her only two defeats were second-place finishes to Dearly Precious in the six-furlong Sorority and Spinaway Stakes. Dearly Precious went eight-for-nine in her juvenile season, winning her last eight starts, seven of them stakes.

The following year, Optimistic Gal, who was trained by LeRoy Jolley for the Firestones, won the Ashland, the Kentucky Oaks by 4 1/4 lengths, the Alabama by 16 lengths, and then defeated older fillies and mares in the Delaware Handicap and Spinster Stakes, the latter by five lengths. But once again she lost the championship to Dearly Precious, who beat her in the Acorn. Dearly Precious, as brilliant as she was, never won a two-turn race and when she tried to stretch out in the Mother Goose Stakes, she finished fifth, beaten 22 lengths, finishing 21 lengths behind runner-up Optimistic Gal.

This was in some ways reminiscent to 1969 when Shuvee became only the second filly to sweep the NYRA Filly Triple Crown (Acorn, Mother Goose, and CCA Oaks) and then romped by four lengths in the Alabama, won the Cotillion Stakes, and beat older fillies and mares in the Ladies Handicap. But she did not receive a single vote for 3-Year-Old Filly Champion, an honor that went to the great Hall of Famer Gallant Bloom, who had defeated Shuvee in four of their five meetings at 2 and 3, and beat her decisively in the Delaware Oaks and their championship showdown in the Gazelle Handicap, en route to a 12-race winning streak.

Now onto some quick facts about past champions, some of them in question form.

** The French filly Trillion is the only horse to win an Eclipse Award without ever winning a race in North America. In 1979, she made four starts in North America, finishing second in all of them – Canadian International, Turf Classic, Oak Tree Invitational, and Washington D.C. International.

** What horse not only was named Horse of the Year, he was the only horse to defeat Sunday Silence and Easy Goer? It was Criminal Type, who won four consecutive Grade I stakes at four different distances at four different racetracks, defeating Easy Goer in the Met Mile and Sunday Silence in the Hollywood Gold Cup in consecutive races. He also captured the Grade 1 Pimlico Special and Whitney Handicap.

** Who was the first pure grass horse to be voted Horse of the Year? That was Fort Marcy, who won top honors in 1970, closing out the year by winning the three biggest grass races in the country – the United Nations Handicap by five lengths over his arch rival in California Fiddle Isle, the Man ‘o War Stakes, and Washington D.C. International.

** What Horse of the Year equaled or broke 16 track records? It was the great Round Table, the first superstar on both dirt and grass.

** Name the only champion and Hall of Famer to go off at odds over 100-1 twice as a 2-year-old? The answer is racing’s first Filly Triple Crown winner Dark Mirage, who went off at 101-1 in a maiden race and 112-1 in the Gardenia Stakes. Weighing less than 750 pounds as a 3-year-old when she swept the Triple Crown by an average margin of 8 ½ lengths, just imagine what this mighty mite looked like at 2.

** Champion Older Horse Pleasant Tap is the only horse to run in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Breeders’ Cup Turf, Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and Breeders’ Cup Classic. To demonstrate his versatility even further, he finished second in the Sprint and Classic, the latter to Hall of Famer A.P. Indy.

** While on the subject of the Breeders’ Cup, Sprint champion Kona Gold competed in the Sprint a record five times, finishing first, second, third, and fourth.

** In the “Horses of the Year can come from anywhere” department, consider that All Along debuted at Amiens in France, Criminal Type debuted at Clairefontaine in France, Mineshaft debuted at Newbury in England, Invasor debuted at Maronas in Uruguay, and John Henry debuted at Jefferson Downs in Louisiana. Other champions and where they debuted include Theatrical (Gowran Park in Ireland, My Juliet (Fonner Park in Nebraska), Hawaii (Benoni in South Africa), Canonero II (La Rinconada in Venezuela), Cougar II (Club Hipico in Chile), Nodouble (Hazel Park in Michigan), Noor (Birmingham in England), Riboletta (Gavea in Brazil), Johannesburg (Fairyhouse in Ireland), and Candy Ride (Hipodromo in Argentina).

** In the toughness, durability, and speed department, Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Skip Away won or placed in 32 stakes, while recording a record 29 Triple-digit Beyer speed figures. He went 26 consecutive races without finishing out of the money, earning 25 Triple-digit Beyers, and on top of that he turned in 53 bullet works in his career.

** Three-time Horse of the Year Forego is the only horse to win the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup and be voted Champion Sprinter the same year (1974).

** A similar achievement and one of the great displays of speed and versatility was Sprint Champion Precisionist winning the 1 ¼-mile Hollywood Gold Cup in 1:59 4/5 and the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 1:08 2/5.

** The greatest family run of championships was Dr. Fager and his half-sister Ta Wee winning the Sprint Championship in 1967, ’68, ’69, and ’70. The Doc’s record weight assignment of 139 pounds in the ’68 Vosburgh Handicap was bettered by Ta Wee when she closed out her career in the Fall Highweight and Interborough Handicaps under 140 and 142 pounds, respectively.

** Speaking of Ta Wee and the Vosburgh, can you name the other two filly champions and future Hall of Famers who competed in the seven-furlong race against the boys? It’s a tough one, but Ta Wee, Shuvee, and Gamely all ran in the 1969 Vosburgh Handicap, even though the last two were pure distance horses. It was a cavalry charge to the wire, with Ta Wee winning by a head, Shuvee finishing sixth, beaten only 1 ¾ lengths, and Gamely eighth, beaten only 2 ½ lengths in her career finale.

** We saw something similar in 1980 when future Hall of Famers Bold ‘n Determined, Genuine Risk, and Davona Dale finished first, second, and fourth, respectively, in the Maskette Stakes. Finishing third, and a worthy champion in her own right, was the speedy Love Sign, winner of the Alabama, Test, and the Beldame twice. Although Bold ‘n Determined beat Genuine Risk by a nose and won two legs of the Filly Triple Crown, it was the Kentucky Derby winner and Preakness and Belmont runner-up who was voted 3-Year-Old Filly champion.

** What do champions Spend a Buck, Princess Rooney, Smile, Blind Luck, and Jewel Princess have in common? All began their careers based at Calder Race Course.

** One of the most underrated displays of speed and stamina was by 1985 3-year-old Filly Champion and Hall of Famer Mom’s Command, who won the NYRA Filly Crown wire-to-wire after setting fractions of :44 1/5 and 1:09 in the one-mile Acorn, :45 and 1:09 2/5 in the 1 1/8-mile Mother Goose, and :46 1/5 and 1:10 3/5 in the mile and a half Coaching Club American Oaks. She would go on to win the 1 ¼-mile Alabama Stakes setting fractions of :46 4/5 and 1:10 4/5.

** Champion 3-Year-old Filly Blind Luck made nine cross-country trips from her base in Southern California during her career, six of them at age 3. Her record in those trips was six victories and three seconds.

** Everyone is well aware of champions Secretariat and Riva Ridge finishing first and second in the inaugural Marlboro Cup in 1973, but are you aware that there were five champions in the field – Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Grass Champion Cougar II, 3-Year-old Champion Key to the Mint, and four-time Canadian champion and Horse of the Year Kennedy Road?

** The first European horse to come to America for a full fall campaign was the 1974 Grass Champion Dahlia, who won the Man o’ War Stakes and Canadian International before finishing third in the Washington D.C. International, a race she won the previous year at 3. Dahlia also made history by becoming the first horse to win group or grade 1 stakes in five countries – France, England, Ireland, United States, and Canada.

** Another international pioneer whose U.S. campaign outdid Dahlia’s was All Along, who was voted Horse of the Year in America after an amazing six-week run in which she won the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, Canadian International (then called the Rothman’s International), Turf Classic, and Washington D.C. International.

** While on the international scene, we all know that Goldikova won the Breeders’ Cup Mile a record three times and finished third in her final attempt, but did you know she won the group 1 Prix Rothschild four times leading up to the Mile?

** What trainer took over the ownership of a future Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer on the morning of his career debut? It was Jimmy Croll, who became owner of Holy Bull when the colt’s owner and breeder Rachel Carpenter died and left him her horses. Croll, who was unaware of his inheritance until that morning, was going to scratch Holy Bull when he found out about her death, but was told she loved that colt in particular and would have wanted him to run. Holy Bull won that day and went on to greatness.

** The first horse to win a Breeders’ Cup race twice was grass champion Miesque, who captured back-to-back Breeders’ Cup Miles. Name Miesque’s broodmare sire who upset four future Hall of Famers in a three-week period. It was none other than Prove Out, who defeated Secretariat, Riva Ridge, Cougar II, and Forego from August 24 to September 15 in 1973.

** One statistic that will always be lost in all the hype surrounding Secretariat and his 2-year-old Horse of the Year campaign was the perfect 12-for-12 record by 2-year-old filly champ La Prevoyante.

** Most people remember Coaltown as Calumet Farm’s undefeated colt who finished second in the Kentucky Derby to stablemate Citation, who went on to become one of the greatest horses in history. But how many people know that Coaltown went on to win 14 stakes, break four track records and equal another, and win three championships, including the Turf and Sport Digest Horse of the Year.

** Who were the three greatest champions to compete in one race? Some may feel it was Round Table, Bold Ruler, and Gallant Man in either the 1957 Kentucky Derby or their rematch in the Trenton Handicap later that season. But in the 1967 Woodward Stakes, dubbed the Race of the Century, there was Damascus, Dr. Fager, and Buckpasser. Like in 1957, you had three Horses of the Year and three Hall of Famers, but unlike 1957, all three were regarded as all-time greats who between them would capture an amazing 12 championships, equal or break 11 track records, set two world records, and win carrying 130 pounds or more 12 times. Six of those records have never been broken in the past 55 years. Buckpasser at one point won 15 races in a row; Dr. Fager won nine of his last 10 starts, his only defeat coming at the hands of Damascus while carrying 135 pounds; and Damascus, who won that Woodward by 10 lengths, came within two noses and a head of winning 14 consecutive races.

If you enjoyed these quick-fire facts and anecdotes please feel free to include whatever trivia questions you find interesting in the comments section and we can all play along. As we close out the year, we want to wish everyone a joyous remainder to your holiday season and have a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. 

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

 

Cody’s Wish Wins Second Secretariat Vox Populi Award

Sunday, December 10th, 2023

For the first time since its inception in 2010 the Secretariat Vox Populi Award was won by the same horse in back-to-back years. But the story of Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman in many ways transcended awards by taking us to places we have never been. ~ Steve Haskin

Cody’s Wish Wins Second Secretariat Vox Populi Award 

By Steve Haskin

 

It didn’t seem possible after Cody’s Wish’s convincing victory in last year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award voting and his namesake Cody Dorman winning the Big Sport of Turfdom Award that the 4-year-old colt’s popularity could reach new heights in 2023 and earn him another Vox Populi Award, the first ever back-to-back winner, and Team Cody Dorman winning the Mr. Fitz Award for typifying the spirit of racing. After all, their heartwarming story had been told several times last year on national TV, numerous TV newscasts, and countless features in newspapers and magazines.

But Cody’s Wish wasn’t done with the story. This year, the more he kept running the more he kept winning, and the more he kept winning the longer he kept the story alive. And the longer the story was kept alive, the longer the features continued and more people were introduced to it. Finally, it had infiltrated so many hearts around the world it was inevitable that it would set in motion talks of a book and full-length motion picture. But not only did Cody’s Wish keep the story alive, he may very well have kept Cody Dorman alive, at least according to his father, Kelly.

“Cody had been through so much in his life, with all the surgeries and the heart and respiratory and kidney problems, he had gotten so depressed,” Kelly said. “He never had a night that he didn’t go to bed without tubes and catheters hooked up to him. I can’t tell you how many times we cried and how much we prayed. If that horse hadn’t come along we may have lost Cody four or five years ago. I truly believe the horse bought him several more years.

“After so many ordeals I had forgotten how to cry. I kept it all inside and started to get angry. But when Cody met that horse and I saw the way he interacted with him I bawled my eyes out. It was like he flipped the switch. From the moment Cody’s Wish first laid his head in Cody’s lap we knew that wherever he went from there he’d always be running for Cody. But as time went on and the story of these two grew bigger it became very evident that Cody’s Wish was running for more than Cody. In many ways he ran for the entire world, mainly every child and adult that had unimaginable challenges in their lives. And at the same time he helped raise money for Make-A-Wish.”

Kelly was recently informed by the Make-A-Wish marketing team who were looking over all of Cody’s social media numbers that their story has over a billion views. A stunned Kelly had to confirm, “That’s billion with a ‘b’?”

Walt Disney once said the secret of Mickey Mouse’s popularity is that he is so human. We all are well aware by now that Cody’s Wish’s popularity is due to a human and a bond that began several years ago that has continued to link the two together, some believe in a spiritual way. But could it also be that after two years of countless features and endearing photos we began to see Cody’s Wish as an extension of Cody Dorman and attributed him with human qualities, such as his flair for dramatics on the two occasions when the whole world was watching? Even his Met Mile tour-de-force was viewed by a national audience and a packed Belmont grandstand on Belmont Stakes day.

His riveting victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile provided the ending everyone was looking for. With all of racing craving for a feel-good story during a time of controversy and tragedy it was as if Cody’s Wish was aware of the stage on which he was performing and knew it was time to pull the heartstrings to the limit. At least that is what we’d like to think.

And like he did in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Cody’s Wish once again refused to give up, battling every step of the way down the stretch against a classic-winning foe to eke out another hard-earned victory, setting off a tidal wave of emotion. The Dirt Mile is usually not considered one of the more prestigious Breeders’ Cup races, but in 2023 it was the highlight of the entire two-day event and will be the race everyone remembers years from now.

But Cody’s Wish’s popularity and the true story behind this unique friendship went far beyond his victories and even beyond the cameras.

On the Wednesday before this year’s Breeders’ Cup, Cody had asked to be awakened at 7 o’clock so he could go to the track and watch the horses train, not having any idea when Cody’s Wish was going to train. They went out and found a spot by the rail, not realizing that Cody’s Wish was about to train in five minutes. As the colt jogged back he turned his head sharply to the left and saw Cody. Kelly said he looked right at him and never took his eyes off him.

Another incident that went unnoticed took place the following day when Cody was brought to the barn to see his friend. Instead of being in his chair he was brought in a stroller, which was not quite as secure. At one point Cody’s Wish went over to Cody, lowered his head, and rested it on his lap. Kelly went to straighten Cody out, and the way he described it, “When I reached down, Cody’s Wish stared a hole in me. I told him, ‘OK, buddy, I won’t touch him, he’s all yours.’”

One of the more profound moments came three days before last year’s Dirt Mile when Cody visited the barn. “Cody and Cody’s Wish stared into each other’s eyes for a moment and then Cody’s Wish leaned into him and rubbed his nose up and down Cody’s right cheek,” Kelly said. “There wasn’t a dry eye around there.”

Looking back over these last few years, Kelly said, “Seeing Cody’s Wish’s performances on the track and seeing in person the enduring love for Cody is something that will be branded in our hearts forever.”

To demonstrate just how quickly this story grew and how deeply it touched people, Cody’s Wish this year became the only non-human to ever win the prestigious Musial Award for “extraordinary displays of sportsmanship that represent the best in sports and humanity and embody class and character.” Named for St. Louis Cardinals great Stan Musial, the award has been won by such iconic sports figures as Hank Aaron, Wayne Gretzky, Arnold Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., and Olympic great Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

Unfortunately, no one could have envisioned how this story would end, and it left the Dorman family and all those emotionally involved with questions that will forever remain unanswered. It ended quietly and peacefully where one would expect an ethereal story to end, 30,000 feet in the air. Kelly said that Cody that night was all smiles. “Cody’s Wish had just given us a magical moment as always and Cody was as happy as I’ve ever seen him,” he said.

“We were on a 7 a.m. flight. Normally, Cody would get on early and I would sit outside him on the aisle. But Delta had a couple of open seats up front and thought it would be easier to get Cody on and off quickly, so he and Leslie moved up. I remember them announcing we were 45 minutes from Atlanta, where we would change planes. Cody had laid his head against Leslie and fallen asleep. He never woke up. I looked up and saw the flight attendant talking to Leslie and then grabbing the oxygen mask. She happened to be a registered nurse and looked for a pulse. They began CPR and called the paramedics. They brought him to the hospital and tried to revive him, but 45 minutes later he was gone.

“I went to a thousand pieces. The hardest thing I ever had to do in my life is tell Kylie she had lost her big brother. Then something unusual happened. They put us in a separate room, and in there were just two paintings hanging on the wall that were done by children. Both of them were of horses and one of them reminded me of Cody’s Wish. That brought us a little bit of peace.”

Perhaps Cody Dorman’s mother, Leslie, put it best when she said of Cody’s Wish and her late son, “He ran like Cody lived his life – never give up.”

Cody’s story is far from over. Award-winning journalist Paul Halloran already is working feverishly on a book and Kelly has been approached by several production companies about a movie. “I just want them to realize the best screenwriter in the world couldn’t make this story any more perfect than it already is,” he said. “Cody had done great things even before Cody’s Wish came along and he is going to be inspiring people long after our time here is over.”

There are rumors now about a bronze of Cody’s Wish being built, most likely with his head held low, allowing children to pose under it, especially those who are wheel chair-bound and are able to touch his nose as if interacting with the horse. If this comes to fruition, there is no doubt it will be one of the most popular and photographed statues regardless of where it ends up. Although this would be a statue only of Cody’s Wish, you can be sure Cody Dorman will be there right at the horse’s head where he often was and where he always will be.

Photos courtesy of Jaime Corum, Kelly Dorman

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

 

An Early Party Favor for the Derby Trail

Sunday, December 3rd, 2023

With racing winding down for the year it’s a good time once again to start looking for potential Kentucky Derby horses with a good story behind them. We started off with Nysos last week, but he was already a stakes winner, so let’s find one not as well known~ Steve Haskin

An Early Party Favor for the Derby Trail 

By Steve Haskin

 

This not only is about a horse who caught our eye named Parchment Party, but about his dam, her sale, and the timing that linked the two. It is at that sale where the story begins.

On Nov. 9, Carrie Brogden of Machmer Hall stood with her mom in the back ring at this year’s Keeneland November sale waiting for a 16-year-old mare bred by WinStar Farm named Life Well Lived to sell. This was one Carrie wanted, but not sure the mare would be in her price range. The daughter of Tiznow had produced one top horse, American Patriot, winner of the Grade 1 Maker’s 46 Mile at Keeneland in 2017. Later that year, Life Well Lived, at the height of her popularity, was purchased at the Keeneland November sale by Bobby Flay for $1,250,000. But she had produced nothing of note since then and when she was put in the same sale in 2019 in foal to Curlin, with Stone Farm acting as agent, she failed to meet her reserve and was bought back for $775,000.

They tried to sell her again in 2022, but she was withdrawn from the sale. With her value as a broodmare diminishing every year it was time for Carrie to step in. Machmer Hall, owned by Carrie and her husband Craig, has had good success over the years purchasing what Carrie calls “super mares,” which are older stakes producers that have great sales appeal and excellent race records from their progeny. Carrie also was a big fan of Stone Farm, owned by Arthur Hancock, and in fact bought the property adjacent to Stone Farm, naming it Machmer Hall after her maternal grandmother Betty Machmer.

The morning of the sale Carrie went to the updates section on the Keeneland website to check any updates on the four mares in whom they were interested. That is when she learned that Life Well Lived had a son named Parchment Party who had won his career debut seven weeks earlier going 1 1/16 miles at Churchill Downs before the catalog had been printed. With her target price of $250,000 she had mixed reactions. She was glad to see the mare had produced a winner, but she texted her mom, who is also involved in the operation, and her husband informing them Life Well Lived had a “live” 2-year-old and was going to cost more than they originally thought. She then found an article in Thoroughbred Daily News naming Parchment Party as a horse to watch.

Later that morning she went to see Life Well Lived for the first time. The night before she had contacted Lynn Hancock, who runs Stone Farm for her father and mother just to make sure there were no issues with her.

About 50 hip numbers before the mare was selling, Carrie went on Equibase and was given another surprise when she saw that Parchment Party was entered that afternoon in an allowance race at Churchill Downs, not realizing he had been entered in the Street Sense Stakes by trainer Bill Mott 11 days earlier, but was scratched when the track came up sloppy. So she wasn’t aware how highly he was thought of by the normally conservative Mott.

Carrie stood in the back with her mom, Dr. Sandra Fubini, who is a small animal veterinarian and actually owns the Machmer Hall property and is the former owner of Pair O Docs Farm in Warrenton, Virginia with Carrie’s dad.

Life Well Lived walked in the ring and the bidding quickly began to escalate, going up to $275,000, and Carrie realized that they would have to blow their entire budget in order to get her. Finally, at $330,000 it began to slow down as it neared the reserve. It was now Carrie and one other bidder, who upped it to $340,000. Carrie looked at her mom and she said to bid again, so Carrie went to $345,000. It stayed there for what seemed an eternity to Carrie, but then the other bidder, who it was later learned was Elliott Walden of WinStar Farm, who bred the mare, knocked it up to $350,000.

Carrie recalled, “I turned to my Mom and said to her, ‘What do you want to do?’ She looked at me and said, ‘I am 76 years old, I cannot take it with me.  I want this mare.’”

Carrie continued, “By her saying she was 76 it went straight to my heart, as you see my most beloved grandmother, my Mom’s mom and the entire namesake to our farm, Betty Machmer, died in her sleep in perfect health at age 76 on August 28th in 1993.  The impact of my mom’s simple statement was not lost on me, and the loss of my grandmother and her memories rolled onto my cheeks from my eyes. So, I looked at the bid spotter and bid $360,000, knowing full well now that this mare was coming to Machmer Hall, and Elliott backed down. My mom’s heart was happy and my heart was happy for her and my grandma.”

As Carrie was signing the ticket, Lynn Hancock came by to thank her for the purchase and said, “Don’t forget to watch Parchment Party today at Churchill Downs.” Carrie assured her, “I won’t forget!”

She had just bought a 16-year-old mare for $890,000 less than her previous sales price six years ago. This was like buying a used Rolls-Royce with 250,000 miles on it. If it runs good and has several productive years left it’s a great bargain. If it turns out to be a lemon then you just move on. Carrie figured it would take a few years to find out. Little did she realize when she first put Life Well Lived on her “to buy” list she might be finding out a couple of hours after the sale. It’s still too early to tell, but following Parchment Party’s allowance victory that afternoon Carrie could very well be the owner of the dam of a potential hot Kentucky Derby prospect.

But who exactly is Parchment Party that he would get bet down to 35-1, seventh favorite of the 38 Kentucky Derby Future Wager horses despite not winning any of his two races by more than 1 ½ lengths?

Well, all you have to do is watch both his races, especially his career debut in which he somehow got through one of those hold-your-breath openings on the rail that most horses and jockeys would not even attempt to get through. What makes his daredevil move under jockey James Graham even more impressive is that we’re not talking about a small, agile horse who was able to slip through. This is a large scopey horse who is still a big baby having been born extremely late on June 5, so he is well behind the others in maturity. But he never flinched and went though there like a seasoned pro before drawing clear.

Many times while watching a race an opening on the rail can appear smaller than it really is, and for an instant this looked like a disaster in the making. But looking at the head-on shot it could have been, as it looked even more perilous from this angle, with Graham and the colt right up against the rail and no escape route.

When Matt Weinmann, racing manager for owner Pin Oak Stud, asked Bill Mott the following morning how he came out of the race, he said, “Great, maybe a little white paint still on his left side.”

In the race, Parchment Party had to come from dead last, a good dozen lengths back, after getting squeezed a bit after the start. He looked to be hopelessly out of it, but unleashed a strong inside run around the turn. But with no space to his outside, Graham had to keep him on the rail and ran smack into a logjam of horses. It was either go for whatever tiny opening there was or check out of there. You don’t want to do either with a first-time starter, but Graham went for it and the colt did the rest, coming home his final sixteenth in :06 1/5.

Mott showed how much he thought of the colt by entering him in the Street Sense Stakes off that race. When he was forced to scratch because of the sloppy track the colt came right back in the Nov. 9 allowance race, also at 1 1/16 miles. This time Parchment Party drew the outside post and again was taken back to last. As in his debut he began picking off horses along the rail on the far turn. But this time Graham wanted no part of the rail and eased him out, finding an opening between horses. Despite racing greenly down the stretch, ducking in at one point, he collared the leaders and again drew clear, winning by 1 ½ lengths with his ears pricked.

Although he is a big horse, he has a regal look about him and a beautiful head and has already shown his courage, a big closing kick, and a smooth lead change. After getting two weeks of freshening on the farm he is back with Mott in Florida to prepare for the Derby trail. With his size and strong steady move, we’ll see if Mott can get him closer to the pace and show some versatility.

How big is Parchment Paper? When Weinmann went to see him at the Keeneland September yearling sale after his team had picked him out, a person in front of him had just finished inspecting him and Weinmann overheard him say, “The jockey is going to need a trampoline to get on him.”

Buyers may have been turned off by his June foaling date and his size, and Pin Oak was able to get him for $450,000, not bad for a son of the popular stallion Constitution, out of a Tiznow mare. He was sent to Tristan and Valery DeMeric in Ocala to be broken, and because he was so big and immature they took their time with him. They let him develop slowly and he showed he was an intelligent horse who did everything asked of him with ease. In mid-May he was sent to Mott, who Pin Oak felt would be the perfect trainer to let him fill out into his big frame. By mid-August he had turned the corner and it was time to start looking for a two-turn maiden race.

That brings us up to date on the Parchment Party story, as well as the story of his dam. Obviously no one knows what the future holds for the colt, but we thought he was worth a heads up and might be a horse some people would like to follow.

You never know when you go all out like this on an unproven 2-year-old. If it goes nowhere I will merely quote the closing line of the hysterical Allen Sherman song from the sixties, “Muddah, fadduh, kindly disregard this letter.”

Photos courtesy of Mary Ellet, Pin Oak Stud

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

 

Nysos One to Watch Despite Baffert Derby Ban

Monday, November 27th, 2023

You can’t bet on Nysos in the Kentucky Derby Future Wager because of Churchill Downs’ extension of the Bob Baffert ban, but he is one not to be overlooked whether or not he gets to the Derby with another trainer. ~ Steve Haskin

Nysos One to Watch Despite Baffert Derby Ban 

By Steve Haskin

 

Who is Nysos you ask? Well, he could very well turn out to be the best classic prospect in the country. Of course it is way too early to talk about such things and we do have a potential superstar out there in Fierceness and some exciting maiden winners who are just emerging as top prospects for next spring.

But as we have seen the past couple of years, Churchill Downs will not acknowledge the existence of any horse trained by Bob Baffert when it comes to the Kentucky Derby Future Wager even though several top Baffert 3-year-olds have found their way into the Derby by way of the Tim Yakteen barn. So far it just hasn’t worked out. As a result, Nysos was missing from the latest Future Wager field, and as of now will not receive any points until he is listed under the name of another trainer. For the purpose of this column, however, who cares? This is about the horse, and the rest will take of itself.

Instead of looking ahead to the Derby I am just going to focus on what defines perfection in a young horse and the excitement of discovering potential stars in maiden races. When you see a 2-year-old run off the screen in a maiden race how do you judge his performance in regard to how he will move on when he faces winners, then stakes horses, and finally Grade 1 and Grade 2 horses at longer distances.

Although we have had spectacular maiden victories by Nash, Knightbridge, Booth, Carbone, Dornoch, Merit, and Mystik Dan, among others it was Nysos who looked as close to the perfect horse as you could hope for when he broke his maiden in spectacular fashion and then followed it up with a sensational score in the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes.

By perfect we don’t just mean times, speed ratings, margins and other statistics. We have seen brilliant numbers before in maiden blowouts and many of them amount to little or nothing when they face winners. It is more important to look for other factors and qualities that it is hoped will project long-term success. It is not until those are addressed that you can start looking at pedigrees to determine how far a horse will go. Nysos, a son of Nyquist, has checked off every box in maiden and stakes company and is now ready to stake his claim as a major star.

It is those other factors and qualities that caught our eye when we watched Nysos’ two starts, mainly his mechanics, smoothness of his lead changes, temperament, intelligence, and just overall demeanor. Combine all them with his brilliant stats – six furlongs in 1:08 4/5 at Santa Anita and seven furlongs in 1:21 3/5 at Del Mar; margins of 10 ½ lengths and 8 ¾ lengths; breaking his maiden wire to wire with blinkers and winning  the Bob Hope coming from fourth in a four-horse field without blinkers. That last fact demonstrates his versatility and ability to adjust to changes in equipment and running style. In the Bob Hope, he was last seen galloping out some 20 to 25 lengths ahead of the others.When he returned to the winner’s circle it looked as if he hadn’t even run and stood like an old pony having his picture taken.

As for his mechanics he has such an easy-going flawless stride and ran straight through the stretch without any inclination to drift off his path. I always watch the head-on to assess a young horse’s stride and with many of them their legs are all over the place. Watching him, his stride and balance were so perfect you could not see his back legs behind his front legs; that’s how straight he was and how perfectly he carries his legs under him.

Looking back, Nysos has seen it all. As a weanling he went through the Keeneland November mixed sale, selling for $130,000. As a yearling he went through the Fasig-Tipton October sale, selling for $150,000. And as a 2-year-old he went though the Ocala April sale, selling for $550,000.

“He would have gone higher in the 2-year-old sale if he hadn’t sold two from the end of the sale; that hurt us,” said Tom Fackler of Best A Luck Farm, who bought him as a yearling, broke and trained him, and pinhooked him at the 2-year-old sale. “He was just a plain brown horse, but he did everything so effortlessly and whatever we asked him to do he did it. He had great balance, a good hip, and a super mind. You can’t beat his mind, he’s so laid back. There was so much going on around him but he just stood there looking straight ahead. He just floats over the ground and is so light on his feet. He worked an eighth in :09 4/5 before the sale and galloped out very fast. He still does everything easily. After the Bob Hope, someone who was there in the winner’s circle told me he wouldn’t blow out a match.”

It was Donato Lanni, who teams up with Bob Baffert at the sales, who signed the sales slip. Baffert said he “worked really well for the sale and was a beautiful mover.” Even now, Baffert says “he stands like a pony; you could put a child on his back. I took the blinkers off for the Bob Hope and told Flavien Prat to school him; I don’t want him on the lead. It was good that he drew the outside post and took right back to last. Before the race, Prat, who was on him for the first time, thought he was too quiet. But as soon as he got away from the pony and approached the gate, all of a sudden he lit up and got his game face on.”

With Nysos having been flawless in every department we can now look at his pedigree. There is enough top and bottom to suggest that distance won’t be a problem and I love that he is a complete outcross through five generations. He is not lacking in classic-winning representation with his sire Nyquist having won the Kentucky Derby, Nyquist’s sire Uncle Mo also having sired a Belmont Stakes winner in Mo Donegal, Nysos’ broodmare sire Bernardini having won the Preakness and being a son of Belmont winner A.P. Indy, and Nyquist’s tail-female family tracing to Hall of Famer Arts and Letters, winner of the Belmont, Woodward, Travers, and two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup.

In addition, Nysos’ third dam, Unbridled Elaine, won the Breeders’ Cup Distaff and is a daughter of Unbridled’s Song, the sire of Travers, Breeders’ Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate. And Unbridled’s Song, of course, is a son of Unbridled, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

So, all in all, Nysos, who was bred by Susie Atkins and is owned by Baoma Corp, definitely is one to keep an eye on regardless of what path he takes next spring.

Photos courtesy of Benoit Photography

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

Strong Group of Vox Populi Nominees

Monday, November 20th, 2023

This year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award nominees are the proverbial mixed bag of nuts…they are all totally different in size, shape, and taste, but good luck trying to pick out just one. With that admittedly offbeat analogy let’s open the bag and see what’s in there for 2023. ~ Steve Haskin

Strong Group of Vox Populi Nominees 

By Steve Haskin

 

We must preface this by asking is there anyone capable of preventing last year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award winner Cody’s Wish from becoming the first back-to-back honoree, especially after his and his namesake’s story reached new heights this year, touching people around the world thanks to the 5-year old’s success throughout the year on the biggest stages?

Well, we have a brilliant bargain basement 3-year-old whose unknown trainer made history by bringing a woman into the Triple Crown spotlight and becoming the most sought after interview in racing. We have a gallant 7-year-old warrior who didn’t know what the word “quit” means and who gained popularity strictly on his longevity and perseverance. We have a striking near-white horse, who, after a declining career, joined his new trainer in mid-season, with the two becoming the most notable comeback team of the year, culminating with a victory in America’s richest race. And finally we have a bullet of a filly who not only was a major comeback story in her own right, but a former Vox Populi nominee who was able to retain her popularity two years later, especially battling back from a life-threatening injury right before what was to be her greatest moment.

Here in alphabetical order are this year’s Vox Populi nominees:

ARCANGELO – Right from the start this colt was an enigma. After all, how does a son of Arrogate, out of a Tapit mare, whose second dam is a half-sister to Belmont winner Rags to Riches, sell for only $35,000 at the megabucks Keeneland September yearling sale? And how does he wind up in the barn of the little known trainer Jena Antonucci, who grew up with show horses, worked as a veterinarian assistant, and then began rehabilitating horses, and whose only graded stakes victory as a trainer came in 2016 in a five-furlong stakes on grass at Parx?

Now here she was coming up to New York for the Grade 2 Peter Pan Stakes with a horse who had only three career starts and had broken his maiden at Gulfstream Park almost two months earlier. He would never lose again. Thanks to this steel-gray yearling who was shunned at the sale despite his impeccable breeding, Antonucci’s earnings skyrocketed from $195,000 in 2022 to over $2 million in 2023, as she became the first female ever to train a classic winner in America when Arcangelo won the Belmont Stakes and then became the first horse in 19 years to win the 1 ½-mile Belmont and the historic Travers Stakes without a race in between.

With a sure Horse of the Year title wrapped up had he closed out the year with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, for which he was favored, he suffered a minor injury the week of the race and was retired to stud, as have been so many lightly raced top 3-year-olds in recent years. But while he was around he made a star out of his trainer, helped rewrite the history books, and built up a strong fan base around the country.

CASA CREED – His trainer Bill Mott is one of the most popular and well-liked trainers in the country and there are few owners more popular than the always engaging Lee Einsidler. But with Casa Creed it is all about the horse. At a time when the older horse divisions on dirt and grass keep getting thinner due to early retirements, here is a complete horse who has just concluded his most successful campaign at the age of 7. It was a campaign that began back in February in Saudi Arabia with a heartbreaking head defeat in the 6 ½-furlong Sprint Cup. What made the defeat even tougher was having been beaten a neck in the same race last year by the Japanese champion Songline.

Back home, he finished third, beaten one length, in the six-furlong Jaipur Stakes in a blistering 1:07 4/5. Stretching out to his preferred distance of a mile he won the Grade 3 Kelso Stakes at Belmont before winning his second consecutive Grade 1 Fourstardave Stakes, having previously finished third in 2020 and 2021. By now he had become known as “The Mayor of Saratoga,” with his fan base growing to new heights.

He ended the year with a gutsy third in the Breeders’ Cup Mile, beaten only three-quarters of a length behind two Godolphin Group 1 winners from Europe. That race raised his bankroll to over $2.6 million dollars. But what made Casa Creed so popular and earn so much respect was how hard he tried race after race, year after year. He has always given 100 percent, as indicated by the fact that 17 of his defeats were by less than three lengths, with 10 of those less than two lengths.

Racing on the grass and being dependent on pace, he has been versatile enough to win at six furlongs, seven furlongs, 7 1/2 furlongs, and one mile. He even won at seven furlongs on dirt. It is near impossible to follow horseracing without being a fan of Casa Creed.

CODY’S WISH – As we all know there is no set formula in determining the popularity of a horse. In the case of Cody’s Wish, this looks like the perfect example of a horse who had all the qualities on and off the track to make him popular with the fans and the human interest story behind him to thrust both into the national spotlight.

There is no denying it was Cody Dorman’s inspirational story that helped make Cody’s Wish popular. But if the horse, who had the personality to connect immediately with the young boy, hadn’t turned into a winning machine with back-to-back dramatic victories in the Breeders’ Cup global spotlight and a stunning score in the Met Mile on Belmont Stakes day, who knows if the Cody Dorman story would have had such a long shelf life and continue to scale the emotional heights it has this year?

It doesn’t really matter because history played out the way it was meant to and now both Codys will be remembered for many years to come. It is important, however, that the horse also be remembered for all his courage, consistency, and overall achievement on the racetrack to go along with all the human interest and emotion that followed him throughout his career.

Now it is up to the voters to decide whether the initial impact of his story is just as strong as last year, or perhaps soared even higher this year, with a gut-wrenching ending that is the stuff of which movies are made.

ECHO ZULU – This filly’s popularity began in 2021 when she was just a 2-year-old and proved to be a whirlwind, blowing away her opposition in all four of her starts at four different distances by an average margin of 5 ¼ lengths. And she did it on both coasts. Whether it was at 5 ½ furlongs at Saratoga or 1 1/16 miles at Del Mar in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, her blazing speed proved too much for her opponents.

Much was expected of her as a 3-year-old in 2022, but she wound up running only four times and showed she really wasn’t a true two-turn horse, then failed to get to the lead early in the 2022 Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint and had to settle for second behind Goodnight Olive.

Echo Zulu returned this year at 4, but had pretty much fallen off the radar screen. In her first three starts, however, she proved once again to be unbeatable. Following two wire-to-wire romps by 5 ¾ and 7 ¼ lengths in 1:08 4/5 and 1:08 3/5 in the Honorable Miss Stakes at Saratoga and Winning Colors Stakes at Churchill Downs, respectively. She then  got her revenge on Goodnight Olive winning the Grade 1 Ballerina Stakes at Saratoga by dashing to the lead and drawing off to win by 2 ½ lengths in a rapid 1:20 4/5 for the seven furlongs, establishing herself as the clear-cut favorite for the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprints.

However, while training at Santa Anita she fractured the sesamoids in her left front fetlock and underwent extensive surgery that has gone well so far, but it’s still a long road to recovery ahead. Fortunately she has been the ideal patient and has taken care of herself keeping weight off the leg. And when Goodnight Olive romped in the Breeders’ Cup it confirmed just how special Echo Zulu was. Her fan base has continued to grow as she progresses toward what is hoped will be a complete recovery.

WHITE ABARRIO – Will the popularity of the 4-year-old White Abarrio be determined by how people view his trainer Rick Dutrow? As we all know, Dutrow has always been a polarizing figure. He returned from a 10-year suspension this year and took over the training of White Abarrio, who then romped in the Whitney before winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Whether you are a fan of Dutrow’s or not there is no doubting his ability and his love for his horses, and it took a lot of work by him, his staff, and farrier/foot specialist Ian McKinlay to get White Abarrio back to his early 3-year-old form when he scored victories in the 2022 Holy Bull Stakes and Florida Derby. So we know the colt has always had ability and under Dutrow’s care he not only has demonstrated that ability once again with the help of glue-on shoes he has far surpassed it, having filled out and gotten much stronger during the current racing season.

White Abarrio’s former trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. had actually started the ball rolling in early March when he put the colt won a seven-furlong Gulfstream Park allowance race after pressing a :44 4/5 half and then drawing off to win by 4 ½ lengths in a sharp 1:22 flat following a dreadful performance in his previous race — the Pegasus World Cup. Recurring foot problems could very well have accounted for his inconsistency, but he finally was able to put together a series of big performances, including a strong third to Cody’s Wish in the Met Mile in his first start for Dutrow.

Prior to the Whitney, it had been decided by the owners to keep him around one turn and he was being pointed for the seven-furlong Forego Stakes, but when Dutrow was informed by NYRA that they only had three horses for the Whitney they changed plans, feeling it was worth a shot at the richer and more prestigious race. That decision would change the entire course of the Breeders’ Cup Classic and influence the Eclipse Award voting.

So this should now be mostly about White Abarrio and his dramatic surge to prominence. With his near-white color, his newly found consistent brilliance, and, yes, Dutrow’s remarkable comeback story, you can bet there are many racing fans who have flocked to White Abarrio and can appreciate the colt’s return to glory following a decline to mediocrity last year.

Photos courtesy of NYRA/Coglianese, Godolphin/Racefotos.com and Ryan Thompson

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

 

Cody and Cody: The Final Chapter

Monday, November 13th, 2023

The story of Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman had the ending everyone expected; then it almost didn’t; then it did once again; then finally it didn’t. That was the gamut of emotions that surrounded the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. And when it was over it all sunk in and left everyone to interpret the story and outcome in his or her own way. No matter how you did it was a story for the ages, not only about Cody Dorman but the horse who made it all happen. ~ Steve Haskin

Cody and Cody: The Final Chapter 

By Steve Haskin

 

We all know that Cody’s Wish brought Cody Dorman out of the depths of depression when his life was becoming too much of a burden. He brought him out into the sunlight, gave him fame, and turned him into a source of inspiration to people around the world who followed his story. It was a story that began when the colt was just a baby and introduced to Cody through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. He laid his head on the boy’s lap, and in many ways has never taken it off.

He took Cody to places he never would have visited, and each time he presented him with a gift through a special bonding that is beyond our comprehension. The final place he took him was to California, far away from his Kentucky home. There, he presented him with his greatest gift yet, one that was paid for with guts, toughness, and determination against a game battle-tested classic winner.

It seemed as if there could be no more proper ending to this amazing story, which has as many questions as answers. Why of all horses was this one chosen to bond with a boy who had battled an invisible and unexplainable assailant that had ravaged his body all his young life? Why did Cody Dorman’s fighting spirit manifest itself in this particular horse? Or was it the other way around?

Was it the colt’s fighting spirit that kept this story, and Cody, alive the past two years? If there was one indelible image following the heart-pounding stretch run of the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile it was Cody’s Wish returning with his face covered with dirt from the kickback he had to fight through for most of the race. To resort to anthropomorphism, it was as if he knew he had to with such a weight on his shoulders and the entire world rooting for a fairy tale ending.

And when it was over, Cody Dorman, knowing this was Cody’s Wish’s farewell to him, was wheeled onto a plane, strapped in his seat, closed his eyes, and woke up in Nirvana, where there can be a Cody’s Wish for eternity with no shackles this time to keep them apart.

With cameras constantly pointed at Cody and the swarms of reporters gathered around his family, it almost seems as if Cody traded every last ounce of his energy to enjoy his special friend and give the story the ending everyone wanted. This is what he wanted and this was the way it was meant to end. Years ago, doctors presented the Dorman family with a much shorter script before destiny rewrote it. Perhaps the possibility of Cody returning home to the darkness that encompassed him before Cody’s Wish came into his life was an ending never meant to be written.

For the past year it was as if the racing world had been engrossed in an O. Henry short story. They watched and waited for the ending they had been hoping for all along, but then came the twist no one was expecting. In many ways it all made sense, because with the tragedy came a certain beauty and symmetry.

As O. Henry said in Gift of the Magi, “Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles…” From Breeders’ Cup Saturday to the following Monday morning, when we learned of Cody Dorman’s passing, there were plenty of all three. It is up to each of us to decide if it was untimely or timely in some ethereal way.

Cody’s Wish the Racehorse

Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman will always be linked together and rightly so. But let us not forget about the horse who finds himself in line for Horse of the Year and Champion Older Male. Behind the human interest story there is a horse who should also be remembered for his accomplishments on the racetrack.

The son of Curlin won back-back Breeders’ Cup Dirt Miles at Keeneland and Santa Anita around two turns and won the prestigious Met Mile at Belmont Park around one turn. He also won the seven-furlong Vosburgh and one-mile Westchester at Aqueduct, Forego at Saratoga, and Churchill Downs Stakes at Churchill Downs.

He ended his career winning 11 of his final 13 starts, with his only two defeats coming at 1 1/16 miles and 1 1/8 miles, both farther than he wanted to go, with his comfort level being around one turn, as evidenced by his nine-for nine record at seven furlongs and a flat mile.

Cody’ Wish burst on the national scene when he upset the defending Sprint champion Jackie’s Warrior in the Forego Stakes in a sizzling 1:20 4/5, earning a 112 Beyer figure. And Jackie’s Warrior went into the race riding a four-race winning streak and having won 11 graded stakes in his career, five of them grade 1’s. What made Jackie’s Warrior even more formidable was that he was the only horse to win grade 1 stakes at Saratoga at ages 2, 3, and 4.

Cody’s Wish’s speed figures and consistency were unmatched, as he closed out his career with seven consecutive negative Thoro-Graph numbers. He ran seven furlongs in 1:20 4/5, 1:21, and 1:21 4/5, and a mile in 1:33 4/5, 1:34, 1:34 1/5, 1:34 3/5, and 1:34 4/5.

As for his competition, the horses he defeated to this date have won the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Whitney, Preakness, Haskell, Florida Derby, Arkansas Derby, Woodward, Blue Grass, Suburban, H. Allen Jerkens, Champagne, and Awesome Again, and placed in the Kentucky Derby. Travers, Belmont Stakes, Pacific Classic, Pennsylvania Derby, Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Carter Handicap, Dubai Golden Shaheen, Wood Memorial, American Pharoah, and Santa Anita Sprint Championship.

The Story Comes to an End

This was the ride on which Cody’s Wish took Cody Dorman, who had to revel in silence at his victories, with his cheers confined to his mind, and who no doubt thanked his namesake for trying so hard in his rare defeats and for just being in his life. To Cody’s family, especially Kelly, his dad and spokesman, this was a blessing they embraced and shared so eloquently with the world.

There is often a reason certain things happen. And many of those reasons are difficult for us to fully comprehend. We know that people communicate through the written and spoken word; simply put what they see and what they hear. But do we really know how animals communicate or the depth of their senses, and how and why they connect with certain humans, especially small children and the handicapped? All we know is that this one horse selected at random by Godolphin to participate in the Make-a-Wish program and this young man stricken with a debilitating illness as a child existed together on a plane that is far beyond our reach.

Many have expressed their feelings in spiritual form. What we don’t understand we envision the way we want it to be, and that gives up hope that there is more to life and death than what we experience with our senses. Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman were destined to meet and conquer, perhaps for several reasons, one being to temporarily breathe a breath of fresh air into a sport suffocating from the stench of outside ignorance, misfortune on the racetrack, and lack of leadership and answerability. Steps have been made in the right direction, but recently they have paled compared to the infusion of life, hope, and the reminder of how wonderful horseracing can be that was provided by one horse and one boy.

Long ago it took one young girl to express what Cody Dorman and other young people have felt about the magic of horses. Maybe those words will have a similar impact today. It was Velvet Brown in the movie National Velvet who said, “I think all the time about horses. All day and every night…Every day I pray to God to give me horses…wonderful horses.”

Cody’s and Velvet’s prayers both were answered…80 years apart. But the love of horses has always been and always will be timeless, and that same wish by young horse lovers will be answered 80 years from now, despite the obstacles that lie ahead for the sport. Let’s hope that the Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman story does not prove to be a quick fix of emotion, but instead the beginning of racing’s long road back.

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.

 

“White,” “Wish,” and Wonderful

Sunday, November 5th, 2023

I must preface this intro by saying this column was written before the death of Cody Dorman. I have added it to the story where I felt if was most appropriate. The 2023 Breeders’ Cup had something for everyone with emotions running high on both days. We saw champions run like champions and a few surprises, as is always the case. Here are my thoughts as I look back on this special weekend of racing. ~ Steve Haskin

“White,” “Wish,” and Wonderful 

By Steve Haskin

Cody’s Wish wins 2023 Breeders’s Cup Dirt Mile

 

There were so many aspects to this year’s Breeders’ Cup, including the safe trips for everyone, let’s just get right to it.

Battle of the Scriptwriters

What happens when you have two scriptwriters with two totally different approaches to a storyline? You get one about the uplifting and often tear-jerking story of Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman and the colt’s heart-pounding and ultimately suspenseful farewell to racing and the other about the dramatic and rapid return to the top of the racing world by the polarizing Rick Dutrow following an unprecedented 10-year suspension.

As an addition to the latter’s story, there is the up and down career of a $7,500 yearling purchase named White Abarrio who after early success seemed to be headed to a mediocre career and a stud date at some small farm light years from his place of birth at the elite Spendthrift Farm. But then came a series of odd events that led him to Dutrow’s barn and the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner’s circle.

We all are very familiar with the Cody’s Wish story that ended on the racetrack with a thrilling and emotional nose victory in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, a race he also won in dramatic fashion last year. This one, however, was followed by a steward’s inquiry that seemed interminable and had everyone on the edge of their seats until the announcement came that there would be no change, giving what seemed to be an appropriate closure to one of the great feel-good stories of all time. Author’s note: Word came late Sunday night that Cody Dorman, with visions of Cody’s Wish’s stirring victory still swirling in his mind, had fallen asleep on the plane ride back to Kentucky and never woke up. He had finally been able to bask in the brightest light of his life, receiving worldwide fame and the love of people touched by his story, and when it was over he closed his eyes and no longer was trapped in the body that had betrayed him since childhood. Perhaps Cody is now somewhere riding on the back of Cody’s Wish, the horse who had made his dream come true.

More will be written about Cody’s Wish in the weeks to come as he tries for a Horse of the Year title and his second Secretariat Vox Populi Award as the nation’s most popular horse.

Fast forward seven races to the Classic. The 2023 story of White Abarrio started during Derby week when the horse’s trainer Saffie Joseph Jr. was suspended at Churchill Downs when two of his horses died suddenly for no apparent reason. This came following the death of several other horses at Churchill Downs due to injury.  The colt’s owners, C2 Racing Stable, fearing that White Abarrio would not be allowed to enter at other tracks, took the horse away from Joseph and turned him over to Dutrow, who had returned from his suspension only a month earlier, and told him they wanted to keep the horse around one turn, preferably sprinting.

Following a good third place finish behind Cody’s Wish in the Met Mile it was decided to point for the seven-furlong Forego Stakes at Saratoga. But then something happened that would change the entire course of White Abarrio’s and Rick Dutrow’s career. Andrew Byrnes, the stakes coordinator at NYRA, called Dutrow and told him they had only three horses horses for the 1 1/8-mile Whitney Stakes. Dutrow knew the only one who would be tough to beat was Cody’s Wish, who was trying to stretch out in distance for the first time. He called the owners and told them the situation and they agreed it would be worth it to take a shot at the longer, more prestigious race. Surprising everyone, including Dutrow, White Abarrio demolished his five opponents by 6 1/4 lengths, earning whopping speed figures. Just like that they had a serious Breeders’ Cup Classic horse on their hands, and the rest as they say is history.

As Dutrow said before the Classic, “We were happy to go in the Forego, but it was just fate. Now I’m licking my chops because I see him running better this time. He’s been deadly in the mornings and giving us all the right signs. He’s going to run a huge race. I’m trying to get back on top of the world and the only way to do that is through your horses. I’m all into horses, they control my mind. When they’re not right neither am I, but when they are right so am I.”

And White Abarrio sure was right in the Classic, and even with only two victories this year, he has put himself in the conversation for Horse of the Year. And just think, if it wasn’t for that phone call from Andrew Byrnes White Abarrio would have run in the Forego and might very well have been facing Cody’s Wish again in the Dirt Mile and we wouldn’t need two scriptwriters to tell the story of the 2023 Breeders’ Cup.

Aidan and a bettin’

The history of the Breeders’ Cup can never be told without discussing the support and participation year after year of the forever youthful Aidan O’Brien and his Ballydoyle Bombers. By adding his 17th and 18th Breeders’ Cup winners with Unquestionable in the Juvenile Turf and Auguste Rodin in the Turf, his fifth victory in the mile and a half test, he tied Bob Baffert for most wins. Not only did O’Brien win two races, he also had two seconds, a third, and a fourth.

He also was involved in a bit of drama earlier in the day Friday when his main hope for the Juvenile Turf, River Tiber, was ordered scratched by veterinarians during their pre-race examinations, a decision with which O’Brien was not in agreement. So what does he do? He winds up running first and second in the race with new favorite Unquestionable and 22-1 shot Mountain Bear. He also finished second with Warm Heart in the Filly and Mare Turf, beaten a neck by the favorite Inspiral. By winning the Classic with Auguste Rodin he has guided the colt though a long hard year in which he captured the English and Irish Derbys and the Irish Champion Stakes.

For those who look at Ballydoyle as some mythical horse kingdom somewhere in County Tipperary that turns out champions every year on an assembly line, you have to experience it to understand what an amazing horse haven this is and what a remarkable horseman O’Brien is.

The success of Ballydoyle, O’Brien, and Coolmore is not just a result of breeding and purchasing some of the best-bred horses in the world. It is the operation itself and the genius of O’Brien, as well as the camaraderie that is so prevalent and the way O’Brien relates to all the help.

Soft spoken and all consuming, O’Brien’s voice can, as the saying goes, “soothe a savage breast, soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.”

On one particular August morning way back in 2002, O’Brien got into his Mitsubishi Shogun and tore through the narrow paths of Ballydoyle, darting precariously between fences and buildings with such velocity it was like being on a ride at Six Flags. He pulled up to an intersection on one of the dirt tracks just as a string of 45 2-year-olds, yes, 45, were approaching from the right. He took a quick look, then put his vehicle in reverse and headed back down the track to await them.

The dirt track at Ballydoyle is extremely narrow by American standards, leaving only a few feet of space between O’Brien’s Mitsubishi and the railing. But not one of the Ballydoyle babies even flinched, walking calmly by as O’Brien conducted what can best be described as a melodic symphony of instructions to the riders. Not only did he have no hesitation in recognizing every one of the 45 horses, he made it a point to follow each set of instructions with the rider’s name. Even when one of their names briefly escaped him, he would not continue until he addressed that rider by name.

So, the symphony began, with O’Brien’s soft, calming voice the only instrument.

“Hack and a nice steady, Vivian…Hack and a nice steady, Niall…One hack, Seamus, and back into the barn…Michael, you can do two hacks, then go to the last of the colts.” And so on and so on.

“They’re going to do a hack the first time,” O’Brien said. “Then we’ll see them again. Depending on how they are they’ll do another canter. We look mostly at their overall well-being and the look in their eye. Then we’ll talk to the lads before we decide what to do the second time. Their eyes can tell you an awful lot about them and how they’re behaving. The bad ones show themselves very quickly, especially amongst good horses. You know very early, sometimes in February or March, what they’re capable of.”

So the next time you see Aidan’s army parade single file on the track at the Breeders’ Cup watch the general and know there is only one like him. Ballydoyle is far from a factory; it is a place where horses and humans thrive in a harmonious atmosphere, with all that positive energy resulting in worldwide success.

The Sun is Still Rising Despite Defeats

Just because the Japanese did not win a race, with their two stars Songline and Ushba Tesoro failing to hit the board, do not think for a second that they did not assert themselves more than admirably.

They demonstrated what astute horsemen they are by finishing a fast-closing second in the Classic with our old friend Derma Sotogake, who was beaten only one length by White Abarrio at odds of 26-1, despite coming off a six-month layoff and missing his scheduled prep. And then there was Shahryar, who overcame tons of traffic to finish third in the Turf, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths at 25-1. In front of him was the best horse in England and Ireland and best grass horse in America. We also have to acknowledge the fourth-place finish of Win Marilyn, who rallied from 10th to also be beaten only 1 1/4 lengths at odds of 38-1. Even Songline, despite finishing fifth, was beaten only 1 1/4 lengths. That’s four horses beaten a combined 4 3/4 lengths, three of them 25-1 or higher. And it’s not like Ushba Tesoro was embarrassed in the Classic finishing fifth, beaten 3 1/4 lengths. The Japanese will be back. Be prepared for anything.

Magnificent Mott Takes the Spotlight.

We recently wrote a column about spending a quiet October morning with Bill Mott and his Breeders’ Cup hopefuls. Seeing Cody’s Wish stroll past our friend’s back gate at 10:45 and watching him get his morning bath; having my wife pet Just F Y I; spending some time with the not so approachable Elite Power; and getting close up and personal with Casa Creed and War Like Goddess made this a memorable morning.

Then to see Cody’s Wish, Just F Y I, and Elite Powe all win their Breeders’ Cup races and the gallant 7-year-old warrior Casa Creed finish a powerful third, beaten only a half-length by two highly regarded European milers owned by Godolphin made it all the more special.

This only adds to Casa Creed’s legacy, especially in foreign competition, having been beaten a neck and a head in the last two Saudi Arabian Sprint Cups and now holding a 2-1 advantage over the great Japanese mare Songline, winner of over $6 million. He has not been beaten by an American horse since early June. It is very rare to see a complete horse still competing at age 7, never mind at this level and actually being in the best form of his career.

Needless to say we were overjoyed to see Mott have such great success on Breeders’ Cup weekend. No one deserves it more.

You can Still Put on a Show if the track is Slow

Was that the Santa Anita track they were running over this past weekend, the one known for its fast times? Was that Santa Anita where they came home the last quarter in a sloth-like :27 2/5 in the Classic, or :26 1/5 and :14 in the Distaff, or :26 in the Dirt Mile with Cody’s Wish coming back with his head covered with dirt?

What made this surface so weird were the opening factions compared to the closing fractions. For instance the Distaff splits were :22 1/5, :23 4/5, :23 4/5, :26 1/5 and :14. The Classic’s were :22 2/5, :23 1/5, :24 3/5, :25, and :27 2/5.

But who really cares? At a time when racetracks are known for speeding up their surface on big days I only know we saw safe and formful racing. Of the nine Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday, eight of them were won by horses who went off at odds of 3-1 or lower. And we saw three horses – Cody’s Wish, Goodnight Olive, and Elite Power – repeat their Breeders’ Cup victories from last year at Keeneland.

As for Santa Anita’s firm turf course, here is what the Europeans did: Juvenile Turf Sprint (1st, 2nd, 3rd), Juvenile Fillies Turf (2nd), Juvenile Turf (1st, 2nd), Filly and Mare Turf (1st, 2nd), Mile (1st, 2nd), Turf (1st), and Turf Sprint (3rd). If you weren’t keeping score that is five victories, five seconds, and two thirds.

Derby Doings Already?

If I were doing my first Derby Rankings, it would be a Top 1, although Fierceness’ stablemate Locked showed enough to be considered a Derby horse. When I saw Fierceness’ opening line at 99-1 in the first Derby Future Wager I rushed in to make a bet despite my previous refusal to bet any Future Wager. That’s how much I believed this colt was going to run huge in the Juvenile, despite his last race debacle, and especially with him being this big of a bargain. Lo and behold I go there late Wednesday and he’s 28-1. Oh well.

What I loved about this colt after watching him freak in his career debut is that in his dam Nonna Bella’s first five generations are six Belmont winners, five Travers winners, four Kentucky Derby winners, and two Breeders’ Cup Classic winners. Also in her pedigree are Hall of Famers Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Damascus, Arts and Letters, Holy Bull, and A.P. Indy, who have combined to win 12 classics.

A few more shout outs

Up to the Mark lost nothing in defeat and in fact was even more impressive in some ways. Stretching out to 1 1/2 miles for the first time he was closer to the pace than usual and still put in a good run, which I thought was a little too soon and took away from his explosive turn of foot. But he still finished second to one of the top two horses in Europe, finishing ahead of three classy European group 1 winners.

A lot of the handicappers felt he should have gone in the Mile, which was won by the horse he defeated at a mile in his last start. But he ventured into the unknown against a much better field and proved he is one of the best grass horses in the world at a mile, 1 1/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles, and 1 1/2 miles.

Another shout out goes to Skippylongstockings, who finished a game third in the Dirt Mile. In his last 12 starts he has run at 11 different racetracks in eight different stakes, Along the way he has won three graded stakes and finished third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, Belmont Stakes, and Wood Memorial.

And finally we have to salute the tough and honest Proxy for his fast-closing third in the Classic at 17-1. This horse has run in three Grade 1 stakes at a mile at a quarter this year and was second, beaten a neck, in the Santa Anita Handicap, second, beaten a head, in The Jockey Club Gold Cup, and third, beaten 2 1/4 lengths, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But in the past year he has won a Grade 1 at Churchill Downs, a Grade 2 at Oaklawn Park, and a Grade 3 at Monmouth Park.

Photo Courtesy of Godolphin/Racefotos.com

Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to Secretariat.com since 2020.