Archive for the ‘Askin’ Haskin’ Category

Big Red’s March to the Derby

Monday, March 13th, 2023

Yes it is the 50th anniversary of Secretariat’s legendary Triple Crown sweep and his iconic fall campaign, but not to be overlooked is the tension-filled journey in the winter and early spring of 1973 that led to the historic events that followed. This is when the legend began and changed the face of horse racing for all time. After you travel back in history and read the behind the scenes story that follows, check out the Week 8 Derby Rankings and the result of the Tampa Bay Derby, along with other interesting tidbits of information.~ Steve Haskin

Big Red’s March to the Derby

By Steve Haskin

Photo Now Available for Purchase


Every year the sights and sounds of Aqueduct are pretty much the same. While many of the Kentucky Derby hopefuls are basking in the warm Florida and Southern California sunshine, those brave souls who head north or are stabled there all winter are dealing with the cold bitter winds blowing in off Jamaica Bay and the squawking of seagulls, who pretty much take over the track.

Back in 1973 there was no winter racing, with Aqueduct closing shortly after Thanksgiving. As March rolled around and the temperatures began to rise there was great anticipation for opening day in mid-March, with track workers preparing for the start of the new racing season. Soon the grays and whites of winter would be replaced by colorful beds of tulips and a kaleidoscope of jockey silks. The sounds of horses thundering down the stretch would again resound throughout the grandstand that had been hushed for over two months.

In the winter of ‘73 there was plenty to excite racing fans elsewhere, with the brilliant Linda’s Chief, trained by the young transplanted New Yorker Bobby Frankel and the budding star Sham dominating the 3-year-old scene in California and names like Our Native, My Gallant, Royal and Regal, and a late-developing mountain of a horse named Forego sharing the glory in Florida.

But they were all merely opening acts for the eagerly anticipated debut of racing’s $6 million horse and reigning Horse of the Year, Secretariat. What made Secretariat’s record $6,080,000 syndication price so remarkable was the fact that he had not even raced at 3. No horse had swept racing’s Triple Crown since Citation in 1948, and the buzz was already in the air that the grand-looking Secretariat was unbeatable, even though there were stamina questions concerning his sire Bold Ruler, perhaps the most dominant sire of 2-year-olds the sport had ever seen. But his earlier juvenile champions Vitriolic and Successor failed to regain their form at 3 and his potential superstar Bold Lad, who like Secretariat was out of a Princequillo mare, managed to win only the Derby Trial at 3 in 1965.

So, here was this newly turned 3-year-old, who had not run beyond 1 1/16 miles, already valued at nearly $2 million more than Buckpasser, nearly $3 million more than Dr. Fager, and $3.5 million more than Damascus.

Secretariat’s owner, Penny Tweedy, who only a couple of years earlier was a housewife in Colorado, and Claiborne Farm president Seth Hancock, who took over the farm after the death of his father “Bull” Hancock,” had pulled off one the great coups in the art of horse trading, and selling their product as a must-have commodity. The fear of missing out on a sure thing and not being part of the next Triple Crown winner had the sport’s top breeders and shrewdest businessmen calling Tweedy and Hancock to obtain a piece of her four-legged gold mine.

On Feb. 26, 1973, the record syndication was announced. Tweedy’s late father, Christopher Chenery, who founded Meadow Stud and had died a short time earlier, on Jan. 3, would have been proud. His daughter, who knew little about the intricacies of the Sport of Kings, had kept the farm alive, despite the urging of her family to sell.

What helped give her credibility in the business was the way she stepped in and managed the career of Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Riva Ridge in 1971 and ‘72, admittedly learning from several mistakes made with the colt. But even Riva’s accomplishments had to take a back seat to the stable’s 2-year-old phenom, whose near-perfect conformation, muscular physique, and glistening chestnut coat earned him the title “Big Red.” The record syndication price and taking over the moniker of racing’s first Big Red, the immortal Man o’ War, placed a heavy burden on the powerful shoulders of Secretariat as it did Penny Tweedy. With her financial conquest came the pressure of now having to fulfill the high expectations and heavy investments. Tweedy had already won two classics with Riva Ridge, and she and many others felt anything short of a Triple Crown sweep would be a disappointment.

Tweedy and trainer Lucien Lauren had an immediate scare when Secretariat developed a small splint in his foreleg while stabled at Hialeah. But it was still early in the year. The leg was pinfired and the talented colt soon returned to training. He was nearing his debut, but when Tweedy encountered delays in settling her father’s estate it was decided to wait until the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct on March 17, St. Patrick’s Day.

Secretariat’s March 10 arrival at Barn 5 at Belmont Park brought a steady stream of reporters, photographers, and TV cameramen, who waited patiently outside the barn for racing’s biggest star to emerge.

Because of his hulking physique, which had carried layers of baby fat when he was younger, Secretariat needed to work fast in order to get him sharp and fit. One would never get the impression by looking at him that he was capable of blazing fast works. But as he matured, his baby fat was replaced by muscle, his neck rippled as he lowered it and stretched it to the limit, and his stride grew to mammoth proportions. And what no one was able to see was the abnormally large heart that enabled him to do things other horses couldn’t.

As the Bay Shore neared, you could feel the tension building. Were we going to see the same Secretariat we saw the year before or something even more phenomenal? Of course, there is always the chance you could see a regression from 2, as we had seen with previous juvenile champions sired by Bold Ruler, but that didn’t seem likely, especially when Secretariat had onlookers gasping in disbelief watching him blow out three furlongs the Wednesday before the race in :32 3/5.

But there are always a number of factors that can contribute to a horse’s defeat, as Secretariat showed in his career debut when he was knocked sideways coming out of the gate and in the Champagne Stakes when he was disqualified from first. Heavy rains the day before the Bay Shore turned the track sloppy, and it remained muddy on race day, which dawned gray and ugly and stayed that way all afternoon.

I walked the three long blocks from my home in Brooklyn to Flatlands Avenue, where I would take the Pioneer bus to Aqueduct, as I had been doing since 1967. Through the cloud of cigar smoke that permeated the bus came the constant chatter of Daily Double talk, who had what winners the day before, and of course Secretariat’s much-anticipated 3-year-old debut.

Instead of watching the race from the grandstand, as I normally did, I decided to stand at the rail with my trusty Canon F1 in the hope of getting a good shot of Secretariat as he came galloping past me following  the post parade. The lighting was not conducive to good sharp photos, but I would take anything I could get, as this was my first close-up look at Secretariat in the flesh. I had anticipated him being in the middle of the track and had my lens focused there, but Ron Turcotte had him closer to the rail, which caught me and my camera by surprise. As a result, the only photo I took that day captured Big Red in all his magnificence, with his neck arched in regal splendor, but just missed being 100 percent sharp.

At the start, Secretariat, as expected, dropped back in the field of six. He moved up steadily along the rail with the hard-knocking Champagne Charlie lapped on him. There was a feeling of trepidation, as Secretariat was running up behind a wall of horses with no escape route. Turcotte kept pushing on him around the far turn and was able to ease out when Champagne Charlie left him and moved up to challenge the leaders.

As they hit the head of the stretch, Turcotte had the option of going outside Champagne Charlie and Impecunious, but when a small opening appeared inside Impecunious and outside Actuality, who had snuck through on the rail, he decided to go for it. It was a major risk to put Secretariat in such a precarious spot, and for a brief instant it looked as if Turcotte had made a colossal mistake. As soon as he went for the inside route, the hole closed and Secretariat and Turcotte found themselves in what looked like a compromising situation. On this day it appeared as if he was going to need the luck of the Irish to get through. If they had gotten shut off badly and somehow lost the race, the uproar would have been heard round the racing world, especially in his own camp.

But despite the risk involved, Turcotte didn’t hesitate. He knew what was at stake and just aimed the big battering ram beneath him at the shrinking hole and let him bull his way through. Big Red eased everyone’s mind by bursting through in a flash, despite taking a bump or two. He quickly opened up and drew off to win by 4 1/2 lengths as everyone, especially Tweedy and Laurin, breathed a sigh of relief.

I was too caught up in the drama that was unfolding to take another photo, but it was enough just watching what turned out to be a far more eventful race than anyone had thought.

The Bay Shore was an important race for Secretariat. In addition to showing he had made progress from 2 to 3, it also proved to everyone he was not just another pretty face, but a horse who could handle the heat of battle and use his brute strength if the going got rough.

In the Gotham Stakes three weeks later, Secretariat and Turcotte gave everyone an even bigger scare by reversing tactics and going to the front, setting blistering fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:08 3/5, while opening a two-length lead turning for home. But nearing the eighth pole, Champagne Charlie came flying up alongside him and pulled on even terms. I had to work at the Racing Form that day, and we had our columnist Teddy Cox give us a call over the phone. I will never forget Teddy’s ominous words at the eighth pole: “He’s gonna get beat.”  It looked as if the gray had the momentum, but Secretariat had a lot more in the tank. He surged back in front and drew clear to win by three lengths, equaling the track record of 1:33 2/5 for the mile.

Morning Telegraph/DRF columnist Charlie Hatton wrote, as only he could; “Secretariat couldn’t have gone any faster if they threw him off the grandstand roof.”

Now, the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown talk began to pick up steam. The Wood Memorial was supposed to be just a mere formality, as there was no one left to fear in New York. Then came word that trainer Pancho Martin was doing the unconventional and sending his Santa Anita Derby winner Sham to New York for the Wood instead of heading directly to Louisville.

Leading New York owner Sigmund Sommer had purchased the maiden Sham over the winter for a then hefty $200,000 at the late Bull Hancock’s dispersal. Sham, coming off a pair of seconds and a third, won his first start for Sommer and Martin by six lengths at Aqueduct on Dec. 9, leading every step of the way going a flat mile. Sent to Santa Anita, he opened a lot of eyes with a 15-length romp in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race, and then followed that up with a six-length score in allowance company before winning the Santa Catalina Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths. So, did we have another phenom out west who could test Secretariat?

Just when people were beginning to think that, Sham was upset in the San Felipe Handicap by Linda’s Chief after a troubled trip, finishing a distant fourth. In the Santa Anita Derby, Martin entered Sham along with stablemate Knightly Dawn. With Knightly Dawn drawn directly outside Linda’s Chief, it was the perfect opportunity for Martin’s second-stringer to play the role of a hit man. At the break, Knightly Dawn veered in sharply and all but wiped out Linda’s Chief. Sham was able to get position on his rival, and when Laffit Pincay asked him nearing the head of the stretch, Sham shot to the lead and never looked back, winning by 2 1/2 lengths over Linda’s Chief. Frankel was incensed over the flagrant double team and never stopped talking about it until the day he died. Just the mention of Knightly Dawn would set him off.

But to Sham’s credit, he did draw away from Linda’s Chief and his time of 1:47 flat equaled the stakes record set by eventual Kentucky Derby winner Lucky Debonair.

The addition of Sham to the Wood field added to the intrigue and provided a sneak preview of the battle everyone was expecting in the Kentucky Derby. The closer the race got, the more Martin would exude confidence in his colt and assure everyone he had no fear of Secretariat, which is why he deviated from the norm and sent Sham to New York to face Secretariat as soon as possible.

To be the best you have to beat the best and it was obvious that Martin was targeting Secretariat, just as he had targeted Linda’s Chief, but this time he took it one step farther. He announced he was not only going to run Sham, but also his proven assassin, Knightly Dawn, as well as a fast colt named Beautiful Music, who had romped by 10 lengths in his only start at Santa Anita.

That brought some scathing words and a forewarning of chicanery from Charlie Hatton, who had an admitted love affair with Secretariat, whom he called the greatest he had seen since Man o’ War. He was the horse Hatton had been waiting for since the first Big Red, and he prepared everyone for the likelihood of roughhouse tactics.

Not only would Secretariat have to contend with the Martin marauders, he also would be confronted by his own stablemate Angle Light, who Laurin decided to run following a neck defeat in the Flamingo Stakes, a 10-length romp in an Aqueduct allowance race, and a solid third in the Louisiana Derby. Tweedy was not crazy about Laurin having another horse in the race, but he felt an obligation to Angle Light’s owner Edwin Whittaker.

On April 17, Lauren scheduled a mile work for Secretariat, with Turcotte aboard. I couldn’t resist and headed to Belmont with my trusty cameras. I was surprised at the absence of media around. In fact, it was me and my colleague, DRF photographer Ray Woolfe Jr., who was chronicling Secretariat’s career for a potential book.

Secretariat looked calm, but was slightly on his toes walking around the ring before heading to the track along the path behind the barns. It was me, Ray, Laurin, Tweedy, and two visitors whom I didn’t know. Big Red’s groom, Eddie Sweat, walked the colt to the path and then headed back to the barn.

As a little sidelight, Ray rushed ahead and turned back to photograph Secretariat. Ray had a pretty volatile temper and could fly off the handle very easily. Although I was well to the side of everyone, leaving him with plenty of room to crop me out of the picture, he started shouting at me to “Get out of the way.” I told him I had nowhere to go and to just crop me out. Well, he took the shot, and later that day after developing the film (his dark room was part of the library, where I worked, so we were always very close), he called me in and said he liked the picture with me in it and was going to use it in his book, which surprisingly he did. He even made me up an 8×10 print of it. To this day I have a much-cherished nationally published photo of me and Secretariat.

I stood by the rail, so I didn’t get to see a lot of the work. All I saw was Secretariat reaching out with those magnificent strides, his neck muscles rippling. Sham had worked earlier that morning, blazing five furlongs in :58 flat, so it was expected that Secretariat would have a pretty sharp mile, even though Laurin wasn’t looking for too much speed and would be happy with a 1:37 or even 1:38 work, which was pedestrian for Big Red.

Well, you can imagine the surprise when we found out he had worked in 1:42 2/5. Lauren and Tweedy weren’t expecting that and didn’t know what to make of it. I did manage to get one shot just past the wire that showed Secretariat completely stretched out with those neck muscles rippling. As a postscript, that was one of two main photos Jocelyn Russell used for her mammoth sculpture of Secretariat that adorns Old Frankfort Pike in Lexington, Kentucky.

In the days leading up to the Wood, Hatton kept writing about Martin’s tactics. It finally got to the fiery Cuban-born trainer, who decided to show the world Sham could beat Secretariat on his own. He scratched both horses the morning of the race, removing two arrows pointed at the bullseye on Secretariat’s back.

History will show that it was Angle Light who shocked the world by stealing the Wood on the front end. Pincay aboard Sham had been tracking him the whole way, but was more interested in having something left for Secretariat in the stretch and never let him loose until it was too late. When Pincay, who was a length and a half behind at the eighth pole, finally realized Secretariat was no threat he went after Angle Light, but his run fell a head short. Although Secretariat was far back and moving into contention slower than usual, I, like many, felt he was unbeatable and kept waiting for him to pull off some miraculous closing burst from well out in the middle of the track. But it never came. I stood there stunned watching Secretariat plod home in third, beaten four lengths.

You could hear a pin drop. You never saw a less happy person in the winner’s circle than Laurin, who knew the verbal assaults from all sides were about to come.

Just like that, Secretariat’s mystique and $6 million price tag took a dramatic tumble. Critics again brought up the Bold Ruler factor, citing the horse’s inability to sire a classic mile and a quarter horse.

No one knew about the abscess in Secretariat’s mouth, not even Turcotte. Whether or not it was the reason Secretariat ran such a dull race we’ll never know for certain, but it certainly made sense considering the colt could not bite down on the bit. Once he arrived in Louisville, the abscess cleared up and Big Red would ride into legend..

But the legend was born in the winter of 1973, when Secretariat evolved into Big Red and took those important first steps that would lead him into the pantheon of immortals. It was there he would become the standard by which greatness is measured.


1972 Horse of the Year – A Prelude to Greatness

Monday, January 9th, 2023

With the recent announcement of the 2022 Eclipse Award nominees let’s revisit how Secretariat left such a major impact on Thoroughbred racing during his outstanding 2-year-old campaign which seems to have gotten lost in his legacy. But by being voted Horse of the Year it left expectations at 3 so high it surely had to help owner Penny Tweedy and new Claiborne Farm president Seth Hancock attract enough breeders to syndicate the colt for a record $6,080,000. ~ Steve Haskin

1972 Horse of the Year – A Prelude to Greatness

By Steve Haskin

When Meadow Stable groom Eddie Sweat, who rubbed 1971 2-year-old champion Riva Ridge, first saw Secretariat at Hialeah in the winter of 1972, he thought he was too pretty and too fat to be a good horse, and in fact, he didn’t even want to rub him at first. That he would become Horse of the Year that year was so far-fetched it was laughable.

When trainer Lucien Laurin’s own horse Gold Bag used to dust Secretariat every time they worked together and Laurin couldn’t even get Secretariat to work three furlongs faster than :38, his only thought about Horse of Year was that Riva Ridge had a good chance of winning it and he hoped he could get Secretariat to break his maiden. His main image of the colt they considered a clown was “‘Ol’ Hopalong” hoppin’ along well behind Gold Bag.

When Meadow Stable’s jockey Ron Turcotte laid eyes on Secretariat for the first time in January of 1972, he chuckled and asked Laurin, “Hey Lucien, who’s the pretty boy here?  Laurin replied, “That’s the Bold Ruler who just arrived from the Meadow, he’s too good looking to be a racehorse.” Like Laurin, Turcotte’s thoughts of Horse of the Year revolved only around Riva Ridge.

Even when things began to change and the pretty boy’s baby fat began to turn to muscle, and he shocked everyone by working five furlongs in a sizzling :57 3/5, it merely gave them hope that he might be a good horse. Riva Ridge had easily won the Kentucky Derby and had just romped in the Belmont Stakes, so if there were any thoughts of Horse of the Year they were firmly focused on the son of First Landing who had helped pull the declining Meadow Stable and its ailing owner Christopher Chenery out of the abyss and given them new life.

When Daily Racing Form copy editor John Piesen, who was close to Meadow Stable, came into the office one morning early that spring and told everyone that the stable had an unraced 2-year-old named Secretariat who could be something special, not many paid much attention. That he would become Horse of the Year as a 2-year-old was ludicrous, especially after the colt finished fourth in his debut on July 4 despite being bumped soundly coming out of the gate, dropped far back, and rallied in the stretch to be beaten only 1 1/4 lengths.

When a certain head librarian for the Daily Racing Form was having breakfast on the apron at Saratoga in August with a friend and colleague he heard a loud noise growing even louder over his left shoulder. Yes, it was the sound of hooves pounding the ground, but this sounded more like a cavalry charge. He turned around and there flying by him with enormous strides was a one-horse stampede decked out in the blue and white checkered blinkers of Meadow Stable and their blue saddlecloth with white trim. The colt was hitting the ground with such force you had to pay attention. The young man turned to his colleague and said, “That must be that 2-year-old, Secretariat, John Piesen told us about.” He had followed up his fourth-place finish with victories in a maiden and allowance race and was training for his stakes debut in the Sanford. At that time any thoughts of Horse of the Year centered around 3-year-olds Riva Ridge and the up-and-coming star Key to the Mint, who was coming off victories against older horses in the Brooklyn Handicap and Whitney Stakes.

When aspiring racetracker Steve Jordan, who would soon be hired by Lucien Laurin as a hotwalker, attended the Sanford Stakes at Saratoga and watched Secretariat bust through horses in the stretch like a “seasoned older horse” to defeat the three-time stakes winner and track record holder Linda’s Chief going away, his first reaction was, “Holy S__t! Whatever they’re writing about this horse is no exaggeration. This is the real deal.” But it wasn’t until Steve joined the Meadow Stable barn and watched Secretariat pile on one stakes victory after another, compounded by a series of defeats suffered by Riva Ridge, that he said the idea of a Horse of Year title for Secretariat was at least an outside possibility.

Then came Secretariat’s final race of the year on November 18. When Floyd Iuliucci Sr. came home from work that evening he had something he needed to tell his family. As a longtime assistant starter at Garden State Park, he couldn’t stop raving about the colt he had loaded into the starting gate that day for the rich Garden State Stakes for 2-year-olds. “Watch out for the big red horse, he could be something really special,” he said. “He’s just so smart.” Little did he know that that when that big red horse, named Secretariat, crossed the finish line a minute and 44 seconds after he had loaded him it would indeed clinch 1972 Horse of the Year honors for the colt.

Secretariat’s 2-year-old campaign was a major part of his legend and shouldn’t be forgotten. You have just seen that campaign flash by in giant leaps through the eyes of others as it pertained to Horse of the Year. However, there were a number of unforgettable moments that year.

We skimmed over his first four races, culminating with the Sanford Stakes and that impressive victory over Linda’s Chief, a brilliant and established colt in his own right who is the only horse ever to go off as the favorite over Secretariat. That was when Secretariat began opening the eyes of people like Steve Jordan that this colt might have the qualities you look for in young horses.

But it was his next start in the Hopeful Stakes that had those eyes popping for the first time when he made a startling move from ninth and last to first on the far turn in a flash and then drew away to win by five lengths, missing the track record by three-fifths of a second. That is when Eddie Sweat began to think that this one-time clown with nothing but baby fat might be as good as Riva Ridge.

Joe Nichols, writing in the New York Times, said Secretariat won with “contemptuous ease.” I’ll let him describe the race: “The achievement of Secretariat was made most remarkable, even in view of his expected triumph, by his lightning forward thrust. He was shuffled back to last place soon after the start, with the early contention being offered by Sunny South and Branford Court. Secretariat, to all intents and purposes, was not in the hunt as the field hit into the stretch turn. Suddenly, as if activated by coiled springs, Secretariat was up front, enjoying a head advantage over Sunny South. After that the Meadow Stable colt went his own way, extending his lead over his foes with every stride.”

Ron Turcotte added, “He took himself back as he usually does right after the break. I let him settle into stride and he began to pick up on his own as we came to the half‐mile pole. By the time we straightened out, he was in front. Through the stretch he just kept reaching out without pressure.”

His next start two weeks later in the Futurity Stakes at the same 6 1/2-furlong distance as the Hopeful resulted in a more workmanlike 1 3/4-length victory over Greentree Stable’s talented Stop the Music, who he had beaten by 5 1/4 lengths in the Hopeful. But like the Hopeful, Turcotte never asked Secretariat in the stretch and he won in hand, missing the track record by only two-fifths of a second.

That set him up for what looked like sure victory in the one-mile Champagne Stakes, the race that often decided the 2-year-old championship. Secretariat dropped back to 11th in the 12-horse field, more than a dozen lengths off the swift early pace. Again, Turcotte just waited for the explosion he felt in the Hopeful. It came swiftly and suddenly as Secretariat began his big sweeping move. He blew by horses one by one, collared Puntilla and Stop the Music at the eighth pole, and drew off to a two-length victory. The crowd went wild, but had failed to see Secretariat bear in and bump Stop the Music at the three-sixteenths pole. The inquiry sign went up and soon after, Secretariat was disqualified to second place, much to the dissatisfaction of the crowd. But everyone knew who the best horse in the race was.

The year was far from over, and Secretariat came back two weeks later in the Laurel Futurity, his first start around two turns. This race has often gone overlooked, but it was one of the colt’s most impressive races of his career. Running on a sloppy track for the first time, Secretariat dropped back to last in the six-horse field, a dozen lengths off the pace. He was still 10 lengths back after a half-mile. Then he took off and just inhaled his opponents with that powerful sustained run. He burst clear of the field turning for home, opened up by five at the eighth pole and won eased up by nine lengths.

Meanwhile, Riva Ridge’s chances at Horse of the Year had gone steadily downhill since his gut-wrenching victory in the Hollywood Derby. In his showdown with Key to the Mint for the 3-year-old championship in the Woodward Stakes he was soundly beaten by the Rokeby Stable colt on a sloppy track, which pretty much nailed down the title for the son of Graustark. Key to the Mint still had a good chance at Horse of the Year if he could close out the year with another victory, or even come close, in The Jockey Club Gold Cup, which also attracted the slumping Riva Ridge for one last attempt at championship consideration. But the older horse Autobiography, who Key to the Mint had already defeated on several occasions, ran the race of his life to win the Gold Cup by a staggering 15 lengths, leaving the Horse of the Year title up for grabs.

The last big race of the year was the Garden State Stakes and when Secretariat basically went through the motions to defeat his stablemate Angle Light by 3 1/2 lengths it capped off an outstanding 2-year-old campaign that opened the door for Horse of the Year honors that only he seemed to want to go through. And go through he did, taking a chapter in the history books with him. He would become the first 2-year-old ever named Horse of the Year in the Daily Racing Form/Morning Telegraph voting, the most recognized poll in the country since its inception in 1936. And this was a year that saw future Hall of Famers Riva Ridge, Cougar II, Susan’s Girl, and Numbered Account, and champions Key to the Mint, Autobiography and the brilliant 2-year-old filly La Prevoyante, winner of all 12 of her races. 

Secretariat had stolen the spotlight from Riva Ridge, who at one time was the most likely candidate for racing’s highest honor. But that was nothing compared to the following year when he would raise the equine genus to another level and change the entire landscape of Thoroughbred racing by becoming one of the great celebrities of his era, whose name still dominates the Sport of Kings half a century later.

Of course no one had seen it coming. How could they… for any 2-year-old. It was truly an amazing achievement. But Secretariat’s 2-year-old campaign and even his Horse of the Year honors would get somewhat lost in 1973 when the horse affectionately known as Big Red would reach heights never before attained, right up there with Man o’ War, and establish himself as the standard by which future great horses are measured. None would ever come close to equaling the achievements, fame, charisma, and beauty of the horse whose name 50 years later is still part of our vernacular and continues to grow in legend.

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 since 2020.

Most Memorable Finishes Part 2

Monday, January 2nd, 2023

If you enjoyed Part 1 of the most memorable finishes we have a lot more this week. We all have our favorites and these are determined by historical significance and from a personal standpoint. ~ Steve Haskin

Most Memorable Finishes Part 2

By Steve Haskin

Wild Again winning the inaugural 1984 Breeders’s Cup Classic (Breeders’ Cup photo)


Although last week’s column ended in 1985 I am beginning this week’s column with an earlier race that I had listed but overlooked, one that is very well known to most racing fans.

1984 Breeders’ Cup Classic (Wild Again) – This race needs no introduction as we are all aware of its importance in establishing the Breeders’ Cup as one of the world’s great events in its first year. Yes, it was an exciting finish and a shocking result and is listed for its historical impact. But the overwhelming favorite, Slew o’ Gold, who was on the verge of greatness, was suffering from a quarter crack and his jockey Angel Cordero put on quite an act when he took up sharply in deep stretch despite appearing to be beaten after falling back to third. Because of Cordero’s dramatics it seemed as if the stewards were obligated to take down either the horse inside him, the nose winner Wild Again, or the horse outside him, the hooded Gate Dancer, who already had a reputation having been disqualified from fourth in the Kentucky Derby. There was no way the Breeders’ Cup or Hollywood Park wanted the first Classic to be decided on a disqualification, and it was Horse of the Year candidate Slew o’ Gold’s jockey who was claiming foul, so they took down the “notorious” Gate Dancer, who in my opinion did nothing to warrant it when it looked as if Wild Again was more to blame for coming out. But neither horse affected Slew o’ Gold or deserved to be taken down and the gutsy Wild Again was a deserving winner, especially since his owner supplemented him to the race for an outrageous $360,000… for a 30-1 shot. Now that is chutzpah. With Pat Day saluting the heavens afterwards, providing an everlasting image, the Breeders’ Cup was on its way.

1987 Haskell Invitational (Bet Twice) – As New Jersey correspondent for the new publication Thoroughbred Times it was a thrill to cover a race of such importance, with all eyes on Monmouth Park to witness the showdown between Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba and the Derby and Preakness runner-up Bet Twice, who then crushed Alysheba in the Belmont, winning by 14 lengths. Also in the mix was the exciting speedster Lost Code, riding one of the oddest winning streaks in memory, winning the Alabama Derby, Thomas Nash Memorial Handicap, Illinois Derby, Ohio Derby, St. Paul Derby, and Arlington Classic. This was his big move up to the top level. Lost Code, as expected, went to the lead, tracked by Bet Twice, who was the local hero, being stabled most of the year at Monmouth with Jersey favorite trainer Jimmy Croll. Alysheba took back and waited to make his move. Coming to the top of the stretch, Bet Twice went after Lost Code as Alysheba moved to the inside. Turning for home, Bet Twice pulled on even terms with Lost Code, but as they moved in toward the rail Alysheba had to veer to the outside. Now the battle was on. Lost Code showed what he was made of as he matched strides with Bet Twice. Alysheba still had a couple of lengths to make up but was flying. It was obvious all three horses were going to hit the wire together. In the end it was Bet Twice by a neck over Alysheba, who was a neck in front of a game Lost Code. Monmouth was going through a growth spurt in the mid-80s and this race put the Haskell on the map as one of the country’s top races for 3-year-olds.

1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic (Ferdinand) – While this was an exciting finish between two Kentucky Derby winners, which certainly made it historic, it was not one of my favorite races because it looked as if Ferdinand, as he was known to do, began to idle in the final sixteenth after taking the lead from a stubborn Judge Angelucci, while Alysheba, although closing the gap, seemed to be doing so only because Ferdinand was allowing him to do so by shutting it down. I am probably being too unkind to what was a thrilling finish between back-to-back Derby winners, but I was actually more excited and more impressed with both horses in the following year’s Santa Anita Handicap when they laid it all out with Alysheba, in front this time, stretching his neck out and holding off a relentless Ferdinand. They would repeat it again in even more dramatic fashion in their next meeting in the San Bernardino Handicap when Alysheba had to come again to beat Ferdinand by a desperate bob of the nose in a heart-pounding three-horse photo with outsider Good Taste. That race was as exciting as it gets. So just consider this the Alysheba – Ferdinand trilogy.

1988 Haskell Invitational (Forty Niner) – Forty Niner spent half his career in photo finishes and knew how to fight and how to win. He was one of the gutsiest horses I’ve ever seen and he needed every ounce of his courage to outduel the top-class Seeking the Gold the entire length of the stretch in 100-degree weather. I remember so well at noon that day the sun was actually burning the top of my head even through my hat. Here were two colts giving 100 percent in stifling heat while going stride for stride, with a tenacious Forty Niner refusing to let an equally game Seeking the Gold get by him. Back at the barn after the race Forty Niner had three fans blowing in his stall to try to cool him down. Amazingly, several weeks later Forty Niner again beat Seeking the Gold by a desperate nose in the Travers Stakes. What made these battles all the more interesting was that both these sons of Mr. Prospector grew up together at Claiborne Farm. Forty Niner would then lose a heartbreaker in the Woodward Stakes against older horses when he dug deep yet again but just failed to hold off Alysheba by a neck, and Alysheba had to break the track record to beat him, running the mile and a quarter in 1:59 2/5. I don’t think that I have ever seen three gutsier performances strung together, especially in only a month and a half.

1988 Breeders’ Cup Distaff (Personal Ensign) – All you have to do is say Secretariat’s Belmont or Affirmed and Alydar’s Belmont and that is sufficient. They require no other words. The same can be said of Personal Ensign’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff and her determination to catch the Kentucky Derby winner Winning Colors in the deep stretch run. Winning Colors was on a clear lead enjoying her return to Churchill Downs on a sloppy sticky track with Personal Ensign, appearing to dislike the surface and with too much ground to make up, charging at her relentlessly trying to end her illustrious career undefeated. Everyone already knew at the sixteenth pole it was going to come down to whose nose was going to be in front at the wire. First Personal Ensign had to get by the Kentucky Oaks, Coaching Club American Oaks, and Mother Goose winner Goodbye Halo and even that was going to be close. After that it would take about three or four more strides to crack the big powerful speedball Winning Colors. Just like Forego in the 1976 Marlboro Cup history would not be denied as Personal Ensign just got up to win by a nose ending one of the great careers of all time. For a race that requires no words I think that was more than enough.

1989 Preakness Stakes (Sunday Silence) – Has there ever been a five-year period in racing that saw more epic finishes than 1984 to 1989? And we didn’t even include the 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic, that track announcer Tom Durkin called a “racing epic,” but paled by comparison to the ’89 Preakness between the same two antagonists, Sunday Silence, the pride of the west, and Easy Goer, the pride of the east. Before the Kentucky Derby, Easy Goer had been anointed the next Triple Crown winner by his avid worshippers only to run into a black bullet named Sunday Silence and a deep, wet Churchill Downs track he showed the year before in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile he despised. So, here came the Preakness and his chance for redemption. A week before the race Sunday Silence came down with a foot bruise and if he wasn’t able to work the following day he likely would have to be scratched. Noted veterinarian Alex Harthill was summoned from Kentucky. He went into the colt’s stall and both the top and bottom doors were closed. Shortly after, he came out and left and while we will never know what took place behind closed doors, the next morning Sunday Silence worked a half in a stunning :46 1/5. A week later Sunday Silence and Easy Goer engaged in a stretch battle for the ages, with Pat Valenzuela managing to get Sunday Silence outside of Pat Day on Easy Goer and in a stronger position. Both colts ran their hearts out with Sunday Silence just edging his rival to take the first two legs of the Triple Crown. And this was a colt who was so close to being scratched a week earlier.

1996 Dubai World Cup (Cigar) – I had traveled halfway across the world to cover a new race called the Dubai World Cup, the richest race in the world run at tiny Nad Al Sheba Race Course in the deserts of the rapidly growing Dubai. The $4 million purse topped the Breeders’ Cup Classic by $1 million. But no one knew what to expect or whether this race would succeed. It sure helped that they were able to lure American superstar and reigning Horse of the Year Cigar. But it had been reported that Cigar was battling foot problems since arriving in Dubai. Still, he was on the track every day and looked great. But as I sat in the media tent, word came in that Cigar was going to be scratched. Had I traveled this far to a strange new land for nothing except to see two decent American horses, Soul of the Matter and L’Carriere, face a bunch of locally based horses and mediocre European grass horses? To cover myself I wrote an opening paragraph about Cigar being scratched just in case. Then the horses filed on to the track from the stable area located on the backstretch. I looked through my binoculars and there was Cigar with his trusted pony Snowball. Thank goodness. Could he extend his winning streak to 13 races running on a questionable foot and at night for the first time? As they came down that interminably long stretch, Cigar had the lead, but here came Soul of the Matter with all the momentum. He ranged up alongside Cigar and inched ahead. “Oh, no, Cigar is going to get beat. Soul of the Matter is a good horse but where is the story?” Just then, Cigar seemed to find another gear or just dug deep into his heart of a champion. He came back again to win by a half-length. My story was written. The Dubai World was here to stay. It was a glorious flight back home.

1998 Breeders’ Cup Mile (Da Hoss) – This one surely was personal. In 1998 my family and I made several visits to Michael Dickinson’s Tapeta Farm and witnessed first-hand the struggle Dickinson and his crew had getting Da Hoss back to the Breeders’ Cup Mile after his victory in 1996 off only one minor race at Colonial Downs in two years. Da Hoss had been suffering one physical problem after another and his chances of making it back to the Breeders’ Cup seemed extremely slim. Dickinson kept showing me letters he faxed to co-owner Art Preston. On May 30 following an ultrasound of his tendon all seemed promising. But on July 10 he wrote: “Dr. Ross examined Da Hoss today, and he thought he had muscle atrophy on the left hind and was moving worse than he had ever seen him… It is disappointing to us all.” But his crew kept working feverishly on him. His groom spent six hours a day in the stall with the horse, rubbing him, giving him physiotherapy, massage treatments, ice treatments, and laser treatments. Dickinson then wrote to Preston: “We all know that he does have aches and pains, and on a nuclear scan he lights up like a Christmas tree. We’re all holding our breath at the moment and it will indeed be a miracle if he wins the Breeders’ Cup again this year. But miracles do happen.” What happened in the Mile will forever be etched in Breeders’ Cup lore. Da Hoss was forced to move early on the far turn after getting bumped and having to check on the first turn. Rallying four wide, Da Hoss hit the front at the three-sixteenths pole. Dickinson was upset, fearing the horse had moved too soon. Da Hoss was on the lead with more than a furlong still to run. From out of the pack came the stretch-running Hawksley Hill, who charged up alongside Da Hoss inside the eighth pole and actually got his head, then neck in front at the sixteenth pole and looked about ready to draw clear. Da Hoss, with only one allowance race under him in two years and countless setbacks, had made a gallant effort, but he was a beaten horse. But then the “miracle” happened. Da Hoss dug in and came battling back, his neck fully stretched and his teeth clenched. No one could believe it. Da Hoss kept reaching for more and with one final surge he stuck his head in front right on the wire. A stunned Tom Durkin, calling the race, bellowed: “Oh, my! This is the greatest comeback since Lazarus!” I remember back in July when all looked lost and Dickinson’s crew all were crying. Four months later, in the Churchill Downs winner’s circle, they all were crying once again.

1998 Belmont Stakes (Victory Gallop) – This was it. The 20-year-old Triple Crown drought would be over in a few seconds. Joining the list of racing’s immortals would be… Real Quiet? Really? A horse so unassuming and narrow from the front his trainer nicknamed him “The Fish”? A horse who was not even the most talented 3-year-old in his own barn? But it was going to happen. After upsetting the Derby and winning the Preakness, Real Quiet now held a commanding lead coming down the stretch. Racecaller Tom Durkin said it all: “Real Quiet is taking the lead, he’s coming to the eighth pole; 20 years in the waiting; one furlong to go. But here comes his rival Victory Gallop… Kent Desormeaux imploring Real Quiet to hold on. Victory Gallop a final surge; it’s going to be very close. Here comes the wire — it’s too close to call! Was it Real Quiet or was it Victory Gallop? A picture is worth a thousand words. This photo is worth five million dollars. Oh, no, history in the waiting on hold until we get that photo finish.” The wait seemed forever as I stood behind Real Quiet’s owner Mike Pegram’s box waiting to see if history had been made. Even if Real Quiet had held on there was a good chance he would be disqualified for coming out and interfering with Victory Gallop. Could the stewards really disqualify a horse from a Triple Crown sweep? They never got to make that decision as Victory Gallop’s number went up. By the way, Victory Gallop’s owners would go on to win another historic photo that year with a gutsy 6-year-old. His name was Da Hoss.

2007 Belmont Stakes (Rags to Riches) – If you want historic, this is your race. When Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense passed the Belmont Stakes after getting nipped by Curlin in the Preakness, the final leg of the Triple Crown lost most of its luster. That was until it was given a much-needed shot in the arm with the inclusion of Kentucky Oaks winner Rags to Riches. It couldn’t have turned out better. After the decision was made to run Rags to Riches there she was, charging down the stretch in the Belmont locked in furious combat with the brilliant, tough, and determined Curlin, whose meteoric rise to stardom was one victory away from taking on legendary proportions. The crowd of 46,870, the smallest since 1996, was on its feet as the feisty filly and the brawny colt looked each other in the eye, neither budging an inch. One of the great battles in Triple Crown history was on. There is a saying attributed to both Eleanor Roosevelt and Carl Sandburg: “A woman is like a tea bag. It’s only when she’s in hot water that you realize how strong she is.” Curlin put Rags to Riches in scalding water down the Belmont stretch, but it was he who got burned. Rags to Riches, who had stumbled badly at the start and then raced wide the entire way, took the outside route, while Curlin, who had saved ground, split horses inside her with a quick burst of speed. Now, as they honed in on each other, it was time to see which one had the strongest will. It was a classic male vs. female confrontation, something you don’t see in most other sports. Rags to Riches, who had been manhandling humans since she was a baby, was not about to be intimidated by the powerful chestnut colt. Curlin came out and bumped Rags to Riches, who just shrugged it off, sticking her head in front. Although Curlin kept digging in and battling back, Rags to Riches refused to relinquish her head advantage. As she eased in slightly and Curlin again came out into her, the two were leaning all over each other as the wire approached. Most horses, especially fillies, would have been intimidated by the contact from a bruiser like Curlin, but Rags to Riches seemed to relish this test of superiority and she held her advantage to the wire, becoming the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont.

2009 Woodward Stakes (Rachel Alexandra) – You want more fillies, we got another one. This was the race a filly literally shook the Saratoga grandstand. Rachel Alexandra had not only decimated her own sex winning the Fantasy takes by almost nine lengths, the Kentucky Oaks by 20 1/4 lengths, and the Mother Goose by 19 1/4 lengths, she had beaten the boys in the Preakness Stakes and romped in the Haskell Invitational by six lengths, crushing the Belmont winner Summer Bird. Now came the bold move to take on older males in the Woodward Stakes. A 3-year-old filly going against older males in a Grade 1 race was unheard of, but Rachel’s connections were looking for new and higher mountains to climb. To make things even more difficult, Rachel had to repulse one challenge after another throughout the race, while pressing a brutal opening quarter in :22 4/5, and still was able to dig down deep and turn back her final and most formidable challenge from the multiple graded stakes winner and $1.7-million earner Macho Again. First, she had to turn back Past the Point, then the previous year’s Belmont winner Da’ Tara, prompting racecaller Tom Durkin to say, “There’ll be no free ride for Rachel Alexandra. They’re making her work for every step today.” And work she did through a testing three-quarters in 1:10 2/5. Then Asiatic Boy made a futile run at her followed by Whitney winner Bullsbay. Finally it was Macho Again who came at her, closing in with every stride. Rachel, under a barrage of 13 right-handed whips from Calvin Borel who had already hit her eight times, kept finding more. The crowd urged Rachel to hold on, their hearts pounding with every stride. At the wire, it was Rachel Alexandra by a head and the place went crazy. Rachel returned to an eruption of cheers, unlike anything heard before at Saratoga. But that race gutted her and it took her a long time to get back to the races. When she did she won several stakes, but was never the same filly we had seen earlier in 2009. But 13 years later, all those who were there still remember the day Rachel rocked the Spa.

I am wrapping this up with my three favorite Breeders’ Cup Classic finishes – the 2000 and 2001 victories by Tiznow and the 2013 victory by Mucho Macho Man, three of my favorite races of all time. The stories behind all three of these races are so long and so special and at times so heartwarming and gut-wrenching I would be doing them a gross injustice by trying to squeeze them in here. They can all be found in my archives at along with the amazing story behind Zenyatta’s heartbreaking defeat in the 2010 Classic, to me the greatest race she ever ran.

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 since 2020.

Most Memorable Finishes 1967 – 1985

Monday, December 26th, 2022

There have been many memorable finishes over the past half century, so trying to pick out just a handful is a daunting task, but I am going to continue to tackle this challenge that began with my Seattle Slew/Exceller column in October. The selections here are based on historical significance and the emotional impact they had on me, so call it part historical and part personal. ~ Steve Haskin

Most Memorable Finishes 1967 – 1985

By Steve Haskin

John Henry and The Bart – 1981 Arlington Million


When it comes to memorable finishes there is no way I can rank them in any order, so here is my list in chronological order. Part 1 will cover 1967 to 1985 and Part 2 next week will cover 1986 to the present.

1967 Gotham Stakes (Dr. Fager) – When people think of the Damascus – Dr. Fager rivalry the last race that comes to mind is their first meeting in the Gotham Stakes, but that was the race that launched one of the most intense rivalries in racing history and the only race in which these two champions actually were close at the finish. Damascus was coming off an allowance victory at Pimlico and impressive score in the Bay Shore Stakes, while Dr. Fager was making his first start of the year. Bill Shoemaker had been the rider of both horses, but following a narrow defeat in the Champagne Stakes Dr. Fager’s trainer John Nerud felt Shoemaker was too intimidated by the big rugged and strong-willed colt and replaced him with the stronger and more aggressive Manny Ycaza. Going a flat mile, Damascus had the advantage breaking from the far outside 9 post with Dr. Fager in post 5. Damascus, who was extremely quick out of the gate before taking himself back, broke on top and was head and head briefly with the 50-1 shot Royal Malabar before the latter spurted to a three-length lead. Ycaza was able to steer Dr. Fager to the outside of Damascus and put him in a perfect stalking position all the way around the far turn. The pair made their run at Royal Malabar and easily put him away at the quarter pole and the battle was on. With Dr. Fager in the more advantageous outside position, the two matched strides the entire length of the stretch and when Ycaza saw he was unable to shake free of Damascus he went to the whip twice, but Dr. Fager hated to be whipped and threw his tail up in defiance both times. When Ycaza put the whip away and went to a hand-ride, Dr. Fager gave a final surge nearing the wire to win by a half-length. Shoemaker took the blame for the defeat and told Damascus’ trainer Frank Whiteley that Dr. Fager would never again beat Damascus as long as he was on him. Dr. Fager and Damascus would go on to become two of the all-time greats, with both taking home Horse of the Year honors and being elected to the Hall of Fame. Between them they won eight championships, carried weights of 134 pounds and higher to victory and set track records that have not been broken in 55 years. And it all began in the Gotham.

1968 United Nations Handicap (Dr. Fager) – The year 1968 looked like a battle to the wire for Horse of the Year honors between the defending champion Damascus and his archrival Dr. Fager, with the pair splitting victories in memorable runnings of the Suburban and Brooklyn Handicaps. The logical showdown looked to be the Woodward Stakes, but Dr. Fager’s trainer John Nerud had a more important goal in mind other than championships, which was to show the racing world that his horse could do anything. So, following the Doc’s world-record romp in the Washington Park Handicap under 134 pounds, Nerud opted to change course and run the colt on the grass for the first time against the best turf horses in the country in the United Nations Handicap, in which he would again have to carry 134 pounds and give substantial weight to the likes of future Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Fort Marcy and Australian superstar Tobin Bronze. An earlier rain had begun to dry out, but left the course wet and slippery. As a result, Dr. Fager was slipping and sliding the entire race, losing the lead three times to Advocator, who was in receipt of 22 pounds. Every time Dr. Fager gave up the lead he battled back to regain it. When Advocator re-took the lead inside the eighth pole he looked like a sure winner, but Dr. Fager dug deep and again stuck his head back in front. Advocator gave one last thrust nearing the wire, but this time Dr. Fager would not be denied. He refused to give up the lead when it counted, winning by a neck. By defeating the nation’s top grass horses, Dr. Fager became the first and still the only horse to ever win four championships in one year – Sprinter, Handicap Horse, Grass Horse, and Horse of the Year.

1969 Vosburgh Handicap (Ta Wee) – If you thought Dr. Fager’s U.N. Handicap finish was exciting you should have seen his little sister Ta Wee’s victory in the Vosburgh Handicap the following year. It must be noted that this was the only time in history a major race designed mainly for males had three future Hall of Fame fillies in the field. In addition to the swift 3-year-old Ta Wee you had that year’s Filly Triple Crown and Alabama winner Shuvee, future back-to-back winner of The Jockey Club Gold Cup, and the defending female handicap champion Gamely, back-to-back winner of the Diana and Beldame and runner-up to Dr. Fager in the Californian Stakes and to Nodouble in the Santa Anita Handicap. This turned out to be the wildest cavalry charge anyone could remember. With most of the entire 11-horse field storming down the stretch with a chance to win, it was a dogged Ta Wee turning back all challenges to win by a head, with Rising Market and Plucky Lucky dead-heating for second, a half-length ahead of Jaikyl, who was a head in front of the speedy King Emperor. Shuvee and Gamely came flying too late, with Shuvee finishing sixth, beaten only 1 3/4 lengths, and Gamely finishing eighth, beaten 2 1/2 lengths. Ta Wee’s victory was all the more impressive as she battled head and head on the lead the whole way though blazing fractions of :44 2/5 and 1:08 3/5 and stopping the teletimer in 1:21 3/5.

1972 Hollywood Derby (Riva Ridge) – The only historical significance of this race is that it was the first of several mistakes made by Riva’s connections that could very well have cost the Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner a championship. And it showed how much grit and determination the colt had — so much so that it likely gutted him for the rest of the year and prevented him from winning another race. It was decided following the Belmont Stakes, which Riva had won by seven lengths, to not only run him back in three weeks, but ship him cross country for the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Derby, where he would have to carry topweight of 129 pounds against the best 3-year-olds in California. Five years later we would see what that same decision did to Seattle Slew, who was beaten 16 lengths at Hollywood Park for his first career defeat. Riva Ridge not only won, he hung on tenaciously to defeat the top-class Bicker, who was getting 15 pounds, Finalista, and eventual world-record holder Quack. Riva refused to be beaten, winning by a neck with the third and fourth-place finishers each separated by a half-length in 1:59 3/5. The race took so much out of Riva Ridge he didn’t even come close to winning another race the rest of the year, losing his remaining five starts by an average margin of 14 3/4 lengths. Given a well-deserved six-month vacation he returned the following year and broke or equaled two track records, broke a world record, and was voted Champion Older Male Horse.

1976 Marlboro Cup (Forego) – The mighty Forego has left many indelible images over the course of his remarkable career, but none stands out more than his iconic victory in the ’76 Marlboro Cup. Turned over to trainer Frank Whiteley at age 6 following the retirement of Sherrill Ward, Forego was a major project for his new conditioner, who had his hands full trying to keep the 17 hands gelding sound after three years of wear and tear on his fragile legs that had been plagued by sesamoid problems and calcium deposits. Whiteley said it was the worst legs he had ever seen on a horse and noted veterinarian Alex Harthill told him, “Frank, you haven’t got a chance with this horse.” It took several hours a day hosing down his legs to keep him racing. But Forego actually peaked at age 6 while carrying staggering weights ranging from 130 pounds to 135, which he carried to victory in the Woodward Handicap, run in a near-track record 1:45 4/5. Then came the 1 1/4-mile Marlboro Cup, in which Forego was burdened with 137 pounds. His main foe was the 3-year-old Honest Pleasure, who he had beaten in the Woodward. But in that race Honest Pleasure set a blazing pace of :45 3/5, 1:09 1/5, and 1:33 2/5. Going 10 furlongs Honest Pleasure would be able to slow the pace down and take control as he had done two races back in the Travers, which he had won by four lengths, shattering the track record by four-fifths of a second. As expected, Honest Pleasure opened a clear lead while slowing down the pace with a :47 2/5 half over a track labeled as sloppy, which Forego never cared for because of his bad legs. In Forego’s only start over a sloppy track he finished third, beaten four lengths. In the Marlboro Cup he dropped back to eighth in the 11-horse field as Honest Pleasure was out there winging on an easy lead. On the far turn, Bill Shoemaker swung Forego to the outside where he liked to run and he began picking off horses. But turning for home, Forego had to go very wide and still had about seven lengths to make up. As usual, he never changed leads in the stretch but still began closing into Honest Pleasure’s lead with every stride. Everyone knew it was going to be a nail-biter at the wire. Forego was relentless and kept coming, despite running over a track he disliked and giving 19 pounds to Honest Pleasure over a track he disliked. The Belmont crowd went wild as Forego hit the wire a nose ahead of Honest Pleasure, missing his own track record by a fifth of a second. That victory nailed down Forego’s third consecutive Horse of the Year title. His owner Martha Gerry said she had no idea if he had won and called it the most exciting race she ever saw.

1978 Belmont Stakes (Affirmed) – I have to admit I was one of the few people who did not see this race live, as I was in England at the time to see the Epsom Derby and attend Royal Ascot. Staying at the home of my good friend and top racing journalist George Ennor, I looked at the Daily Telegraph on Sunday morning and at the bottom of their racing story there was a short graph that read: “In America, Affirmed beat Alydar to win the Triple Crown.” I knew little of the race until I returned home and watched it for the first time and learned I had missed arguably the greatest race of all time. So while it surely was not my favorite or most memorable finish I must include it here after the fact, as it still takes my breath away 44 years later. I had seen all of the previous Affirmed and Alydar showdowns, so I wasn’t surprised how the Belmont turned out. There is no use describing a race the world has seen so many times. What I did take from it was that I was a bit surprised that John Veitch decided to take the blinkers off Alydar after he was again unable to get past Affirmed in the Preakness, but understood his thinking as he no doubt wanted to try something to help Alydar get by his tenacious foe and figured being able to see him might turn the tables just enough. With Affirmed able to set a sluggish pace of :50 and 1:14 everyone knew he would be tough to pass once again. Alydar was forced to hook up with him early and it turned into a match race for the final mile. In the stretch, Alydar, who like Forego never changed leads in the stretch, looked to be slightly the stronger of the two nearing the eighth pole, and although track announcer Chic Anderson bellowed, “And Alydar’s got a lead!” that is still open to debate. Once again, Alydar was not able to get by Affirmed, falling a head short in what is still regarded as the most epic battle of all time and the greatest race I never saw.

1980 Maskette Stakes (Bold ‘n Determined) – This was the ultimate dream field with three future Hall of Famers, as well as the Alabama and Test Stakes winner going a flat mile at Belmont Park, which actually wasn’t the best distance for any of them with the possible exception of Love Sign, who had won that year’s seven-furlong Test Stakes before romping by five lengths in the 1 1/4-mile Alabama. But as strong as Love Sign looked, the three headliners were 3-year-olds Genuine Risk, who had won the Kentucky Derby before running a powerful second in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, in which she had eventful trips in both, and Bold ‘n Determined, who had rattled off victories in the Santa Susana Stakes (now the Santa Anita Oaks), Fantasy Stakes, Kentucky Oaks, Acorn Stakes, and the mile and a half Coaching Club American Oaks, in which she came again to win by a head after dropping back to third at the eighth pole. Only a head defeat in the Mother Goose Stakes prevented her from sweeping NYRA’s Filly Triple Crown. The third star was the 4-year-old Davona Dale, who the year before became the first filly to sweep both Triple Crowns for fillies – the aforementioned and more recognized NYRA Triple Crown comprised of the Acorn, Mother Goose, and CCA Oaks, and the more traditional and less recognized Triple Crown made up of the Kentucky Oaks, Black-Eyed Susan Stakes, and CCA Oaks to coincide with the male Triple Crown. She was late getting started at 4, but was coming off a victory in the seven-furlong Ballerina Stakes. It turned into a two-horse race, as Love Sign tired and Davona Dale wasn’t herself and never threatened in what was to be the final ace of her career. That left the 6-5 favorite Genuine Risk and Bold ‘n Determined, a huge overlay at 10-1, to battle it out down the stretch. Genuine Risk, sitting in fourth, five lengths off the pace, made her usual big run and stuck her head in front of Bold ‘n Determined at the eighth. But the latter lived up to her name by battling back, with the two great fillies fighting it out to the wire while pulling away from the rest of the field. It was a bob either way, but the decision went to Bold ‘n Determined by a nose. It was a heart-throbbing finish between two superstars that sadly has gotten lost over the years.

1981 Arlington Million (John Henry) – If you want to know how close the finish of the inaugural Arlington Million was, all you had to do was be watching on NBC after John Henry and longshot The Bart hit the wire together and saw several minutes later The Bart’s name posted on the screen as the unofficial winner. But then the numbers went up on the tote board showing that John Henry was the winner. The Arlington Million, America’s first million dollar race, was off and running, and to commemorate the race that got it all started, a statue was erected above the paddock of the finish, with John Henry and The Bart both lunging at the wire. What people weren’t aware of was that 10 days before the race John Henry, the headliner of this great international event, had returned from a gallop noticeably off in his left front foreleg, which was extremely sensitive to the touch. X-rays revealed no fracture and cortisone was injected into his ligament along with Depo-Medrol to treat the pain and swelling. The following morning John Henry was walking perfectly and all the sensitivity was gone. All trainer Ron McAnally needed was a good firm turf course. But as he and his wife Debbie were set to leave California they were informed that a heavy rain had turned the course soft. McAnally took it slow with John, just galloping him for a couple of days to see how the leg progressed. Soon it was as if the injury never happened. John was ready to go. But the soft turf course worried McAnally. This was to be a tough test with the previous year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe runner-up Argument entered along with the previous two French Oaks winners Mrs. Penny and Madam Gay, who had also finished second in that year’s English Oaks. No one paid much attention to The Bart at 40-1. Going by the stands the first time, McAnally could see John was in trouble on the soft going, as there was no rhythm to his stride. His jockey Bill Shoemaker could also feel John wasn’t handling the course, so he just left him alone hoping he would settle and find his best stride. And that’s just what John did passing the half-mile pole. He was back in stride and moving with authority, but still had six lengths to make up. The Bart took the lead and kicked for home. John Henry closed in, but The Bart was not coming back to him, so John had to dig deep. The two hit the wire together with John’s number finally going up. He was now a bona fide superstar and the Arlington Million was to become one of America’s most sought after prizes.

1985 Jersey Derby (Spend a Buck) – This was the race that would change the structure of the Triple Crown thanks to an unheard of bonus instituted by Garden State Park’s new owner Robert Brennan and a new owner like Dennis Diaz who had retired from business at age 38. Brennan had announced that any horse who won the Cherry Hill Mile, Garden State Stakes, Kentucky Derby, and then the 1 1/4-mile Jersey Derby would earn a staggering $2 million bonus. The odds of that happening seemed astronomical, especially considering that the leading 3-year-olds would not be running at Garden State except for a speedball named Spend a Buck, who would romp in the Cherry Hill Mile by 9 1/2 lengths and the Garden State by 10 1/2 lengths in a blazing 1:45 4/5. When he ran his field off their feet in the Kentucky Derby in the third fastest time in the race’s history it set the wheels in motion. Rather than run back in the Preakness, Diaz decided to go for the big bonus in the $1 million Jersey Derby on Memorial Day weekend. With the winner’s share from the race it meant a potential $2.6 million payday for Spend a Buck. That left the Preakness wide open and it was won by the D. Wayne Lukas-trained Tank’s Prospect. With a legitimate contender now for the Belmont, Lukas decided to run a speed horse named Huddle Up in the Jersey Derby to soften up Spend a Buck in case he won and came back in the Belmont. Huddle Up did force Spend a Buck to run a half in :45 2/5 and three-quarters in 1:09 flat. That softened him up for the late charge of Crème Fraiche and El Basco. Spend a Buck looked spent turning into the stretch, but he would run his final quarter on guts alone. Despite staggering home he was able to hold off Crème Fraiche by a neck with El Basco another head back in third. The race knocked him out and he passed the Belmont, which was won by Crème Fraiche. As for the Triple Crown, to prevent this from happening again the three tracks were forced to unite and form Triple Crown Productions. That eventually resulted in sponsorship, major purse hikes for all three races, a $5 million dollar bonus for sweeping the Triple Crown and a $1 million bonus for the horse who competed in all three races and accumulated the most points. Diaz said years later, “It’s really a shame that no one gave Spend a Buck credit for what he did and how he affected the racing industry. They had it all their own way for so many years and he forced their hands. He shook up the business. It took a horse like him and a maverick owner like me to do it. We were just bulls in a china shop and weren’t bound by tradition and indoctrination. Likewise, Spend a Buck’s trainer Cam Gambolati, who himself was only 35 when the colt won the Kentucky Derby, later reflected, “People don’t remember him as the horse who unified the Triple Crown and was responsible for the creation of Triple Crown Productions. We created a great thing.”

Next week we will cover 1986 to the present and more memorable and historical finishes.

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 since 2020.

Cody’s Wish Raises Vox Populi Award to New Heights

Sunday, December 11th, 2022

Despite having two other Vox Populi Award finalists in the public’s consciousness most of the year, the voters turned to that one special story that so often defines what Thoroughbred racing is all about. ~ Steve Haskin

Cody’s Wish Raises Vox Populi Award to New Heights

By Steve Haskin

How do you explain the bond between a horse and a 16-year-old boy who has been imprisoned his entire life by a rare genetic disorder that has shut him off from the outside world?

How do you explain how a horse can break those shackles of imprisonment even briefly to bring that boy into the hearts of an entire nation?

How do you explain how a horse can unite a family and turn misfortune into joyous celebration, fame, and accolades beyond imagination?

How do you explain how a horse and his relationship with that young boy can infiltrate the soul of a nation and elicit such strong emotion that they would vote him the Secretariat Vox Populi Award as the country’s most popular horse even though they knew little about him until late in the year when they were exposed to his story?

How do you explain how a five-month-old horse and a 12-year-old boy unable to use his body and natural communicative skills could bond and one day each win separate awards 15 days apart that had previously been won by multiple Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers?

There have been many reasons why people have voted for a particular horse for the Vox Populi Award. Here was a horse owned by the powerful international Godolphin operation that not many people knew much about despite him rattling off six wins in seven starts beginning in maiden and allowance races and then winning a pair of Grade 3 stakes and a listed race before winning the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga, and then the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. But to racing fans across America he was just part of the Godolphin juggernaut that has won major stakes around the world.

And then prior to the Breeders’ Cup NBC brought Cody’s Wish and Cody Dorman to the attention of the American public and all points of the globe with the story of love, trust, joy, and in many ways salvation between a horse and a boy whose meeting had to be guided by fate. There simply is no other way to explain it.

But let’s start at the beginning of this remarkable story. Cody Dorman was born with a chromosome affliction called Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome that affects many parts of the body and its functions, such as motor skills, and often causes seizures. With it also comes delayed growth and development and the inability to speak. It took four to five months for the Dorman family to have Cody’s condition diagnosed.

“Cody was dealt a bad hand in life, but he has never let it define who he is, which is a fighter and a very intelligent and caring young man,” said his father Kelly, who lives in Richmond, Kentucky and works in fabrication and machining.

Through modern technology, Cody is able to communicate with the help of an infra-red iPad camera-like device situated on his nose-bridge that emanates red dots that Cody uses to navigate by slight movements of his head. It is attached to a keyboard and when you click on the icon Cody’s words show up like an iPad chat. If you don’t understand any of that, just chalk it up to the miracles of science. What is important is that it allows Cody to communicate.

“At first we were just hoping he would be able to communicate through his eyes with a yes and a no; that would have been a Godsend,” Kelly said.” But with this device Cody was so smart he blew it out of the water. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital was amazed how well he took off with this.”

In 2018, at age 12, Cody was given the opportunity to live a dream through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His main passion in life was fishing and he got to go to the Bass Pro Shops headquarters in Springfield, Missouri and tour the Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium with his favorite fisherman Mark Zona.

As exciting as that was for Cody, the greatest miracle was still to come. Shortly after, the Dormans were contacted again by the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Knowing his love of all animals, he was invited, along with other children from the Make-A-Wish program to attend the races at Keeneland, which was working in conjunction with Make-A-Wish to raise money every October. Each child was given VIP status and had a race in his or her honor. But first, each child was given the opportunity to visit a breeding farm and meet a Thoroughbred. Cody, like the others, was selected at random to visit Godolphin at Gainsborough Farm near Versailles.

“Every fall meet Keeneland has a day in which each race had a Make-A-Wish recipient attached to it and a farm as a host sponsor,” said Godolphin director of bloodstock Michael Banahan. “It’s a blind draw and we don’t know the recipient we are paired with until we meet them. We invite them for a farm tour in conjunction with the races. That year we were paired with Cody Dorman.

“Every year as the host for our recipient we also give them an opportunity to meet a horse. For Cody we chose a 5-month-old Curlin colt because he was a very amenable foal for someone in a wheelchair. He walked up to Cody, nuzzled him and laid his head in his lap, which was the start of their bond.”

The Dorman family eventually was notified that the colt had been named Cody’s Wish. The family kept up with his progress through texts with Godolphin, giving Cody updates on how his horse was doing.

When Cody’s Wish finally made it to the races and finished third in his first three starts, Cody felt it was because he wasn’t there to see him run. So in his next start Cody attended the race and his namesake won three years almost to the day since the two had met for the first time. Cody made sure he saw all of Cody’s Wish’s races after that, either in person or on TV. Cody’s Wish went on to win five of his next six starts, culminating with a powerful victory over Sprint Champion Jackie’s Warrior in this year’s seven-furlong Forego Stakes in a near-track record 1:20 4/5.

Cody’s little friend now found himself primed for a big effort in the Breeders’ Dirt Mile. He had beaten the champion sprinter and now it was time to stretch out and take on the country’s top milers.

During Breeders’ Cup week the Dorman family received a letter from Drew Fleming, president and CEO of the Breeders’ Cup, telling them that NBC was doing a feature on Cody and Cody’s Wish and asked if they could come out to Keeneland so Cody could be reunited with his friend who had become such an important part of his life.

So, three days before the Breeders’ Cup and four years since their first meeting, the Dorman family went to Keeneland to see Cody’s Wish.

“I was nervous,” Kelly Dorman said. “It would be fine if there weren’t a lot of people there.  I didn’t know how the horse would handle it with 15 to 20 people. Bill Mott brought him out and Cody’s Wish stood there for a minute checking everyone out. Then he saw Cody and went right to him and Cody let out with a big belly laugh, something he rarely does. The horse stepped back and both stared at each other. Then Cody’s Wish came back and rubbed his face up and down Cody’s cheek. I had to get myself back together. The tears were flowing. I don’t question it or try to figure it out. I just know this horse was sent from heaven above.”

Then came the Breeders’ Cup with the Dorman family and friends firmly planted by the rail. What happened next was what fairy tales are made of. Cody’s Wish, racing in eighth, a dozen lengths back, came flying down the stretch and hooked up with multiple Grade 1-winning 3-year-old Cyberknife. The pair battled to the wire with a determined Cody’s Wish just getting his head in front.

“They were dead even when they passed us and we couldn’t tell who had won,” Kelly said. “The camera was on me and you sure couldn’t tell from the look on my face. Then word started to circulate to us from the people watching in the winner’s circle that Cody had won. I didn’t know what was happening because it was so noisy and wild all around us. After hearing he had won I was just trying to breathe. I do remember hugging Cody and telling him, ‘He won! He did it, boy!’ There was so much electricity going through the place. I never felt anything like it. I turned to Cody and said, ‘What are you going to pull off next?'”

By now, all of America watching on TV knew the story of Cody and Cody’s Wish and it brought out a flood of emotion.

“The horse is what caused all this,” Kelly said. “We were all in a fog. We didn’t pick him, he picked us. Right after the Breeders’ Cup we weren’t used to being blasted with cameras. Cody is just a big ‘ol country boy at heart who loves animals. I can’t believe how far reaching this has become. It’s surreal but we’ve gotten used to it. Cody is a very humble person and when he sees how this story touches people he gives that little smile and it really warms his heart. That’s more important to him than being some kind of a celebrity.”

Upon learning that Cody’s Wish had won the 2022 Vox Populi Award, the Dorman family expressed their gratitude in a note to saying:

“Thank you Cody’s Wish for not only having the heart of a warrior on the track but even more so for having a heart of gold off the track. You have not only inspired an amazing young man but you’ve touched the hearts of thousands of people in many walks of life. You’ve provided tears of joy, warmed hearts and provided a simple smile to so many. The love shown between Cody and Cody’s Wish is such a blessing. A blessing that showed up when nobody knew it was coming, and one that will be cherished for years to come.”

It is only appropriate that each should share their own award, both well deserving. The people voted Cody’s Wish the Vox Populi Award with their hearts, and that’s what the award stands for. When the family flew to Arizona for the teenage Cody to accept the Big Sport of Turfdom Award at the University of Arizona Race Track Industry Program’s annual awards luncheon on Dec. 6, it turned into a memorable experience for all.

“We couldn’t believe some of the names on the list of winners,” said Cody’s mother Kylie. “It all seems like a dream we don’t want to wake up from.”

So why did the fans come out in force to vote for a horse for the Vox Populi Award who they knew little or nothing about prior to his Breeder’ Cup victory? Here’s what few had to say:

“If you watched his story during the pre-race coverage of the Dirt Mile and didn’t find yourself with a lump in your throat and tears in your eyes as he powered down the stretch to victory then you are a stronger person than me,” said voter Monica Admire. “THAT is what horse racing means to me. The heart, the soul and the magic of the Thoroughbred and their far-reaching impact on our lives.”

Karen Emmons added, “You know there is something special about a horse when your heart swells and tears begin to flow as he surges to the win.”

Perhaps Dawn Smith summed it up best: “Every horse that races leaves hoofprints on the track but it’s the special ones that leave hoofprints on our hearts. Cody’s Wish tells the feel good story the sport needs and that is what Penny Chenery’s Vox Populi legacy is meant to be.”

And if you still want to know why Cody’s Wish won the Vox Populi Award, Kelly Dorman provided the answer in just a few words: “That horse has taught us all how to live.”

Photos courtesy of 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 since 2020.

What Truly Defines Greatness

Monday, November 28th, 2022

With Flightline still a major source of conversation and speculation, I thought it was a good time to talk about some other horses who did extraordinary things, but on a much wider scale. Not to take away from Flightline’s amazing feats, but just imagine if the horses listed below did today what they did back then. ~ Steve Haskin

What Truly Defines Greatness

By Steve Haskin


All the talk these days has obviously been about Flightline and his remarkable, but brief, career and where he fits in the history books when it comes to great horses. Can he really be considered one of the greats or a potentially great horse who never got a chance to exhibit the qualities we saw from many of the legends of the past, mainly versatility and the ability to win under all conditions over a period of time?

There is no doubt that Flightline did things that horses just don’t do, or at least have never done and likely will never do. We know we have never seen anything like him for what he accomplished in only six career starts. But how will his extraordinary feats stand the test of time?

For now I put him in a classification all his own. After all, how can you compare him to horses who proved their greatness and their versatility over a much longer period of time? If you notice, these first few paragraphs contain a number of questions, to which there probably are no answers. But it did get me thinking about the great horses going back to the fifties who did extraordinary things and raised themselves to a different level. Their feats stamped their greatness by showing something other than just huge winning margins and fast times.

Here then are some of these remarkable horses who come to mind.

FOREGO – Like many of the great geldings, Forego raced for a number of years and lost his share of races. But the longer you race and the more amazing feats you perform the more those defeats are forgotten. Forego in his own way may have been the most extraordinary horse I ever saw, especially considering his constant physical ailments over the course of his career. Yes, his heart-pounding Marlboro Cup victory under a staggering 137 pounds will forever be his signature performance, but I remember the first time I saw him race in the 1974 Carter Handicap and realized this was no ordinary horse.

Forego was just developing his reputation as a top-class horse by winning the 1 1/4-mile Widener and Gulfstream Handicaps. He then came up to New York and was entered in the seven-furlong Carter. It was clear this was merely a prep for the prestigious Met Mile and that there was no way he was expected to carry topweight of 129 pounds, drop back to a sprint, and defeat arguably the fastest horse in the country, Mr. Prospector, who had already set a track record of 1:07 4/5 at Gulfstream in 1973, a track record of 1:08 3/5 at Garden State Park in ’74, and had won two other races in ’74 in 1:08 1/5 at Gulfstream and 1:09 flat at Aqueduct. And he won each time by big margins.

Also in the field was Tartan Stable’s Lonetree, who had defeated Mr. Prospector that year in the seven-furlong Poinciana Handicap at Hialeah in a blazing 1:21 flat, breaking the track record by almost three-fifths of a second. Add to those two speedballs, Timeless Moment, who had equaled the six-furlong track record of 1:08 3/5 at Aqueduct the year before, just missed the 6 1/2-furlong track record at Belmont by two-fifths of a second, and had won a pair of seven-furlong allowance races at Aqueduct that spring in 1:22 1/5 and 1:22 2/5. Still another in the field was William Haggin Perry’s Forage, who was coming off a second-place finish (disqualified to third) in the seven-furlong San Simeon Handicap at Santa Anita in 1:21 1/5. He would go on to break the track record for a mile at Aqueduct two months later, winning an allowance race in 1:33 1/5 before capturing the Du Pont and Atlantic City Handicaps.

I realized we were looking at something very special when Forego, a 17-hands giant who looked nothing like a sprinter, made a big run around the turn and just cruised by Mr. Prospector with a quarter of a mile still to run, as jockey Heliodoro Gustines sat motionless in the saddle. Under no urging at all he drew off to win by 2 1/4 lengths in 1:22 1/5.

This to me was the beginning of the Forego dynasty, when we first realized what a truly remarkable horse he was. He would later prove that by becoming the only horse to win the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup and be voted Champion Sprinter that same year. In the span of six weeks in 1974, Forego won the 1 1/2-mile Woodward Stakes, the seven-furlong Vosburgh Handicap, and the two-mile Gold Cup. That is a feat we will never see again.

SECRETARIAT – As spectacular as Secretariat was in the Triple Crown, setting new stakes records in all three races that still stand 50 years later, running each quarter faster than the previous one in the Kentucky Derby, and turning in arguably the greatest performance in the history of the sport in winning the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths while breaking the previous record by two and three-fifths seconds, it was not these feats alone that put him on this list.

Secretariat did something extremely rare by being named Horse of the Year as a 2-year-old, and he did it in a year that saw future Hall of Famers Riva Ridge, Cougar II, and Susan’s Girl and top-class champions like Key to the Mint. Although it is often difficult for a 3-year-old who goes through the rigors of the Triple Crown to maintain his form through the end of year, what Secretariat did after the Triple Crown was remarkable. After bouncing back from a serious illness in August, Big Red was rushed back to make the inaugural Marlboro Cup against the best horses in the country. Not only did he set a new world record, he would be rushed back again two weeks later in the slop to substitute for stablemate Riva Ridge with little or no training in the 1 1/2-mile Woodward Stakes, finishing second to the brilliant older horse Prove Out in the second-fastest mile and a half ever run at Belmont. He then came back nine days later making his grass debut in the 1 1/2-mile Man o’ War Stakes and broke the course record defeating proven grass horses Tentam and Big Spruce by five lengths. Imagine a horse today doing all that in the span of 23 days, and then traveling to Canada to romp in the 1 5/8-miles Canadian International to close out his career with two major victories on grass.

When people 50 years later think of Secretariat, they naturally think of his unprecedented Triple Crown sweep. But what has gotten lost are his amazing accomplishments later in the year that not only justify the greatness we saw in the spring, but how truly extraordinary he really was under all conditions, all surfaces, and all distances, and against the best dirt and grass horses in the country.

ROUND TABLE – I’m going back a bit, but this horse’s greatness and what he accomplished has gotten a bit lost over the years. He is the horse who not only revolutionized grass racing in America, he also became the first horse who was equally as great on both surfaces while traveling all over the country.

A complete horse who would go on to become one of the great sires of his time, he raced 66 times, equaling or breaking 16 track records – 11 on dirt and five on grass. He broke the 2:00 mark for 1 1/4 miles five times and twice broke 1:59, yet was fast enough to break his maiden going four furlongs and ran a mile in a record-equaling 1:33 2/5.

He was put on the grass for the first time after 24 dirt starts, winning his first three starts, including the American Derby and United Nations Handicap. After 14 straight starts on dirt, he returned to the grass, winning his first five starts, increasing his unbeaten streak to eight races. He would then win six of his eight remaining starts on grass. To demonstrate his brilliance over both surfaces, he won the 1 1/4-mile Hollywood Gold Cup on dirt in 1:58 3/5 and the 1 1/4-mile San Marcos Handicap on grass in 1:58 2/5. He also won carrying 130 pounds or more 17 times, including 136 pounds in the United Nations Handicap in his final start on grass.

And unlike Forego, Round Table was a small horse, yet was able to win 43 races over all types of racetracks and all distances and look like a giant.

JOHN HENRY – When you mention the name John Henry to most people they automatically think grass horse. And why not? This incorrigible rags to riches gelding began his career at tiny Jefferson Downs and Evangeline Downs in Louisiana and rose from the depths to become one of the most beloved horses of all time and was named Champion Grass Horse in 1980, 1981, 1983, and 1984 and voted Horse of the Year in 1981 and 1984 at the age of 9. Cantankerous and obscurely bred, he sold as a yearling for $1,100 and went on to become the first horse to earn $3 million, the first to earn $4 million, the first to earn $5 million and the first to earn $6 million.

But John Henry was more than an all-time great grass horse. He was the first horse to win the Santa Anita Handicap twice (once carrying 130 pounds) and also captured The Jockey Club Gold Cup and San Marcos Handicap on dirt and placed in the Hollywood Gold Cup, Meadowlands Cup, and Jockey Club Gold Cup. He also is the only horse to win Grade 1 stakes at age 9, and in fact won four of them. That is certainly something you will never see again.

But like Forego’s Marlboro Cup and Secretariat’s Belmont Stakes, John Henry’s best known victory came in his dramatic nose score in the inaugural Arlington Million, so his dirt triumphs often are forgotten.

DR. FAGER – While Dr. Fager raced only 22 times over a three-year-period, what he accomplished as a 4 year-old in 1968 will go down as the greatest and most versatile campaign in racing history. If you’re looking for the extraordinary let’s begin by saying that Dr. Fager became the only horse to win four divisional championships in a single year. So exceptional was he on all surfaces and at any distance, at least up to a mile and a quarter, he was named Horse of the Year, Champion Older Horse, Champion Grass Horse, and Champion Sprinter.

At seven furlongs he easily won the Roseben Handicap in his first start of the year, carrying 130 pounds and covering the distance in a sprightly 1:21 2/5. He closed out his career winning the Vosburgh Handicap eased up in a track-cord 1:20 1/5 over a recently winterized and far slower surface by six lengths carrying a staggering 139 pounds. Never again will we witness such a demonstration of speed, dominance, and weight carrying ability.

At one mile he set a new world record of 1:32 1/5 that still has not been broken, winning eased up by 10 lengths carrying 134 pounds.

At 1 1/16 miles he traveled to California and beat 13 opponents in the Californian Stakes, winning in hand from post 11 carrying 130 pounds.

At 1 1/8 miles he cantered to an eight-length victory in the Whitney Stakes carrying 132 pounds while being kept very wide by jockey Braulio Baeza, who pretty much just sat on him motionless the entire race.

At 1 3/16 miles he made his grass debut in the United Nations Handicap against a star-studded field of grass horses and despite slipping and sliding the whole race while lugging 134 pounds and losing the lead several times to a classy horse carrying 22 fewer pounds, he dug deeper than he ever had to before to score a gutsy neck victory.

At 1 1/4 miles he defeated his arch rival and future Hall of Famer Damascus in the Suburban Handicap, covering the 10 furlongs in 1:59 3/5 carrying 132 pounds and equaling Gun Bow’s track record. In his only defeat that year he finished second to Damascus after chasing his rival’s rabbit through suicidal fractions and still equaled his own record of 1:59 3/5 under 135 pounds, giving five pounds to Damascus, who set a new track record of 1:59 1/5, which still stands.

KELSO – We have another gelding on the list, and who is ever going to come even remotely close to Kelso’s feat of winning five consecutive Horse of the Year titles and five consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cups? Not only did he set a world record for two miles in one of those Gold Cups he also set a world record for 1 1/2 miles on the grass, nailing down his final Horse of the Year title with a 4 1/2-length victory over arch rival Gun Bow in the Washington D.C. International, defeating some of the world’s best grass horses.

What made his DC International victory so special was that he had previously finished second in the race three times. So as great was Kelso was on the dirt, let us not forget his four big performances on grass against the best of the world and his strong second-place finish in the Man o’ War Stakes.

ACK ACK – Although he is not in the same class as the aforementioned horses, having only one strong year, it was a year we had never seen before and certainly qualifies as extraordinary. After being sold and sent to Charlie Whittingham in California, Ack Ack, as a 5-yar-old, won seven straight stakes at seven furlongs, then 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, 1 1/4 miles, 5 1/2 furlongs, 1 1/8 miles on grass, and finally 1 1/4 miles carrying 134 pounds.

Prior to that he concluded his 4-year-old campaign with consecutive victories at six furlongs, seven furlongs, 5 1/2 furlongs, and 6 1/2 furlongs on grass. To make that kind of leap from dirt sprints and grass sprints to victories in the 1 1/4-mile Santa Anita Handicap and Hollywood Gold Cup was pretty exceptional.

There obviously are a number of other great horses who did exceptional things, but I thought I would just list these to give you an idea what the truly great ones are capable of if given the opportunity.

Photo courtesy of Edwin Whitaker

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 since 2020.

Horse Racing Movies for the Holidays

Tuesday, November 22nd, 2022

Rather than rank the best or my favorite racing movies, because of their diversity let’s just break them down in categories to cater to people’s tastes and what they are looking for, whether it’s movies about racing in general, a famous horse, or betting. You have gut-wrenching, heartwarming, comedic, and gritty films and it’s difficult lumping them together and ranking them. So, whatever your pleasure, here are the movies I recommend, although many are hard to find. ~ Steve Haskin

Horse Racing Movies for the Holidays

By Steve Haskin


If you thought it was tough finding Cabbage Patch Kids and Tickle Me Elmo dolls back in the ‘80s and ‘90s good luck trying to find horse racing movies. Once in the proverbial blue moon they’ll show up on TCM or some offbeat channel, so you will have to search Amazon and hope you find what you’re looking for.

With the holidays coming up, if you know a racing fan you want to surprise with a good racing movie here is a list you can choose from, depending on where their interest lies. Let’s start with the broadest category of them all.


50-1 – This should go in the horse bio category, but I am taking it one step farther because of its characters and pure entertainment value. I have been critical of most modern racing movies, and this film did take a few liberties. But having lived through and chronicled the story of Mine That Bird, I feel this film captured the amazing journey of the second-biggest longshot to ever win the Kentucky Derby at the time, and did it in an entertaining manner, combining actual footage of the Derby with recreations, and using a horse who looked exactly like Mine That Bird. Many times, you can’t tell the actual footage from the footage shot for the movie. Although they used Bob Baffert as the heavy or the foil, which was just a bit over the top, the actor who played Baffert had his mannerisms (and his hair) down pat. And the colt’s jockey, Calvin Borel, who played himself, was a pure joy. The biggest deviation from the truth was using a female exercise rider to accompany Chip Woolley on his trek across the country instead of Charlie Figueroa, who was in reality the exercise rider and his travel companion. But it actually worked, and I enjoyed the platonic and at times hostile relationship between the two, which helped make the journey more interesting and bring out Woolley’s character. This film should have received bigger exposure, but it is well worth looking for and once in a while can be found on TV. While this movie would rank no higher than No. 3 or 4 in the horse bio category behind two or three extremely well-made and beautifully filmed movies I always watch it when it’s on TV and it’s just as enjoyable every time.

KENTUCKY — This is the granddaddy of all horse racing movies, the formula that was used in many of the films that followed. It even resembles the story of Secretariat — girl (played here by Loretta Young) returns home to save the family farm and wins the Kentucky Derby. Centered around a longstanding family feud, the opening scenes during the Civil War are gut-wrenching. But that is followed by magnificent color footage of greats such as Man o’War, Gallant Fox, Fair Play and other top stallions at stud that look as if they were shot today. It brought those horses to life. One of the great racing characters of any racing film was portrayed by Walter Brennan, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as a crotchety old hardboot, even though, in reality, he was only in his 30s. One of the classic scenes was when the manager of the rival farm was trying to hide their top prospect from Brennan, who was there to collect on a wager, in which he could pick out any 2-year-old he wanted. We see a black groom dancing down the shed row singing, “Postman worked in :48, goin’ to the races, goin’ to the races.” Brennan dancing alongside him, goes, “Where’s he at? Where’s he at?” And the groom sings back, “Over in the tack shed, over in the tack shed.” You’ll have to get past the black stereotypes and the equine star Bluegrass’ improbable and implausible path to the Derby, but have to remember the film was made in 1938 when the entertainment value usually overshadowed reality and political correctness. All in all, this was great fun and includes footage of Lawrin winning the Kentucky Derby, which was Eddie Arcaro’s first Derby winner.

IT AIN’T HAY – You can purchase this with one of Abbott and Costello collection packages. It is without a doubt the funniest racing movie ever made, starring Bud and Lou, who unleash a barrage of racing bits that are hysterical, especially one that takes place in a betting parlor that is a classic. I won’t ruin it for you. The movie has an assortment of characters, including several Damon Runyon characters (it was based on a Damon Runyon story), and shows you brief scenes of old Saratoga in front of the majestic Grand Union Hotel and has a star racehorse named Teabiscuit. It also has a botched horsenapping due to mistaken identity, as Abbott and Costello steal Teabiscuit by mistake, and even throws in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. It’s just crazy fun, with a feel of Saratoga and Runyonesque characters, and with a gripping emotional scene that really tugs at the heartstrings and ignites the main plot of the film. I never get tired of watching this movie, as it makes me laugh every time.

CASEY’S SHADOW – I’m venturing away from Thoroughbred racing to include this well-made film that takes place in the world of Quarter-Horse racing. It stars Walter Matthau and is loosely based on the Romero brothers (Randy and Gerald). It is an extremely realistic look at the Quarter-Horse world, well acted, and beautifully photographed, especially the sequences of Casey’s Shadow growing from foal to full-grown racehorse that can easily induce goosebumps. The plot got a little too formulated in the second half of the film, with the obligatory gangsters. But all in all it was a wonderfully made and highly entertaining movie.

NATIONAL VELVET – This is the movie that has created more female horse lovers than any in history. It is the story, beautifully told and photographed, of a 14-year-old horse-crazy Velvet Brown, who falls in love with a wild horse named The Pie, and winds up substituting for his regular jockey and riding him to victory in the Grand National, only to be disqualified. But that doesn’t matter. This film, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney, is the standard by which all movies and books about young girls who love horses is measured. So many young girls have aspired to be jockeys after having watched this film. Yes it is a typical Hollywood plot for its time, but who cares. As mentioned it earlier, it hits you on an emotional level, and is well-written, well-acted, and beautifully photographed.

GLORY – Don’t confuse this 1956 film with the more modern Civil War film. The plot is totally far-fetched about a filly who was born during an electrical storm and somehow makes it to the Kentucky Derby off one six-furlong claiming race. But the reasons to watch it include the excellent acting and biting dialogue between Walter Brennan and Charlotte Greenwood and the film footage of Swaps defeating Nashua in the Derby. It portrays racing in general in an intelligent way, but you just have look past the crazy plot.


PHAR LAP – Although I haven’t seen it in ages, having taped it on VHS, which is long gone, it is simply the most faithful biography of a racehorse of all time; beautifully told and beautifully filmed, and extremely well acted. To add to the realism, the horse who played Phar Lap was the splitting image of the legendary Australian champion. The film even used actual newspaper pages reporting his controversial death in California. It is visually stunning, portrays no stereotypes, and is not afraid to expose the human frailties of its main characters. The only noticeable flaw is the film’s insinuation that Phar Lap was killed by mobsters, while failing to offer the alternative possibility that he was accidentally poisoned by ingesting pesticides sprayed on a field where he was grazing. But if you love horses and racing, this is a must see.

CHAMPIONS – Jockey battles back from cancer and is reunited with his horse, who has simultaneously returned from a serious career-threatening injury, and the pair team up to win the Grand National Steeplechase. Had the story of Bob Champion and Aldaniti not been true, it would have been considered too unrealistic and too Hollywood. But it was true, and what separated Champions from other equine biographies was Aldaniti playing himself. That was a stroke of genius and you kept thinking of that as you watched him re-enact the events of his life. Many objected to the depiction of Champion’s battle with cancer in agonizing detail, taking up a great deal of the film, and while it was tough getting through it, its candor only helped to enhance the story’s emotional, fairy tale ending. And the filming of the Grand National was nothing short of spectacular.

DREAM HORSE – Made in 2020 it is to me the best racing film made in several decades and shows that you can still make a great one without any noticeable deviation from the facts. It depicts the people and the place as well as any racing film and having established actors such as Toni Collette and Damian Lewis who fit right in with a collection of actors makes it look as if they were taken right out of the small Welsh town where the story takes place.

This is an inspiring story of Dream Alliance and bartender Janet Vokes (Collette), who became interested in bloodlines and decided to buy a potential broodmare named Rewbell, who had been injured on a barbed wire fence and had a bad disposition, for 350 pounds. When she produced a colt by American-bred stallion Bien Bien in partnership with a racing breeder from the town, Collette sets off on her quest to have the townsfolk chip in their meager earnings to help raise the colt. With opposition from many of the spouses she succeeds to get 23 people who put up 10 pounds a week to help raise the colt and pay his training bills. Bottom line is that Dream Alliance suffers a serious tendon injury that required stem cell treatment, which was new at the time. He recovers and goes on to win the Welsh Grand National. This is a heartwarming, well acted, and magnificently filmed move that is a must for all racing fans.

SEABISCUIT – This was a relatively high-budget film that was very well made and filmed in dramatic fashion, from the bush track match races to the match race with War Admiral. The movie focused quite a bit on the back stories of the humans behind the horse and the struggles during the Depression. But as a pure horse racing movie and biography it took a very long time before Seabiscuit was even introduced. And to make up for lost time, they turned him into a national celebrity after only a few victories in lesser stakes, and then embellished the David vs. Goliath theme by making War Admiral some 18-hands behemoth (which was a joke) when he was actually the same size as the much smaller Seabiscuit who measured 15.2 hands. They did a super job filming the match race, Gary Stevens was excellent, and all in all it was a good movie, even if it did take forever to get to Seabiscuit. I probably would have ranked this movie higher if I had never read Laura Hillenbrand’s epic biography. In the book, the backdrop was an integral part of the story, but it is difficult to condense everything in the book into a two hour and 20-minute film. I watched it recently and it still seemed long and drawn out. Then it appeared to rush through the second half of the movie. There are gorgeous scenes filmed at picturesque Xalapa Farm in Paris, Kentucky. If you haven’t see it it still makes for an excellent gift.

SECRETARIAT — As many major faults as this movie has, I am going to give it somewhat of a pass because of how much the budget was cut by Disney. And they made it way too Disneyesque, with odd location choices and several nonsensical scenes. But I did like the beginning when Penny Tweedy is called from her home in Colorado to come back to Virginia and help save the farm. The problem with making a movie about a horse that looked like Secretariat is that you can never find a horse physically worthy of portraying him and depicting the incredible larger than life aura he had. The same went for the very disappointing RUFFIAN (No one disliked this movie more than her trainer Frank Whiteley). Neither of these films came close to doing justice to the actual horse. But at least with Secretariat it brought Big Red to the big screen and stayed loyal to the legend, which is why a lot of young people enjoyed it, even if it only gave them a hint of what they missed. The film also seemed miscast in places. Diane Lane as Penny was believable, however John Malkovich was laughable as Lucien Laurin, and Pancho Martin was unfairly portrayed as the film’s primary villain. If you’re young and have no recollection of Secretariat and can ignore the fabricated, fictional scenes you will likely enjoy it for providing a look at an equine superhero that previously existed mainly on video and YouTube, and to younger fans in their imagination. For racing aficionados who saw the movie and lived through Big Red’s reign, you just have to put the scalpel away and resist the temptation to dissect it.

THE STORY OF SEABISCUIT – Not to be confused with Seabiscuit, this purely fictionalized biography stars Shirley Temple and an excellent Barry Fitzgerald, and is actually pretty entertaining for what it is. Just don’t believe that this is in any way the story of Seabiscuit. But if you want to see great actual film footage of the Seabiscuit — War Admiral match race, you definitely want to see this movie.

BLACK GOLD – One of the great stories of the Turf, this movie, starring Anthony Quinn, takes a lot of liberties and greatly embellishes the story of Rosa Hoots and the improbable Kentucky Derby winner Black Gold, but it’s still a fun movie. 


LET IT RIDE – There are a number of movies that feature scenes of betting horses, some with small racing plots, but it is not at all what the movie is about. When it comes to betting on horses one movie stands alone. People either loved or hated this film about a degenerate gambler, brilliantly played by Richard Dreyfuss, who normally is your typical loser, but has the one day every horseplayer fantasizes about. It is a never-ending day, shot at Hialeah Racetrack, in which Dreyfuss leaves the track several times to go to the bar across the street to hang out with his cronies or goes home to his frantic wife, who has had it with his gambling…and losing. But no matter what he does, he can’t lose. And it all starts with an insider’s tip overheard by Dreyfuss’ dim-witted friend in his taxi cab that has nefarious implications. But for Dreyfuss it is the one big break he has been dreaming about. That sets off one incredibly and surreal day at the track. The people who disliked the movie and found it far-fetched don’t see it for what it is – the fantasy of every horseplayer. If you look at it as pure fantasy you’re more likely to enjoy it. It captures the frenzy of the racetrack and every type of crazed horseplayer imaginable. There is an overhead scene with Dreyfuss in the bar’s rest room stall realizing he doesn’t belong with his clique of “losers” and appears to be pleading his case to God that is hysterical.


BOOTS MALONE – This 1952 film starring William Holden pulls no punches and depicts life on the backstretch with stark realism. It is as well acted and as well written as any racing movie, and has an excellent and thought-provoking plot that moves along at a swift pace and takes you to places most people have never been to, focusing on a young jockey and his down-on-his-luck agent. Holden is terrific as usual, going from successful agent, living high in the fanciest hotels, to living in a tack room and trying to scrape up a few dollars after his star jockey is killed. He gets enough to buy a cheap horse and then discovers a green aspiring young rider who has run away from his rich family. This is unlike any racing movie in that it does not glorify the sport and is not afraid to show you its underbelly.

THE KILLING – One of Stanley Kubrick’s early films that is as close as you’ll get to racing film noir. It is filmed almost like a stage play, with surreal backdrops, and is not for the faint of heart, as it is pretty violent at times, especially the end, with the plot focusing about the attempt of a bunch of hoods to make a killing at the track…literally, by shooting the favorite during the race and disguising the crime so that no one knows just what happened. It is like watching the proverbial train wreck – disturbing, but you can’t take your eyes off it, either despite of or because of the simplicity in the way it is filmed. And what better actor to star in a ‘50s film noir movie than Sterling Hayden, who plays his part to perfection.

THE ROCKING HORSE WINNER – Not a true racing movie, but one of the really great films and with an unusual storyline, about a young boy in England who rides his rocking horse frantically, and the faster he goes he reaches a point where he has seems to escape the real world and can predict the winners at the track. There is a lot more to this innovative plot. It has superb acting and is extremely thought provoking. Not an easy film to find.

JOCKEYThis is the most recent racing movie about an aging jockey looking for his one big break to ride a top-class horse, and is as realistic as you can get. It is more of a cerebral movie with actually no real racing scenes, and it doesn’t try to tug at your heartstrings. What makes this movie work so well is the brilliant, but low-keyed acting of Clifton Collins Jr., who as his bio says, “Was born short, lean, and mean on June 16, 1970.” And that is exactly the character he plays to perfection. It’s still around on TV and worth looking for.


THE BLACK STALLION – This isn’t categorized because it isn’t a horse racing film in the true sense. It is more about a horse and a boy and a desert island, with the last part of the movie focusing on a horse race. If you do consider it a horse racing movie, then it definitely belongs under entertaining, as it is absolutely stunning, with another excellent performance by Mickey Rooney and a spectacularly filmed horse race. The scenes on the desert island of this magnificent black horse and the stranded boy slowly interacting are truly brilliant, and you won’t find more beautifully filmed scenes than the ones of “The Black” running through the water.

PRIDE OF THE BLUEGRASS – This is an outlandish plot that is actually based to some extent on a true story, just don’t ask me how much, because I laughed at this movie when I saw it. It starts with a mare giving birth to a colt. The barn is struck by lightning, killing her owner, but his seventeen-year-old son escapes with the colt, named Gantry the Great. A young girl gets the boy a job on the horse farm owned by her father. The boy, Danny, trains and rides Gantry, who becomes a good horse, but after being abused by his regular trainer he goes blind in the Kentucky Derby, as the favorite, and is pulled up by Danny. No one knows he went blind so Danny is banned for a year and Gantry is to be destroyed. But instead Danny trains him to jump and enters the blind horse in Grand National Steeplechase in England. Before you start laughing just know that in the description of the movie, Gantry the Great, whose actual name was Elmer Gantry, is played by the real Elmer Gantry. I won’t tell you if he wins the Grand National.

RIDING HIGH – This was an excellent vehicle for racing lover Bing Crosby, and the end of the movie will tear your heart out. But this film was a remake of the 1934 movie titled Broadway Bill. Frank Capra was so dissatisfied with the original he remade it in 1950 with plenty of songs. The only problem was that for some reason Capra left in a number of scenes from the original movie, and it was so obvious these scenes were from an older movie with different actors.

SPORTING BLOOD – This is a real oldie made in 1931 starring a young Clark Gable. Not only is it very well made, with an interesting plot, it contains the most remarkable footage ever shot at the Kentucky Derby, in this case the 1930 running, with the movie interacting with the footage. You have to see it to believe it. It occasionally pops up on Turner Classic Movies.

A DAY AT THE RACES – Typical Marx Bothers wackiness that wasn’t that much about racing. But there was a classic line when Groucho, playing a horse doctor, was treating a horse in his office and gave him a bottle of pills and told him, “Take two every half mile.”

DOWN THE STRETCH – Mickey Rooney is terrific playing a jockey with an attitude named Snapper Sinclair. It is a pretty interesting plot with your typical race fixing, but with loyalty, good conscience, and clearing your father’s name added to the mix.

SARATOGA – This was a pretty high-profile movie in 1937 starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlowe and Lionel Barrymore. It is a witty and intelligent movie, more about betting and high rollers, with Gable playing a bookie. I remember finding it quite enjoyable. 

THE STING – Although this is not a racing movie, it has a great racing flavor when the action takes place at a makeshift bookie parlor, and they even mention Mo Annenberg, who invented the wire and owned the Morning Telegraph. The greatest movie tip of all time — “Place it on Lucky Dan.” Even if it’s not a racing movie, it is one of the great movies of all time and definitely worth watching more than once. 

THE LEMON DROP KID – This is another Damon Runyon story about a racetrack tout, played by Bob Hope. Again, there isn’t a lot of racing in it, but it did become famous for introducing the classic Christmas song Silver Bells.

MY OLD MAN – Adapted from an Ernest Hemingway short story, this was a pretty decent made-for-TV film with an excellent performance by Warren Oates.

DREAMER – Many people liked this film, but I had a major problem with Dakota Fanning, who I found annoying enough to not enjoy it. So I can’t judge this film fairly.

THE HOMESTRETCH – This little known film starring Maureen O’Hara and Cornell Wilde is pretty entertaining, taking you from Argentina to Saratoga to Churchill Downs, and has a solid enough plot. It’s not your standard fare and well worth looking for, if it even exists anymore.

WALL OF NOISE – Even lesser known than The Homestretch, I did enjoy it. Starring Suzanne Pleshette and TV star Ty Hardin, it is far from a classic, but Hardin is excellent and has flaws in his character, which you don’t see too often from the star of the movie.

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 since 2020.

A Terrific Trio of Finalists for 2022 Vox Populi Award

Wednesday, November 16th, 2022

Secretariat Vox Populi Award voters have three distinct paths to take in determining this year’s most popular horse and can make a compelling case for each one. The three finalists all have extraordinary stories, both on and off the track, and it is up to the voters to decide which one affected them the most. ~ Steve Haskin

A Terrific Trio of Finalists for 2022 Vox Populi Award

By Steve Haskin

Despite the limited number of horses on the ballot, this year’s Secretariat Vox Populi Award finalists give the voters a chance to decide just what their criteria is in determining the sport’s most popular horse.

Although the nine-person selection committee listed a number of horses in their top four, many of them certain Eclipse Award winners, of the three who received enough votes to be placed on the ballot, two have little or no chance of being named champion in their division. As Penny Chenery had intended when she started the award in 2011, that puts the emphasis on popularity more than just accomplishments.

Here is a rundown of the three finalists, with voters having the option to write in their own selection.

FLIGHTLINE – How can a horse be considered the most popular in the country when he ran only three times in 2022 and didn’t make his first start of the year until early June, with gaps of 5 ½ months, three months, and two months between races? That normally spells out of sight, out of mind. But there was nothing normal about Flightline, who despite his extremely limited campaign was never out of mind.

Because of his unprecedented domination over his opponents in every one of his six career starts and the mystique that followed him from Santa Anita to Belmont Park, to Del Mar, and finally to Keeneland and his unique ability to decimate his rivals from six furlongs to a mile and a quarter, his popularity never waned during his time between races. Never before had racing fans seen a horse win every race by such huge margins and in near-record times while doing it mostly under wraps in the stretch. But by keeping such a low profile and making himself so scarce to the public, how does that translate to popularity over the course of an entire year?

We have to go back to the word mystique, because no one had ever seen anything like him, and when he wasn’t racing there was the memory of his most recent annihilation and the anticipation of his next start, wondering what new amazing feats we were about to witness. And in each one of those starts he would be venturing into uncharted territory, attempting to do something horses simply don’t do.

Horses with only three sprint races in their career do not win the grueling Met Mile, which tests one’s speed, class, stamina, and toughness, in their first start of the year and win by six lengths despite breaking poorly and having to steady twice. Horses who have never run two turns and with only four career starts do not beat a field of Grade 1 and Grade 2 winners by 19 ¼ lengths going a mile and quarter in near-record time and winning eased up the length of the stretch. And horses with only five career starts do not make their second cross-country trip, running at their fourth different track in their last four starts, and win the Breeders’ Cup Classic defeating the best 3-year-olds and older horses in the country by 8 ½ lengths, despite stalking a brutally fast pace that took its toll on the pacesetting Life is Good, who would have been the ovewhelming favorite for Horse of the Year if not for the presence of Flghtline.

Yes, he raced only three times and had long intervals between races, but he was so unlike anything the racing world had ever seen he had become a horse that lived in our imagination even more than on the racetrack. It is rare to have imagination and reality become one, but Flightline was able to achieve that.

With each mind-boggling performance his balloon grew larger and larger and we began wondering if that next inflation would finally cause it to burst. But amazingly it never did. Many were disappointed when it was announced the day following his Breeders’ Cup Classic tour-de-force that he would be retired. But with him already being four years old, having likely reached his peak physically and mentally, and being worth a king’s ransom, his owners couldn’t afford to keep inflating that balloon, knowing that if it did burst for whatever reason the sound would be deafening and the entire sport and its fans would be deflated as well. Many of those fans deep down wanted the fascination surrounding the horse to never end so they could tell their children and grandchildren about that “winged” horse who for a short period of time did things not even the greats were able to do.

And so we now can continue to ask ourselves if he indeed was the fleetest, most exceptional horse in modern history. He will never replace legendary equine heroes like Secretariat and Man o’ War, who transcended the Sport of Kings, but you can be sure that people will always wonder if Flightline would have beaten them and there lies the mystique that will follow him throughout the years.

CODY’S WISH – We’ve learned how a horse can be popular despite rarely being seen on the racetrack. Now in the case of Cody’s Wish we see how popularity is attained through a single story rather than through a fan base over a period of time. In fact, not many people knew much about Cody’s Wish despite the colt rattling off six wins in seven starts beginning in maiden and allowance races and then winning a pair of Grade 3 stakes and a listed race.

When he moved up to Grade 1 company in the seven-furlong Forego Stakes at Saratoga and defeated the defending Sprint champion Jackie’s Warrior, the story behind the colt and his name began to leak out. But it wasn’t until the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile that the story was told in depth by NBC and hit an emotional chord with the millions watching on TV. It was a gut-wrenching and heartwarming story of how a horse could change the life of a 16-year-old boy afflicted with a rare genetic disorder at birth that affected his entire body. It was four years ago, through Keeneland’s Make-A-Wish program, that Cody Dorman, wanting to meet a racehorse, was taken to Godolphin’s Gainsborough Farm near Midway, Kentucky where Cody met and fell in love with a six-month-old weanling colt by Curlin, who came up to him and put his nose in the boy’s lap.

Godolphin later named the colt Cody’s Wish. Over the next few years, Cody Dorman overcame several medical crises, fighting to stay alive, and it was decided to bring him to the track and reunite him with his namesake. As soon as Cody saw the colt come over to him he let out with a big belly laugh, something he normally never did. Cody felt as if his friend had found him.

When Cody’s Wish lost his first three races, Cody, although unable to speak, was able to communicate with his parents that it was because he was not at the track to see him. From that day on, Cody attended his races and his 4-year-old namesake won his next three starts. By the time of the Breeders’ Cup the colt had won six of his seven races, including the Forego at Saratoga, with his only loss a tough neck defeat in the Grade 3 Challenger Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs.

Anyone who watched NBC’s feature prior to the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile and saw Cody’s Wish outduel the multiple Grade 1-winning 3-year-old Cyberknife with Cody Dorman’s entire family cheering him on near the rail had to be moved, many to tears.

So in the matter of the Vox Populi Award, do you vote with your heart after being touched by this remarkable story that did not come to light until November or do you go with a horse that connected with the public over most of the year? That is why this award is different from all other awards. It was meant to pay tribute to the most popular horse, but people have the choice of interpreting it any way they wish, even if that popularity is through the eyes of a 16-year-old boy who found a special friend and was able to share him and their story of courage on racing’s biggest day.

RICH STRIKE – You have read about two types of possible Vox Populi Award winners, and with Rich Strike you have a horse who is somewhere in between. He has a terrific back story filled with tragedy, perseverance, and family bonding and because of his shocking victory in the Kentucky Derby at odds of 80-1 he entered the public’s consciousness.

Although he hasn’t won since, he did enough to convince skeptics that the Derby victory was not the fluke most thought it was. In fact, if it wasn’t for one of the most bizarre and egregious rides by Sonny Leon, the jockey who gave him such a brilliant ride at Churchill Downs, he most likely would have defeated last year’s Vox Populi winner Hot Rod Charlie in the Grade 2 Lukas Classic, giving him a major victory over older horses.

As it is he still managed to finish a solid fourth in the Travers Stakes off a 2 ½-month layoff, beaten a nose and a neck for second, and fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, a race in which he appeared to be overmatched and could have easily passed to point for the Clark Handicap. But his connections showed the kind of sportsmanship that racing fans admire. With those two fourth-place finishes he increased his 2022 earnings to over $2.1 million. Not bad for a horse who was claimed for $30,000.

What looked to be one of the most unlikely and unsatisfactory Kentucky Derby results in memory, right up there with Mine That Bird, whose story became a full-length motion picture, turned out to be one of the most inspiring stories in years, with his trainer Eric Reed having lost 23 horses in a barn fire in 2017 that nearly put him out of business, then losing his top two assistants to cancer a month apart in 2020 and his 2-year-old grandson in a tragic accident shortly after, followed by the death of his wife’s parents. But through all the heartbreak the family bonded together and kept forging ahead looking for that one big horse. Amazingly they found him in a claiming race after Reed had unsuccessfully tried to claim another horse who had eight other claims in on him. So he decided to put in a claim on a Keen Ice colt running later in the card. Because Rich Strike had run so poorly in his only start, finishing 10th  and last in a maiden turf race at Ellis Park, there were no other claims for him. Reed then watched the colt win that day by a mind-boggling 17 ¼ lengths.

Rich Strike would go on to place in a couple of stakes on the all-weather track at Turfway Park. Although no one paid any attention, Reed had so much confidence in the colt he pointed him to the Kentucky Derby, which seemed like folly at the time, especially considering the colt, with so few points, had little chance to get in the Derby field. But the Derby gods no doubt were at work as Rich Strike made it into the field the day before the race after the late scratch of the Wayne Lukas-trained Ethereal Road. The history books were now open and Rich Strike would go on to write his own chapter with one of the most dramatic runs ever seen in the Derby, leaving the racing world in a state of shock, as most people had no idea who this horse was.

From that day on the public continued to follow Rich Strike to see if his story would continue. Time will tell, but Rich Strike has established himself as a top-class colt who most likely will continue racing next year and at an even higher level with the way he has been progressing. With the departure of so many of this year’s major stars, racing fans still have the Kentucky Derby winner to look forward to, giving them hope that in a world made up of mostly unfinished stories fairy tales can endure.


Photos courtesy of Alex Evers/Eclipse Sportswire, NBC Sports and Pat McDonogh/Courier Journal

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 since 2020.

Seeing Pegasus in Person

Sunday, November 6th, 2022

It was a longshot, but while in Kentucky a week before the Breeders’ Cup to visit breeding farms with friends we had a very slight chance of getting to see Flightline close-up, at least in the light. Read on to see if our quest proved to be a success. ~ Steve Haskin

Seeing Pegasus in Person

By Steve Haskin

This is a story spanning all of one day about my attempt to meet the horse they say can sprout wings. Unlike other people I am not here to compare Flightline to Secretariat or Man o’ War or Bucephalus, Alexander the Great’s trusty steed who became one of the most famous horses in history. As Big Red’s owner Penny Chenery once said, “Each era had its great horses and we are simply privileged to have had the opportunity, past or present, to share in their greatness. They were all great.”

But the reason no comparisons of Flightline can be made with these equine immortals is because Flightline after only six starts exists alone in his own sphere. He is the stuff of dreams; that unbeatable, untouchable shining star that is beyond the reach of others, no matter how talented they appear to be. In short, we have never seen anything like him, and I am sure that Thoroughbred owners often lie in bed at night and try to picture themselves owning a horse that in the past has dwelt only in the imagination. After all, these horses are still flesh and blood and cannot be expected to decimate their foes with such total domination every time they step in the starting gate.

But Flightline couldn’t help it. He simply was born with more octane in his tank than other horses and could outdistance them race after race while barely stepping on the accelerator. A high-octane person or in this case horse is one who is “effective without wasting time or effort or expense.” Flightline, simply said, is great without even trying.

When I think of Flightline and what he has accomplished in every one of his starts, not just the Pacific Classic and Breeders’ Cup Classic, two sayings come to mind as well as the lyrics from a song.

Back in the mid-18th century there was a horse who was looked upon in Great Britain with the same reverence we look upon Flightline. His name was Eclipse and the phrase that followed him wherever he went was “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere.” That has been Flightline.

In the 1960s there was a song made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary and also by Joan Baez about a fictitious horse named Stewball. When I think of one line from that song I can envision Flightline coming down the stretch in isolated splendor. “And a-way up yonder, ahead of them all, came a-prancin’ and a-dancin’ my noble Stewball.” Flightline in every race has been prancin’ and dancin’ a-way up yonder ahead of them all.

And finally there is Ernest Hemingway’s line from “For Whom the Bells Toll,” which I used once describing the scene at American Pharoah’s Belmont Stakes: “But did thee feel the earth move?” That is up to each person to decide how they felt following the Classic, but I am sure there were many like myself who could feel some sort of jolt watching Flightline draw away yet again from a field of talented, classy horses.

All this is a somewhat hyperbolic preface for the events of Saturday, October 29. But with Flightline hyperbole is more truth than embellishment.

Before we proceed let me go back to the 2021 Kentucky Derby trail and my regular text messages with Kosta Hronis, owner of the Derby favorite Rock Your World. In one of his texts, Kosta threw this often used cliché at me: “We have one in the barn that is unbelievable.” That would be the seed from which the legend would grow. Before he ever ran, Kosta said after watching him work, “Wow, this colt is different. His talent seems limitless.” Those turned out to be the most prophetic comments I have ever heard. To read about those early discovery days and the story behind Flightline you can visit my column of September 6.

But getting back to my trip and the Saturday before the Breeders’ Cup, here I was preparing to leave Connecticut for Lexington, Kentucky to visit breeding farms from October 27 to November 1 with my wife Joan and our friends Avi and Rhoda Freedberg, whose magnificent home located right on the Oklahoma training track has become our second home during the Saratoga meet for the past decade or so. The Freedbergs had bid on and won two nights in the now famous rustic “tree house” (which has been made into a B&B) on Hill ‘n’ Dale at Xalapa Farm, known as the Biltmore of the Bluegrass where a good portion of the movie “Seabiscuit” was filmed. Among the stallions residing there are Curlin, sire of three Breeders’ Cup winners this year, and Violence and Ghostzapper, who each sired one Breeders’ Cup winner.

But in addition to visiting top stallions such as Flightline’s sire Tapit, Into Mischief, Medaglia d’Oro, American Pharoah. Justify, Uncle Mo and many others, there was a chance to finally see Flightline in person for the first time. A text from the colt’s co-owner Terry Finley of West Point Thoroughbreds the day before we were to leave told me all I needed to know. “Steve, Flightline is working at 7:30 on Saturday.”

That was great news, but the bad part is that it doesn’t get light in Kentucky until 8 o’clock. But at least we would be able to get a glimpse of him. With my old pocket-sized Canon Sure shot camera there was no chance of getting a photo in the dark, as any slight movement would render the shot a blurry mess. With the Breeders’ Cup horses stabled who knows where behind Keeneland on Rice Road and coming on to the track by the seven-eighths pole I wouldn’t even be able to see the horse enter by the gap leading to the main stable area.

I made arrangements to meet Terry on the apron by the gap just to say hi and see how he was holding up a week before the race, and also to hopefully see some familiar faces I haven’t seen in years since my semi-retirement from Blood-Horse in 2015, although I did write for them freelance for the next five years continuing my Derby Dozen, which I now do along with the weekly Askin’ Haskin column for

We were out of the hotel before 6:30, expecting a throng of visitors to “see” Flightline and other Breeders’ Cup horses train. Sure enough they came out in number, even with small children, some of them wearing their Halloween costumes.

As I had hoped. I met several people from the “old days,” catching up on things, especially how the sport and the media have changed in recent years. At 7:30, waves of horses, many wearing Breeders’ Cup saddle towels, could be seen galloping or working through the darkness. We realized that even if we caught Flightline going by it would be a five-second blur. We did see a horse with the saddle towel number 102 signifying a Classic horse whiz by. Was that Flightline? All we saw was the light shining from the exercise rider’s helmet and a horse with four bandages striding out beautifully. By the time I raised my camera for whatever futile reason he was gone. No one else knew if that was Flightline. It didn’t really matter. It was like trying to recognize someone going by you in a speeding Amtrak express. Soon we came to the realization that the Breeders’ Cup works were over. Oh, well, at least we were in the presence of Flightline…we think.

Soon after, we saw Terry and he told us that Flightline was one of the first horses on the track and the blur we saw likely was him. We didn’t get to really see him or photograph him, but at least we had a date the following morning to visit his sire Tapit at Gainesway Farm and would be going to Ashford Stud later Saturday afternoon to see Triple Crown winners American Pharoah and Justify. And we hadn’t even gotten to Xalapa Farm yet for our two nights there. So we put Flightline behind us and moved on knowing we at least gave it a shot.

As I spoke to Terry, he said, “Why don’t you drive out to the barn? You go out the back gate. He’s in Barn 60.” The chances of him still being out and getting his bath were practically zero. He had been back for a while and we still had to walk the length of the grandstand, get in our car and figure out where we were going. I had a rough idea where the back gate was, but finding our way past all the vans and winding roads it took up more valuable time.

We finally found the back gate but had no idea where Barn 60 was, so Avi asked every person we saw on the road. It probably didn’t matter, as none of us had Breeders’ Cup media credentials. We finally saw the small barn area and Barn 60 and Avi calmly drove in and flashed his owner’s badge and we were in. The great writer Bill Nack, who was a master at getting in places, always told me just act like you belong and avoid eye contact. There were plenty of media there waiting to talk to trainer John Sadler. As expected, Flightline was finished with his bath and back in his stall. We saw Terry and he told us they would bring him back out to wash his feet.

You mean there was still a chance we would get to see Flightline close up? Like the old days I listened to Sadler talk about the work. Thank goodness the days of shoving a tape recorder in front of a trainer’s mouth and then having to transcribe his words were over.

I heard him say that Flightline had worked five furlongs in 1:00 3/5 under assistant trainer Juan Leyva, which was exactly what Sadler was looking for. “I told Juan to go in a minute and change and out (seven-eighths) in 1:26, and that’s what he did,” Sadler said. “Juan’s a great work rider. It was not about going fast today, just getting around there happy. He’s had a good week and gotten settled in, and the track is a little similar to Del Mar. He’ll go to the track to jog Monday, gallop Tuesday through Friday and won’t go to the track the morning of the Classic.”

Sadler then went back in the barn. OK, now we wait for the horse to make another appearance. As the time went by I started getting antsy. Terry was still there being interviewed by a few reporters, but most of the media had departed by now, with only a few remaining, which was not a good sign. Soon there was hardly anyone left. Rhoda had approached someone who supposedly was close to the horse and he told her that Flightline was in for good and not coming back out. So close yet so far.

We figured we had stayed long enough and it was time to move on. Just then the doors to the barn opened and there he was in all his magnificence. No, he didn’t have wings, but Pegasus was there right before our eyes. And we had him pretty much all to ourselves. Yes, he indeed was getting his feet washed as Terry had said. As soon as he stepped out and on to the wash mat his head and his ears went up and he started looking around, either posing for the few of us that were left or wondering where everyone had gone.

Class exuded from every pore. Not once did his ears or his head go down. This was as alert a horse as I have ever seen. It was as if he was born to pose. Like the great ones, he knew he was special. After a while it seemed like my camera was shooting on its own. Now it was time to get Joan in the pictures, while Avi shot Rhoda with his phone. Still he posed. It was as close to a private photo session as you could get. We couldn’t believe our good fortune.

What seemed all morning like an unsuccessful attempt to see Flightline and get close to him had turned into an unforgettable experience, thanks in good part to Terry Finley, who I have followed through the years going back to the early days of West Point Thoroughbreds, which now occupies hallowed ground in the annals of the sport.

Flightline returned to the barn and we finally left, with all of us beaming inside and out at the unforeseen turn of events. The rest of our trip was memorable as well spending the following morning alone with Tapit for a good half hour and the recently pensioned Afleet Alex, then going to Ashford Stud and historic Airdrie Stud, and then the following day to see Curlin and company at Xalapa, and finally Lane’s End Farm, future home of Flightline, to see Quality Road, one of my favorites, and Candy Ride, the sire of Avi and Rhoda’s Westchester Stakes winner Nicodemus.

While at Lane’s End, although not a word was said, we all got the feeling they were about ready to roll out the red carpet. You could feel it and you could see it in their faces. There was no doubt in our mind that Flightline was going to be retired…and quickly. The day after the Classic the announcement was made. We had the narrowest of windows and the slimmest of chances to see Flightline up close and personal as a racehorse and we somehow managed to do it.

Even with all the great stallions we saw we will never forget our morning at Barn 60 getting to see Flightline, who one week later would once again be dancin’ and a-prancin’ a-way out yonder ahead of them all, finishing first with the rest nowhere. But most important, we like most everyone felt the earth move.

Photos courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire and Steve Haskin

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 since 2020.

Book Your Flight to the Breeders’ Cup

Thursday, November 3rd, 2022

It is time once again for horse racing’s version of Rubik’s Cube with bettors laying down their money with every twist. The Breeders’ Cup has proven to be the sport’s most enjoyable way to lose your money. It’s a strange feeling hitting a couple of longshots or exactas and still losing money over the two days. I’m not here to offer trifectas and superfectas, only some live horses and potential longshots and you can put them together to form an exotic bet if you wish. But no matter how you do, you still have Flightline to look forward to and then we’ll know just what kind of freak this really is. ~ Steve Haskin

Book Your Flight to the Breeders’ Cup

By Steve Haskin

We all know the 2022 Breeders’ Cup goes wherever Flightline takes it, and everyone will be waiting with bated breath for the Classic to see if the skies of Lexington will be filled with rockets, flares, and fireworks following the race. And no matter what is said or not said, most people know deep down inside that this very likely will be the final flight of this extraordinary horse and that Lane’s End Farm already is starting to roll out the red carpet. As the old song goes, “Johnny, we hardly knew ye.”

But we’ll have to deal with that another time. Right now, let’s see if there is anyone who can put an end to this unprecedented reign, as brief as it’s been.

And there are plenty of other races in which bettors can sink their teeth. And that’s why we’re here. My previous Breeders’ Cup handicapping columns and analyses have focused on finding longshots and potential overlays. I will continue in that vein to an extent, but will try to diversify a little this time.

But let’s start with the Classic and get that out of the way. As I alluded to in a recent column about whether Life is Good is capable of upsetting Flightline, I am going to keep that same thought, but spread it out a little. There is an excellent chance that Flightline cannot be beaten, barring something unforeseen like a horrendous trip or him simply not having his best day. But from a Thoro-Graph perspective he could regress 10 lengths and still win.

To me, there is only one question mark with Flightline and that is, what will he do if someone looks him in the eye at the quarter pole or eighth pole and makes him actually run down the stretch for the first time. He has never had a horse anywhere near him from the five-sixteenths pole to the wire and has won all his races geared down, winning most of them with ridiculous ease.

Life is Good’s trainer Todd Pletcher well aware what he’s up against, but he also knows how fast his horse is, as evidenced by the way he made the front-running Horse of the Year Knicks Go look slow in the Pegasus World Cup. We just don’t know if he is as effective at 1 ¼ miles. But Flightline has nver faced an opponent with Life is Good’s speed, combined with class. As for Epicenter, his Travers was visually one of the most impressive races of the year, and we have all watched him grow into a man since the Triple Crown. But his Thoro-Graph number in the Travers was surprisingly slow, so make of that what you wish. If Life is Good and Hot Rod Charlie can stick around long enough to make Flightline know he’s in a race then we could have some drama in the stretch.

But to me this is a race to watch and not get too hung up on trying to beat Flightline. Sure anything can happen in a race, so for the sake of providing some kind of action I’ll throw Life is Good and the vastly improving Taiba in a trifecta box. There would be zero value putting Epicenter in there. But if you get past Flightline then anyone is capable of winning or placing. Yes, even Rich Strike, whose only start at Keeneland was a fast-closing third after a troubled trip. He could sneak into the superfecta.

OK, I guess it’s best to go back to the beginning.

JUVENILE TURF SPRINT – With the speedy English filly THE PLATINUM QUEEN drawing post 12 it opens the door to a number of other fast juveniles, mainly the Wesley Ward-trained LOVE REINS, Queen Mary Stakes winner DRAMATISED, and my longshot pick, Godolphin’s MISCHIEF MAGIC, who could be coming late under William Buick in a race loaded with speed.

JUVENILE FILLIES – In a wide-open race with no standout I’m going to take a shot with ATOMICALLY, who was sent to Pletcher after romping in the My Dear Girl division of the Florida Stallion Series, her first try going two turns.I have been very impressed with the Chad Brown-trained RAGING SEA, but good luck breaking from the 14 post. For my bomb, if you’re looking for a 20-1 shot trained by Bill Mott you have to take a look at AMERICAN ROCKETTE, who had a bad trip when fourth in the Spinaway Stakes, and I will forgive her fourth in the Frizette Stakes in the slop. This will be her first two-turn race and I think she could improve stretching out in distance.

JUVENILE FILLIES TURF – I don’t know if anyone can beat MEDITATE if she handles the two turns, but I give a big shot to the Jessamine winner DELIGHT, who loves the Keeneland turf and the two turns and is improving with every start for Jonathan Thomas. My longshot pick at 20-1 is the Canadian invader LAST CALL, who is improving with distance and won the Natalma Stakes last time out at 21-1 with first race blinkers off and first time racing without Lasix. And I like the move from the big Woodbine turf course to the tighter Keeneland course.

JUVENILECAVE ROCK could be a world beater and you can’t knock what FORTE has accomplished and the courage he showed winning the Breeders’ Futurity over the Keeneland track. Remember though that Forte got a faster Thoro-Graph number last out than Cave Rock. But there is no value here with either one and I’m not sure about BLAZING SEVENS, so I will take a shot with Pletcher’s other horse LOST ARK, who looked sensational in his first two starts, including the one-mile Sapling Stakes, then had the trip from hell in the Breeders’ Futurity, where everything went wrong early, putting him at the back of the 14-horse field. This is a horse with good tactical speed and having to come from so far back he had no shot to do much of anything and at least closed to be a respectable sixth. I’ll give him a shot at 20-1, breaking from post 8 and getting the services of Luis Saez.

JUVENILE TURF – This is another wide-open race with a European invader, Godolphin’s SILVER KNOTT, a major threat with the ability to win from on the pace or far back. ANDTHEWINNER IS and REALLY GOOD are both coming off excellent efforts in their 1,3 finish in Keeneland’s Bourbon Stakes and could be the second and third choices, right there with California’s best 2-year-old turf horse PACKS A WAHLOP riding a three-race winning streak. Really Good is running second race with blinkers on and did not have the best of trips last time out and should improve. Brendon Walsh has a 20-1 shot who may outrun his odds. RECKONING FORCE had a rough trip last out when seventh in the Bourbon Stakes, but won a stakes at Kentucky Downs in his previous start and has a good enough closing kick to make his presence felt in the stretch.

FILLY AND MARE SPRINTCE CE, ECHO ZULU, CHI TOWN LADY, and GOODNIGHT OLIVE look to be the standouts, but I never throw out the classy OBLIGATORY, coming off 11 straight graded stakes, six of them at seven furlongs. With a contentious pace she should be coming strong in the stretch at 8-1 morning line odds.

TURF SPRINT – The usual crap shoot with the exception of GOLDEN PAL, I am intrigued with the decision to drop CASA CREED back to 5 ½ furlongs two starts after he won the Grade 1 Fourstardave at Saratoga going a mile. But he did win the Grade 1 Jaipur Stakes going six furlongs the race before and I am convinced this 6-year-old warrior can come home fast at any distance up to a mile and I’ll bank on him going off higher than his 6-1 morning line odds. For a real bomb I love the way CAZADERO is improving and is beginning to look like the brilliant 2-year-old we saw win the Bashford Manor Stakes by open lengths in 1:09 3/5 and romp in his career debut going five furlong in : 57 3/5.

DIRT MILE – There are some tough, classy horses in here who are going to be tough to beat, including one of my early Kentucky Derby favorites SIMPLIFICATION, but there are also some live longshots like SENOR BUSCADOR, who looked like a potential contender early on the Derby trail. He returned from California and looked good winning the Ack Ack Stakes. I am looking for a big effort from SLOW DOWN ANDY, who made his mark on the Derby trail, is a graded stakes winner on grass and dirt, is tough as nails, and game as they come. His solid third in the Grade 1 Awesome Again Stakes sets him up for a big effort here.

FILLY AND MARE TURF – I plead ignorant in this race. I can’t separate the American horses, none of whom are standouts, and I don’t know if any of them can handle the second and third-place finishers of the Prix de l’Opera, NASHWA and ABOVE THE CURVE, and the Epsom Oaks winner TUESDAY, who was beaten by the aforementioned two fillies in the Prix de l’Opera. But at 20-1 we have the Irish Oaks runner-up TOY, winner of a listed stakes last out in Ireland at a distance of one mile, which is too short for her. No strong feelings here.

SPRINT – The bizarre scratch of Jack Christopher with an equally bizarre explanation was a crushing blow to this race. Things appear to go a lot deeper than what is on the surface, but we have no choice but to move on. JACKIE’S WARRIOR, ALOHA WEST, the vastly improved ELITE POWER, and the filly KIMARI all look strong. For a price, AMERICAN THEOREM looks like a new horse since returning to sprint races and could be tough here at 10-1, as could former Derby trail star O BESOS, who is coming off two excellent sprint efforts. Those two would be my longshot picks.

MILE – The top choices all look strong and deep and I’m not seeing any longshots I like to beat ANNAPOLIS, DREAMLOPER, MODERN GAMES, KINROSS, REGAL GLORY, and ORDER OF AUSTRALIA. But there are still prices out there. Who knows how DOMESTIC SPENDING is going to come back off such a long layoff? And you have to give 20-1 BEYOND BRILLIANT and 15-1 MALAVATH a shot. The latter just missed winning the Juvenile Filly Turf last year, flying at the end, and is coming off a powerful second to Kinross in the Group 1 Prix de la Foret, the race Goldikova used as a prep for two of her  three Mile victories.

DISTAFF – I’m sitting back and enjoying this one. Just too many top-class fillies who can win. SEARCH RESULTS and BLUE STRIPES look like the logical longshots, but to beat all three of the Curlin fillies, Nest, Malathaat, and Clairiere is a daunting task.

TURF – Again no standout, which is why WAR LIKE GODDESS has a huge shot to win this race. The Euros are sending some solid horses, such as NATION’S PRIDE, REBEL’S ROMANCE, and MISHRIFF. But for a big price you never know when the inconsistent BROOME is going to have a big day, as he did in last year’s BC Turf and this year’s Sword Dancer. And there were victories in the group 1 Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud and group2 Hardwicke Stakes at Royal Ascot. That Broome can win this, especially considering his worst races have come on soft and heavy ground, and he has shown he likes the firm courses in the United States. I must also mention CHANNEL MAKER making his fifth start in the Turf. Although he’s been inconsistant throughout his career it has to be noted that he’s made five starts at Keeneland and has never finished worse than fourth (a win, second, third in the BC Turf, and two close fourths). Watch for him at 30-1.

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 since 2020.