Secretariat

Archive for the ‘Askin’ Haskin’ Category

Images From the Heart

Monday, June 27th, 2022

This column is about obsession, a love of horses and capturing them on film, and a bonding with my daughter that would manifest itself years later with her words. ~ Steve Haskin

Images From the Heart

By Steve Haskin

 

It was June, 1968, less than three weeks after the opening of the newly built Belmont Park and there I was standing outside the paddock with my father taking a black and white photo of the diminutive Dark Mirage prior to the Mother Goose Stakes with my father’s old camera. This mighty mite would go on to romp in the Mother Goose and the Coaching Club American Oaks to become the first filly to sweep NYRA’s recognized Triple Crown for Fillies.

That would be the first of tens of thousands (maybe more) of photos I would take of horses. Two months later during my first trip to Saratoga for the Travers Stakes I purchased my first camera; a Kodak Brownie Instamatic that produced 3 ½” by 3 ½” color photos. On Travers morning I took my first color photo of a horse when the great Dr. Fager stepped foot on the track for a five-furlong workout in preparation for the following week’s Washington Park Handicap and his quest to break the world record for a mile. Just as he walked by me the rain started. Now standing by myself with everyone else taking cover I was intent on getting a photo of the mighty Dr. Fager up close and feeling I would not get this opportunity again.

I learned something important that morning. The photo I took was not very good as far as horse photos go, but that is not what amateur photos are supposed to be. I didn’t need to take a perfect conformation shot or the finish of a race, as exciting as it might be. I needed to place myself in a photo, not physically, but intimately that would enable me to evoke images of a horse on a personal level, while capturing the essence of the subject.

I carried that photo in my wallet for decades and for one reason only. I did not capture a legendary horse as much as I captured a moment in time. It was as if Dr. Fager lived on through that photo, bringing back memories of a rare encounter with greatness and a special time in Saratoga that in many ways is long gone. To me, that is what photographs represented; images of the mind and heart that enabled time to stand still.

Over the next several years my trusty Instamatic camera went with me wherever there was a horse or a racetrack or a breeding farm, especially my second home, Darby Dan Farm to visit Graustark and his yearling full-brother, later to be named His Majesty, as well as stallions Ribot, Sea-Bird, Sword Dancer, and Chateaugay and a Sea-Bird yearling later known as Little Current. And there were those special mornings at Belmont Park with my dad visiting my newest equine hero Arts and Letters.

The early ‘70s bought an end to my Kodak Instamatic, replaced first by a Canon FTB, then a Canon F-1, along with zoom and telephoto lens. I was now a serious, though still amateur, photographer. And then along came Secretariat, the horse of a lifetime. With my equipment I now had the ability, and in many ways the power, to freeze this legend in time to have for posterity and to portray him in three ways – his amazing physical attributes, bringing out his personality, and capturing intimate moments most people don’t get a chance to witness.

So all through 1973 I spent as much time with Big Red as possible, starting with him galloping majestically to the post for his 3-year-old debut in the Bay Shore Stakes. I spent a number of mornings at his barn at Belmont, shooting him on the walking ring with his illustrious stablemate Riva Ridge, working out, posing with owner Penny Tweedy, following him and Riva to the track, being up close and personal with him in the saddling area before for the Preakness, capturing him break off in a show horse canter at his retirement festivities at Aqueduct, and years later at Claiborne Farm, showing off his playful side that many do not get a chance to see; indulging is his favorite snack, Certs Breath Mints, fed to hm by my wife Joan; and finally coming to the fence to greet my then toddler, Mandy.

I made up 8 x 10 prints of my favorite shots and put them in a soft loose leaf binder kept in plastic pages. And there they lay for almost 50 years, never seen by anyone but me. My only regret was that no one would ever see these photos in which I had captured arguably the greatest horse of all time and all the intimate moments we shared.

Then in 2020 I became involved with Secretariat.com and began working with Leonard Lusky. It was Leonard who brought my photos to life after nearly half a century and exposed them to the public, many of which I was able to sign, along with Ron Turcotte, the only surviving member of Team Secretariat. Big Red lived again as I saw him in all his majesty, all his moods, and all those special moments I had frozen in time.

Now some of those photos will be on display Whitney weekend (August 5-7) at Spa Fine Art Gallery on Broadway in Saratoga, (more on this exhibition coming soon) where my Kodak Instamatic first captured Dr. Fager on a stormy morning in 1968, opening up a new world to me.

After Secretariat I had continued to take photos of the stars of the ‘70s, including Forego, Ruffian, Affirmed, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid, a number of which also will be made available to the public this year.

In 1984, my desire to photograph the nation’s top horses took a different turn. That was the year Mandy was born, and for the next 20 years or so, until she went to college, I became obsessed with photographing her with horses, especially the greats, starting when she was 10 months old meeting Northern Dancer at Windfields Farm. Whether at the track or the farm I needed to photograph her with every great horse I could and make up photo albums, hoping that one day she would be able to appreciate and understand my folly and take pride in the elite company she kept growing up.

What I was doing was so unique, Hall of Fame journalist Mary Jean Wall wrote a column in the Lexington Herald-Leader about me photographing my daughter with great horses.

From left to right: Alydar, Lady’s Secret, Affirmed, Genuine Risk and Genuine Reward, and Cigar

We now fast forward to about a dozen years ago and one of Mandy’s visits home when I saw her going through photo albums, not realizing which ones they were. Shortly after, she wrote what you are about to read, which eventually was published in the online racing magazine “Stride,” founded by Scott Serio, now of the award-winning Eclipse Sports Wire.

To this day her words still get me choked up, for it made all those years practically forcing Mandy to pose for photos with famous horses worth every second of it, because I finally knew I had left her with something she was able to appreciate years later. But more important I had built a foundation for her love of horses and a special bonding between father and daughter.

Here is what she wrote and what I am so proud to share. As I read it over and over and get a warm feeling inside each time I rejoice in my obsession, beginning when I fought the elements to get one shot of Dr. Fager in the rain and my wondrous year spent in the company of the immortal Secretariat. And then of course there was photographing Mandy with every horse of the moment and every horse of a lifetime.

Now years later my special horse photos are of one-year-old Mandy sitting on her first horse at Saratoga, placed alongside a photo of Mandy’s one-year-old son Theo sitting on his first horse at Saratoga. Next year I hope to get a shot of Mandy’s now 2-month-old daughter Lily sitting on her first horse at Saratoga. How time marches on, and how the images of horses, whether all-time greats or stable ponies, continue to be a part of our very being.

I leave you with Mandy’s words:

All the Pretty Horses – by Mandy Haskin

“When you wake you shall have all the pretty horses.  Blacks and bays, dapple grays…”

That lullaby pretty much sums up my childhood.  Indeed, I grew up with quite a number of pretty horses.  It started at 10 months old, with a very pretty bay named Northern Dancer.  From that day on, my picture was taken with a lengthy list of champion Thoroughbreds.  A chestnut stallion called Secretariat soon followed.  A sunny afternoon was spent playing in a field with a sweet dapple gray by the name of Lady’s Secret.  I rode in a car up the rolling Pennsylvania hills as Lonesome Glory galloped alongside.  I picked flowers as Da Hoss grazed just inches from me, only a week after his second Breeders Cup Mile win.  Genuine Risk showed off her first foal to me.  And I saw the regal Dahlia twice – first as a baby in my mother’s arms, and then years later, standing on my own two feet, now tall enough to reach her nose.

I introduced my dolls to Precisionist, gave a bouquet of dandelions to Alydar, and Holy Bull nibbled on my hair.  And I have it on good authority that my first kiss just may have been from Cigar.  He was quite the charmer.  Then there was Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Forego, John Henry, Damascus, Mr. Prospector, His Majesty, Danzig, and Spectacular Bid, who by that time was white as snow.  The list goes on and on.  Mighty photo albums lined our shelves at home, as they still do today.  The pages are not as white as they used to be, and some are now frayed along the edges, but the albums are still there, forming a wall of memories that any horse lover would dream about.

On my last trip home, I looked at some of these albums.  The covers creaked open, revealing a rich tapestry of scenes – this horse, that farm, big smiles, outdated outfits.  But instead of joy or nostalgia, a strange emotion crept into my mind.  Regret.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t have one true memory of these scenes.  That my only “memories” of these remarkable experiences were through photos and stories.  Even once I was old enough to capture these moments, I lacked the appreciation to really make them stick in my head.  Despite what my father enthusiastically tried to tell me, I couldn’t fully understand who these horses were, or what they had accomplished.  That feeling of regret was quickly followed by an overwhelming sense of guilt.  How many people would kill for experiences like this?

Yet, to my naïve younger self in these photos, it was just another horse.  It pains me to write that.  Admittedly I took it all for granted, not knowing at the time how lucky I really was.  While my dad was having me pose for pictures (no doubt encountering some resistance and overly dramatic rolling of the eyes in later years), I didn’t realize he was actually giving me a very special gift.  I have to believe that he knew I couldn’t appreciate all this then, and that’s why he froze these moments in time.  He wanted me to look back at them all these years later and think, I did this – how lucky was I?  Sitting here now, looking at a photo of me as a baby with chubby cheeks meeting Northern Dancer, I’m thinking that very thought.

I suppose childhood memories can only be fully embraced in retrospection. Only then do we grieve over their transience and celebrate their sublime purity. That’s why we take photos. So that those moments will one day be suspended in time and bound by gilded picture frames. Untouchable. A brief glimpse into who we were and the experiences that made us who we are today. I am the person I am today because of years of green pastures, white fences, shaded stables, the soft purring of barn cats, the crinkling of peppermint wrappers, and of course the blacks and bays and dapple grays.

Thanks to my dad and a library full of photo albums, I will always have cloudless memories of all those pretty horses.

Thank you for Everything, Dad, and Happy Father’s Day

Saturday, June 18th, 2022

This column, reprinted from several years ago and updated and expanded, is for me. Because of its extreme length I don’t expect many to make it to the end and my father’s magnificent letter from the South Pacific and I am fine with that. Not only is it a much-needed cathartic experience, it needs to be in print once again, whether anyone reads all of it or not. My father deserves it. It is more about the writing of the column than the reading and for my daughter to have. To those who do read it through, you will find that in order to write it I had to strip all the layers off and reveal things about myself that I normally would never do. It is the only way I can do justice to a remarkable man. ~ Steve Haskin

Thank You For Everything, Dad, and Happy Father’s Day

By Steve Haskin

The thank you is for a man without whom I wouldn’t be where I am today. He in his own way made it possible for me to enter the world of horse racing and become the writer I eventually aspired to be, meet and marry the most wonderful and beautiful woman, have the most wonderful and beautiful daughter, and complete the cycle by becoming a grandfather twice over with an adorable 4-year-old grandson and a beautiful seven-week-old granddaughter. My regret is that my father did not live to see any of it, at least not in an earthly sense.

I have been convinced all these years that he somehow has been guiding me and steering me on the right path through the entire journey, and that the words that flow from my mind and heart come from him. You will see why reading this column. I never have revealed anything about myself and my early life to anyone, except in my love letter to Joan, but I am doing it even more so now, as uncomfortable as it is, in order to pay tribute to a very special man. Some have read most of this already, but even if only a few read it now it matters little.

Although my father was an engineer by trade, working for Detecto scales, he was one of the best and most creative writers I’ve known, as you will see later on. What you will read if you decide to continue on after what needs to be said is said is a gripping and colorful account of life on an LSM ship in the South Pacific during World War II and a first-hand, personal look at the massive Invasion of Luzon and Leyte Gulf that needs to be published again. These words are the only physical items he left behind; the only evidence of who he was. So they must be preserved. This is my opportunity to do so, while thanking him and paying tribute to him. In order to do so, I must reveal parts of myself that were never meant to be revealed.

My father was a kind-hearted man who was plagued with the inability to say no to anyone asking for a favor. As a result, he was often taken advantage of, mainly by family members.

We never owned a new car, never went on vacations, except for one year when we went to a resort in Mt. Freedom, New Jersey called Ackerman’s. My Brooklyn street was my vacation spot. My most special moments with my dad came at Ebbets Field to see our beloved Dodgers. Oh, those drives up Bedford Avenue and seeing the light towers off in the distance. That was a magical sight to a 9-year-old. As was seeing my dad catch a home run in the upper deck in centerfield hit by future Hall of Famer Frank Robinson. It bounced off the railing and into his arms, with the bright red paint of the railing right there on the ball. So we not only took home a souvenir, we took home a part of Ebbets Field.

I was a terrible student all through high school and barely graduated, often cutting my first class and never participating, while hiding in the back of the room so the teacher wouldn’t see me. Adding to all this was my fear of taking tests, all of these foibles spurred on by a massive inferiority complex and an undiagnosed case of what I strongly believe to be Attention Deficit Disorder, which was unknown back then. Words went in one ear and out the other with little or no comprehension, which prevented me from being a book reader. I went out into the world knowing how to do absolutely nothing. My dad tried to build up my confidence, but to no avail. I will never forget my mother’s constant words to me: “You are your worst enemy.”

After several years of menial and demeaning jobs, I got a job working on Wall Street with the help of a broker who lived on our block and played softball with my father. First I was a page boy, then a copy boy, then a quote boy, then an over-the-counter stock trader. But I soon had enough of this cut-throat, dog-eat-dog world and left, despite having no skills, no background in anything, and no college diploma. All I had was my recent discovery and unbridled passion for horse racing, which I stumbled upon going with two friends one Friday night to Roosevelt Raceway. So it was harness racing that first exposed me to this new wondrous world.

It actually was my father’s gift of writing that had altered the course of my life. Like all those of my generation, I was called to the draft board in Lower Manhattan for my physical and testing during the Vietnam War, while working at the time in a printing factory, cleaning the machines and emptying out the garbage. It was a world of ink stains, mice, and cockroaches. I told the officer at the draft board office that I had asthma and he said bluntly, “Asthma is not deferrable.” So I came to terms with my fate and waited for the notice to come in the mail that I had been drafted. I’m sure I failed their written test and was destined to four years as a grunt in some rice paddy, if I survived boot camp.

My asthma as a child was pretty severe at times, and my father wrote a strong letter about how debilitating it was and how my service would have to be drastically limited. It was a powerful, articulate letter, as only he could write it, which he then had my longtime pediatrician sign, as well as our family doctor, who was widely recognized as head of Coney Island Hospital. He sent the letter to the draft board, and several weeks later I was informed that I had been classified as 4-F; physically unable to serve. It wouldn’t be the last time my father’s words changed my life.

So here I was several years later at Roosevelt Raceway and one of the most enlightening experiences of my life. I became fascinated and enthralled with the whole concept of racing and the beauty of the horses, and the intricacies of handicapping. Racing became all encompassing. My thirst for knowledge was insatiable, and I read every racing publication I could get my hands on, especially Turf and Sport Digest, which I would purchase by the dozens at a used magazine shop in Manhattan. It was during these days that I became enamored with an up-and-coming horses named Damascus, thanks to Fred, the person with whom I had gone to Roosevelt Raceway and who exposed me to flat racing. I had a new sports hero.

By the winter of 1969, I was gone from Wall Street, leaving Pershing and Company, but with no ambitions or skills. I was out of work for nine months, taking the subway to Battery Park every day to feed the pigeons and read the Sam Toperoff book, “Crazy Over Horses” over and over. That became my bible. My life that winter and spring was all about Arts and Letters, Majestic Prince, Top Knight, Dike, and Gallant Bloom. Racing was all encompassing, but I was on a path to nowhere. I was supposed to be looking for a job on Wall Street, several blocks from the park, but could not bring myself to return to that world.

Finally, after nine months and with nothing to offer anyone and heading for a life of more menial jobs, my father came into my room one night and asked me, “What do you want to do with your life? What are you passionate about?” I told him I had no idea what I wanted to do, and that my only passion was horse racing.

“Well, why don’t you try to get a job in horse racing,” he said. I had never even considered it. Having read the Morning Telegraph on the Subway every day I grew to admire some of their writers, mostly Charles Hatton, Joe Hirsch, and Barney Nagler. But I wasn’t a writer, except for writing several personal poems. And who actually made their hobby their profession, especially a sport? My father never really liked his job, and that was I thought a job was; just a job – 9 to 5 drudgery. Not something you loved to do more than anything. But my dad always had confidence in me and wanted something better for me. He wanted my job and my passion to be one and the same. But what could I do in racing?

“You can start at the bottom and work your way up,” my dad said. “Just get your foot in the door. I have faith in you that you can make racing your profession and be a success at it.”

He had turned on the light and lifted me out of my funk. He had given me hope. I immediately mailed out letters to the Morning Telegraph, New York Racing Association, and The Jockey Club asking for a job, stating all I had to offer was my passion and the willingness to learn. I was expecting nothing.

I received two rejections, but one afternoon, the phone rang and it was Charlotte Berko, secretary to Saul Rosen, editor of the Morning Telegraph (the Eastern and main edition of the Daily Racing Form), saying Mr. Rosen would like me to come for an interview the next day.

I never saw my parents so excited. I had no idea what to expect, so all I could do was foolishly memorize the winners of every Kentucky Derby, as if that was going to help in any way.

When I arrived, everyone was watching the World Series between the Mets and the Orioles. I went in for the interview and the first question Saul Rosen asked me was if I knew how to type. When I told him I didn’t he said to come back after I learned. I was devastated. What was I going to tell my parents? This was the last ray of hope, not only for me but for them. I knew how disappointed they would be when I came home without a job.

While there, I asked Mr. Rosen, an iconic figure in the industry, if I could get the past performances of Graustark, who had retired in 1966 and who my friend Fred had also turned me on to. He called in the librarian, Sol Seiden, and asked him to help me out. While Sol had someone Xeroxing Graustark’s PPs he told me he was going to need an assistant and suggested I start as a copy boy to get my foot in the door, and after I learned to type I could come in the library as his assistant.

The library? Horse books, horse photos, bound volumes of the Morning Telegraph going back 100 years? Talk about the proverbial kid in a candy store. Mr. Rosen said OK to the idea and I came home with a job, making far less than I was making on Wall Street. My dad was thrilled. I remember how proud he was of even the most trivial things. He would bring my rather pathetic photographs of horses to work with him and show them off as if they were works of art. He would come with me to Belmont Park, and also to the barn area to see horses like my latest favorite horse Arts and Letters. I remember going to Belmont with him in June of 1968 right after the track reopened after six years to see Dark Mirage win the Mother Goose and taking my first black and white photos. He had taken an interest in racing because of me. We watched the feature race from New York on TV every Saturday that I didn’t go to the track. I remember the thrill we both got watching Dr. Fager win the Vosburgh Handicap in record time under 139 pounds in his career finale.

The following year I started working at the Morning Telegraph as a copy boy, then a brief stay in the statistical department, then finally to the library as Sol’s assistant. In 1971 my father passed away suddenly at the age of 56. Our family – me, my mother, and my younger brother – was never the same, especially my mother, who lived into her ‘90s. My brother worshiped our father, and without his guidance would go on to have a pretty rough life.

When the Telly closed in 1972, and they opened the new Daily Racing Form office in Hightstown, New Jersey, fortunately they took me along. Many lost their jobs. Had Sol Seiden not left the library to work in the advertising department and had I not been promoted to head librarian I would have been one of those let go, once again staring into the abyss, with no future. But again I was in the right place at the right time. I don’t believe it was a coincidence.

In the early ‘70s I wrote a letter to the editor in the Thoroughbred Record and was so excited when I saw my name in print. I knew my father would have been thrilled regardless of how trivial that was. In the mid ‘70s I began freelance writing for the Sporting Chronicle for free, then Stud and Stable magazine and Pacemaker magazine, all in England. Then in the U.S. came the Thoroughbred Record, Louisiana Horse, and finally the newly formed Thoroughbred Times. I was so raw in the beginning and insecure that I wouldn’t send in a story until it was given the OK by DRF copy editor and writer George Bernet, who became my mentor and eventually the editor of the Form. Slowly I began building up confidence in my writing, thanks also to my beautiful bride, who was a gifted writer herself who had worked for the New York Racing Association’s publicity firm and then as NYRA’s public relations coordinator.. The more I wrote the more I missed my father, who I have always believed was the one putting the right words and ideas in my head.

After 20 years in the library, first in New York and then in Hightstown, I finally was taken out of the library to write full-time for the Racing Form to help combat the emergence of the Racing Times. I eventually took over Derby Doings from Joe Hirsch, at his request, wrote features and news stories, founded the feature Derby Watch, became national correspondent, providing lead coverage of all the big races, including the Triple Crown, the inaugural Dubai World Cup, and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, then moved on to the Blood-Horse as senior correspondent in 1998 after the Form was sold, again covering the Triple Crown and New York racing, writing six books, and being invited to Ballydoyle and Coolmore in Ireland, the opening of Meydan in Dubai, and, like in Dubai, receiving red carpet treatment in Uruguay.

What made it special was sharing it with my wife and daughter. I won numerous awards for writing (without ever submitting anything myself) and for lifetime achievement, culminating with election into the Hall of Fame, appropriately called the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame Joe Hirsch Media Roll of Honor, joining at the time only 15 other writers – legends old and new, including my idols Charles Hatton and Bill Nack. And it was all because my dad lifted me out of the depths of hopelessness and suggested I get a job in racing, to follow my passion.

All I could think of as I accepted the Hall of Fame award at the Museum and saw my name on the Roll of Honor, in the presence of my wife and daughter and the rest of my family, was how badly I wished my father could have seen this. How proud he would have been. How he would have fallen in love with Joan and how much he would have worshipped our daughter, Mandy, and perhaps even his great-grandchildren. I can only believe that he somehow was watching this special moment unfold and that he knew he was the reason I was there accepting this ultimate honor.

If you have made it this far and feel as if you have an idea who my father was and what a special man he was, you might want to stick around and read this remarkable letter. One of the reasons I know for sure what a profound impact my dad had on my life and how he has been guiding me in my writing career is, as I mentioned earlier, the number of people who have read this letter and said they could have sworn it was written by me. I could receive no greater compliment. So I take you back to 1945 in the South Pacific and the most revealing look at my dad and the War in the Pacific through his eyes. These words are all I have of him other than memories.

Because of the length of this column and my dad’s letter written to his boss, many will not continue on and that is understandable. But it is just reassuring to me to know it is out there in print and not just a folded up letter on faded paper written in green ink lying in a dresser drawer.

January 21, 1945
Far East

The Navy may move slowly, but once they get started, things really begin to roll. We picked up our ship, which incidentally is an amphibious craft known as an L.S.M. (Landing Ship Medium (Tanks) at a Chicago shipyard. We remained there for a period of three weeks, outfitting the ship with supplies, equipment, etc. After the commissioning exercises, we started our journey, which was to take us through the States, the Panama Canal, through various South Pacific islands to our present operating base in New Guinea.

After leaving Panama, one could detect a wave of excitement rippling through the crew in anticipation of coming face to face with – not the enemy – but a real South Sea island Hula-Hula girl. But like other things that I had read and heard about these islands, I was doomed for a disappointment. Due to censorship, I cannot disclose the names of the islands we stopped at. But at these islands, of which there were many, we never did see anything that even resembled a Hula-Hula girl, let alone a sarong.

Where were all those Dorothy Lamours? The native women we did see were either too young or too old, too short or too long, too thin or too fat – but never in between. Somehow or another they seemed infatuated by brightly colored things. It was a very common sight to see these native women walking to church on Sunday wearing brightly colored dresses – latest American style creations of 1920 – and shoes (less stockings) the largest possible sizes manufactured, with such prominent colors as canary yellow, ruby red, a bright green or a dazzling orange. The large sizes were necessary due to their enormous feet. After church, we would burst with laughter to see how proudly they displayed their shoes – in their hands.

We kept hopping from island to island, doing various tasks assigned to us. Suddenly, a trip to one island brought us face to face with the grim realization that we were really part of this war, that our enemy was lurking nearby and we were helping to drive him out. We had undergone our first air-raid. For many months, even prior to my entrance into the service, I had given this very thing plenty of thought. What would my reactions be? Would I be afraid? Is it as devastating as I’ve heard it was? Now that it is over, I can truthfully say I was not afraid. Probably more angry than anything else. Angry at the fact that we – the L.S.M. 314 – could not do anything to bring the raiders down. The shore Anti-aircraft guns were keeping them high enough to prevent any serious damage.

After an hour or two of maneuvering, they dropped their bombs harmlessly in the ocean and several points on the island. Net result of the raid – several holes, with nothing hit but Mother Earth. Those raids were repeated every night of our stay there, and so regular in fact that we could almost set our watches by it. We finally moved out and pulled into a port in New Guinea.

Our next assignment came earlier than we expected. At last, the real thing had come along. We were going to participate in an invasion of a group of islands now being held by the Japs. The convoy assembled outside the harbor and prepared to get underway. It was a rather uneventful voyage – with nothing to be seen but a wide expanse of ocean. Four days later our objective was sighted. Timed to perfection, our convoy, supported by bombers and fighter escorts, arrived at the island precisely at H-Hour. The bombers made their run on the beach to wipe out any opposition. Meanwhile, all amphibious craft were standing by awaiting the signal to beach and unload their men and equipment. The beachings were made, opposition was very light, and the island was ours. Another step towards the final capitulation of Japan had been accomplished.

We returned to New Guinea and there awaited further instructions.. During all these months in the South and Southwest Pacific, I’ve had the opportunity to observe as well as to speak to the boys that have participated in such campaigns as Guadalcanal, Kwajelein, Saipan, New Guinea, and the first invasion of the Philippines. They’re a rough and tumble lot; boys that had once been farmhands, grocery clerks, salesmen, factory workers, and now transformed into the world’s greatest group of fighting men. But all this could not be made possible without the splendid co-operation of the home front.

The above mentioned operation we now know was in a way a preparation for a larger major operation. By the time you receive this letter, this operation will be old news. As a matter of fact, you probably know more of what happened than I do. However, I will attempt, to the best of my ability, to give you an eyewitness account of the Invasion of Luzon.

It all started back in one of the many harbors in New Guinea. Our task force was considered the largest ever to participate in an invasion. Our cargo consisted of Army personnel and vehicles. Unaware of what may lie ahead of us, we still left with the satisfaction of knowing, that back in our New Guinea harbor, we had left a Jap plane burning as a result of a morning raid. If that was a sign of what our Anti-aircraft fire was going to do, then the forthcoming campaign points to immense success.

The convoy proceeded rather smoothly. The evenings during our entire trip presented a full and beautiful moon as only the South Pacific can present. As beautiful as it was, it still had some bad aspects. Our convoy was lit up like a Christmas tree – making us an excellent target for enemy aircraft. This prompted us to call “General Quarters” at sunrise and sunset.

Early one morning, one of our escorting destroyers picked up enemy aircraft. The plane was visible by the entire convoy – circling us at will. It remained high enough to make us believe it was only a reconnaissance plane. If he spotted the convoy, which undoubtedly he did, then we can expect some uninvited callers before this trip is over. But we were prepared for all eventualities, and come what may, we’ll be ready.

We were rapidly approaching our objective, and how well we knew it. “General Quarters” became a daily as well as nightly routine. Enemy submarines one time and aircraft the next. All in all, sleep became something we faintly remembered from the past. I shan’t go into detail as to the various raids we experienced, but I can honestly say that a few more Japs had the distinguished honor of joining their honorable ancestors. We had the occasion to listen in on several of the “Radio Tokyo’s” news broadcasts. It provided us with many a hearty laugh. Our convoy was practically “wiped out” according to them. The operation was a huge failure. Of course, being part of the very convoy they mentioned made their reports sound silly. However, there are people back home that are gullible enough to believe all that rot. So think twice before believing their news reports. As a matter of fact, we didn’t lose a ship in the entire operation.

The New Year rolled in quietly and serenely. We had no time for any celebrations, and we continued to carry out our regular ship’s routine. However, it didn’t stop me of thinking of everybody back home. Although belated, I’d like to take this opportunity to wish you all a happy and successful New Year.

S-Day (equivalent to D-Day on the European front)

As dawn drew near, the island of Luzon began to take shape in the dawn’s light. We could see faint silhouettes marking our battleships, cruisers, destroyers, air-craft carriers, and hundreds of auxiliary ships, including landing craft. One hour before H-Hour our heavy ships continued their systematic bombardment of the beach. This has been going on for several days. Fire and smoke belched forth from these mighty guns. Flames and puffs of smoke marked the spots where these deadly missiles had landed. It’s hard to believe that anyone could survive this complete devastation.

Someone asked what time it was. Fifteen minutes to go. The first waves were preparing to hit the beach. Our time was rapidly approaching. We were going to be the first wave of the larger craft. Looking around at the Army boys and the crew showed us tense and earnest faces. Gone was all the hilarity that was so prevalent on the entire trip. They knew what was coming and what their task was. Last minute inspections of vehicles and sidearms were made. A high crescendo of blasts marked the final bombardment of the beach.

H-Hour had come. We kept maneuvering outside the harbor awaiting our signal to come in. The first waves had begun to land. Radio reports were coming in fast and furious. The first ten waves had landed successfully without any opposition. The Naval shelling had done its job well. Suddenly, our signal was given. We started to make our run on the beach. Many thoughts passed through my mind. Have the Japs been waiting for the larger craft? Would we meet the opposition that the previous waves had failed to meet? Would we reach far enough on to the beach to unload our cargo? We were now a thousand yards from the beach. Our bow doors opened like the jaws of some huge monster. The beach slowly loomed ahead – 500 yards….250 yards…100 yards – still no enemy fire. We felt the ship scraping bottom. Our momentum carried us forward. All engines had stopped. Slowly our bow ramp was lowered. The vehicles moved out, and everything went as planned.

From the extreme corner of the beachhead – as if arising out of thin air – we saw hundreds of Filipinos coming out to meet our landing parties. Those that were able, ran. The older ones, amongst whom were mothers carrying tiny infants, managed to walk at a rather lively gait. The scene that took place can hardly be described in this letter. They simply threw themselves at our boys, some shaking their hands, and the more brazen ones hugging and kissing them. Passing through the nearby town, in pursuit of the Japs, our boys were met by women coming out to meet them with wet towels – of all things to wash the grime and dust from their perspiring faces. Fresh eggs – indeed a rare treat out here – were freely given out. They wouldn’t think of having the boys do their own laundry. They protested any signs of refusal. But what can they do against a people so determined to do everything in their power to help us. The men worked endless hours unloading the ships. They were paid for it, but gladly would have done it for nothing.

These were the people we were freeing from Japanese enslavement. It made us thrill to the thought that once again they would be able to carry on a happy and normal life. They are not much different from us in their wants. These are not the barbaric natives we encountered in the wild jungles of New Guinea. Their civilization runs parallel to our own and we are all happy that whatever hardships we encountered thus far had not been in vain.

At the writing of this letter, we are anchored at some port, whose name cannot be disclosed. And so ended another milestone toward the ultimate defeat of Japan. I hope this letter has given you a complete picture of my activities the past several months.

I’ve got to run along now, so until you hear from me again – which will be soon – regards to all.

I remain,
Abe Haskin

(A postscript: The invasion of Luzon was one of the largest amphibious invasions in history. A total of 175,000 men went ashore along a 20-mile beachhead over a period of several days. On Jan. 9, 1945, 70,000 American troops landed on Luzon. One of those who walked ashore to greet the cheering Filipinos was Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Although the opposition on shore was light, the battleship Mississippi and light cruiser Columbia were lost to kamikaze attacks. The largest American Battle Monument Commission Cemetery outside of Arlington, Virginia is on Luzon where over 17,000 Americans are buried)

Thanks, Dad. Every gift I have been granted in life I owe to you. Every path I’ve taken you have been there to guide me. Every word I’ve written has come from you. All I can do to thank you is to preserve your memory and your words in this column.

Star-Studded Belmont Weekend Closes Out Triple Crown

Monday, June 13th, 2022

You’re not going to find any inspiring back stories this week. Instead we provide a potpourri of subjects, including a brief look at the Belmont, an overview of the star-studded weekend, racing’s newest potential superstar, a look back in history, and some pedigree tidbits. So there is a little something for everyone. ~ Steve Haskin

Star-studded Belmont Weekend Closes Out ’22 Triple Crown

By Steve Haskin


 

It was December 4, 2021, New York racing’s final weekend of important stakes before winter racing takes over. It was also trainer Todd Pletcher’s last opportunity to win major 2-year-old stakes up North before heading down to Florida.

It was a bright sunny day with temperatures reaching the high 40s. In the eighth race, the Remsen Stakes, and the ninth race, the Demoiselle Stakes, both at the lengthy distance of 1 1/8 miles, Pletcher was unveiling two of his promising 2-year-olds, Mo Donegal and Nest, respectively. Pletcher is one trainer who likes those nine-furlong races late in the year for his juveniles in order to give them a solid foundation before embarking on the road to the Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks.

Pletcher had won the Remsen twice and even had his 2021 Derby contender Known Agenda break his maiden going 1 1/8 miles before finishing third in the Remsen. Pletcher owned the Demoiselle, winning it six times, including the previous year’s running with Malathaat, who would go on to win the Kentucky Oaks and Alabama Stakes.

In the 2021 Remsen, Mo Donegal was able to eke out a nose decision over the promising Zandon, while Nest won the Demoiselle in similar fashion scoring by a neck. Six months later, Mo Donegal and Nest would finish first and second, respectively in the Belmont Stakes in one of the most impressive training feats in the history of the Test of the Champion.

Will we remember Pletcher’s feat more than witnessing the Cinderella story of Kentucky Derby winner Rich Strike? It has been learned from NBC’s Kenny Rice that the colt got a good deal of sand and small rocks in his eyes, possibly going into the first turn, that had to be cleaned out by the veterinarian after the race. Will his tale either come to a quick and disappointing end or simply put on hold for a while until the colt and his team can regroup and attempt to continue the story at a later date? 

That remains to be seen but on this year’s Belmont Stakes day, Goliath got his revenge on David and there was little back story that would even remotely come close to evoking the emotions everyone felt following the 80-1 shocker at Churchill Downs.

But is it possible that Pletcher’s Belmont coup was not even the highlight of the day that saw a cavalcade of racing’s brightest stars compete?

Three weeks after the Remsen and Demoiselle, some 3,000 miles away at Santa Anita, trainer John Sadler was unleashing a potential freak of a racehorse named Flightline, owned by racing’s most famous grape growers, the Hronis brothers, who had already made a major splash on racing. But even winning the 2018 Breeders’ Cup Classic with Accelerate would have to take a back seat to what racing fans across the country would witness with this budding talent in the seven-furlong Malibu Stakes.

California fans had already seen the $1 million son of Tapit demolish a maiden field by 13 ¼ lengths and an allowance field by 12 ¾ lengths, earning outrageous Beyer speed figures of 105 and 114. Now he was facing Grade 1 company and racing without Lasix for the first time. Amazingly, you couldn’t tell the difference between the Malibu and his first two, as he once again annihilated his opponents, winning by 11 ½ lengths eased up in a virtual canter, with jockey Flavien Prat never moving his hands and earning a 118 Beyer and putting together back-to-back Thoro-Graph numbers in an unheard of negative-5.

Following the race I sent a one-word text message to Kosta Hronis that read simply “Freak!!” He responded, “We’re just trying to soak it all up and enjoy it while we can. His talent seems limitless. America’s new favorite racehorse.”

Well, that last sentence had to wait. Unfortunately a strained hock, not a common injury at all, suffered in February brought this streaking comet to a halt. Even Sadler said this injury was unusual, and there was no telling when he would be able to return to the races. The target following the Malibu was the Met Mile, but those plans were now up in the air. Fast forward to June 11 and here was Flightline at Belmont Park to take on Grade 1 Carter Handicap winner Speaker’s Corner, grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Aloha West, and Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup winner Happy Saver in America’s most prestigious and historic mile race. But Flightline would have to face this formidable group coming off an injury, a six-month layoff, his first trip outside California, and racing at a mile for the first time on a sandier surface over a mile and a half oval. 

What we witnessed bought back images of horses like Ghostzapper and Spectacular Bid, two other freaks who could do anything and overcome anything.When Flightline broke dead last from the rail and then had to rush up and steady twice tying to move up inside Speaker’s Corner, who was riding an impressive three-race winning streak, it was time to find out exactly what we were dealing with. Was Flightline going to be able to overcome such adversity? Was he really the freak we had seen in his first three races? He would have to be to tower over this field the way he towered over his previous opponents after having to face so many obstacles.

When it was over, “freak” might have been too tame a word. Once Flavien Prat was able to ease him to the outside and just move his hands on him he inhaled Speaker’s Corner and again bounded clear, winning by “only” six lengths. He had run his second quarter in a scorching :22 1/5 and his third quarter around that big turn in :23 1/5 before coasting home in 1:33 2/5, earning a 112 Beyer speed figure, his fourth triple-digit Beyer number in as many starts.

So when exactly did his team realize just what they had? As Kosta Hronis texted after the race, “We knew early on he was something special that no one had ever seen before.”

That no one had ever seen before. That was quite a statement. This year and next year will mark the 50th anniversary of the Triple Crown campaigns of Meadow Stable’s Riva Ridge (1972) and the incomparable Secretariat (1973), the horse no one in the world had ever seen before or since. It is appropriate that Flightline’s third dam, Finder’s Fee, is by Storm Cat, whose dam is by Secretariat, out of Fantastic Find, whose dam is by Riva Ridge.

Speaking of Secretariat, if you take the winners of the six dirt stakes on Saturday – Acorn winner Matareya, Woody Stephens winner Jack Christopher, Brooklyn winner Fearless, Ogden Phipps winner Clairiere, Met Mile winner Flightline, and Belmont winner Mo Donegal – and add the two big dirt stakes winners on Friday – True North winner Jackie’s Warrior and Bed o’ Roses winner Bella Sofia – those eight horses not only all have Secretariat in their pedigree, his name appears a total of 16 times.

Jack Christopher, who is looking more like Flightline Jr. after remaining unbeaten and untested in four career starts with his brilliant 10-length romp in the Woody Stephens, has Secretariat in his pedigree four times. He has now won his four starts by an average margin of almost 6 ½ lengths and his time of 1:21 flat in the Woody Stephens was only two-fifths of a second off the near-stakes record time of his sire Munnings.

If you add last year’s Sprint champion Jackie’s Warrior’s five-length victory in the True North in 1:15 flat for the 6 ½ furlongs, three-fifths off the track record, I doubt we have seen three more brilliant performances in one weekend in a very long time.

A good deal of the talk was about the small fields on Saturday, which, along with Friday, saw mostly four, five, and six-horse fields. Not only were the fields small, but they were dominated by racing’s powerhouse trainers. In the six dirt stakes on Saturday, Todd Pletcher, Steve Asmussen, and Brad Cox not only won grade 1 stakes they trained 50 percent of all the horses entered, with Pletcher alone accounting for 36 percent. In the two non-sprint grass stakes, Chad Brown trained 54 percent of all the horses entered. As we would say in Brooklyn back in the ‘50s, this weekend was not for kids in short pants.

Getting back to the Belmont Stakes, run in a respectable 2:28 1/5, not only did Mo Donegal finish three lengths ahead stablemate Nest, who stumbled at the start and then and was bumped by Rich Strike, costing her valuable early position, Nest was 3 ¼ lengths ahead of third-place finisher Skippylongstocking in a gallant effort and total domination by Pletcher and owner Mike Repole. To have male and female stablemates finish one-two in a major race, and both with the same owner, is something you hardly ever see. Only Citation  defeating fellow Calumet stablemate Bewitch in the 1951 Hollywood Gold Cup immediately comes to mind.

While we’re on the subject of history, I couldn’t help notice how training methods have changed so dramatically over the years. Mo Donegal’s last work before the Belmont was in company with Nest, as both horses breezed an easy half-mile in :49 4/5 seven days before the race. Three other starters worked seven days out, while Rich Strike’s final work was 11 days out. The only horse to work within five days of the Belmont was Creative Minister who had a slow half-mile breze in :50 1/5. Using those work schedules let’s turn the clocks back to 1946 and Assault’s Triple Crown campaign in what is meant merely as a fascinating history lesson and nothing more.

That year there was only one week separating the Derby and Preakness, making for a four-week Triple Crown. After winning the Derby and Preakness, Assault shipped to Belmont and worked four times in six days, culminating with a mile work in 1:43 3/5. Six days before the Belmont he worked a mile and a quarter in 2:05. Three days later he worked a half in :50. The next day, two days before the Belmont, he worked a full mile and a half in 2:32, then won the Belmont by three lengths to sweep the Triple Crown. This was after racing three times in April and working seven times before romping by eight lengths in the Derby. With only one week between the Derby and Preakness he still worked a mile in 1:45 two days before the race. So from April 5 to June 1, less than two months, Assault ran six times, swept the Triple Crown and won the Wood Memorial, and had 17 workouts.

There is no rhyme or reason for deviating onto this path other than to show how much the sport and especially the horses have changed over the years. There is no point to prove or right or wrong. Racing was what it was then and is what it is now. It is just interesting to compare the two different worlds on occasion.

Ironically, Assault’s full-sister Equal Venture would produce Prove Out, who turned in two of the most incredible performances ever seen to upset both Secretariat and Riva Ridge, while also undergoing an exhausting training schedule from trainer Allen Jerkens, who like Assault’s trainer Max Hirsch was strictly old school. More on that story next week, as we celebrate the 60th anniversary of the birth of “The Giant Killer” and how he was able to upset Secretariat twice.

For now let us bid farewell to the 2022 Derby and Triple Crown trails. Because of the inspiring story behind Rich Strike we can only hope his bubble hasn’t burst and that his story doesn’t fade into the abyss of one-hit wonders and fluke upsets. The Belmont Stakes is not the race to decide his legacy, especially when you had a jockey and trainer who basically were strangers to this unique and often demoralizing racetrack and were unfamiliar with how to attack it.

Of the 20 horses in the Derby, only three made it to the Belmont, with one winning and two never being a factor. We had the Derby winner skip the Preakness and the Preakness winner skip the Belmont. So we now move into the summer racing season with the hope that the Haskell and Travers will sort out this perplexing crop of 3-year-olds. It has been an interesting journey since January. I hope you all enjoyed the ride.

Photos courtesy of New York Racing Assoication/Coglianese Photos

Gold and Silver Anniversary of ’97 Belmont Stakes

Monday, June 6th, 2022

On the 25th anniversary of the Touch Gold — Silver Charm Belmont Stakes, it is time to get nostalgic and recall my personal interest in that historic race and how the journalist and racing fan in me clashed and left part of me ecstatic and another part sad following the race, which is what happens when you’re rooting for two horses. This was the rebirth of the Belmont following seven down years and would launch the race to new heights.over the next two decades. ~ Steve Haskin

Gold and Silver Anniversary of ’97 Belmont Stakes

By Steve Haskin

Silver Charm and Touch Gold photos courtesy of Old Friends

 

Even the most objective journalist has moments when personal feelings take precedence over objectivity. Racing is a sport often fueled by emotion because of the passion inspired by its athletes. Sometimes circumstances bring us close to some of those athletes and we can’t help bonding with them.

I, like all racing fans, have my all-time favorite horses, especially those who first grabbed hold of me 55 years ago and pulled me into this magical world that would change my life.

But as a professional you eventually train yourself to write about the sport and the horses with an open mind. That is until circumstances force those personal feelings to once again emerge. There was one time during my career when they not only emerged but collided. How do you deal with having two strong rooting interests in the same race?  And with one of them attempting to become the first Triple Crown winner in 19 years and trained by racing’s newest rock star to whom you had become very close. The other was strictly about the horse and the unique history I had with him from the time he was a yearling.

I am referring to Silver Charm and Touch Gold, and what better time to tell their stories and my personal connection to both horses than on the 25th anniversary of their thrilling battle in the Belmont Stakes.

Because of the rapid growth in popularity of the Belmont Stakes that reached a crescendo when 120,000 fans jammed into Belmont Park to see Smarty Jones, few take notice of the 70,082 fans who witnessed Silver Charm’s attempt to sweep the Triple Crown in the 1997 Belmont and even fewer can appreciate what a renaissance horse this was and how he and his trainer Bob Baffert reignited the public’s passion for the Triple Crown at a time when racing’s big hero was the older horse Cigar and there was little interest in the Belmont Stakes.

After all, there had not been a horse attempting to sweep the Triple Crown since Sunday Silence in 1989, and after seven uneventful years, the attendance for the Belmont Stakes had plummeted to below 40,000. The jump from 37,171 in 1995 and 40,797 in 1996 to 70,082 one year later was unimaginable at the time and made the Belmont Stakes THE place to be in early June. And it was all because of Bob Baffert and Silver Charm

Following Silver Charm’s victories in the Preakness Stakes, Baffert emerged from the race like a rock star, with fans flocking to the potential Triple Crown winning trainer wherever he went to have him sign anything they could get their hands on, from matchbooks to cocktail napkins.

Because of the Silver Charm/Baffert phenomenon I arranged with Baffert and Tex Sutton Horse Transport to fly commercially down to Louisville the Monday before the Belmont Stakes to watch Silver Charm’s final work and then fly back to New York with the horse.

Several days earlier, while doing a radio show, Baffert, unaware of the floodgates he was opening, invited the public to come to Churchill Downs to watch Silver Charm’s final work before departing for Belmont Park. Churchill Downs now had to contend with a problem they hadn’t counted on. Local television and radio stations announced the invitation, and at 7:30 Tuesday morning, a steady stream of cars began filing into the Churchill Downs parking lot.

Baffert called the work the most important of his life, and it was the crowd he had invited to watch it that almost caused a catastrophe. As Silver Charm turned around at the eighth pole and headed back to begin his work, Baffert told exercise rider/jockey Joe Steiner on the two-way radio, “Don’t let him duck out when he sees that crowd.”

Seconds later, as Silver Charm was galloping by, a horse named Firecrest, walking in the opposite direction, got stirred up when about 2,500 fans erupted in applause. Firecrest shied from the sudden noise and veered right into Silver Charm’s path. Steiner grabbed hold of Silver Charm and swerved sharply to avoid the out-of-control Firecrest, with the two horses merely grazing each other.

With disaster narrowly averted, Silver Charm went about his business and worked five furlongs in 1:01. It was time for Baffert and Silver Charm to leave Camelot and head to New York and the Triple Crown.

After 10 days of being treated like a king by an adoring community, Baffert now found himself face to face with reality as he approached the Tex Sutton Boeing 727 that would take him and Silver Charm to their final battle in their quest for racing’s Triple Crown.

Earlier that morning, just before 6 a.m., Baffert, accompanied by his main client and longtime friend Mike Pegram, arrived at Barn 33, where he had nine horses stabled with trainer April Mayberry. After unloading his luggage from his rented Lincoln Town Car, Baffert said, “I feel like I’m going to camp.”

Baffert said he felt like the weight of Kentucky was on his shoulders, especially after seeing the huge turnout for the previous morning’s work. “I’m looking forward to getting up to New York and getting this thing done and coming back to Kentucky wearing the Triple Crown on my head,” he said.

Silver Charm was loaded on the plane and would be the only passenger, at great cost to Lewis. There among the many empty red stalls was the familiar gray face of Silver Charm digging into his hay rack. Mel Prince, who had worked for Tex Sutton for 34 years, said it was extremely rare to fly only one horse.

From the time Silver Charm boarded the plane to the time he arrived in New York he did not stop munching hay. By the end of the trip he had dug a large hole in the rack and was still pulling out hay with great vigor. All the while, groom Rudy Silva sat in a chair, holding the shank, his eyes fixed on his horse.

“Look at Rudy,” Baffert said. “Is he dedicated or what? He hasn’t left that horse’s side for two months.”

Also accompanying Silver Charm was his hotwalker Eddie Thomas, who, ironically, worked around the last Triple Crown winner Affirmed as a teenager.

“It’s scary how this horse has gotten stronger and kept his flesh,” Thomas said. “Usually, they back up, but he drank three buckets of water after the Derby and only a half to three-quarters of a bucket after the Preakness.”

As the plane made its descent, Baffert, who had been suffering with his allergies throughout the flight, said all he wanted to do was get Charm settled in, go to the hotel, turn off the phone, and go to bed.

The plane touched down at JFK Airport in New York at 8:50 a.m. after the hour and 45-minute flight. Silver Charm was led on the van, and with a police escort leading the way, the van meandered through the streets of Queens into Long Island, as pedestrians quizzically watched the procession.

As the van pulled up near Barn 9 at Belmont, a mass of humanity could be seen gathered in front of the barn. It was the largest assemblage of reporters, photographers, and cameramen I had ever witnessed. They surrounded Silver Charm as he walked from the van to the barn, and before long, Baffert was engulfed by the media. Kentucky was already a memory. There was a Triple Crown to be won.

Yes, I had bonded with Silver Charm. How could I not sharing a plane ride and van ride and being that close to such a magnificent horse on his way to the gates of racing’s pantheon. How could I not root for him and for his trainer, with whom I would write his autobiography two years later? Silver Charm and Bob Baffert were about to make history and I was right there with them all the way.

But that is only half the story.

We have to go back two years to the 1995 Keeneland July yearling sale. Back then, as national correspondent for the Daily Racing Form who covered the Saratoga yearling sale each August, I decided to try something different. I would play buyer, or at least bloodstock agent, and select one yearling from the Keeneland July sale whose pedigree intrigued me and then go to Lexington several weeks before the sale to do a background piece on him. I would then return for the sale and follow his every move right up through his time in the ring. I wrote the first part of the feature for the July 8 issue of the DRF and then part two the Sunday after the sale on July 23.

I figured this would provide readers with an inside look at the life of a sales yearling and what it takes to prepare him for the sale, and the pressures and uncertainty of actually selling him.

After careful scrutiny and studying all the pedigrees, avoiding the obvious high prices and looking for a mid-priced, affordable colt, I settled on Hip No. 65, a son of Deputy Minister, out of the Buckpasser mare, Passing Mood. I loved Buckpasser mares, and this colt had a good blend of speed and stamina, and was a half-brother to Canadian Triple Crown winner With Approval.

The colt was being pinhooked by bloodstock agent John Moynihan, part-owner of Walmac Bloodstock Services with John T.L. Jones, who had purchased him in partnership as a weanling for $180,000 from Hill ‘n’ Dale Sales Agency, owned by brothers John and Glenn Sikura.

Following his sale as a weanling at the Kentucky November mixed sale, the colt was sent to Bedford Farm, a 1,200-acre facility near Paris, Ky., which served s Walmac’s satellite farm. The farm, formerly owned by a French syndicate headed by Francois Boutin, was home to the broodmares, yearlings, and weanlings raised by Walmac for public auction.

For the yearlings, this was a time prior to the July sale for them to prepare for the most important journey of their lives. When I visited the farm in late June with Moynihan to see the Deputy Minister colt and learn about his background, the yearlings had already been prepping for the sale for a month, exercising on a lunging rein in a round pen, jogging for 10 to 15 minutes, then being walked by hand for 30 minutes.

Because “my” colt had been purchased as a weanling and wasn’t raised with the other horses he had been kept in a separate paddock ever since he arrived on the farm.

Farm manager Bobby Miller said this was done because it was difficult introducing him to the pack at such a late date, fearing he would wind up at the bottom of the pecking order and possibly get kicked or injured.

Moynihan said the Deputy Minister colt had always been easy to handle, but had a good deal of energy and was always full of himself. He said, although the goal was to sell him, he was not in a “do or die” situation, and would only sell him if they got a reasonable price. The colt was smallish to average size and was a May 28 foal, which is quite late, so he had a great deal of scope for improvement as he got older and matured physically.

Moynihan was also pinning his hopes on the fact that the colt’s full-sister, Daijin, was undefeated in four starts that year in Canada, racing in the colors of the Sikura brothers. Daijin had won the six-furlong Star Shoot Stakes before capturing the Selene Stakes.

After we arrived at the farm, Miller had the colt brought out. He made a splendid appearance, although nothing flashy. As I stroked his forehead, he cocked his ears and lifted his head, accentuating his well-conformed frame, complete with powerful hindquarters and a near-perfect hind leg (as Moynihan pointed out).

“He’s very correct,” Moynihan said. “He was correct when I bought him and he’s stayed that way throughout. With weanlings you never know if they’re going to stay the same as when you bought them. Of all the horses I looked at in the November sale, I thought he was one of the best physical specimens and the best pedigreed colt in the sale.”

I was happy to hear that an experienced bloodstock agent had seen the same promise in his pedigree as I had.

When they first bought him, the feeling was that he was extremely small, but they felt he had done a world of growing since the purchase. One of the reasons they went after him was his value as a stallion prospect. They didn’t buy him specifically to resell, but they were certainly prepared to if he brought what they felt he was worth.

Miller said several prospective buyers had already been at the farm to see the colt, and he expected to have about 15 showings before the sale. Passing Mood had died the previous June, shortly after foaling the Deputy Minister colt, and this was the last chance for buyers to obtain one of her offspring.

The Keeneland Sale

It was now several weeks later, and I was back in Kentucky for the July sale. What I found was a colt totally different than the one I had seen and played with back on the farm. On this particular morning he was a bit more ornery than usual, as the sweltering heat and humidity had buyers and sellers retreating into the air conditioned sales pavilion and buffet lunch in the Keeneland dining room.

Moynihan sat in one of the few shaded areas outside Barn 10, still trying to get a feeling of how this year’s sale was shaping up and how much appeal the Deputy Minister colt was going to have. He said he was afraid to even speculate, because no one was showing their hand on anything so far.

“It’s been feast or famine,” he said. “You either get the money or you don’t get any of it. All you can do is keep your fingers crossed.”

At 10:30 a.m., Frank Stronach, one of the leading owners and breeders in North America, stopped by to inspect the colt, along with his manager Mike Doyle. As the colt kept pulling hard on the lip chain and trying to turn his head, Cherise Gasper, head of sales for Walmac, explained to Stronach and Doyle that he has a habit of trying to bite the handler.

“He’s a nice kind of horse, though,” Doyle said nonchalantly, not wanting to tip his hand in any way.

Later that morning, the colt was given a heart scan, which measures the heart size and the intake of blood and oxygen. He was rated a “4,” which Moynihan said was “as good as it gets.”

That night, Hip No. 65 was the fourth horse scheduled to sell in the Monday night session. At 7:50 p.m., Greg Partain of Walmac was given instructions to bring the colt out and walk him prior to the sale.. As the colt was given a last-minute grooming outside his stall, he continuously tried to bite his handler.

“He can really get on your nerves,” Partain said. “But he’ll get over this when he gets older. Right now, he’s like a little kid who wants to play. But he’s been a real trouper. He’s been out hundreds of times and he’s stood up very well. When we first got him as a weanling he was just a little thing, but he’s really grown up. When John first bought the colt, people gave him a hard time because he was so small.”

The colt then was walked around near the back of the pavilion, where buyers could get one final look. Among those watching him closely were Stronach and Doyle. As they walked into the pavilion, Gasper gave Doyle some final words of encouragement and wished him luck.

I watched the sale on the TV monitor behind the pavilion. When the gavel fell, Stronach had bought the colt for $375,000, giving Moynihan a 100-percent profit on his initial investment.

Following the sale, I went to Stronach and asked him what he liked about the colt and what the plans were.

“He’s a little immature, but he’s a good-looking colt and I liked the whole family,” he said. “He’s a late May foal and we’re not going to hurry him. We’ll send him to our farm here (Adena Springs in Versailles) where he’ll be broken.”

Doyle added that the colt would then be evaluated along with the rest of Stronach’s young horses, and at that time a decision would be made where he’ll be sent.

“Letting him grow is probably the most important thing right now,” Doyle said.

Moynihan then stopped to congratulate Stronach. “You’ve got a really nice horse,” he said. “I’m glad you got him.”

Moynihan said he was thrilled with the price, feeling anything over $300,000 in the current market was a gift.

“I have mixed emotions about selling him,” he said. “I really believe he’s going to be a very good horse, but at the same time you have to take a profit when it’s there, and when you make a 100-percent profit it’s not a bad deal, especially when you’re buying at that level.”

Following his career

Naturally, I followed the colt closely, feeling as if I, in some way, had a vested interest in him, having picked him out and gotten to know him on a personal level.

Fast forward to June 1997. As lead writer for DRF covering the Belmont Stakes, I like most everyone was all prepared to witness the first Triple Crown sweep in 19 years after Silver Charm gamely captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes. So, here I was at Belmont ready to witness history being made by a horse to whom I had become extremely close and writing about it. But there was a slight twist. Actually it wasn’t slight at all. One of the colts out to stop Silver Charm was my little Deputy Minister yearling, now named Touch Gold.

I had followed him as he demolished the speedy and classy Smoke Glacken by 8 1/2 lengths in Keeneland’s Lexington Stakes under Gary Stevens. There was brief talk about running him back in the Kentucky Derby, and when it was decided he wasn’t ready, the happiest person was Stevens, who was also the regular rider of Silver Charm. Stevens knew how good Touch Gold was and wanted no part of running against him in the Derby.

To this day, many believe Touch Gold was the best horse in the Preakness after he nearly went down at the start, his nose actually kicking up a cloud of dirt. How he stayed on his feet was truly remarkable. Then after dropping to the back of the pack, he got stopped three times in the race, including twice in the stretch when Free House came in and forced Chris McCarron to take up sharply, almost going into the rail. Despite all that, Touch Gold still was able to finish fourth, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths. His performance was even more remarkable when it was discovered he had grabbed his quarter severely, suffering a nasty quarter crack.

At Belmont Park, I watched each day as quarter crack specialist Ian McKinlay worked feverishly on the foot, trying to get Touch Gold to the Belmont Stakes. McKinlay said it was the worst quarter crack he had ever seen, with 2 1/2 inches of colt’s hoof having been ripped off, exposing raw flesh. The laminae had been exposed and McKinlay had to toughen up the tissue so an artificial acrylic wall could be put on. After 10 days of down time for the healing process to be completed, the horse needed to be able to train and the quarter crack had to be stabilized. Once the hoof got tough enough, McKinlay would wire it all together before the race.

“It’s not the patch that’s going to get him to the Belmont; it’s his toughness,” McKinlay said. “This horse is a monster. He’s so smart that when he wants to get away from you he’ll just drop down to his knees. He knows every trick in the book and you have to keep him busy with carrots.”

We all know what happened. Touch Gold set the early pace, dropped back to fourth, and somehow swung to the outside and ran down Silver Charm to deny the colt the Triple Crown, winning by three-quarters of a length, much to shock of Gary Stevens, who thought Touch Gold was finished after being passed by three horses down the backstretch.

When Stronach ran into Bob Lewis after the race he said, “In a way I’m sorry.”

Lewis reassured him. “No, don’t feel that way at all. It was a wonderful day for racing. It just shows what a tough job it is to win this. Someone has to run second, and we had a couple of wins. You’re a champion in every way.”

At the barn, Trudy McCaffery, co-owner of third-place finisher Free House, came over to congratulate fellow Californian Hofmans and to see how Touch Gold was doing. As she lavished affection on the colt, the tears began to flow, just as they did after seeing her own horse and recognizing the gallant effort he put in. She had nothing but praise and admiration for Touch Gold and what he had to endure.

A short while later, McKinlay showed up to check on the damage. He began by sanding and filing the hoof and then removed the patch with a drill. What he saw convinced him even more what a tough horse Touch Gold was.

“What we healed up he’s basically peeled right off,” he said. “It’s raw under there now. The tissue that we got tough enough to hold the glue, he jarred and busted it loose. He’s a very tough horse, believe me. He’s got so much heart. This is an amazing horse.”

An amazing horse. He was talking about my horse…well, sort of. There I’d been standing in the winner’s circle, trying to look as solemn as possible, along with most everyone else, while on the inside I was feeling as proud as a parent who had just seen their child accomplish something special. I could only think back to when Touch Gold was nothing more than a page in a sales catalog and a nondescript-looking yearling on the farm, and now he’s winning the Belmont Stakes and thwarting the Triple Crown attempt of one of the most popular horses in recent years.

No he wasn’t mine and I didn’t risk any money to buy him as a weanling as Moynihan did. But at least for a brief moment I got to experience what it would feel like if I had.

It is now 25 years later and Silver Charm and Touch Gold are in neighboring paddocks at Old Friends, living out their final years. I still feel as close to them now as I did back then.

Please be sure to view our Silver Charm link featuring original items from the Bob and Beverly Lewis Estate that will be available for purchase or auction.

Nest Hatches New Plot to Steal Belmont For the Girls

Monday, May 30th, 2022

Although no official decision has been made yet regarding Nest’s status in the Belmont Stakes, all signs appear to suggest she will join stablemate Mo Donegal in an attempt to accomplish something even Rags to Riches didn’t do, which is to defeat the Kentucky Derby winner in the Test of the Champions. ~ Steve Haskin

Nest Hatches New Plot to Steal Belmont For the Girls

By Steve Haskin

Photo courtesy of Ryan Coady

 

It was 15 years ago when Rags to Riches became the first filly in 102 years to win the Belmont Stakes and only the third in the history of the race. Could Nest duplicate that feat if her connections decide to run? Obviously we don’t know how she stacks up against these colts, but we do know the remarkable similarities between her and Rags to Riches, and the ironic fact that Nest is a daughter of Curlin, who was beaten a head by Rags to Riches in the Belmont.

Nest’s sire, Curlin, is out of a Deputy Minister mare.
Rags to Riches is out of a Deputy Minister mare.

Nest has Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew in her 3rd and 4th generation.
Rags to Riches has Triple Crown winners Secretariat and Seattle Slew in her 2nd and 3rd generation.

Nest is out of an A.P. Indy mare.
Rags to Riches is by A.P. Indy.

Nest’s female family is from the Bold Ruler line through his son Boldnesian.
Rags to Riches’ male family is from the Bold Ruler line through his son Boldnesian.

Nest’s tail-female family traces to Alibhai though Your Hostess, granddam of Majestic Prince, winner of the first two legs of the Triple Crown.
Rags to Riches’ tail-female family traces to Alibhai through Traffic Judge, winner of the first two legs of the Handicap Triple Crown.

Nest would go into the Belmont Stakes off four career victories.
Rags to Riches went into the Belmont Stakes off four career victories.

Nest is coming into the race off the Kentucky Oaks, in which she ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 4/5.
Rags to Riches came into the race off the Kentucky Oaks, in which she ran the 1 1/8 miles in 1:49 4/5.

Nest’s Dosage Index is 3.00.
Rags to Riches’ Dosage Index is 3.00.

Nest won the Ashland Stakes before running in the Kentucky Oaks.
Rags to Riches’ second dam Blush With Pride won the Ashland Stakes before running in the Kentucky Oaks.

And of course, Nest is trained by Todd Pletcher.
Rags to Riches was trained by Todd Pletcher.

As for Nest’s stamina credentials, three of her four great-grandsires sired a Belmont Stakes winner and the other sired a Kentucky Derby winner. Her sire and broodmare sire both won the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Three of the last five fillies to run in the Belmont Stakes have finished first (Rags to Riches), second (Genuine Risk), and third (My Flag). Many believe Genuine Risk would have won had she not been stuck down on the rail in the mud most of the race and between horses with nowhere to go and forced to make an early move.

Looking at her second-place finish in the Kentucky Oaks, she broke a bit flat-footed and fell back before getting to the rail and making an early move down the backstretch from eighth, about eight lengths off the pace, to third, two lengths back. But the two leaders were directly in front of her and Irad Ortiz had to sit and wait while Secret Oath made a sweeping move to take the lead and open up by two lengths. When Nest finally swung wide, losing ground, and got clear, Secret Oath was still clear and in complete control. Nest continued to close well and seemed to be getting stronger the farther she went.

So, will Nest give it a go? Can she beat these colts and join Rags to Riches in the history books? Stay tuned.

2022 Preakness Stakes Follow-up

Tuesday, May 24th, 2022

So, the Derby winner doesn’t run in the Preakness and the Preakness winner isn’t running in the Belmont. That’s it, the Triple Crown is doomed. Look, things happen every year, but we’ll get into that later in the column. But first let’s look at whatever story there is about the Preakness winner and who really were the dominant figures in the second leg of the Triple Crown. ~ Steve Haskin

2022 Preakness Stakes Follow-up

By Steve Haskin

Photo courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club

No Hanging Chads in Early Voting

And so another colt punches his ticket on the 3-year-old championship ballot. Let’s be honest, though, there isn’t much in the way of a human interest back story when it comes to Early Voting, who had a pretty easy time of it in the Preakness after the two favorites, Epicenter and Secret Oath, got squeezed back to next to last and last, respectively, leaving Early Voting with the simple task of putting away Armagnac, the longest shot in the field, and being unopposed the rest of the way on a track that was pretty much favoring speed all day. Adding to the lack of opposition was Simplification bleeding and dropping out of it after being in excellent position down the backstretch.

To his credit, however, he was able to rattle off fractions of :23, :23 4/5, :24, and 18 4/5 and no top-class horse is going to be easy to catch closing in under :19 off those fractions. But if Epicenter had been ridden a bit more aggressively early to get good position he wouldn’t have been in the position to get squeezed back. So once again we have to praise Epicenter in defeat, making up two lengths in the final furlong. It’s been a very frustrating Derby and Preakness for his connections to see him run two huge races only to finish second each time, being the victim of a too fast a pace in the Derby and too slow a pace in the Preakness that was not contentious at all.

Early Voting no doubt is a very talented horse who first made a big impression in the Withers Stakes over a very deep and slow track. His immediate story goes back to 2013 when Three Chimneys Farm, looking for potential well-bred broodmares, spent $1,750,000 to purchase a Tiznow yearling half-sister to champion sprinter and top sire Speightstown and full-sister to $1.6 million earner Irap.

Named Amour d’Ete, they tried to get her to the races, but she developed a corneal ulcer in her left eye in October of 2014 of her 2-year-old year. With her losing a lot of time and having some growth and maturity issues it was decided to retire her early the following year. She did give birth her first year, but her daughter by Distorted Humor won only one of five starts. When she was barren the second year in foal to Super Saver, Three Chimneys decided to test the market and put her in the Keeneland November mixed sale. But her market value proved less than what Three Chimneys valued her at, so they bought her back for $725,000 and bred her back to Super Saver the following year, but the resulting foal, another filly, managed to win only once in nine starts, with eight unplacings.

In 2019, she was ready to drop a colt by Gun Runner, but in the last 30 days of her gestation she came down with a tendon sheath infection that forced her to be hospitalized. The infection had to be drained and she had to be treated with heavy doses of antibiotics. She returned to Three Chimneys on Feb. 24, and 11 days later on March 7 she gave birth to her Gun Runner foal, a colt later to be named Early Voting.

The colt weighed in at 120 pounds, which was five to seven pounds below the average weight at the farm. But when he was weighed as a yearling he was 175 pounds, which was about 12 percent above the average weight and he stood 15 hands, two inches, which was slightly above average. He was very athletic at a young age with no major issues, but was considered more muscular and compact than the typical Gun Runners, who are more long and lean and looked more like stayers. Three Chimneys sells a number of yearlings each year, and being from the first crop of their own stallion Gun Runner they targeted him for the Keeneland September sale. When they saw that they had valued him more than he was going to sell for they lowered his reserve, based on level of interest and who they had bought and sold already, and were willing to sell him for $200,000.

Turned over to Chad Brown, Early Voting always trained well, had a “great eye” according to Brown, but was tough around the starting gate. He made his debut on December 18, his trainer’s birthday, and began “improving rapidly.” Right from the beginning, following his victory in the Withers Stakes in only his second career start, Brown said “it would be great to do the Wood Memorial and Preakness, which he thought was “more practical” than rushing him into the Derby.

Even having sold the eventual Preakness winner, all is great at Three Chimneys.  They still have the mare, her two daughters and all their future offspring, and of course they have Gun Runner, who now has sired an amazing five Grade 1 winners from his first crop, including a Preakness winner and the Santa Anita and Arkansas Derby winners, as well as last year’s 2-year-old filly champion and the Hopeful winner.

I remember seeing Gun Runner returning following his victory in the Whitney with a horseshoe that was thrown during the race somehow entwined in his tail. No one had any idea how something as heavy as a horseshoe could become knotted up in a horse’s tail during a race. Trainer Steve Asmussen kept the shoe, which turned out to be a lucky horseshoe for Gun Runner. But Gun Runner’s good luck in the Preakness turned into bad luck for Asmussen, who was beaten by Gun Runner’s son. Sometimes luck can be awfully fickle.

The Real Stars of the Preakness

No, the real stars of the Preakness were not Early Voting or Chad Brown or Jose Ortiz. The real stars have been dead for several years. John Nerud Is one of the true geniuses the sport has ever seen, and from that genius came super stud Fappiano, the Nerud homebred who paid for his owner’s Long Island estate. The Preakness is all about both these iconic figures, and it’s not even close.

We’ll start by blowing your mind. In the pedigrees of the first five finishers of the Preakness, horses bred by Nerud either for himself or for Tartan Farm and horses purchased by Nerud appear a total of 85 times. Fappiano’s name appears in the first five finishers and in five of the first six finishers, with the victorious Early Voting and fourth-place finisher Secret Oath being inbred to Fappiano, whose male line includes Unbridled (bred by Nerud), Unbridled’s Song, Candy Ride, Empire Maker, and Quiet American.

Fappiano’s broodmare sire, the immortal Dr. Fager, who Nerud bred for Tartan Farm and trained, appears a total of 12 times in the names of the first six finishers of the Preakness, with his half-sister and fellow Hall of Famer Ta Wee appearing in the names of three of the first six finishers. That means their dam, Aspidistra, appears 15 times.

To further demonstrate the impact of Nerud, Dr. Fager, and Fappiano on the breed, his two homebreds appear in the pedigrees of classic winners American Pharoah, Grindstone, Real Quiet, Empire Maker, Orb, Mine That Bird, Birdstone, Rachel Alexandra, Nyquist, Shackleford, Tonalist, Always Dreaming, Tapwrit, Creator, Cloud Computing, War of Will, Tiz the Law, Mandaloun, Rombauer, Essential Quality, and Early Voting, with the Nerud-bred Ogygian in the pedigree of Justify, giving Nerud a part in two Triple Crown winners. Ogygian also is in the pedigree of Preakness winner Swiss Skydiver, while Ta Wee is in the pedigree of Derby wnner Giacomo. In addition, the Nerud owned and bred Cozzene is in the pedigree of California Chrome. So you can find Nerud’s influence in the pedigrees of 11 Kentucky Derby winners, 11 Preakness winners, including the last six, and nine Belmont winners. Looking outside the classics, Dr. Fager and Fappiano appear in the pedigrees of Arrogate, Holy Bull, Gun Runner, Game On Dude, Will Take Charge, Catholic Boy, and Frosted. And finally, Fappiano is in the pedigree of the great stallion Tapit and all the stakes winners he has sired.

As a side note, no one could spot a stallion prospect like Nerud. When he was looking for a young stallion to breed to his Dr. Fager mare Killaloe he turned to Butch Savin, who had a young unproven stallion in Florida named Mr. Prospector, who Nerud remembered because of his blazing speed.

He decided he was the perfect match for Killaloe, but she had a late foal that year and it was already June. Savin did not want Mr. Prospector having any May foals and turned Nerud down.

But in typical Nerud fashion, he told Savin, “Butch, you’re so rich you don’t want to take my money? Look out the window and tell me what the hell Mr. Prospector is doing now.” Savin said, “Nothing,” to which Nerud replied, “Well, neither is my mare. Let me worry about having a May foal.” Savin finally agreed, and Nerud bred Killaloe to Mr. Prospector and got Fappiano.

Just think of racing today without the influence of John Nerud, the unquestionable star of Preakness 2022.

Time For Another Five-Week Freak

So the Derby winner is skipping the Preakness; time to panic again. Let’s settle down; almost everyone believes Rich Strike would have had little or no shot in the Preakness. His Thoro-Graph numbers, with a gigantic jump from a less than mediocre“9 ¾” to a “1 ½ ,” indicated a huge “bounce.” And there wasn’t going to be any blistering pace to set it up for him, especially on a speed-favoring track. Trainer Eric Reed said after the Derby that the plan was to go to New York for the Peter Pan if he didn’t get into the race. So he wasn’t too crazy about running in the Preakness anyway.

I am tired of hearing about horses being forced to come back in two weeks; it’s not enough time. In the 19-year span from 2001 to 2019, 17 Preakness winners had no trouble coming back and winning two weeks later. The two that didn’t were when Derby winners Barbaro and Always Dreaming were stopped by serious injury and a lesser physical problem. Yes, the last three Preakness winners did not run in the Derby, but the 2020 Triple Crown was a farce due to Covid changes and really doesn’t count with the Derby being run in September and the Preakness in October. And in 2021 the second- and third-place finishers of the Preakness came out of the Derby and in 2022 the runner-up came out of the Derby.

The truth is, this is not about the horse and whether the two weeks will hurt him; it is about the trainers, who are much more conservative today and just are not comfortable running a horse back in two weeks, regardless of what the facts have shown this century.

I respect all opinions on this, for each person has his or her own feelings on this matter. If you want the Triple Crown races to be run the first Saturdays in May, June, and July so be it. I’m not here to change your mind. But let’s look beyond the horses and the trainers. What really separates the Triple Crown from all other races is its ability to attract the general public, most of whom have either a casual interest or no interest in the sport. It is just the place to be, and to many the ultimate party where they can place a bet and boast about picking the winner. So my question is this: do you have any idea what the attention span is of the general public? Does anyone really believe they are going to maintain their interest in the Triple Crown over a two-month period, spilling over into July and the holiday weekend when thoughts are now of family picnics, vacations, and trips to the beach or the nearest lake? Racing fans are already planning their trips to Saratoga and many New Yorkers and New Jerseyites are looking ahead to the Haskell Invitational, which will suffer greatly being crammed tightly between the Belmont and Travers.  And so will the Belmont, as few if any trainers will want to come back and run in the Travers dropping back from a mile and a half without a shorter prep and not giving their horse some down time between the spring and summer season, which they would with the Belmont remaining the first Saturday in June.

From a TV standpoint, remember, Fox is now televising the Belmont and they are going to make sure the race is run when it suits them best. And you can be sure they are going to want interest in the final leg of the Triple Crown to carry over from the Derby and Preakness and not stand as an island in July trying to generate interest from the Derby run two months earlier.

And finally, more horses get hurt training than in a race. The Derby horses are still on an adrenaline high coming off the Derby, which is why they run so well in the Preakness. Imagine a horse winning the Derby and Preakness in May and June and then getting hurt training or in his stall or coming down with a fever the week of the Belmont. “Oh, if only the Belmont had been run in June, I would have had a Triple Crown winner.” You know it’s going to work both ways.

Anyway, just some thoughts to ponder before we start tinkering with something that might not need tinkering with after all.

Steve Haskin’s 2022 Preakness Stakes Analysis

Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

The Preakness lost its headliner when Derby winner Rich Strike backed out, but we still get a good matchup between Derby runner-up Epicenter, who most believe ran the best race of anyone, and the exciting filly Secret Oath, who has that big turn of foot. Here is something resembling an analysis of the race and how it shapes up. ~ Steve Haskin

Steve Haskin’s 2022 Preakness Stakes Analysis

By Steve Haskin

 

Before we get into the Preakness,  a few things you should know about the Derby. Rich Strike went into the race off a pedestrian “9 3/4” Thoro-Graph  number, with his fastest career number being a “9.” That slow a number spells automatic throwout. By comparison,  Taiba went in off a “negative-1/2” and White Abarrio a “1.” But lo and behold on the biggest day of his life he somehow rocketed to a “1 1/2 ” Considering his trainer said after the race the plan was to go to the Peter Pan and the Belmont if he didn’t get in the Derby and his owner said five days later the plan was to go to the Preakness if he didn’t get in the Derby, could it be they saw a massive “bounce” coming and decided that the Preakness would send them crashing back to earth from their high perch on cloud nine? This way they get to live the dream for another five weeks. Otherwise, why the contradiction and why announce the defection five days after the race? Food for thought.

Now looking at how big a race Epicenter ran in the Derby and why he will be a solid favorite in the Preakness, horses within eight lengths of the brutal :45 1/5 half were beaten 10 lengths, 15 3/4 lengths, 17 3/4, 18 3/4, 19 1/4, 20, 28, 42 3/4, 57, and 64 1/2 lengths. Epicenter and Zandon, who were 5 1/4 and 7 1/2 lengths back, respectively, were beaten three-quarters of a length and 1 1/2 lengths, respectively. Zandon, as reported, will not run in the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Considering Epicenter ran basically the same Thoro-Graph number in the Kentucky Derby as he did in the Louisiana Derby and Risen Star Stakes and was coming off a six-week layoff going into the Kentucky Derby there is no reason to believe he will regress coming back in two weeks. With his versatility and tactical speed he should get a great position sitting right off likely pacesetter Early Voting, who will be a fresh horse coming off his big effort in the Wood Memorial.

Even though you have a classy confirmed frontrunner in Early Voting the pace scenario is still very much in the air. We know that another Baffert/Yakteen invader Armagnac has good early speed but has yet to demonstrate his class and we don’t know how huge longshot Fenwick is going to do but he’s only shown speed once and that was a moderate pace in a Tampa allowance race. But the key horse could be Simplication, a horse of many faces, who will be breaking from the rail under new rider, the crafty John Velazquez. We know Simplification has the early speed to go for the lead from the inside post. But we also know he is effective coming from midpack or even far back, as he was in the Derby, coming from 15th to finish fourth. So that adds to the confusion.

Epicenter as we know has early speed but now has become a stalker who rated beautifully in the Derby some five lengths off that brutal pace. Breaking from post 8 he has all the speed inside him, which is just what you want. But he still has to break well and make sure he doesn’t get caught too wide on the first turn.

So the bottom line is it is difficult to predict who will be where going into the turn. We do know that Secret Oath and the vastly improving Creative Minister will be the main threats coming from farther back and will be dependent on a fast or at least contentious pace.

Thoro-Graph numbers or any other speed figures sure didn’t do any good in the Derby and I’m not sure they will do any good in the Preakness. One to watch, however, is Creative Minister who has gone from a “9” to a “6 1/2” to a “2,” which was actually faster than Epicenter’s “2 1/4” in the Derby and Simplification’s “2 1/2.” His Beyer figures also have made significant improvement with each race, so this is a horse who definitely is on the rise and who has shown a powerful closing kick in all his races.

Imagine if Kenny McPeek, who had three strong Derby candidates early in the year, wins the Preakness with a different horse that no one heard of until his recent allowance victory.

If you want to know about Secret Oath, she ran a “2” in the Kentucky Oaks, which puts her right there with the leading Preakness horses. But she actually has run faster this year, so her best can certainly win this race.

Remember,  as strong as Epicenter looks his Thoro-Graph numbers have not improved since the Risen Star Stakes, nor has Simplification’s in his his last five starts. But it doesn’t look as if it’s going to take a fast number to win the Preakness.

There doesn’t seem to be many betting possibilities in this nine-horse field. Epicenter will be the clear-cut favorite and if he can avoid getting hung wide on the first turn he has the perfect running style to win this race, but obviously can only be played in the exotics and even then you’re not likely to make much money, especially if you play him over Secret Oath and Early Voting.

You can play all three over Creative Minister and Simplification to try for a decent return on your money and play Creative Minister and Simplification to win. You can add Skippylongstocking underneath as well if you believe the Wood Memorial was legit. Again, don’t be too surprised if Creative Minister gets bet down. Simplification could turn out to be the best overlay possibility.

Nothing clever here. The focus is on Epicenter vs. Secret Oath, so let’s hope both get good trips and run their “A” race.

A victory by Epicenter would set up an interesting rematch between him and Rich Strike in the Belmont Stakes along with the exciting fresh face We the People, a runaway winner of the Peter Pan Stakes. But let’s get through this one first.

 

A Young Intern and a Small-Time Buyer Become Part of History

Friday, May 13th, 2022

In horse racing, you never know who you are going to encounter and what effect they will have on your life. What may seem like a brief insignificant moment during the course of one’s life can prove to be far more meaningful years later. Amy Walters and Tommy Wente learned that when they least expected it. Here is their story and how it led to the family history of one special racehorse. ~ Steve Haskin

A Young Intern and a Small-Time Buyer Become Part of History

By Steve Haskin

Gold Strike photo courtesy of Tracey Caudill, Watershed Farm

One of the most fascinating aspects of Thoroughbred racing is the unexpected, and that does not apply only on the racetrack. Sometimes names and faces long forgotten appear years later in the most unexpected places.

Amy Walters was majoring in Horse Production at the Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute from March to May of 1983 when she did her internship at Glade Valley Farms near Frederick, Maryland. Once one of the country’s great breeding establishments, where the nation’s leading sire Challenger II stood and where his son, two-time Horse of the Year of 1939 and ’40 Challedon was born, Glade Valley finally shut down after nearly 100 years following the death of its most current owner Howard M. Bender. The farm’s original co-owner William Brann also owned the legendary filly Gallorette as part of a foal sharing agreement with Preston Burch.

Walters’ job was mainly to assist in caring for Glade Valley’s client mares and foals — mucking stalls, feeding, holding mares and foals for vet work, and taking mares to the breeding shed.

“I was glad to work in that barn, rather than with the farm mares, because of the greater variety of foals sired by outside stallions,” Walters said. “They were mostly boarders for the breeding season, but we also dealt with the wet and dry mares that shipped in to be bred and shipped right out within an hour.”

Walters’ favorite task was working with that year’s barren mares. Two she remembered the most were half-sisters Apple Pan Dowdy, who was 16, and the 15-year-old La Belle Alliance, both of who whom were booked to the farm’s stallion Rollicking. Amy became fond of both mares because of how attached they were to each other.

“All the barren mares stayed in this one pasture 24 hours a day, every day,” she recalled. “When either Apple Pan Dowdy or La Belle Alliance was taken out of the field and led up to the breeding shed for instance, she’d only be gone for about 15 minutes, but even so their reunion would always be like something out of a movie. The mare left behind would  be grazing with the rest of the mares in this huge field. As soon as she’d spot her half-sister being led back up the lane from the breeding shed, she’d come racing over to the gate, whinnying her lungs out, then the two would gallop off together to rejoin the group, bucking and whinnying as if they’d never been so happy. It was even more impressive because they weren’t young mares. These cute reunion scenes played out every single time one of these two was taken out of the field and was always very touching.”

Apple Pan Dowdy was a daughter of Bold Commander, out of the Cosmic Bomb mare Apple Bomb, and had been unplaced in all her three lifetime starts. From 1974 to 1982 she had produced only three foals to race, with none of them earning more than $62,000. Barren in 1983, she was sent to Glade Valley to be bred to one of the top Maryland stallions Rollicking.

Apple Pan Dowdy’s Rollicking foal the following year would win seven of her 49 starts, but of her only two subsequent foals, one earned only $5,578 and the other was unplaced in her only start.

Apple Pan Dowdy had accomplished little as a racehorse or a broodmare, so it was highly unlikely that Walters or anyone else could envision that she one day would become the great-great granddam of a Kentucky Derby winner.

Five years before being sent to Glade Valley, Apple Pan Dowdy produced a Search for Gold filly named Panning for Gold, who won six of her 20 starts, earning $62,179. No one thought much of Search For Gold, whose biggest earner at the time was Reef Searcher, a $7,000 yearling purchase who won 12 of his 32 starts for earnings of $357,720. A year after Search For Gold was born, his dam Gold Digger produced his full-brother by Raise A Native, later to be named Mr. Prospector.

Panning For Gold, bred in Pennsylvania by Mrs. Charles B. Lyman, won six of her 20 starts, including something called the Tattler Handicap at Greenwood Racetrack in Canada. She showed her versatility by winning from five furlongs to 1 3/16 miles.

Bred to Dixieland Brass, Panning for Gold produced a filly named Brassy Gold, who never made it to the races. All she showed were several workouts at Hastings Park in Vancouver, British Columbia.

This family line sure didn’t show any indication it was headed for Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May.

Brassy Gold would produce only three foals. The first in 2001 was a son by the unknown stallion Ares Vallis named Copper Kid, who ran 23 times, all claiming races, and closed his career in a $3,000 claiming race at Assiniboia Downs. Her third foal in 2003 was a colt named Kestrel, who was by another unknown stallion named Shrike. Kestrel ran four times, all claiming races, winning once and finishing out of the money in his other three starts, closing out his career getting beat 36 lengths in a $10,000 claiming race at Delaware Park.

But her second foal, by the 10-year-old stallion Smart Strike, a son of Search for Gold’s full brother Mr. Prospector, was a filly named Gold Strike, who won four of her nine starts, including the Woodbine Oaks, and was voted champion 3-year-old filly in Canada.

However, after having some success at stud with her son Llanarmon, who won two stakes in Canada, Gold Strike’s 2015 and 2016 foals never made it to the races; her 2017 foal, My Blonde Mary by Calumet stallion Oxbow, ran 29 times, all claiming races, and was claimed in her final start for $5,000 at Tampa Bay Downs; and she was barren in 2018.

In 2019, she produced a colt by another Calumet Farm stallion Keen Ice. Later that year, following three dismal years as a broodmare, Calumet, who had bought Gold Strike in 2015 for $230,000, sold her at the Keeneland November Mixed Sale for a paltry $1,700. As if that weren’t bad enough, they wound up putting her Keen Ice colt, now named Rich Strike, in a $30,000 claiming race following a dismal career debut on the grass and lost him to trainer Eric Reed and owner Rick Dawson.

Do you think Tommy Wente, who bought Gold Strike for $1,700, could have imagined her weanling that year was going to win the Kentucky Derby, and at odds of 80-1?

“It’s crazy, isn’t it; you can’t make this stuff up,” Wente said. “I’m a cheap buyer. My clients and I can’t afford the big prices. I loved this mare, even though I knew she had problems getting in foal since producing her Keen Ice colt. And I knew Calumet Farm wanted to get rid of her as they often do with older mares. I just thought I would take a shot. I bought her for M.C. Roberts, who has a farm in Indiana. He took great care of her, but he couldn’t get her in foal. Finally, he called me and said, ‘I’m done. I’m at my wit’s end.’ I suggested he send her to a specialist to try find out why she couldn’t get in foal, but he kept insisting he was done, so he gave her away to Austin Nicks, who has a farm in Sellersburg, Indiana. A week after he gave her away her son won the Kentucky Derby. I’m telling you, you can’t make this stuff up. What this solidified for me is that no matter how little you spend in this game you have a shot.”

If you don’t feel divine forces were guiding Rich Strike, Wente pointed out that he was stabled in Barn 21, he had post position 21, and he was No. 21 on the earnings list. Now, that’s what you call three straight blackjack hands.

So from a family inundated with cheap claimers over the years, a number of runners from small Canadian tracks, and a mare who was given away a week before her son won the Derby has come one of the great stories of the year and one of the most shocking winners ever of the Kentucky Derby.

For Amy Walters, who had fallen in love with a 16-year-old mare named Apple Pan Dowdy and her sister as a young intern 40 years earlier at Glade Valley Farms and who went on to breed and show Quarter-Horses for 10 years before getting out of the business in 1993 when it became too expensive, she could only recall those days and express her feelings about seeing Apple Pan Dowdy’s great-great grandson win the Kentucky Derby.

“I was watching on TV alone and was in utter shock at the result,” she said. “When Larry Collmus yelled out Rich Strike’s name I recognized instantly he was the colt who had just made it into the field the morning before. I screamed out loud, ‘What the hell?’ Then my cousin texted me and all he said was, ‘Wow, wow, wow!’ Hours after the race I looked up Rich Strike’s pedigree on Pedigeequery.com and I gasped when I saw Apple Pan Dowdy’s name. I was so delighted that a Kentucky Derby winner descends from a mare I worked with so long ago.”

Yes, in racing you never know when you are going to be confronted with something seemingly mundane that eventually will become a part of history. Sometimes it has to weave its way through a morass of  small tracks and cheap claiming races before reaching its place in the history books. This sport is a never ending chain of events, some minor and some major, and you never know where it will lead. Amy Walters and Tommy Wente can now say that for a brief period of time they in their own way had a small piece of history pass through their hands. For Walters, four decades would pass until it came to light on the first Saturday in May.

 Our next column will be a Preakness analysis to be posted next Wednesday. Yes, even without the Derby winner.

Rich Strike Hits the Mother Lode with Improbable Derby Victory

Sunday, May 8th, 2022

Well, the 2022 Kentucky Derby wasn’t what we expected. Most people had no clue who Rich Strike was before the race, but they sure know who he is now and the remarkable story of how this $30,000 claim found his way into the race at the 11th hour. ~ Steve Haskin

Rich Strike Hits the Mother Lode with Improbable Derby Victory

By Steve Haskin

Photo courtesy of Michael Clevenger and Christopher Granger/Courier Journal

Gabriel Lagunes’ alarm clock went off at 4 a.m. By 4:30 he was out of his house in Florence, Kentucky and on the road for the two-hour drive to Churchill Downs. For two weeks the Mexican-born jockey was a on a special assignment. Trainer Eric Reed, for whom Lagunes began riding at Mountaineer Park two years ago and exercised horses for him at Turfway Park, had asked his rider to drive to Churchill Downs every morning to get on Rich Strike, a son of Keen Ice who had run three times over Turfway’s synthetic surface, finishing third in the Leonatus Stakes and Jeff Ruby Steaks and fourth in the John Battaglia Memorial. He hardly seemed like Kentucky Derby material, but he had enough points to at least have him placed at number 24 on the earnings list. And it was obvious the colt, who came from far back in his races, was getting good at the right time, so why not train him at Churchill and see what happens, even though getting him in the race seemed like a longshot.

There was no one Reed wanted on the colt’s back other than Lagunes. Last November at Turfway Park Reed told Lagunes “I need you to work with this horse and take care of him,” so he started exercising the colt and working with him. And boy was he a handful.

“He was kind of goofy, he had his problems and needed a lot of work,” said Lagunes, who was a top jockey in Mexico and once finished second in the rich Clasico del Caribe in Puerto Rico. “He was sore in his back and ankles, he was very green and was mean in the mornings, he was scared of other horses behind him and in front of him, and he didn’t like ponies. He just didn’t want horses close to him. Every morning we would ice him and I would walk him and talk to him and jog him to try to get him to relax. I would gallop him way out in the middle of the track because he was so strong and if I got him close to the rail he would know he was working and would be hard to hold.

“We raced him in blinkers, but he seemed nervous in them so I suggested to Eric that he open up the blinkers and use cheaters because he needed to see everything and that would relax him more.”

Rich Strike had changed quite a bit since he was broken by April Mayberry in Ocala. “He was just one of the boys back then,” she said. “He was young like a teenager and his mind was never really in it. He was always messing around and playing. But he learned and became a very game and confident colt. I’m surprised to hear they had problems with him, but when I had him he was still a baby.”

Reed had claimed Rich Strike from Calumet Farm and trainer Joe Sharp for $30,000 in a race he wound up winning by 17 ¼ lengths. The colt continued to improve and would rally from far back to pick up a piece of the purse in stakes races at Turfway, but after seven races he still had only that one victory.

Reed put Venezuelan-born jockey Sonny Leon on him last December and he taught the colt how to run through horses. After he closed from 11th to finish fourth, beaten three lengths, in the Battaglia, Leon dismounted and told Reed, “We’re there. This is a Derby horse.” He then picked up valuable points finishing third in the Jeff Ruby Steaks, again rallying from 11th at odds of 26-1.

The Kentucky Derby was still in the back of their minds because of his running style, his late closing punch, and how quickly he was improving. When Reed told his daughter Lindsy about their plans to try to get in the Derby she was “amazed and excited,” mostly for her father and mother to have this opportunity. She never thought he would win, but it was exciting just to be able to get there.

Lindsy, who is a top hunter jumper, had taken care of Rich Strike, grooming him, bandaging him, and giving him his medicines, until he left for Churchill Downs. “He was quite full of himself and could be a handful,” she said. “He wasn’t mean, just playful and kind of goofy like a young prankster growing up. He loved to play with his grooms.”

On April 27, Lagunes worked him five furlongs at Churchill Downs and he went in a sharp :59 3/5.

“I could feel he was getting better and better the last few weeks and he was so strong in his work and really happy,” Lagunes said.

But as the Derby got closer the chances of Rich Strike getting in grew slimmer. Reed had someone giving him information every day about the status of the field and he would text him whenever a horse withdrew. There was some hope when he jumped from 24th on the list to 22nd, but after the Lexington Stakes they were back to 24. All they could do now was enter the horse and put him on the also-eligible list, hoping somehow four horses would drop out.

We came here on a prayer,” Reed said. “I told my dad and I told Rick (owner Richard Lawson), the worst thing that could happen to us is to have a call a day or two before the Derby and say you’re going to get in and not be prepared. So we came up to Churchill and we trained against all odds. Nobody thought we could get in. We got a defection, and then we got another one.”

At 8:45 the morning before the Derby Reed was notified that there were no scratches and that they were not going to get in. The security guard was told to leave the barn and Reed texted his dad and simply said, “Didn’t happen.” He texted some of his friends and said, “We didn’t get in. Sorry guys.” He then went in to his crew to tell them in person because he knew they were going to be really let down. “I told them, ‘Guys, look, we didn’t make it, but we were Number 21.’” They were one spot away from experiencing the moment of their lives, but time was desperately running out and it seemed hopeless.

Reed told his crew, “We got to get ready for the Peter Pan next week. And if we run well, we’ll go to the Belmont and show them that we belong.”

“I was trying to keep their spirits up, Reed said. “It didn’t matter how I felt because I have to keep my crew going. And they were really sad.”

Then just before 9 o’clock, Reed’s pony girl Fifi called him and said “Don’t do anything with your horse. Don’t move him.”

Reed had no idea what she was talking about and said, “What do you mean? Calm down.” But she was still excited. “No, you’re getting in,” she said. But Reed still didn’t believe her. “No I’m not. I’ve already been told I’m not. Somebody gave you bad information,” he said.

But Fifi insisted. “I’m telling you I just got notification that Wayne (Lukas) is scratching (Ethereal Road) and you’re going to get in.”

Shortly after, Reed received a call from steward Barbara Borden who said, “This is the steward. Tomorrow in the 12th race, the Kentucky Derby, do you want to draw in off the also eligible?”

“I couldn’t even breathe to answer and say ‘yes,’ Reed said. “I was like, what just happened? I was told no I’m not in, I lost my security guard, and now we’re in.”

Were the Derby gods at work conjuring up this unlikely scenario? Reed had gone through some tough times and nearly left the business. Several years ago he lost 23 horses in a fire at his farm. He told his wife, “We’ve probably lost everything.” But as he said, by the grace of God the wind was blowing in the direction where it prevented the fire from spreading to his other two barns. Then a year ago two of his assistants died of cancer within three months of each other.

Now, just like that, here he was in the Kentucky Derby. Reed never thought he would win, but he knew if he did get in “they’d know who he was when the race was over.”

Going to the paddock Reed was happy to see the colt calm and handling everything like a pro, just as he done all week schooling. When he got to the paddock he was composed and nothing seemed to bother him. But once he got on the track he perked up, yet was still well behaved.

On the tote board he was 80-1, and most everyone had no clue who this horse was, especially getting into the race the day before. Although he had to break from post 20, Leon was able to work out a trip and get him to the rail, where he has always loved to be. On the far turn Reed lost him for a second, then saw him cut to the inside. “That’s when I almost passed out,” he said. “I didn’t remember what happened after that.”

Down the stretch following a blazing fast pace of :21 3/5 and :45 1/5, the favored Epicenter took over the lead as the pacesetters wilted badly from the fast early fractions. Then Zandon came charging at him and it looked like a two-horse battle to the wire. Epicenter dug in and refused to let Zandon get by him and appeared to have the race won. Just then another horse came flying up the rail, eased outside of a tiring Messier, and stormed up alongside the two leaders. Most people had no idea who it was. Even track announcer Travis Stone and NBC racecaller Larry Collmus missed him, not mentioning his name until he came charging by Epicenter and Zandon. He already had his head in front when Collmus shouted “Oh my goodness!”

Even April Mayberry, watching in her living room with her mother, her assistant trainer and several friends, didn’t recognize him. “I saw it was a chestnut and thought it was Taiba” she said. “But then I saw the blinkers and thought ‘You got to be kidding, it’s Rich Strike.’ When he crossed the finish line everyone went so crazy my poor dogs ran out of the house. I thought the neighbors were going to call the police.”

In the paddock, Gabriel Lagunes and his partner Lindsey Matthews watched along with the Reeds. “We were completely shocked,” Lindsey said. “This was not what we were expecting. We were all jumping up and down and there was lots of crying and hugging. It looked like Eric was having a heart attack.”

Lindsy Reed said hugging her father and grandfather was “the greatest moment I will ever remember. We wrapped our arms around each other in total astonishment. I wanted this so much for my dad and mom. It’s been a hard road and they really deserve this. I just wanted him to get in the race for them. I never thought he had a chance to win, but he proved me wrong in the biggest way possible. I was so happy he at least got to run, but he blew us out of the ballpark.”

Owner Richard Dawson said after the race, “What planet is this? I feel like I’ve been propelled somewhere.” He asked Reed, “Are you sure this isn’t a dream?”

All the work and all the anxiety of trying to get in the Derby had paid off in shocking fashion. Rich Strike no longer was that baby whose mind was more interested in “messing around and playing.” He no longer was that “goofy” colt with all the hang-ups who was afraid of other horses.

But it was obvious he still was that the same colt who disliked ponies, as witnessed by his constant attempts to savage the lead pony escorting him to the winner’s circle. Meanwhile, in the grandstand and infield most everyone was savaging their mutual tickets wondering what had just happened.

So we come to the end of another Kentucky Derby journey and a fascinating Derby trail. Somehow the Derby gods worked their miracle, as they have done a number of times in the past. The unlikeliest of heroes, Rich Strike, struck it rich and added a wild new chapter into the annals of the Kentucky Derby. It sure didn’t end like we expected, but that is what the Derby trail and the Derby itself is all about. Always expect the unexpected, because you never know whose dreams are destined to come true. In this case even the dreamers couldn’t imagine they would come true. But in the end, the Derby gods spoke and when they speak the whole world listens.

********

Sixty miles away from Churchill Downs at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement facility, there is a black marble headstone that stands as a reminder of how a horse, a life, a dream, and a feel-good moment can end so abruptly and alter the course of history. It also serves as a stark reminder of how quickly Thoroughbred racing can turn a bright ray of sunshine into a dark ominous cloud.

That headstone, on which is inscribed the name of Medina Spirit with the words “Noble and Cherished Champion,” is all that is left of the legacy of this courageous colt, along with the memory of his gallant victory in last year’s Kentucky Derby.

The powers that be at Churchill Downs can remove his name from their record books and can tear down his sign in the paddock as winner of the 2021 Derby, but they can never remove the image of him turning back challenge after challenge down the stretch, and they can never tear down his reputation or convince anyone that a topical skin ointment helped him in any way win the Derby.

This is not about his positive drug test for a non-performance enhancing medication or how and why it was administered. I understand that rules are rules, but those rules and the colt’s disqualification will never alter my belief that Medina Spirit’s victory was a deserving one, and in my mind he will always be the winner of the 2021 Kentucky Derby, with all due respect to Mandaloun, who also ran a courageous race.

Was Medina Spirit betrayed by human frailty? That is up to each person to decide. What is important one year later is what is in each person’s heart and whether they will remember the name of Medina Spirit based on what transpired in a laboratory or what they witnessed on the racetrack, not only in the Kentucky Derby, but race after race. No one can deny that he gave every ounce of his heart each time he stepped into the starting gate. That is all I will remember of Medina Spirit, whose life and career ended way too soon.

As for Gail Rice and Christy Whitman, the two small-time horsewomen who orchestrated this feel-good, rags-to-riches story and lived out the dream of every horse lover, I only hope that dream and the exultation they experienced haven’t diminished even in the slightest. Their story and the story of Medina Spirit will endure as long as the Derby roses bloom and the Twin Spires pierce the skies above Churchill Downs.

So as we salute Rich Strike as the winner of the 2022 Kentucky Derby we also must remember that black marble headstone 60 miles away and the name of Medina Spirit for what he represents and how he will always be part of Derby lore, not for his disqualification, but for the indomitable spirit that has defined the Thoroughbred for centuries and, despite the ignorance of some, will continue to do so for centuries to come.

The Forgotten Horse Who Nearly Saved The Meadow

Sunday, April 24th, 2022

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

The Forgotten Horse Who Nearly Saved The Meadow

By Steve Haskin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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