I'm not a film buff by any means, my favorite part of watching the
Oscars each year is seeing the video tribute highlights (and hearing
the audience roars) of those who passed away the previous year. Since
I'm a writer that is technically challenged with YouTube video clips,
you'll have to make do with my narrative tribute of our two and
four-legged friends who gave so much of their lives to the sport we
hold dear. Sorry for the length, but I believe that each of these
individuals deserves credit in their own way.
Jackson (81) tried to turn the thoroughbred industry upside down,
much like he did with American wine vintners. Mr. Jackson was a
lightning rod who was sometimes criticized for gobbling up young
talent with endless streams of cash, but ultimately will be
remembered for bringing constructive changes in the auction markets
and fighting for owner rights. After seeing a disturbing trend of
lack of class and respect for others exhibited by new “get rich
quick” owners (i.e. Ivarone, Repole), I find myself already missing
the graceful demeanor of the man under the fedora. Of course, Jess
will primarily be remembered for campaigning three consecutive Horse
of the Year recipients and two of the greatest of our generation in
Curlin and Rachel Alexandra. Speaking of which, they will be
bringing life of their own into this world in the coming spring in
the form of a thoroughbred foal.
Evans (68) was fully reaping the benefits of his prized broodmare
band operation through Quality Road when he departed the earth. A
six time breeder of the year in Virginia through his Spring Hill
Farm, Mr. Evans was breeder of record of more than 100 stakes
winners, including 2005 Horse of Year Saint Liam - proud papa to
this year’s likely HOY in Havre de Grace. Susan Salmon Donaldson
(77) completes the trifecta of A-list owners/breeders to pass away in
2011, not necessarily for her breeding exploits but for keeping the
family Mereworth Farm (170 stakes winners) going strong into its
third generation and for her unceasing charity. Through a foundation
sire, Discovery - as broodmare sire, Mereworth Farm is responsible
for two of the most influential sires of North America, Native Dancer
and Bold Ruler. Then through Grade I winner Palace Music we were
pleased to meet horse of the 1990’s and two-time Horse of the Year,
Cigar. But what is most impressive to me is how Ms. Salmon created a
Foundation to keep much of the 1,200 acre farm intact for unwanted
animals to call home… what a legacy!
Cornacchia (78) struck it rich making board games and parlayed that
success to hit Yahtzee with Derby winners Strike the Gold (23) and Go
for Gin. Carl Lizza (73) was a multiple leading owner at NYRA tracks
under his stable moniker Flying Zee Stables. Gene Fleming (85) was
the big dog in Arizona racing with 12 stakes winners and 2009
Juvenile filly champion Lonesome Creek. Mace Siegel (86) was a
founding member of the Thoroughbred Owners of California and more
impressively met his wife Jan on a blind date at Aqueduct Park in
1962. Now that's a marriage made in heaven!
have two deaths in the "win one for the gipper" category,
most notably Prince Saud bin Khaled (72), who bred and raced
Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic winner (and subsequent $8.5 million
Keeneland sales topper) Royal Delta under stable name Palisades
Investments. Honorable mention goes to Terrence Lanni (68), a Del Mar
executive and former MGM Grand CEO who owned Game on Dude, a very
close second to Drosselmeyer in the Classic. You’ve got to believe
that there were some spectators from the heavens looking down on
Churchill Downs that day.
Hanford (95) HOF devoted his entire life to thoroughbreds. One of ten
children (rare occurrence shared by author), three sons were jockeys
including Buddy, who was killed on the Pimlico track at age 21.
Carl's life would be worth the toil as he trained one of the true
greats of our history in Kelso. An interesting side note here is that
Kelso, probably like Carl - a bit too competitive - died at age 26
just one day after parading alongside his nemesis Forego prior to the
Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park, a race that Kelso won an
astounding five times! Legend has it that Forego got the better of
Kelso in their canter past the grandstand and died of anger the very
Burch (86) was a name you perhaps never heard of, but someone who
certainly altered the course of history. This third generation HOF
trainer spoiled two Triple Crown bids by sending out Quadrangle to
top a horse named Northern Dancer in 1964 and Arts and Letters to
deny Majestic Prince in the 1969 Belmont Stakes. Thomas Nachel (65)
was a trainer and owner in Southern California who was also the
godson of HOF trainer Charlie Whittingham. Charles "VB"
Cushman Jr. (85) was a Camden, S.C. resident who raised yearlings and
two year-olds as well as serving as bloodstock agent. Southern
Illinois based trainer Owen Rainwater (75) and leading New York
conditioner Peter Ferriola (69) also left us in 2011. Bob Holthus
(77) was Oaklawn's career leading trainer en route to 2,824 career
victories while saddling KY Derby horses and successful sires Lawyer
Ron and Proper Reality. Larry Sterling (70) was also a Hot Springs
based trainer who handled Vigors during his racing years. Charlynn
Taketa (62) was killed at the Portland Meadows race track during a
training accident with her partner/husband Jerry Taketa clutching her
into eternity. May Charlynn rest in peace.
"Doc" Gilman (91) was a pioneer in every sense of the word.
This former Director of U.S. Jockey Club and NYRA chief veterinarian
developed the universal horse ID system to prevent "ringers"
from entering under false names. He had the dubious honor to be the
very first attending vet to reach the great Ruffian after her fatal
breakdown in the 1975 Foolish Pleasure match race. Perhaps most
importantly, he was the original voice that warned against widespread
use of permissive medication in horse racing back in the early
1970's. Robert Green (86), a Kentucky racing commissioner and
subsequent stallion manager, furthered the anti-doping cause when he
sponsored a 1980 rule that banned most race day medications in
Kentucky (which was quickly and strategically overturned!).
Bergstein (87) was king of the harness/trotter/pacer industry
(whichever you prefer to call a Standardbred) who worked alongside
thoroughbred leaders on common issues such as increased drug testing
and fan participation. Keith Card (83) was past president of the
California TBA and member of their HOF. His Hi Card Ranch produced
Breeders' Cup winner California Flag. William Donald Schaefer (89)
served all facets of politics in Maryland while being a friend to our
industry. Jimmy Drake (82) was instrumental in New Mexico quarter
horse racing. Atwood "Woody" Asbury (80) was a vet who gave
his time to the Grayson Jockey Club Research Foundation and even bred
a graded stakes winner on the side.
Kirkpatrick (70) left a powerful legacy in Bluegrass country as a
writer and Eclipse Award recipient, horse farm broker and American
Horse Council member. Lucy Acton (63) was a journalist with the
Mid-Atlantic Thoroughbred which registered two Eclipse Awards under
her editorship. Duane Hamamura (57) was an acclaimed photographer and
a fixture at Emerald Downs race meets. Daniel Stearns (90) was
instrumental in founding the Ohio HBPA and was also a state vet and
breeder/owner since the 1950's. Raymond "Pat" Buse, Jr.
(85) was also an Ohio breeder/owner and past president of the Ohio TB
Association. May the buckeyes now be plentiful for these fine
but not least, my good friend Cathy Roby (62), who's name shocked me
as I read about her passing back in March. If you've ever been to the
Kentucky Horse Park to witness the Hall of Champions (and if you
haven’t - shame on you!) you would know this gentle lady, who's
"office" where she called home for twenty years was about
one-third of the size of John Henry's stall. I'll never forget my
first trip to see the incomparable Cigar and how Cathy brought him
out just for me and traded stories while I posed for photos that I
still cherish. We have lost so many Hall of Champions members in
recent years that are hard to part with, but Cathy's loss will
certainly hurt the most.
star Michael Baze (24) stole headlines like so many great Baze riders
before him, but in a tragic turn was found dead in his vehicle on the
Churchill Downs backstretch the week following the Kentucky Derby.
Drugs were found in his system but there was no resolution as to
whether this was an accidental overdose, suicide or foul play. Bill
Harmatz (79) took a Preakness Stakes trophy as well as Woolf Award as
top California jockey to his grave. Myles Neff (66) was an Ocala
based trainer, jockey instructor and former jockey who had the
pleasure of sitting chilly on the backs of Riva Ridge and the
immortal Secretariat during racing’s golden age of the seventies.
Web Snyder (98) was inducted into the Charles Town HOF in 2010,
having served as outrider before taking a “less active” role as
lead pony rider into his eighties! Ronald Reagan sure had it right
when he said “There's nothing better for the inside of a man than
the outside of a horse."
Roach (63) of Parrish Hill Farm co-bred Charismatic and was
responsible for the matings of Princess Rooney, Cormorant and
Millennium Wind. Claiborne Farm mourns the death of John Sosby (73),
who retired in 1993 with 50 years of meritorious service working with
horses such as Swale, Ferdinand and Ruffian. Perry Alexander (89)
was stud manager with Greentree Farm and Bentley Smith (88) the
behind-the-scenes racing manager for the Frances Genter (“Oh Mrs.
Genter I love you!”) stable for 30 years. Being Mrs. Genter’s
son-in-law (you can't pick your siblings, but you can sure pick your
spouse), Bentley was responsible for buying Unbridled for $70,000 as
a weanling and he also had a hand in the dam of 3YO Eclipse finalist
now, our equine heroes that will forever burn in our minds; Strike
the Gold (23) left his throne as the oldest living Kentucky Derby
winner when he was euthanized recently after breaking his pastern in
a paddock accident on his Turkish stud farm. "Strikie"
helped launch the career of New Yawker Nick Zito, who has given us
many memorable moments since. And down the stretch they come in KY
Derby 2001 with Invisible Ink (13) running second to Monarchos in the
second fastest Derby ever! Speaking of fast, the daughter of Indian
Charlie - Fleet Indian (10) - zipped her way into the New York record
books en route to a 2006 Eclipse Award. Now back to her sire, Indian
Charlie (16), who was our most recent casualty of 2011 when he was
euthanized December 15th due to cancer. Not only was he the KY Derby
favorite in 1998 (finishing third), but he sired the most
controversial subject of the year - Uncle Mo. The lesser known of
Jess Jackson’s (81) powerful Stonestreet Stables, promising
juvenile and Grade II winner Kensei (5) broke a bone while in
training and had to be put down just months after Mr. Jackson lost
his battle with cancer on April 21.
Pleasure (16) sure got her share of Grade I trophies while closing
out her championship 1999 season with a Breeders' Cup and Eclipse
Award. From awards to Awad (21), who showed an affinity for the lawn
at Arlington Park, where he was the only horse to capture the
Secretariat Stakes and Arlington Million in successive years. Ghazi
(22) was a Grade I winner and loved running 10 furlongs on the lawn.
Paradise Creek (22) was the 1994 Eclipse champion as turf horse. The
durable Brown Bess (29) won or placed in 30 of 36 starts for earnings
of $1.3 million - a large monetary sum in 1989. Neither female nor
male could top Miesque (27) in the turf mile, where she was the first
repeat Breeders' Cup winner. Perhaps that was the proof needed for
her then jockey, Freddie Head, to realize that a mare could indeed
outrun the colts and horses. Trainer Head subsequently conditioned
Goldikova to three consecutive wins in that same race, but the streak
came to a jostling end this year in the Churchill Downs stretch.
Speaking of girls versus boys, the roan filly Devil May Care (4) lost
her battle with cancer just one year after being highly backed
against the colts in the 2010 Kentucky Derby.
the nostalgia category, I mourn the loss of Olympio (23), the 1991
Arkansas Derby winner that I recall cashing some tickets on alongside
my high school buddies. And of sire Jade Hunter (27), whose daughter
Azeri will be synonymous with Oaklawn's Apple Blossom Distaff (3 time
winner) as long as the dogwoods bloom in Hot Springs each spring.
Sadler's Wells (30) were a college football game, he would be the
Rose Bowl - the “grand-daddy of them all." Actually, by
today's standards he would be in the BCS championship game facing
himself! If you look at the recent results of the English Derby, it's
hard to imagine how any other bloodline will ever again claim Epsom.
Likewise, 2000 Broodmare of the Year Primal Force (24) cemented Adena
Springs’ spot in the annual top breeder's category after throwing
off sons Awesome Again and Macho Uno. And broodmare Cee's Song (25)
brought us the heart-stopping back to back Breeders' Cup Classic
champ Tiznow, who put our sport's current #1 breeder - WinStar Farm -
on the map. Rahy (26) was a small horse with a big engine that at one
time stood for a whopping $100,000 fee after siring such stars as
Serena's Song, Dreaming of Anna and Lewis Michael. Seneca Jones (21)
was a son of Alydar and a top Texas stallion. Two sons from the Storm
Cat line who perhaps did not get to prove their sire power also
passed away in 2011 - Bernstein (14) and Stormello (7). California
stallion Siberian Summer (22) may still get a chance to improve his
legacy posthumously as the broodmare sire of Creative Cause, a
leading candidate heading into next year's Derby preps.
with each loss comes the promise of tomorrow and of future triumphs
that will lessen the pain of those departed. Rest in peace, our dear
friends, and keep sending blessings to the sport we hold so dear.