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HRN Original Blog:
Past the Grandstand

Farewell, General Challenge

General Challenge
Photo: Golden Eagle Farm/Piedra Photos


On the afternoon of the final day of October 2012, the excitement was nearly tangible as dozens of the world’s best racehorses prepared for that weekend’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships at Santa Anita Park. Fans and media flocked to see top contenders schooling in the paddock beneath the California sun, Breeders’ Cup decorations abundant at the Great Race Place.

Meanwhile, a large chestnut gelding stood within a small paddock, staring off into the distance of the foothills of the Laguna Mountains less than 150 miles to the southeast of Santa Anita. On the nameplate of his halter read the name General Challenge. Thirteen years earlier, he had competed in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) at Gulfstream Park. While he did not find success that day, General Challenge certainly had a racing career to remember.

A homebred for John and Betty Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farm, General Challenge raced twenty-one times for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert. Raced only once as a two-year-old, the California-bred son of General Meeting won his first two starts as a three-year-old in 1999, including the Santa Catalina Stakes (gr. II), in which he defeated eventual Kentucky Derby (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Charismatic.

A 3 ½-length romp in the Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) earned him favoritism in the Kentucky Derby, but uneasiness before the race and a rough trip saw him finish a disappointing eleventh in the Run for the Roses. However, this loss did not define his career. General Challenge went on to capture five additional graded stakes races, including the Pacific Classic (gr. I) and Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I). By the time his career ended in July 2003, the flashy chestnut had won nine races from twenty-one starts, earning $2,877,178.

His career on the track had ended, but new career plans for the white-faced and white-legged gelding were made for him to become a pony. But General Challenge, whose quirkiness had earned him the nickname “Rodman” (after Hall of Fame basketball player Dennis Rodman), did not approve of this plan. He also did not approve of the alternative plan to train him to become a jumper. Instead, General Challenge lived the rest of his life in pasture – exactly the way he wanted to live it.

On that October day, I had the opportunity to meet this quirky California legend. He was no longer the robust athlete he had been on the track; unfortunately, he was becoming weaker due to health issues. But General Challenge certainly had not lost an ounce of his personality. He shook his head at me and pawed with his left front leg, begging for a treat. Momentarily, he allowed me to scratch his face before losing patience, knowing I did not have a treat for him. As if in disgust, he turned away and pranced about his paddock before returning to the gate in hopes that I had somehow gathered a peppermint or carrot for him in the past minute.





















General Challenge
Photo by Terri Cage 

General Challenge would overcome these health issues, but unfortunately, they returned. On February 4, 2014, he lost his battle and was laid to rest at Golden Eagle Farm – the place that had always been his home. The quirky but handsome chestnut gelding is no longer with us, but memories of him still remain. Images of his white legs carrying him to spectacular victories at California tracks race through the minds of racing fans, his unique personality maintains a place in the hearts and minds of those around him, and that October afternoon I met him, is engraved in my memory. Rest in peace, General Challenge.


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Older Comments about Farewell, General Challenge...

god bless this wonderful animal
So very nicely written, Mary; I could almost feel your meeting with this horse. Golden Eagle Farm will miss his presence.
RIP Handsome
I had the pleasure of seeing him run at Santa Anita. He was as beautiful as he was talented. Rest in Peace.

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About Mary Cage


Mary Cage, a 21-year-old avid fan of horse racing, has been around horses all her life, having owned, shown, and judged them for as long as she can remember. She began writing her own horse racing blog, Past the Grandstand, in August 2011 and has since been published in America's Horse, American Racehorse and the Appaloosa Journal, as well as with the websites of The Blood-Horse and The Equine Chronicle. She has also had photos published with Paulick Report and Thoroughbred Daily News. In addition, she works as one of the social media coordinators for the Texas Thoroughbred Association.

In her personal horse experience, Mary has been around horses all her life and has won several Appaloosa National Champion and Reserve World Champion titles in the show ring. 

Mary has always aspired to have a career with horses and since her love for horse racing began, she has dreamed of pursuing a career in the Thoroughbred racing industry, possibly as a writer/photographer and marketing/communications specialist. She is currently attending the University of North Texas, where she is a journalism major with a concentration in advertising and a minor in marketing. With this blog, she hopes to show readers horse racing through the eyes of a young fan as she writes about assorted horse racing topics.

University of Louisville College of Business Equine Program

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