Photo: Sue Lustig McPeek
Can a horse who never had any Breeders’ Cup success still be considered a great horse? Housebuster was proof that the answer is yes. His outstanding record, and his flare while winning, earned him repeat wins of the Eclipse Award as the Outstanding Sprinter in 1990 and 1991, making him the only horse since the great filly Ta Wee turned the trick back in 1970. Tomorrow, the 2013 National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held at Saratoga, and Housebuster will be duly recognized as one of the great sprinters of the modern era. Before that happens, please enjoy my recollections of the horse I had the opportunity to see in person many times, including his stakes debut.
Driving on Route 3 to the Meadowlands that evening, I had no idea what I was about to see. Juvenile stakes are fun for just that reason, and the 1989 Morven Stakes would be a wonderful example of a star being born. Housebuster was sired by Mt. Livermore out of the Great Above mare, Big Dreams, and in his first two starts had been 3rd and then 1st in two maiden races on sloppy Meadowlands’ tracks. One of several youngsters in the field, Housebuster was to get a fast track for the first time. The result was positively explosive. Setting blazing fractions, Housebuster hit the stretch in front and widened his advantage from there to hit the wire best by seven lengths. It was but a small stakes at the Meadowlands, but in my mind, this one, was the real deal.
It would then come as no surprise when Housebuster would take Florida by storm as the 1990 racing season began. The now three-year-old had been transferred to trainer Jimmy Croll after be trained by Ronald Benshoff for his three juvenile starts. Bred in Kentucky by Blanche P. Levy, Housebuster was owned by her son, Robert. He began in January, and went on a stakes winning skein that has been seldom seen since. He won the Spectacular Bid by 2 ¼, the Hutcheson by 3, and then the Swale by 1. In the Swale he defeated one of the early Kentucky Derby favorites, Summer Squall, and by sweeping the sprint stakes at Gulfstream, the name Housebuster was now on the national map.
From Florida, the traveling road show headed to Kentucky and that is where the fun really began. In Keeneland’s Lafayette Stakes, Housebuster took things to a whole new impressive level. A small field lined up against the new star, and he in turn treated them badly, winning off by 11 lengths. It was on to the Twin Spires and Churchill Downs for a run in the prestigious Derby Trial. The Trial would be the Croll-trained sophomore’s first attempt at a flat mile. No problemo, as Housebuster proved strong down the lane to pull clear from his competition by 5 ¼ widening lengths. A star in Kentucky, his connections wisely had no illusions of grandeur, and kept their one-turn colt away from the powerful calling of the Triple Crown. No Derby for this guy, but he was shipped to New York for a possibly even bigger challenge.
Fresh off a facile win in the Withers, his seventh straight stakes score, Housebuster entered the 1990 Met Mile, for a showdown against the superstar of New York racing, Easy Goer. Also in the field was a rapidly improving Californian named Criminal Type who was coming off a big win in the Pimlico Special. With regular rider, Craig Perret in the irons, Housebuster would look his top older rivals in the eye and give them everything they could possibly want. He set all the pace, and laid down blazing fractions at that. He fought the length of the stretch with Five-year-old Criminal Type breathing down his neck, before finally succumbing in the final strides. He finished a game second, defeated by a neck, and easily beating the great Easy Goer, with eventual 1991 Horse of the Year, Black Tie Affair, much farther back. Criminal Type would go on to be named Horse of the Year that year, but I was even more impressed with the young Housebuster.
In defeat, Housebuster had proven himself as one of the best horses in the nation. He would continue his amazing three-year-old season with three more overpowering victories, culminating with the Jerome Handicap in which the dark bay routed his opposition by 13 devastating lengths, with the good colt Citidancer finishing a distant second. He had certainly come a long way since I first saw him in in the Morven Stakes less than a year earlier. In his first ten races of 1990, Housebuster had nine easy wins, all stakes, with the game and narrow defeat in the Met Mile being his only blemish. The Vosburgh at Belmont would be next, but Housebuster sustained injuries in the race which he finished up the track, putting an end to his amazing season. I recall that prior to the Vosburgh, Housebuster was my choice for Horse of the Year despite being a sophomore sprinter. After the Vosburgh, that idea was no longer reality, but it goes to show just how good the young colt was.
Housebuster began his older career by not being able to hold off possibly the top two handicap horses in the nation in Unbridled and Black Tie Affair in a pair of seven furlong stakes. He quickly turned it around with an impressive victory over the latter, who would be ultimately named Horse of the Year, in Aqueduct’s Carter Handicap.
Soon after, Housebuster would be assigned one of his most important tests. In the Summer of 1991, the DeFrancis Dash was billed as a dual between the last two Sprint Champions. Housebuster would face the defending Breeders’ Cup Sprint winning filly, Safely Kept. It would be no contest. In fairness to the filly, Safely Kept would have her chances compromised by a slow break, but it proved to be another dominating performance for the four-year-old colt. Housebuster would win off by five lengths and be well on his way to another championship.
Housebuster, who had missed the Breeders' Cup Sprint at Belmont the year before because of an injury, would finally get his BC chance in his final career start. Coming off wins in the DeFrancis, Forego, and Vosburgh, he was sent off as an overwhelming 2-5 favorite in the 11 horse field which included some of the best sprinters in the world. Bettors were so confident in his ability that no other horse in the field was bet below 8.8-1. Unfortunately, the race did not go well. Housebuster would contest through suicidal fractions including a :21 first quarter. He was ready to pounce as the horses straightened out, and even at the 3/16 pole it looked like the champion had a big shot to win. It was not to be. Housebuster shortened stride just as he got to the lead and dropped back quickly as the European invader Sheikh Albadou zoomed right by for an easy win. The great sprinter checked in ninth.
After the race it was revealed that the whip of the rider of the front runner had bothered Housebuster in the stretch, and much worse yet, the sensational sprinter had injured his left front leg leaving the gate. He had gamely contested a blazing pace for five furlongs on three good legs. Housebuster would be retired soon after the disappointment.
All in all, Housebuster won 15 of his lifetime 22 starts and as noted, many of his wins came by wide margins. He earned $1,229,696 while never racing on anything but dirt, nor ever running beyond one mile. He captured 14 stakes, and 11 of them were graded. After retirement, Housebuster became a vagabond and successful sire, with Hong Kong Horse of the Year and twice champion miler Electronic Unicorn being the best. Housebuster died in 2005 after standing stud all over the world. His second career as a stallion brought him from Kentucky to Japan to New Zealand to Argentina and finally to West Virginia, where he passed away at the age of 18.