weekend, Gio Ponti will make his third appearance in the GI Arlington Million
at Arlington Park. After finishing first
in 2009 and then second in 2010, the 2011 Million will be Gio Ponti’s attempt
to join John Henry as the only horse to win the coveted purse twice. John Henry
won the inaugural running of the race at age 6 in 1981 and then finished first again
in 1984 at the age of 9. He also made an appearance in 1983 (he missed 1982 due
to an injury), but settled for second behind Tolomeo (GB). So, here’s wishing
Gio Ponti a successful bid in his third Arlington Million!
meantime, however, let’s turn our attention to John Henry and some of the other
great geldings in American racing. The following are brief (because there’s
entirely too much for one blog post!) bios of geldings who are unquestionably
among the best horses in American Thoroughbred history. Other than John Henry,
who holds the record two Arlington Million wins and has the highest earnings on
this list, they are in no particular order—they are all extraordinary!
As a huge
fan of any kind of underdog, Hall of Fame horse John Henry is a personal
favorite of mine. He was gelded for reasons of temperament as well as for the
fact that his breeding was not exactly “highbrow.” He started out earning money racing in minor
stakes, allowance, and mid-level claiming races. Voted Horse of the Year in both 1981 and 1984,
he certainly outgrew that misconception. A champion on both coasts, besides his
record two Arlington Million wins, this gutsy gelding could count among his
wins: the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup (1981); three Hollywood Invitational
Handicaps (1980, 1981, 1982); three Oak Tree Turf Championships (1980, 1981,
1982); two Santa Anita Handicaps (1981, 1982); two San Luis Rey Handicaps
(1980, 1981); the Joe Hirsch Turf Classic Invitational at Belmont (1984) and the Hollywood Park
Sunset Handicap (1984) . . . just to name a few! He finished his career with
earnings of $6,591,860 and a race record of 83:39-15-9.
eight Eclipse awards Forego can count
four Champion Older Male awards (1974-1977) and three Horse of the Year awards (1974-1976).
He had four trainers over his career, ending finally with Frank Y. Whitely Jr.
and David A. Whitely. This winner of the Roamer Handicap (1973), the Jockey
Club Gold Cup (1974), four Woodward Stakes (1974-1977), three Brooklyn
Handicaps (1974-1976), two Carter Handicaps (1974-1975), two Nassau County
Handicaps (1976-1977) and two Met Miles (1976-1977) may likely be remembered
for his amazing close in the 1976 Marlboro Cup--moving up from
being eighth of eleven horses to win while carrying a significant 137 pounds. He
retired with a record of 57:34-9-7 and earnings of $1,938,957. He is honored
with both the Forego Handicap at Saratoga Race Course and the Forego Stakes at Turfway Park.
To view a recap of Forego's four Woodward Stakes wins, click here.
years of 1960 and 1965 Kelso dominated the field of several major stakes races
in the U.S. Amassing five Jockey Club Gold Cup wins (1960-1964), three Whitneys
(1961, 1963,1965), three Woodwards (1961-1963), two Suburban Handicaps (1961
and 1963), and two Aqueduct Handicaps (1963 and 1964), among his career 39
wins, this Bohemia Stables gelding trained by Dr. John Lee and then by Carl
Hanford easily earned his ten Eclipse awards. Yes, ten. Kelso was voted both
U.S. Champion Older Male and Horse of
the Year 5 straight years, from 1961-1964. Memorialized by the Kelso Stakes at
Belmont Park, he retired with $1,977,896 and an impressive 63:39-12-2.
To view a video tribute to Kelso, click here.
PERFECT DRIFT (1999- )
This Dynaformer progeny owned by
Stonecrest Farm and trained first by Murray Johnson and then Richard Mandella
was something of a Jack of all trades. He’s raced on at least a dozen different
tacks winning equally well on dirt and turf and at distances ranging from 6½ furlongs
to 1 ¼ and a miles. Included among his victories are the Spiral Stakes, the
Indiana Derby, and the Turfway Prevue in 2002, the Stephen Foster, Kentucy Cup,
and Hawthorne Gold Cup Handicaps in 2003, and the Washington Park Handicap in
both 2003 and 2005. When he retired back home to Stonecrest Farm in 2008, he had
amassed earnings of $4,714,213 and a record of 50:11-14-7.
PRAIRIE BAYOU (1990-1993)
In his short life, Loblolly Stable–bred and –owned Prairie Bayou made an indelible mark on
the racing world. Even only racing a dozen times he was a race horse to be
reckoned with earning $1,450,621 with a race record of 12:7-3. Trained by
Thomas Bohannan, his three-year-old year included such major wins as the Count
Fleet Stakes, Whirlaway Stakes, Jim Beam Stakes, and the Blue Grass Stakes.
After finishing second in the Kentucky Derby he went on to win the second leg
of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. Sadly, the remarkable gelding had to
be euthanized after breaking down in the Belmont Stakes. He is buried at
Longfield farm in Kentucky. He was honored with the 1993 award for Champion
3-Yr-Old Colt and an eponymous stakes race at Turfway Park.
FUNNY CIDE (2000- )
There’s no question that this horse captured the attention and the hearts of
Americans everywhere with his amazing Triple Crown bid in 2003. Certainly the
combination of old school-friend owners, a trainer who’d had yet to have a
Triple Crown contender, a jockey in need of a career resurgence, and a New-York bred gelding were all the ingredients necessary for a great dream team. Trainer Barclay Tagg
purchased Funny Cide for Sackatoga Stable in March of 2002. He won his debut at
Belmont Park easily under jockey Jose Santos; it would turn out to be a perfect
match. Their story made headlines and is certainly well-known to any
Thoroughbred racing fan. Other than his near–Triple Crown win, some of Funny
Cide’s other career accomplishments include first-place-finishes in the Sleepy
Hollow Stakes and the Bertram F. Bongard Stakes in his two-year-old year, the
Excelsior Breeders’ Cup Handicap and the Jockey Club Gold Cup as a
four-year-old. After some health issues in his four- and five-year old seasons,
the gelding came back to win the Dominion Day Stakes (Canada) at six, and the
Wadsworth Memorial Handicap at seven. He won the award for Champion 3-Year-Old
Male in 2003, Champion New York Horse of the Year in 2003 and 2004 and the New
York Thoroughbred Breeders Award for the New York–bred horse of the decade in
2010. He is honored every year here in Saratoga with the Funny Cide Stakes. He
retired in 2007 with earnings of $3,529,412 and a record of 38:11-6-8. He
continued to spend his days with Tagg, working as a stable pony.
Though he was foaled in New Zealand and raced
mainly in Australia, Phar Lap’s American owner, distinguished racing career, and his win in the
Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico in 1932, contributed to his #22
ranking in the Blood-Horse magazine’s list of the Top 100 U.S. Thoroughbred
Champions of the the 20th Century. He was owned by American businessman David
Davis and then co-owned by Davis and his trainer Harry Telford. In his 51
starts Phar Lap finished with a record of 37-3-2 and earnings of AU$66,738.
Called the “Wonder Horse,” Phar Lap’s stellar career really exploded at three
and included 1929 wins in the AJC Derby and the Victoria Derby; 1930 wins in
the Linlithgow Stakes, Futurity Stakes, Melbourne Cup (carrying 138lbs!), and
Chipping Norton Stakes; 1930 and 1931 wins in the Melbourne Stakes and the Cox
Plate; a 1931 win of the Underwood Stakes; and a victory in his final race, the
Agua Caliente Handicap in 1932. If you’ve seen the movie [spoiler alert!], you
know that Phar Lap, suffering from a high temperature and severe pain, died
from what was believed to be a deliberate poisoning. Though other theories,
including an accidental poisoning from lead insecticide and a “stomach
condition” but not until 2006 could equine specialists conclude from necropsy
reports that his condition was likely duodenitis-proximal jejunitis, an acute
bacterial gastroenteritis. Theories or arsenic poisoning, however still hold
some sway in the debate.
One of the most uniquely
memorialized race horses, his heart was donated to the Institute of Anatomy in
Canberra, where it was discovered that it was nearly twice the size of the
average equine heart, weighing in at 13.6 lbs. It now sits on display at
Canberra’s National Museum of Australia; it is one of the most sought-out
exhibits. His skeleton was donated to New Zealand’s National Museum in
Wellington. And most unusually, his stuffed body was placed in the Australia
Gallery at the Melbourne Museum.
1914 Kentucky Derby Winner, Old Rosebud’s win
ratio was 50 percent . . . 50! In his 80 starts he finished his career 40-13-8
with earnings of $74,729. Trainer Frank D. Weir owned the horse with Hamilton
Applegate, then-treasurer of Churchill Downs. The gelding was the leading
earning in his two year old year and set four track records before taking a
break from training to recover from an injury. Back in training as a
three-year-old win the Kentucky Derby by eight lengths in 2:03 2/5—setting
another track record that would hold for sixteen years! The list of Old
Rosebud’s wins in his ten-year career is long and impressive counting among
them the Flash Stakes, United States Hotel Stakes, Queens County Handicap,
Delaware Handicap, Carter Handicap, Red Cross Handicap. His accomplishments
were recognized with the award for U.S. Champion Two-Year-Old and the U.S.
Champion Handicap Horse at age six, and induction into the Racing Hall of Fame
Roamer has what one might call a “colorful” origins. His pedigree includes his
sire, a teaser stallion, aptly named Knight Errant, and his dam, a blind mare
named Rose Tree II. Love in this case was literally both blind and errant—one of the two jumped the fence
that separated them and their union resulted in Roamer . . . also aptly named.
He was gelded immediately. Who would have expected that this little love-child
of a colt would go on to earn $98,828 and accumulate a race record of
98:39-26-9. Bred, so to speak, in Kentucky by the Clay Brothers of Runnymede
Farm, who owned the gelding with Andrew Miller, Roamer was trained by A.J.
“Jack” Goldsborough. His talent ran the gamut of dirt and turf, sprint and
distance and was able to set the pace and keep his early speed through to the
wire. Among his many stakes wins he counts the Saratoga Special Stakes (1913),
the Carter Handicap, Brooklyn Derby, Travers Stakes, and Washington Handicap
(1914), the Brookdale Handicap, Havre de Grace Handicap, Merchants and Citizens
Handicap, and Saratoga Cup (1915). He also had multiple wins in the Queens
County Handicap (1915 and 1918) and the Saratoga Handicap (1915, 1917, and
1918). Roamer was named U.S. Horse of the Year in 1914 and U.S. Champion Older
Male in 1915 and 1916. Retirement came
after an eight-year racing career, but didn’t last long. On January 1, 1920 the
champion gelding suffered a leg break in his paddock and was euthanized.
DA HOSS (1992-
Kentucky-bred Da Hoss started his career well at two with wins in his first
three starts. His third year brought him wins in the Best Tum Stakes (now the
Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, Jersey Derby, and Del Mar Derby and places in the
Gotham Stakes, Illinois Stakes, Swaps Stakes, and Pegasus Stakes. His wins
continued into his fourth year with the Breeders’ Cup Mile (now the Breeders’
Cup Turf Mile), Fourstardave Handicap, and the Pennsylvania Governors’ Cup.
Foot problems forced Da Hoss to stay off the track for two years and when he
returned to racing at age six, he took the Breeders’ Cup Mile again after
battling with Hawksley Hill and beating him to the wire by a nose. The comeback
is touted by many sports journalists as one of the best of all time. Perhaps
Tom Durkin expressed his opinion best (and most colorfully, I might add) during
the duel in the stretch when he called “Oh my, this is the greatest comeback
since Lazarus! He’s had one race in two years!” In his 20 starts, Da Hoss was
in the money all but once with a record of 12-5-2 and earned a total of
$1,931,558. Presently the 1998 Kentucky-bred Turf Horse Male is retired with
other Thoroughbred champions such as himself, to the Kentucky Horse Park.
LAVA MAN (2001-
Though his breeding (Slew City Slew by Seattle Slew) started his racing career
as a low-level claimer but at age 3 started moving on up with a win in the
Derby Trial Stakes at Fairplex and a place in the G1 Malibu Stakes. The
Californian Stakes and the Hollywood Gold Cup wins came at 4, in 2005 and the best
was yet to come. After little success out East in the Jockey Club Gold Cup and
in Japan in the Japan Dirt Cup, an abscess kept the gelding from racing for the
rest of the year. Finding his stride Lava Man raced to victory at 5 in the
Sunshine Millions Classic, Khaled Stakes, Charles Whittingham Memorial
Handicap, Pacific Classic Stakes and the Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap in
2006, and then at 6 won the Sunshine Millions Turf in 2007. He can also claim
two more wins in the Hollywood Gold Cup (2006 and 2007) and two wins in the
Santa Anita Handicap (2006 and 2007). With a race record of 47-17-8-5 and
earnings of $5,268,706 there’s little doubt of this gelding’s will to win.
Honored with awards for California Bred Champion Older Horse (2005, 2006), California
Horse of the Year (2005, 2006) California Bred Champion Turf Horse (2006), and
California Bred Champion Older Horse (2007)
JOHN’S CALL (1991-2010)
This Kentucky-bred gelding seemed to have lived a charmed life. He ran and he
jumped--competing in both flat and steeplechase races--and became a millionaire
at the age of 9. His nine-year-old season included a wins in the GI T Turf
Classic Invitational Stakes at Belmont
and the inaugural running of the Cape Henlopen Handicap over hurdles at Delaware Park, which
he won in record time. A particularly special achievement, John’s Call became
the oldest runner to win a Grade I race at Saratoga when he beat the field to
the wire in the 2000 GI T Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap. He had 40 starts and
retired with a record of 16-11-3 and earnings of $1,571,267. After his
ten-year-old season the versatile gelding retired to trainer Tom Voss’s farm in
Monckton, Maryland and spent his days as Voss’s stable pony at the track. In Februrary 2010 John's Call was euthanized after suffering a broken leg in a field accident. He is
honored at Saratoga with a stakes race in his name.
MR. MESO (2000-
While maybe not as well-known as some of the historical and celebrity geldings
mentioned above, Mr. Meso has been more than earning his keep since his
two-year-old year. Claiming races, allowances, and stakes races at tracks from
Suffolk Downs to Fair Grounds, to Loan Star to Oaklawn, he has achieved a
record o 24 wins, 8 places, and 5 shows in 66 starts and earnings of $466,680.
He won the Anthony DeSpirito Stakes and the Norman Hall Stakes at 2, the
Massachusetts Derby at 3, and the Rise
Jim Stakes and the Last Dance Stakes at 10. Best of all? He looks like he
really enjoys his job. . . .