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Breeders Cup 2015
Kentucky Derby 2017

If You Could Choose a Horse to See on Your First Time

A recent column by Horse Racing Nation's newest writer, Bill Heller, really got me thinking. In the piece, Heller told of his first ever trip to a thoroughbred racetrack. As luck would have it, him and his buddies were treated to one of Secretariat's earliest powerhouse performances. The race was the 1972 Hopeful Stakes, and talk about good fortune, seeing possibly the greatest horse ever to step on an American track, and on your maiden voyage to see the races. It's no wonder that Bill was hooked for life. I, on the other hand, thank my lucky stars to have seen in person virtually every great American horse of the past 40 years, but could not tell you one horse that ran on my first trip to the races. Amazed at Bill's luck, I thought about all the great horses I never saw. What if I could have seen any horse in history on my first time?

I realized quickly my answer would be a horse I never saw … you know how it is, you always want what you can't have. Working back in time, I started thinking of all the wonderful champions that I would have loved to see. In the late 60's there was my father's all-time favorite Dr. Fager. His flowing mane (left) and unmatched speed were reported to be a sight to behold. Like an untamed wild child, the good doctor was one I was born just a few years too late to see in person. Before him there was Kelso, a champion five times over and Round Table, both horses who could get it done on any surface, as they both proved time and time again. I would have loved to see the pure speed of Swaps on the fast tracks of Southern California, or the dogged determination of Native Dancer, as he came about a jump short of winning every single outing. Perhaps the greatest of all the Calumet runner's, Citation would be a good choice. His consistent brilliance was hard to beat. Or maybe another Calumet charge, Whirlaway. He did have that long tail, penchant for running less than straight, and his rally was explosive. Man O' War also came to mind … who wouldn't want to see the original Big Red, after all.

But then I thought why limit this choice to American horses. Maybe for the same reason that my choice would be a horse that I never saw, a foreign runner might be extra special. I still haven't made it outside of North America for a big race. Someday I will, but for now I can only imagine what the experience might be like. Phar Lap crossed my mind; a superstar with mystery attached, as was Shergar. Who knows if we will ever know for sure what really happened to these greats. The Hungarian mare, Kincsem goes way back, but with a record of 54 for 54, I'd be a fool not to be very interested in seeing what she was all about. Sea Bird II, and Nijinsky II were always two Europeans that I found especially interesting. At their best, I wonder how the best Americans would have matched up. More recently, Dubai Millennium and Sea the Stars are two that I regret missing out on. Oh so many choices, but in the end I wanted to be decisive and just pick one.

My final answer is Ribot, a horse that seemingly had it all. Bred by the legendary, Federico Tesio, Ribot was undefeated in 16 starts, beating the best, and doing it easily. Coming from Italy, many doubted if he could keep winning against the top competition of England and France. He blew that concern out of the water with a win in the King George & Queen Elizabeth Stakes, and back-to-back scores in the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe, a race I have always dreamed about attending. The second Arc victory was a six-length tour-de-force that cemented his place as one of the greatest horses ever. I wish I could have been there. Adding to his appeal, Ribot, known as “il cavallo super” became a world class sire. So Ribot is my choice … who would be your one horse?


Sea The Stars  |  Ribot  |  Native Dancer  |  Swaps  |  Dr. Fager  |  Phar Lap  |  Man o' War  |  Round Table  |  Citation  |  Kelso  |  Whirlaway
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Older Comments about If You Could Choose a Horse to See on Your First Time...

Allez France would be my choice.
I recently rewatched the video of Secretariat winning the Belmont, and that brought me to tears...again. But I couldn't possibly decide on what I would have wanted my FIRST race horse experience to be. As it stands, I can't remember who it actually was! What I am grateful for though, is the fact that my years around the track have included visits to the winner's circle with some of the finest horses in their class the country.
That easy...Secretariat(big red). I was heart broken when Sunday Silence lost the Belmont...I still believe he could have don't it because he had the heart of a champion.
I will go with my all time favorite Man O' War
Sunday Silence....brought me in to the sport! Slew and Tiznow close seconds.
I would have wanted to be at Silverbulletday's first race. To this day she is my all-time favorite filly and I wish I could have seen her race live in any of her starts.
Since I started going to the races in 1980, i have been able to see a lot of the best horses, the ones I really regret missing are Risen Star, Smarty Jones, Big Brown and Rags to Riches. But the horse I really wish I had seen was Affirmed, I had moved to California in the late 1970's and had a chance to see him at Santa Anita but never did, my biggest regret in racing.
Western Adversary, because he became mine when his brief racing career ended. Mighty Adversary, Wesley's sire, winning the 1984 Santa Anita Derby. John Henry, Exterminator, Man O'War...impossible to pick just one!
Possibly the greatest sire ever, Northern Dancer.
Secretariat for me!!
I would want to see them all Brian, For what each and every one has gave to this sport, some have gave their lives, most have gave their ALL. One thing for sure, past and present, none get the credit they deserve when they leave the sport for good. The mares are breeding machines and the colts are either tossed away because they didn't have a big enough name on the tracks , so therefore, its no telling where they end up at. My hope is that one day every race horse retired or old age, or just being a horse that wasn't that great on the tracks still find a loving home to call their own and not end up in a slaughter barn.
Secretariat, Man O War, Zenyatta, Native Dancer, I got more than one I'd want to see.....
What a story he was, Lanie ... you could have seen him run in 16 stakes in less than 7 months, including a 2nd, 3rd, and 2nd in the Triple Crown. You would have racked up serious frequent flyer miles following him!
Jim French...long forgotten...one fiery little fella with all kinds of problems surrounding him..except for his unreal racing schedule and wins!!
Pharlap and Citation! :)
I'm sure glad this isn't going to happen cuz I would have a breakdown trying to make the choice! The bid, Round Table, Citation, Sunday Silence..Nashua has a special place in my heart...but it all comes back to BIG RED..I guess I would just have to see the beauty and speed of the best of the best:)
Can't pick just one...Cigar or Sunday Silence!
Pan Zareta is an interesting choice, and she gave her fans lots of chances to see her run and win, with 76 wins in 151 starts! Buckpasser is also an interesting choice, Larry, seeing your favorite was Dr. Fager. I take it you have great respect for both Damascus and Buckpasser. This is such a fun toopic, I hope the choices keep rolling in!
My choice is Buckpasser in the Arlington Classic 1966.
Interesting choices in the article; very great names. The name of Pan Zareta in ckrisp comment was a surprise, but quite interesting. Dr. Fager has always been my favorite. So to choose one horse, whether

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