When the list of Hall of Fame finalists came out this week, there were two names that immediately leapt off the page at me. Nothing against the wonderful careers of Craig Perret, Alex Solis, Calvin Borel, Garrett Gomez, Gary Jones, Ashado, Housebuster, and Lure, certainly many of them are Hall of Fame worthy, but for me the list was all about my all-time favorite jockey, Chris Antley, and the 2006 Horse of the Year, Invasor. An article detailing why I feel so strongly about the dear departed, Chris Antley is coming soon. Today is all about Invasor, and why he should have his name called this summer at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame ceremony in his initial opportunity.
A true South American sensation, Invasor is a national treasure in more than one country. Although he never competed at a racetrack in Argentina, he is beloved for having been foaled there. He stands as the shining example of the nation’s breeding industry. And if he is considered extremely popular in Argentina, then he is an equine god in Uruguay. Almost immediately after the nation was dealt a major blow, as the national team (soccer) failed to qualify for the following year’s World Cup, Invasor stepped in to give the country something to be proud of again. Uruguay embraced him as a sports hero while he dominated their 2005 Triple Crown. In one calendar year, Invasor began by impressively breaking his maiden in a 5 ½ furlong race to finishing a romping winner in the final leg of their Triple Crown at a distance of nearly 13 furlongs. As an undefeated winner of their most important races, Invasor was the hero of Uruguayan racing, but this would only be the beginning.
It would be Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum who would give Invasor the opportunity to prove to the rest of the world what kind of horse he was. Sheik Hamdan made owners Juan Luis Vio Bado and Pablo Hernandez Trucido an offer for the son of Candy Stripes out of the Interprete mare Quendom that could not be refused. The $1.5 million sale was finalized and Invasor would be off to conquer new worlds. Uruguay may have seen their horse leave the borders, but they would soon rejoice in watching him become the best of the world.
The first time American race fans saw Invasor was the 2006 Pimlico Special. A talented speed horse in the race named Wanderin Boy figured to control the pace. He would be a heavy favorite against the South American import who was let go at odds of 6-1. I actually bet on Invasor that day, mainly because of the chasm in odds between him and the favorite. I remember thinking that he had been placed in a very tough spot in his only loss. That loss came in the UAE Derby, where Invasor had finished 4th in a 13 horse field in his previous start. He had not been close to the ultra-talented winner, Discreet Cat, but he was close to second, after traveling across the world, having a long layoff, and coming out of marathon to compete in a relative sprint. To top it off, he gave Discreet Cat nine pounds that day as a slightly older Southern Hemisphere horse.
Not that this spot would be much easier, as new trainer Kiaran McLaughlin had placed him in the grade one Maryland race off another long journey. He had been working well, and I decided he obviously had some class and was worth a shot at the odds. My expectations were exceeded. Stalking Wanderin Boy during the early part of the race, it looked like Invasor had no shot when Wanderin Boy spurted clear at the head of the stretch, but that was when the American legend of Invasor would be born. Invasor dropped to the inside and suddenly started reeling in the front runner. I was surprised as in a matter of seconds, he had gone from a horse that I wondered if he could hold second, to a powerful winner. The final margin was only 1 ¼ lengths, but it was a visually impressive stretch run and in fast time.
A bay colt with a tiny white star on his forehead, it has been said by many around him that Invasor is a horse with great intelligence and presence. These qualities helped him achieve things on the track seemingly out of reach. The Pimlico Special was my first understanding of this. An easy as could be next out win in the Suburban Handicap placed Invasor atop the older male contingent on the East Coast. It was then on to Saratoga for another glimpse at what was inside of this horse.
The Whitney Handicap assembled a strong field of nine. Among them was a good Nick Zito colt named Sun King who was about to run the race of his life. It would be to no avail. You see, Invasor would not let him win. Invasor had stayed closed to the pace under teenage rider Fernando Jara and pounced to contend for the lead early in the lane. As he often did in races, he did not just blow right by his competition. It was as if he enjoyed testing the other horses for a while before putting the hammer down. In the Whitney though, it looked to be a losing tactic, for on the outside Sun King had a full head of steam and was quickly bearing down on the leaders. Almost instantly, Invasor put it into another gear, and the rest of the field was left far behind. Sun King kept coming, but Invasor would not let him by. This was another clue for the world to discover just what he was made of, and the best was yet to come.
The $5 million Breeders' Cup Classic would be a showdown between the three leading candidates for Horse of the Year. Invasor was there, along with the West Coast star Lava Man, and the new glamour boy of our sport, Bernardini. Ten other horses, sporting strong credentials, filled out the field. Bernardini had been winning stakes races on the East Coast in scintillating fashion and was made a strong favorite. Invasor who had only won the Whitney by a nose, was relegated to third choice at 6-1. A minor setback had kept Invasor away from the races for three months, but that mattered little to this horse. Proving his superiority, Invasor unleashed a powerful closing charge down the center of the track to eyeball Bernardini at the 16th pole. Bernardini would have no answer, and the horse from Uruguay pulled away for a one length victory in the race of the year in the United States.
The win would clinch both Horse of the Year and champion older male for Invasor, and in 2007 he would pick up where he left off. Despite a troubled trip in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap, Invasor was an easy and ridiculously effortless winner of the first big race of the year. He looked even better than he had the previous year in racking up his 5th grade one victory in the United States in only five races. It would be on to Dubai next for the champion, where he would get a chance to avenge his only career loss.
It is the world’s richest race and the 2007 World Cup brought together top horses from all over the globe. Adding to the intrigue of the big race was the inclusion of the still highly regarded, Discreet Cat, who was the only other horse to finish first in a race entered by Invasor. The race proved to be a two-horse match, but it was the American export, Premium Tap, who would provide the drama. The drama would not last long though, as soon as Invasor loped alongside his rival, the world knew it would just be a matter of time before the inevitable would happen. When Invasor drew eyeball to eyeball with another horse, his force proved irresistible. Premium Tap would give it everything he had, and the two would match strides for a large part of the stretch, as the rest, including Discreet Cat, were left far behind. Invasor seemingly enjoyed the test, but kicked clear late for a powerful and efficient two length score. Invasor’s return to Nad Al Sheba was a triumphant one. He was celebrated by a global audience of fans of racing, as he won the world’s richest race in front of owner Sheikh Hamdan.
There could no longer be any doubt, Invasor was the best horse in the world. He proved it everywhere he ran. He was globally recognized as the highest ranked horse all over the world, something not easily achieved in our sometimes fractured sport. Unfortunately, this affirmation of greatness would be short lived. After working a strong five furlongs on a Saturday morning in late June at Belmont Park in preparation for defense of his Suburban Handicap victory, Invasor came back injured. The problem was discovered later at McLaughlin's barn and X-rays revealed a fracture to the top of the sesamoid bone. The great horse was retired and sent to stud at his owner’s Shadwell breeding operation in Lexington, Kentucky.
You would think that a horse who won grade one races on three separate continents, was Horse of the Year in two nations, was a Triple Crown winner, and was a winner of the two richest dirt races in the world, would be ushered into the Hall of Fame when first eligible. You would also think that one of the greatest horses of the 21st century, while only once defeated, with earnings over $7.8 million, despite having his career cut short in his prime, would be worthy of immediate recognition by being awarded racing’s ultimate honor. You would be right. Invasor is most certainly a first-ballot Hall of Famer.