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HRN Original Blog:
Around the Oval with Melaina Phipps

Good God, Good Geldings!

Great geldings John Henry, Kelso and Phar Lap
This 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!
In the 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!
JOHN HENRY (1975-2007)                                                                               
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.


FOREGO (1970-1997)
Among his 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.

KELSO (1957-1983)
Between the 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.

PHAR LAP (1926-1932)
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.

OLD ROSEBUD (1911-1922)
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 in 1968.

ROAMER (1911-1920)
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. . . .


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Older Comments about Good God, Good Geldings!...

Native Diver also!
kingston town is not on this site but has a doco on you tube he is right up there
Clean - up !! 228 days ago..Wow..History.. I guess that's why everyone is on twitter,and is killing good site..because you can get update info all the time.I like this site,and the people on here.but i don't have all day and night to go thur all history..Dubai,LA Derby ECT:
He's a G.
Is Game on Dude gelded or not, I keeping reading horse, but Equibase has him as a gelding.
Yes buckpasser is right! How on earth do you forget Exterminator? Haha fluke?
Interesting that you include Roamer and Old Rosebud but forgot one of the greatest geldings of all time Exterminator
My favorite is... John Henry!
Great piece. You have to love those warriors of the track!
  • Around · Thanks Matt! I'm a big fan of the gelding, personally! :-) · 2255 days ago
  • MBPhipps · Thanks Matt! I'm a big fan of the gelding, personally! :-) · 2255 days ago
Great compilation with these power horses. You don't see horses ran the amount of races these horses ran. These are the type of horses that make me love the sport where they give it there all day in and out. Not horse that campaign all year to run one big race and expect to be crown champion.
  • Around · I'm a big fan of the "career racehorse" as well, I must agree. Glad you enjoyed the post! · 2255 days ago
Fantastic list, Melaina ... It was nice to see Prairie Bayou make the cut. Unlike most geldings, he never got the opportunity for a long career, but he was a smart, loveable, and extremely talented horse.
Great article, I was also a fan of the old West Coast gelding, Best Pal. Also, even though he's a Kentucky bred, Perfect Drift grew up right here in Kansas City on Dr. Reed's farm just south of the city.
  • Around · Exterminator had an amazing race record--definitely a monumental gelding as well! Thanks for reminding us! · 2255 days ago
Great list, one of my favorite geldings was Creme Fraiche, winner of the Belmont Stakes, Donn and twice winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
  • Around · The Jockey Club Gold Cup is one of my favorite races--thanks for bringing up Creme Fraiche! · 2255 days ago
One of my faves was General Challenge. And of course, Mine That Bird :)
Speaking of Mine That Bird, his 2YO half-brother Dullahan is stretching out and trying turf in the 7th race at Saratoga on Saturday.
A great list! Thanks for compiling all of this so that people who enjoyed these horses could relive their glory days and those who may not have known about them could learn more about them!
  • Around · Glad you enjoyed it! I'm a big fan of the gelding and the long racing careers they often have. · 2255 days ago
Thanks for the list......however, you did forget that gusty little gelding, Mine That Bird!
  • Around · The omission was not intentional! My time and my space were limited--but I do believe these great geldings deserve a part two! · 2255 days ago
Hard to believe a list of top geldings could not include Ancient Title. I believe he is one of only five or six cal-breds in the Hall of Fame
  • Around · The omission was by no means intentional--for sake of space I left out too many great geldings. I think there will definitely be a part two to this post! · 2255 days ago
Mine That Bird is one of my favourite geldings. His two year old season was fantastic and his races in the 2009 Triple Crown were far above average for any horse. 1-2-3 in the three biggest races for 3 yr olds is pretty awesome. I wish he had not lost interest in racing. He had the talent, but his heart was not in it after the TC. I hope he has a long and happy retirement.
  • Around · It is a shame that he did not race longer--I love when horses get a chance to have a long racing career! · 2255 days ago

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Meet Melaina Phipps

I came to horseracing only about a decade ago. (And no, I am no relation to the celebrated racing family of the same name.) My equine interests prior to that began, as they do for most young girls, with riding lessons and horse shows, and ended up with me playing polo while a graduate student at UVA and thereafter. It was entirely unexpected that I should spend time on the backstretch at Saratoga in the summer and on the rail at Payson Park in Florida in the winter watching some of the best trainers and horses in the country work. But that’s where I found myself and where my interest in this wild ride of an industry took shape. I don’t exercise racehorses; I don’t work with a trainer.  I watch, I listen, I ask a lot of questions, and I learn.  I enjoy supporting equine charities. Sometimes I bet a little.

I leave the handicapping and serious race talk and examination to those more knowledgeable than I. What I’d like to share through Around the Oval are some of the myriad observations, stories, histories, events, charities, places, and personalities that make up the variegated landscape of the Thoroughbred racing industry. If you find any—or all—of it interesting, please leave comments. Have any particular interests you’d like to read about? Send word—suggestions are more than welcome! 

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