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Zipse At The Track

Older Dirt Males 25 Years Ago and Today

Mucho Macho Man wins the Breeders' Cup Classic
Photo: Don August


Heading into the 2014 season, it would seem that the handicap division is relatively strong. Led by Mucho Macho Man, Will Take Charge, and Game On Dude, our top older dirt males already bring to the table solid credentials. To put a little test to this belief, and as a point of comparison, I decided to use a random year from modern racing history, to see how this group stacked up against a representative bunch from the past. Giving no thought to what I would find when I got there, I went back a quarter century for the comparison. How do the older dirt males going into 2014 compare to their predecessors going into 1989? Let’s take a look.

Seeking the Gold was the heir apparent that winter coming off a solid three-year-old season that saw him run good seconds in several big races, including the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Travers, Haskell, and Wood Memorial. Wins for him that year included the Super Derby, Dwyer, and Peter Pan. While certainly more consistent than the 2013 season of Will Take Charge, it is interesting to note that he also disappointed when 7th in the Kentucky Derby. Like Will Take Charge, his reputation was greatly bolstered with a big performance in the Breeders’ Cup, when second to Alysheba. Will Take Charge does get the slight nod in the importance of wins category, but competition and consistency tip the scales in favor of the Phipps’ runner, Seeking the Gold. Unfortunately for race fans of 1989, Seeking the Gold only ran twice as an older horse, winning an allowance, before losing a tough decision in the Met Mile.

At seven years-old, Game On Dude has yet to show signs of slowing down. Much talked about disappointments in the last two Breeders’ Cup Classics, should not take away too much from a career that has seen him win 15-of-29 lifetime starts. Meanwhile, the old pro that winter of 1989, Cryptoclearance, was not all that old at five, but very experienced. After two solid seasons chasing a lot of good horses at three and four, it was thought that, with the division seriously thinned out, he could finally step to the front of the class. He did win more stakes that final year, but his dominance never materialized, and his career concluded with a third straight fifth place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. While the competition comparison may have been with the closer from 25 years ago, a career mark of 12-of-44 is no comparison at all against the accomplished Californian speedster.

Other solid older returnees of 1989 included Cutlass Reality, and Slew City Slew. The latter was always a threat on the lead, but never quite able to beat the very best, while the former had a big year the year before, but likewise was unable to make much noise in his biggest race, the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Not that it matters for this comparison, but Slew City Slew was very good in the spring of 1989, but tailed off in the fall, and Cutlass Reality only ran once before retirement. Comparing them to older dirt males this year; Mucho Macho Man clearly has the class edge on Cutlass Reality, and if healthy, Cross Traffic becomes a bigger threat than Slew City Slew ever was.

If Palace Malice is the second best returner from the three-year-olds of last year, we can compare him to Brian’s Time of 1989. A winner of the Florida Derby, Jim Dandy, and Pegasus out of 11 stakes tries at three, Brian’s Time was solid, but never quite the horse that Risen Star or Forty Niner, the best three-year-olds of 1988, were. On the other hand, Palace Malice did win the Jim Dandy, and Belmont, while finishing second in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, in a season that often made you wonder what could have been. In this one, I would also give the edge to the current runner, as Palace Malice seems to have better potential to be a champion than Brian’s Time did. Hopefully, Palace Malice will do more than the disappointing 0-for-6 performance of Brian’s Time as an older horse. 

Other older males to make noise in 1989, include: Proper Reality, whose claim to fame was defeating Seeking the Gold in the Met Mile, Private Terms, remained a consistent winner, but never against the best, Present Value, who won several stakes around the U.S. that year, but never a grade 1, imports Martial Law and Nasr El Arab had their moments in the sun in California, but could never duplicate their best performances, and Dancing Spree, who had solid, if not inconsistent, success both sprinting and at a distance.

Can today’s older dirt males like Last Gunfighter, Goldencents, Revolutionary, Departing, Normandy Invasion, River Seven, Cyber Secret, Lea, Sahara Sky, Blueskiesnrainbows, Moreno, and Hear the Ghost, just to name a few prove to be a stronger group than that one? Only time will tell, but overall, I like the older dirt males this year a little bit more than those going into the 1989 season.

As it turned out in 1989, it was a horse that was previously a turf runner, Blushing John, who went on to become the top older male on dirt that year. The French import won four stakes, including the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pimlico Special, but could not handle the elite three-year-olds in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic. 

In retrospect, going back exactly 25 years ago, proved fortuitous for this year’s older dirt male division. Had I gone back either a year farther back, led by Alysheba, or a year less, when Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were returning four-year-olds, for example, the results would have been decidedly different.



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Older Comments about Older Dirt Males 25 Years Ago and Today...

Adena Springs has some of the best breeding stock in North America
I think EP Taylor is right, the Canadian horses are going to be good next year. I hope to see River Seven in the Breeders Cup.
Stronger this year then last few years to start out. Depends on who can stay
River Seven will be a big player in the older horse division and Up With The Birds in the Turf division.
Brian,vey hard to compare eras. Nice article,based on the names you point out. One really sticks out as a true Superstar and that is Seeking the Gold.Here is a horse that had his share of success. I believe in very close finishes,he ran 2nd in something like 7 G1 Stakes races. The horses of today in the overall comparison throughout the year are nice. I think they are flatterred more by the fact that there really is not truly a great horse active. Proof of that is on your staement regarding the returning 3yos. If Palice Malice is the 2nd best returning 3yo.It does not bode well for the competetive racing that is expected.
As mentioned, Cutlass Reality had a big 1988, but outside of that excellent summer, and the race of which you speak, in which Alysheba and Ferdinand did not run their best, his career does not match the overall class of Mucho Macho Man. Keep in mind that in his 14-of-66 career record included no less than 15 defeats in allowance racing, all of which came before that big win over Alysheba and Ferdinand.
  • gtallman · Fair enough, but I have still yet to see a performance by Mucho Macho Man that equals the best efforts of Cutlass Reality. · 1404 days ago
I have to respectfully disagree that Mucho Macho Man holds a class edge over Cutlass Reality. In the 1988 Holly wood Gold Cup, Cutlass Reality beat Alysheba by 6 1/2 lengths, with Ferdinand another 5 1/2 lengths back in third. Mucho Macho Man is a nice horse, but I've yet to see a performance like that out of him.
***perception that the horses from 10,20,30 years were better
I think a reason the perception that older dirt handicap horses from 10, 15, 20,30 years ago like Alysheba, Ferdinand, Seatle Slew, Skip Away etc is because these horses were considered some of the best of their generation as 3 y.o's and continued their success into their 4 and 5 year old seasons. Outside of Curlin, the top older horses we've had in the last 10 years weren't considered the best of their generation at 2 and 3 and seem to be the survivors from groups that either were injured or retired.Just imagine if Point Given, Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Big Brown, Bernardini, Lookin at Lucky, Bodemeister, I'll Have Another, Street Sense went on to race at 4 and 5. This year with Will Take ChargePalace Malice,and Goldencents returning is finally a season with the top 3 year olds returning at 4. I'm excited. Good article
This could be one of the best group of older males in a long time, a lot could happen though. Best returning colts since maybe Curlins year
Takes one to know one.
I hear good things about older males!

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Meet Brian Zipse 

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, and American Pharoah. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. 

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, or ZATT for short, and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as co-hosting the popular racing show, HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.


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