Prejudiced and a Travesty: The Day they Took a Great One Down

March 08, 2013 10:32am
Every spring, as the Kentucky Derby madness nears fever pitch, my mind invariably wonders back to special three-year-olds of years gone by. There were horses so memorable that in general, they make today’s versions pale in comparison. Growing up in a horse racing mad family in the 1970’s gave me the opportunity to become immersed in a golden age of racing. Memories of the Kentucky Derby trail of the greats of that decade are cherished ones. Now it’s almost springtime again, and today I found myself thinking of a time, and a horse, and a race, that actually took place just before my birth. 

By Dr. Zipse, out of a Garrett Bennink mare, I was born to be a fan of Dr. Fager. I did not see the great horse with my own eyes, rather only from the womb of a racetrack mom. But the stories I heard, and the color, drama, and passion within, allowed me to live happily and vicariously through my Dad’s discerning eyes. Dr. Fager was alive and running in our household long after he left the racetrack in New York for the greener pastures of Ocala. One story of The Good Doctor in particular has pushed its way into my brain today, and I better put it down on virtual paper before the feeling is lost. I’ll let you decide how to feel about it all, but in my mind, it is a racing travesty, pure and simple.

Dr. Fager and team ventured down the Jersey Turnpike to the now defunct Garden State Park as a budding legend. He had the look of a future superstar as a juvenile, but now at three, those hopes were becoming reality. What the John Nerud trained young colt had done in his first month of racing as a sophomore was quite remarkable. First there was the Gotham, where he faced off with another soon to be legend named Damascus for the first time. Having not run for six months, you would have thought that his formidable adversary, already 2-for-2 as a three-year-old, held all the cards. Not so, as the young doctor looked the future Hall of Famer in the eye, and edged away by a half-length. Eschewing the Kentucky Derby, something Nerud insisted on, the Tartan homebred blitzed the speedy Tumiga by a pole in the Withers next out, polishing off that mile in 1:33 4/5. Like I said … a budding legend.

Joining the son of Rough 'n Tumble in the starting gate for the Jersey Derby on May 30, 1967 were only three other horses. Among them was the very classy, and the Doc’s old friend from the early days back at Tartan, In Reality. Despite already being a multiple stakes winner, and having recently finished second in the Preakness to Damascus, In Reality was not expected to derail the Dr. Fager express. And so it was written, and so it was done.

Dr. Fager, with Manny Ycaza in the stirrups, bound out to the early lead and was never threatened. He finished a full 6 ½ lengths ahead of In Reality, who was even further ahead of the rest. It was further evidence that this young colt was something very special. End of Story.

The chapter on Dr. Fager’s only trip to Garden State Park should have been over that simply, but alas, it was not. The Jersey Derby, at nine furlongs, was his longest race to date, and Nerud did not want any trouble in the short field. He instructed his rider to go right to the lead. As instructed Ycaza, who had a reputation as an aggressive rider, pushed his mount right to the front, and once clear, steered the 3-10 shot towards the rail in advance of the clubhouse turn. The bumping behind him was believed to have very little to do with what Dr. Fager had done, but the stewards saw it differently. Despite proving his complete superiority over the field every step around, the runaway winner of the Jersey Derby was taken down for 'herding' and placed last.

Rumors of a particular steward being out to get Ycaza swirled, and Nerud, never a shrinking violet, was less than diplomatic over the affair, calling it “prejudiced.”

No matter the reason behind the disqualification, I have yet to meet a person who believed the decision to be a fair one. Finding people who say taking down Dr. Fager that day was a travesty, however, proved much easier to come by. To this day, I cannot think of a more universally disliked disqualification in a big race. There weren’t many blemishes on the record of the great Dr. Fager, but unfortunately, the 1967 Jersey Derby was one of them.


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Older Comments about Prejudiced and a Travesty: The Day they Took a Great One Down...

Steward Keene Daingerfield didn’t like John Nerud and hated Manny Ycaza for his aggressive riding. After the race, Nerud was quoted as saying the decision was prejudiced. He was called in to the steward’s office to explain his comment. When told there was a rumor going around that he said the Garden State stewards were prejudiced, Nerud said, “That ain’t no rumor. That’s what I said.” As far as I’m concerned, the blemish is on the Garden State stewards record, not the Good Doctor’s.
Dark Mirage's competitors weren't garbage. There was Miss Ribot, Gay Matilda, Syrian Sea, Guest Room etc.
any journeyman just made Dark Mirage legal she was so much better than the rest.
Manny was colorful to say the least. I remember his rides on Bald Eagle and his Filly TC victories with Dark Mirage. He also I believe ended Northern Dancer's TC effort with the ride on Quadrangle.
Ycaza was nuttier than a fruit cake. Saw a still photo head on where HE claimed foul on the horse inside after HE leaned over and tried to block him with his extended elbow...As if no one could see that?
What a wonderful article, and I am old enough to remember it. Thank you, Brian!
Story reminds me of the time Dave's Friend went off 1-9 in a 6f race at Pimlico, broke from the outside but the jock was so hell bent to get to the rail before the 1/4 pole, he cut-off a horse on the rail. Though Dave's Friend won by 12, he was DQ'd. The runner-up who was declared the winner was "Star of David" ridden by John Nazareth, on of all days, Good Friday. ya just cannot make up this kind of stuff.
ill be back tomorrow got to study sat is a big day of racing hope to have some winners ill be on early with some winners I HOPE
manny ycaza was a madman
Another Travesty was Buena Vista's DQ in the 2010 Japan Cup, even though she won in dominating fashion. She too would go on to vindication the next year to win the Japan Cup. Her DQ seems particularly upsetting given Gentildonna was allowed her win over Orfevre for a more severe interference. Go figure....
  • zatt · Yukichan, I direct you to this: · 2387 days ago
Travesty in Alphabet Soup being Disqualified in the 1996 Goodwood?. He got his revenge in the Classic though :)
Thanks for the history lesson!
Sometimes in defeat, the light they shed can actually shine longer and brighter. It took me years to come to terms with this as Dr. Fager was my favorite, but a story in another sport took away the pain of that day. The analogy comes from the "Long Count" Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney. Dempsey while being consoled over his loss stated "are you kidding, this fight made me immortal." This comment in no way condones this kind of behavior. It's meant more to show that over time things have a way of working themselves out. Very nice story of my personal favorite, thanks.
I did see Spend A Buck there a few times in year one of the reopening, and he was pretty fast! Dancer's Image is a little less black and white, (no pun intended) but yes, from everything I've read on the subject it seems resentment towards Peter Fuller was a big part of the story in a very questionable judgement in the '68 Derby.
Good story, Brian. Makes me wonder about the following year's Ky Derby. Although not immediately after the race, I hear stories that Dancer's Image was taken down(supposedly because the owner(s) had some civil rights background?), and Forward Pass was moved up, based on a urine test. Was there any truth to that? If so, it looks as though prejudice abounded at that time.
That's a helluva pedigree for Brian. No wonder there is nobody that can write a better blog! Not only is that Garden State Park gone, but the one built after is also gone. The second one never got to see a horse like Dr. Fager!
Brian, I thoroughly enjoyed your telling of Dr.Fager's disqualification story, and part of your own story as well. I find myself getting angry about the DQ, too, and I didn't see the race or know anything about it until last week, when cocoa mentioned it.
footlick wrote it best, "They called it herding. I called it the field being totally outclassed."
This is my history lesson for the day. Thanks for sharing, Brian!
Secretariat DQ in the Champagne was a horrible call too.

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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, American Pharoah and Justify. 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. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter 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 hosting 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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