Dickey: Four horses (plus one) that mean a lot to me

Dickey: Four horses (plus one) that mean a lot to me
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

To share “four horses that mean a lot to me” has gone viral the last few days on social media, with racing fans lightening the mood amid the coronavirus pandemic by sharing some of their favorite memories.

Some Twitter sleuthing showed that this likely originated from London, England, where Sophie Bichener listed Mad Moose, Olofi, Hurricane Fly and Faugheen as the horses dearest to her.

From there, hundreds of people chimed in with their four most-beloved racehorses. It isn’t a contest of the “best” racehorses of all time, but more of a personal preference, although some of the all-time greats have been mentioned numerous times.

I thought I’d also expand on my list here. They are Silver Charm, Wise Dan, Bucchero and Bullards Alley.

Silver Charm

Silver Charm is my all-time favorite race horse. He is the horse most responsible for me becoming a fan of Thoroughbred racing. I grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where we had a harness track, the now-defunct Raceway Park. I started attending the Standardbred races in my late teens.

I moved to Las Vegas in my early 20s and began betting on the Thoroughbreds in the race and sports books anywhere I could. In 1997, I booked a trip to Los Angeles, intent on attending the Santa Anita Derby. 

Back in the early days of the Internet and before smartphones, I completely miscalculated which airport would have been most convenient and wound up paying a small fortune on cab fare from LAX to Santa Anita.

Once I got to the track, I realized how beautiful Santa Anita Park truly is. The backdrop is unlike any track I’ve been to since. It is glorious.

I had handicapped the Santa Anita Derby for a long, long time and landed on an Irish-bred horse named Hello. I thought he was going to beat both Silver Charm and Free House. I was wrong.

Free House won the Santa Anita Derby that year, but it was Silver Charm who caught my eye. Although I was foolish enough to bet on Hello once again in the Kentucky Derby, when Silver Charm crossed the wire first, I was elated. A horse that I had watched on my California trip was wearing the garland of roses. I had totally forgotten that I lost money. I was a fan of Silver Charm.

He went on to win the Preakness two weeks later, besting Free House in an epic stretch duel. The photo of those two battling it out with Free House’s eyes glaring at Silver Charm is my favorite race photo ever.

Silver Charm was poised to break the long Triple Crown drought in the Belmont Stakes, but Touch Gold ruined Charm’s shot at immortality. I was crushed. I had experienced the highs and lows of racing through the exploits of one horse. Or so I had thought.

I watched Silver Charm go on to have a glorious career, seeing him win the Dubai World Cup in the wee hours of the morning in Las Vegas.

When he was sent to Japan for stud duties, I thought I’d never have a chance to meet my equine hero. But then Silver Charm was pensioned and sent to Old Friends Farm near Lexington, Ky. I was one of the first visitors to greet him. He bit me.

Wise Dan

Wise Dan is the definition of heart in a racehorse. He had such a strong will that he simply wouldn’t allow other horses to beat him. While he did, in fact, lose eight times in his career, his grittiness was an inspiration to me.

To this day, I’ve never witnessed with my own two eyes a better example of that absolute determination and will to win than I did on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in 2014.

In the Grade 1 Turf Classic, Wise Dan didn’t begin the race with his best effort. He seemed unsettled, maybe anxious at the start. Jockey John Velazquez had a tight hold of him in the early stages of the race. He was never too far behind the lead in the 1 1/8-mile turf route, but he didn’t look like his normal self.

But when he hit the top of the stretch four-wide, it was as though he regained his purpose, and set his sights upon Seek Again, who had troubles of his own to begin the race. The two hooked up in the long stretch drive on the Churchill Downs lawn.

Wise Dan would not be denied. The stretch duel was incredibly intense. Even though he was a prohibitive betting favorite, the crowd cheered him on with the same intensity they would display one race later when California Chrome won the Kentucky Derby. He would not be denied, as he beat Seek Again by the slimmest of margins.

Bucchero, Bullards Alley

I’ve been fortunate to own a few race horses in my life. My first was a pacing Standardbred mare named Fox Valley Isabela. My first Thoroughbred was a gelding named That Is So Right. And in early 2018, I purchased an Exchange Rate filly named Resonate at Keeneland's January sale.

I sent Resonate to the Tim Glyshaw barn at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. I had met Glyshaw in 2014 when I came down to Churchill Downs from Dearborn, Mich., where I lived at the time. He showed me around his barn and I decided right then and there that if I ever took a real shot at racing, he would be my trainer.

When I visited my latest horse racing venture in New Orleans, I had plenty of time to spend in the Glyshaw barn, and that meant hanging around with Resonate, Bucchero and Bullards Alley.

Bullards Alley and Bucchero were both graded stakes winners and had competed in the 2017 Breeders’ Cup at Del Mar the previous year. Although I knew my $7,000 purchase would never be able to fill the big horseshoes of her stablemates, it was fulfilling to be part of a barn with some fan favorites.

Bucchero was playful, but intense and serious when it was time to go to work. He seemed to be able to turn on and turn off his intensity depending upon what was happening. If it was time to go to the track, he was ready to work. When he came back to the barn, he was his playful, yet still somewhat intense self.

A multiple graded stakes winner who competed in two Breeders’ Cups, was invited to Royal Ascot, was a winner at distances from five to 8 ½ furlongs and won stakes races on turf as well as synthetic. Bucchero stands stud in Florida at Pleasant Acres Farm.

Sometime in May, I’m expecting a broodmare I own a piece of to foal a first-crop Bucchero baby.

Bullards Alley gave Glyshaw his first graded stakes victory in 2016 when he won the Grade 3 Louisville Handicap in May. While it was Bucchero who would make Glyshaw a multiple graded stakes-winning trainer by winning his first of two consecutive Wooford Stakes at Keeneland in April of 2017, “Bullard” became the first horse Glyshaw trained to win a Grade 1. He upset the 2018 Canadian International at Woodbine as a 43-1 longshot in October of 2017.

Glyshaw is an exceptional horseman, and he cares tremendously for all of the runners under his care, be they low-level claimers or Breeders’ Cup-participating, multiple graded stakes winners. But he has a special place in his heart for Bullards Alley.

"Bullard" was the alpha of the barn. When you walked past him, he glared at you. Although he was playful with Glyshaw, I didn't try myself. This horse had an “air” about him. He commanded attention, but not in a selfish way. You were drawn to him.

In April of 2018, Glyshaw and I raced Resonate on the opening day of the Keeneland meet. She finished second, the best result I’ve ever had as an owner. We then entered her into a $20,000 claiming race at the end of the meet.

On April 21, Bullards Alley was in the Grade 2 Elkhorn Stakes at Keeneland. He got off to a rough start and early in the first turn, tragedy struck. He was pulled up with an obvious injury. He was loaded into the equine ambulance, but the damage had been done, as he suffered a compound condylar fracture. Bullards Alley was euthanized in the ambulance.

To this day, I’ve never felt a more empty feeling than learning of Bullards Alley's passing. It was by far the worst horse racing experience of my life. Four days later, Resonate ran in her claiming race, but this time she was adorned in wraps that matched the color of Bullards Alley’s silks.

She never came back to the Glyshaw barn, as she was claimed that day.

So, those are my four horses -- five, actually -- that mean a lot to me. And I'd like to pass the torch to you in the comment section.

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