Race of the Week 2017

The Day the Spa Stood Still

Runaway Groom


It’s been 35 years since Affirmed swept the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont at the expense of his talented adversary, Alydar. This year, there were three different winners in Orb, Oxbow, and Palace Malice. Since Affirmed, 2013 marks the 16th time we have had three separate winners of the series of races that make up the Triple Crown. It almost happened this year, but surprisingly, in the first 15 years with a trio of victors, there has been only occurrence where the three met each other on the racetrack after the Triple Crown. The occasion was the 1982 1982 Travers Stakes when the Derby winner, Gato Del Sol, the Preakness winner, Aloma’s Ruler, and the Belmont winner, Conquistador Cielo converged on Saratoga. The much anticipated race would not disappoint when the hooves hit the dirt.

Conquistador Cielo had become a major star that spring and summer, having reeled off a string of breathtaking wins at Belmont Park. He had been recently syndicated for the hefty price tag of $36 million. Racing fans were beginning to use the ‘super horse’ tag for the son of Mr. Prospector trained by Woody Stephens. Conquistador Cielo’s main competition was expected to come from the tough speed horse, Aloma’s Ruler who had run consistently well other than the sloppy Belmont Stakes, and Gato Del Sol, the stretch runner from California who had been the surprise winner in the Run for the Roses. With the big three headlining the Travers, only two others would enter the starting gate. The two decided long shots were New York runner Lejoli and Canada’s top three-year-old, Runaway Groom, but they were mere bit players to the stars of the show who had dominated the Spring’s Triple Crown. Or so it was thought.

Eddie Maple and Conquistador Cielo took off out of the starting gate and shot to the rail. Just to his outside was Aloma’s Ruler who rushed up quickly to poke his head in front with rider Angel Cordero. The crafty Cordero would keep the favorite pinned down on the slow rail all the way around, as the two horses would remain lapped on each other throughout. Strong fractions were carved out of the Saratoga dirt, and surprisingly the Derby winner was in somewhat close pursuit. Gato Del Sol did not want to lose touch with the Preakness and Belmont winner early. The only horse who did lose touch early on, was the Canadian Star, Runaway Groom who was content to trail the field for the first mile.

On the far turn, it was apparent that Gato Del Sol would mount no challenge from his closer to the pace than usual position. It appeared that the Preakness and Belmont winner would take their battle all the way to the wire, when suddenly, out of nowhere, a gray flash began gobbling up ground on the outside. Runaway Groom and rider, Jeffrey Fell, were gaining with every stride as the now battle weary warriors were weakening from their taxing pace battle. Runaway Groom’s rush was too much for the game Aloma’s Ruler who had edged ahead of Conquistador Cielo in the late stages. Runaway Groom would win the Travers in one of the biggest upsets in the history of the Mid-Summer Derby.

It was a shocking result, but Runaway Groom was no shrinking violet. He was Canada’s champion sophomore of 1982 and never had been worse than second through his Travers win. The son of Blushing Groom had already won two legs of the Canadian Triple Crown, with only a second place finish in the Queens’ Plate keeping him from being a Triple Crown champion north of the border. Trained by John DiMario, Runaway Groom became the only horse in racing history to beat the three different winners of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and the Belmont in the same race.

Runaway Groom would never reach these kind of heights again, possibly due to his intense schedule in the Summer of 1982. Sent to stud after the following season, Runaway Groom became a hit at stud, siring more than sixty stakes winner including Cherokee Run. He survived until 2007, when he passed away at the age of 28 due to the infirmities of old age. 


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Older Comments about The Day the Spa Stood Still...

I don't know anything about Jeff Fell per se, but I've always thought many of the top riders were emotionally/psychologically damaged before they ever began riding professionally. Then the stresses, both emotional and physiological (starvation), make things much worse. Chris Antley was truly tragic.
Two riders came back from rehab this year in Toronto...ONE is doing well, and the other, who used to be leading rider, is not.
Sad that so many wind up alcoholics or addicts, but starvation has its repercussions.
Jeff Fell - excellent rider, but unfortunately had some issues. He used to live around the corner from me and we'd reminice about the horses.
The CBS announcers GAVE you the winner when Runaway Groom got there. They told about how there were rumors of COnqustaodr's soundness, his FIRST appearance in front wraps, they TOLD you that Gato del Sol had falled off form dramatically, they TOLD you that Aloma's Ruler had suffered through a throat infection and missed lots of work in preparation for the race, and they TOLD You that Lejoli was way overmatched..The only COLT that day that garned any PSOTIVIE comments was the winner. "This horse is a tremendous stretch runner."
Great race. Holy Bull's determination always comes to mind when I think of the Travers.

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