The Travails of Tim the Tiger

July 07, 2016 06:10am

Whatever happened to Tim the Tiger? And who exactly was Tim the Tiger? 


In the midst of the battle between Affirmed and Calumet Farms’ Alydar for the 1978 Triple Crown, Tim the Tiger stood out as the stable’s possible successor to Alydar and was at one time a front runner for Two-Year-Old Colt of the Year. 


Then came Spectacular Bid, and Tim the Tiger joined the ranks of promising two-year-olds who never successfully made the leap from two-year-old to three-year-old. 


Tim the Tiger had some good bloodlines; his sire was the great Nashua, and his dam was Rose Court, who was not impressive on the racetrack (four wins in 35 starts) but had the famous Bull Lea, the foundation sire for Calumet Farms, as a second sire.  


The horse was not that impressive to look at, but he could run.  "I've never in my life had a horse who surprised me so much," trainer John Veitch said of Tim the Tiger.  "Before our two-year-olds have ever worked, we grade them all on the basis of the way they move, the way they gallop, how intelligent they are.  Of the six colts we had at Hialeah, Tim the Tiger was number six.  He was a dummy.  He was a big and ungainly ugly duckling and when he went to the track he'd stumble around and his legs would go in four different directions.”   


But Veitch let Tim the Tiger race, and he won his maiden at Belmont on July 1, 1978 in a 5 ½ furlong race. He won his next race, the Juvenile Stakes, another 5 ½-furlong race, two weeks later, and Veitch was beginning to change his mind about the awkward colt.  


He scored with a narrow victory in the Tremont Stakes, taking the lead in the stretch and winning by a nose over Jose Binn. The time was a speedy 1:10 for six furlongs. He followed that with a win in the Sapling Stakes, this time defeating Groton High (who had previously beaten Spectacular Bid in the Tyro Stakes) by one length. The time was 1:11 ? for six furlongs over a muddy track. 


Tim the Tiger was still unbeaten and had won four races in a row. He was starting to get noticed by the fans and media, who began comparing him to Alydar. Not so fast, Veitch cautioned. 


“He’s not as much as a natural athlete as Alydar,” Veitch told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “and he’s still developing. It’s hard to really compare them at this point.” But he admitted that Tim the Tiger was bigger, stronger and more powerful at this point than Alydar was. 


Tim the Tiger kept winning. He ran his streak to 5-0 with a big win over another unbeaten colt, General Assembly, son of Secretariat, in the Cowdin Stakes. He battled back from six lengths down to overtake General Assembly in the stretch, hanging on for the win by a neck. 


He was now the horse to beat among two-year-olds, and horse racing enthusiasts were talking about him and General Assembly being the next version of Affirmed and Alydar. 


Not so fast. After two disappointing losses in a row, Spectacular Bid romped to a 15-length victory in the World’s Playground Stakes. He would face General Assembly and Tim the Tiger in the illustrious Champagne Stakes, which usually crowned the Two-Year-Old champion.  


Most handicappers saw it as a battle between General Assembly and Tim the Tiger, but in the end, it was all Bid, who won by 2 ¾ lengths over General Assembly. Tim the Tiger inexplicably faded to fourth, nine lengths behind the leader.  


The three colts met again in the Laurel Futurity, and this time Spectacular Bid blew past the competition, winning by 8 ½ lengths over General Assembly. Once again, Tim the Tiger faded to fourth. “He had no excuse—not a one,” said his rider, Jeff Fell. 


However, Veitch blamed the two losses on an injury he sustained in the Cowdin, and said he probably shouldn’t have raced him in the Champagne and Laurel Futurity. Still, Veitch had plans for Tim the Tiger to go to the Kentucky Derby, laying out a path through Florida. He wouldn’t race him for the rest of the year, but planned to travel to Hialeah to race. He predicted three prep races before the Derby. 


His poor showings in the last two races had an impact on horse racing experts. Tim the Tiger was given a weight of 121 in the Jockey Club’s Experimental Handicap, five pounds less than Spectacular Bid and one less than General Assembly.  


Then bad racing luck hit. Tim the Tiger injured his right ankle in a workout in January and underwent surgery to repair a small fracture. He would be out of the Triple Crown races and probably wouldn’t race until the fall. 


He didn’t race again until October 27, when he finished third in an allowance race at Aqueduct. He raced three more times and remained winless. Finally, he got in the win column with a victory on December 6 over Norge in the Ardose Purse. 


Tim the Tiger raced as a four-year-old with mixed results, ending his career with eight wins, one second and three thirds in twenty starts, earning $274,691. He might have been a Kentucky Derby contender had he stayed healthy, but his spotty record suggests that a good two-year-old does not necessarily mean you have a superhorse on your hands. 

~Written by Peter Lee



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