Quiet Passing - By Richard R. Gross

Maybe it was his name: Real Quiet. Maybe he wasn’t regal enough or expensive enough. Maybe it was those early losses.

It’s sadly appropriate that Real Quiet died all alone in a paddock accident on the day Rachel Alexandra was being retired and the week the film “Secretariat” was released, so the horse racing community’s attention turned to its stars.

Overlooked again.

No one wanted him at first. Bob Baffert convinced Mike Pegram to plunk down all of $17,000 for the colt at the 1996 Keeneland September yearling sale because of his classic conformation profile. Baffert famously joked the horse was as slender as a fish from the front. “The Fish”—the name engraved on his halter.

A cheap, skinny horse with questionable bloodlines, a crooked leg from surgery as a yearling, and a joke for a nickname seemed unlikely to follow in the hoof prints of Baffert’s $7 million dollar earner Silver Charm, denied the Triple Crown in 1997, let alone join the ranks of horses like undefeated Seattle Slew, gutty Affirmed and, of course, the incomparable “Big Red” duo of Secretariat and Man o’ War.

Sure enough, Real Quiet’s early performance was underwhelming; he did not break his maiden until his seventh race as a 2-year-old. Real Quiet finally hit the big time with a win over Artax in the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I), scoring the highest Beyer Speed Figure of any 2-year-old going on to win the Kentucky Derby (gr. I).

That wasn’t enough. The Fish was thought to be swimming in the too-deep waters of a well-regarded 1998 crop. The Derby field included Cape Town, who beat Real Quiet in the Brown & Williamson Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. III) at Churchill. There was undefeated stablemate Indian Charlie, whose four wins included the 1998 Santa Anita Derby (gr. I) a month earlier over Real Quiet. Favored Favorite Trick already owned nine wins and over $1.3 million. And, of course, Victory Gallop.

In a pairing that now seems fittingly star-crossed, Baffert put a revitalized Kent Desormeaux in the irons for the Triple Crown chase.

Real Quiet ran in the middle of the pack through most of the Derby, but surged to the lead on the final turn. Victory Gallop was last until the stretch when he blurred past the pack on the outside and very nearly caught a tiring, but victorious Real Quiet.

Gary Stevens, ironically Baffert’s rider on Silver Charm the previous year, was replacement jockey on Victory Gallop for the Preakness (gr. I). Running four-wide, The Fish again gave his now-patented burst to the lead at the final turn, this time sustaining his move and pulling away from Victory Gallop at the finish.

We all know what happened in the 1998 Belmont (gr. I), arguably the most heart-breaking race in Triple Crown history. The Fish got caught at the line.

Twelve years and several missed Triple Crown runs later, it’s clear Real Quiet had real talent. He was named champion 3-year-old male despite the painful Belmont defeat. He used quick bursts of speed to put away opponents in the Derby and more convincingly in the Preakness. Often regarded as better at the classic distances, his Fappiano-line pedigree suggests Real Quiet eventually could have made great noise siring sprinters. His best-known offspring is consecutive two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) champion Midnight Lute. He sired 14 other stakes winners including multiple grade one distaffer Pussycat Doll.

Real Quiet won grade I races at ages 2, 3, and 4, something done in the last decade only by Lemon Drop Kid among colts. He amassed $3,271,802 and missed another $5 million plus and the Triple Crown by a mere nostril.

Real Quiet won the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) over Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) runner-up Budroyale and gamely beat Free House in the Pimlico Special (gr. I) at age 4 before retiring to stud following an injury. He was the first horse in 50 years to win both the Preakness and the Special, and is one of only five to accomplish the feat, the other four all Triple Crown winners.

Despite all that, it’s the wire photo at Belmont that remained his legacy.

Mike Jester said he created Penn Ridge Farm near Harrisburg, Pa., to reward the champion with space to wander and provide a foundation for his stud business. Real Quiet finally had a home and the respect that seemed to elude him all his life. Of course it was short-lived.

“It’s a pretty big blow for us,” said Jester of the Champion’s death.

A big blow for racing too. There is hope every year for a Big Horse to end the Triple Crown drought and replenish the nation’s trickling interest in Thoroughbred racing.

A Big Horse...like The Fish.

Richard R. Gross reports and writes from the Middle East and Asia for United Press International/UPI.com and covers racing from Meydan Racecourse in Dubai.


Leave a Comment:

Darla Burton

I was very saddened to hear about Real Quiet's death....and the way he died...that tore me up too.  R.I.P. Real Quiet!

12 Oct 2010 3:40 PM

A nose a way from the Triple Crown and a heart bigger than any trophy. I was very sad to learn of his passing. I have always been a fan of his...RIP.

12 Oct 2010 3:55 PM

RIP Real Quiet.  Why do horses like this fly under our radar.  We watch them during the Triple Crown races and then they are retired and off to stud.  True Champion!

12 Oct 2010 4:00 PM

Great tribute to a GREAT horse.RIP Real Quiet and oh yes I did see you run quite a few times.  There was a reason for your untimely death but we will never know why that was up to someone higher than we are.

12 Oct 2010 4:03 PM
Bet Twice

Nice to see Real Quiet get his due.  Wonderful racehorse and a great underdog story.  I was at HP to see him win the Gold Cup.  Hard to believe he could close like that after squeezing through on the rail.  RIP.

12 Oct 2010 4:16 PM

Thank you for writing this beautiful tribute to one of the most under-appreciated horses of recent history.

He passed "quietly" just as he had graced our racetracks. No great fanfare, no rabid fans... just a hard trying, honest horse with the heart of a champion. RIP Real Quiet. Triple Crown lore will remember you well after the passing of those who failed to truly appreciate your valiant efforts. RIP, you left us way too soon.

My heart goes out to Mike Jester and the people of Penn Ridge Farm. Thank you for seeing the golden heart of a champion inside the body of a fish... and for thinking enough of him to make him THE stallion of a new stud venture. What a loss for racing but what a much greater loss for you all.  

12 Oct 2010 4:49 PM

It is very sad that Real Quiet died alone I hope he didnt suffer The racing world lost 3 champions Rachel was retired Real Quiet and now Pleasant Tap are gone may they rip I hope Rachel has a long and happy retirement.  

12 Oct 2010 5:22 PM

This is extrmely sad for me because my 3rd cousin was the breeder of him. :(

12 Oct 2010 6:36 PM
Robin from Maryland

RIP - Fish.  They're waiting for you at Rainbow Bridge.  It's sad to hear of your passing.  But now you're with all of the others, running free in the fields of Heaven.  Until we all meet again.

12 Oct 2010 8:00 PM

It wasn't a quiet passing for me.  It hit me just as hard as Rachel retiring, and both ruined my week (and set off a few tears).  I loved Real Quiet as a young "tween" girl.  I will always remember him fondly, and am shocked and amazed at the lack of send-off he's gotten.  He was a better horse than people are showing with their response.  I am saddened he had to die the way he did, instead of quietly as an old man.

12 Oct 2010 8:49 PM

Nice sentiment!

12 Oct 2010 9:00 PM
Mike Relva

Thanks for the nice article on RQ. I've always believed he was a great horse and so sad to know he's gone way too soon. Very dishearting to know the manner in which he died. I don't wanna realize it.

12 Oct 2010 9:14 PM

I was shocked when I read where he had died. In fact I had told some friends, just a couple weeks ago, that I would love one of his foals. He carried one of my favorite bloodlines. In Reality to Man O' War. So tragic. He will be missed. He was so under appreciated. RIP you beautiful boy. No running with the best.

12 Oct 2010 9:36 PM
Lisa A in CA

RIP Real Quiet.  You gave your all, with such great heart. You are a true champion, and I hope history will remember you as you deserve. I will miss you always.  

12 Oct 2010 10:33 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Very nice article and tribute. What a devastating loss of a great champion. Only the good die young.

12 Oct 2010 11:04 PM

Loved the story, he was a great champion and just a nose away from a triple crown. As each year passes without a triple crown winner we appreciate how close Real Quiet came to being one. Being a horse owner I can tell you accidents can happen in the blink of an eye with tragic results.  At least Real Quiet was able to run and buck unlike Pleasant Tap that died with horrible pain from laminitis.  RIP both Real Quiet and Pleasant Tap.

12 Oct 2010 11:08 PM
Debbie Bernhard

I was very sad to hear of Real Quiet's passing.  He will always be special to me.  He won his Derby on the day I married my best friend (and yes, I did go watch it after the I do's!!).  RIP dear boy, have fun with Secretariat, Barbaro, Ruffian and all the other great ones.  I will always remember you and love you.

12 Oct 2010 11:46 PM


13 Oct 2010 12:33 AM

Thank you for the tribute to this amazing horse.

His death hit me hardest of the news that week... being a dual Classic winner and retired quite close to my home... he deserved to live a much longer life... Midnight Lute has always been my favorite sprinter too.

Well, maybe one of his foals from last year's or this year's crop will make headlines. Real Quiet was a true champion, he just never gave up.  

13 Oct 2010 9:34 AM

Thank you for this tribute to Real Quiet. Up to now, I have seen only his obituary on-line. I have always appreciated what a game champion he was and have been saddened by his untimely death! When I mention the Triple Crown winners to people I always mention him,too. To lose by less than a nose was so disappointing, but it did not diminish his other accomplishments in my eyes. It always bugged me that his nickname was "The Fish",too!

Sincere condolences to his connections. I will always believe that there is a special place in Heaven for horses to run free and be gloriously happy! You will be missed, Real Quiet, by many racing fans!

13 Oct 2010 9:48 AM
Sunny Farm

REAL QUIET . His owner loved him and took care of him after his race career. At least this stallion had this love and was not sold off when the owners were done making money with him. You have my highest respect. REAL QUIET was way too young to go, but at least he ''Died with his boots on''(A Western term for a good way to go )and did not languish. I share your sorrow and hope his offspring carry on and do very well. He was a beautiful stallion.

13 Oct 2010 9:49 AM
Linda in Texas

It is always sad to me that champions with Real Quiet's talents are often not glorified while they are living.

And such a shame that only after their death is attention and respect paid to them.

Thank you for the respect paid to Real Quiet. Somehow his name tells it all.  

13 Oct 2010 10:05 AM

A great horse and a huge loss. Thank you for this tribute. I am so sad he is gone

13 Oct 2010 10:55 AM

I was so saddened to learn of Real Quiet's death. I don't think he ever got the respect he was due from the racing world. He was a nostril away from being a Triple Crown winner. He was a beautiful horse and many will miss him. RIP Real Quiet.

13 Oct 2010 11:01 AM

Thank you for this fitting tribute to Real Quiet.  I always had a great respect for the horse and was saddened by his loss.  He may have been forgotten by the media the week of his passing, but I do not think he was forgotten by his fans based on the outpouring of affection I read on various horse racing sites.  Perhaps in time, Real Quiet's legacy will be remembered with an induction into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

13 Oct 2010 11:57 AM
Pedigree Shelly

    Rest in peace Real Quiet, May you run forever in Elysium Fields .

     I also want to send condolences to the owners of Penn Ridge. I've seen Penn Ridge and it is a beautiful farm with plenty of rolling hills and trees ! A special place for a truly special horse !!

13 Oct 2010 1:46 PM
joe c.

I was at the '98 Belmont; the excitement in the paddock was tremendous as he entered.  I gave up my seat for the Manhattan to get a good paddock spot.  Some of the disappointment at his loss bordered on violent.  He is sadly underrated and gone too soon.

13 Oct 2010 1:55 PM

The Racing Gods are tough, to be sure.  And Real Quiet's near miss in the Belmont to me will always be the hardest thing to watch.

I agree that his passing seemed to be shuffled off the page by the "important" news of the day so to speak.  But there is a legion of racing fans that respect and admire the accomplishments of Real Quiet.  I wasn't aware that he is one of the only colts to win a Gr I at 2, 3 and 4 in recent years.  A rather sad testimony to todays racehorse.  I hope Lookin At Lucky comes back at 4!

13 Oct 2010 2:53 PM
Liz Tobey

We've lost two very good but underrated and under-appreciated raechorses and sires in Real Quiet and Pleasant Tap. They were not "flashy," but they ran some tremendous races and also were consistent, dependable sires.

13 Oct 2010 5:21 PM

Real Quiet was a class act all the way. His untimely death won't change that

13 Oct 2010 9:46 PM


14 Oct 2010 4:18 AM

A beautiful eulogy for Real Quiet.  To me he was never The Fish.  He was always The Shark.  I cried when he lost the Belmont, and I cried when the Thoroughbred industry lost him.

14 Oct 2010 12:17 PM

RIP Real Quiet you always be my HERO. You will always be remembered

14 Oct 2010 4:04 PM
Elaine Connors

There are many horses I love and follow avidly, but Real Quiet was and will remain at the top of my list.  I agree with all the others who commented he didn't get the respect he deserved.  He will always be on my list as the 13th Triple Crown winner!  I followed his progeny in Bloodhorse and was thrilled when Midnite Lute won the Breeder's Cup Sprint two years running.  RIP!  I will see you in Heaven!

18 Oct 2010 1:07 AM

I do not understand why this wonderful horse never got much respect from the media. However, his fans know how great he really was. I was at his Belmont and still can't believe that he lost-from where we were sitting I was sure he had held on. I will miss you Real Quiet. Thanks for the memories. I was so glad to read that the folks at Penn Ridge loved him and took good care of him.

19 Oct 2010 9:49 PM

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