Decompression Chamber

What better way to relieve the pressure of racing in the 21st century than to go back and celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of the greatest races I have ever witnessed, a race the likes of which we will never see again.

Although the Suburban Handicap was uncharacteristically run on June 28 this year, the real anniversary of the one-time second leg in the Handicap Triple Crown is July 4.

Perhaps my reverence for the 1968 Suburban and its lofty ranking among the all-time great races is due to the fact that racing had just come into my life, and we all tend to look back at our fledgling days with a wide-eyed wonder and innocence. But 40 years later, the duel between racing’s titans Dr. Fager and Damascus still leaves me awestruck. There are nearly 2,000 words to follow, so to all those who stick it out to the end I hope you enjoy the ride.

The two future Hall of Famers had already faced each other twice the previous year, with Dr. Fager edging out Damascus in the Gotham and Damascus nailing down Horse of the Year honors with a rousing 10-length procession in the Woodward Stakes, in which Dr. Fager, who finished third, was victimized by a pair of rabbits – Damascus’ stablemate Hedever, a former world-record holder for a mile, and runner-up Buckpasser’s speedy pacesetter Great Power.

Both Damascus and Dr. Fager had strikes against them going into the ’68 Suburban, a showdown that people had been clamoring for since the Woodward. Damascus, a horse who thrived on racing, went into the race off only one easy allowance score at Delaware Park in the past five months. Dr. Fager came out as a 4-year-old sporting a new look that made the already intimidating colt even more intimidating. Trainer John Nerud equipped him with a figure-8 bridle and let his mane and forelock grow to give him more of a wild appearance.

After clear-cut victories in the Roseben Handicap and Californian Stakes, both under 130 pounds, Dr. Fager looked like a sure thing in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap, despite the presence of another nemesis from the previous year, In Reality, who was in the best form of his life, coming off three straight wins, including the Carter Handicap and John B. Campbell. When Dr. Fager came down with a severe case of colic on the eve of the Met Mile, Nerud was forced to scratch him, leaving the race to In Reality, who won comfortably for his fourth straight victory.

So, Dr. Fager had to go straight into the Suburban coming off a serious colic attack and having to miss the Met Mile. Damascus, who needed a steady diet of racing to get himself fit, was a fresh horse and not as finely tuned as trainer Frank Whiteley would have liked. This was a horse who had raced 19 times in an 11-month period, 18 of them stakes, and actually kept getting better.

Damascus was assigned highweight of 133 pounds in the Suburban, with Dr. Fager at 132, and In Reality in with 125.

The morning of the race, as usual, I took the Pioneer bus to Aqueduct and made my way into the grandstand to find a seat around the eighth pole.

Just about the same time, in the racing secretary’s office, a mini-drama was being played out that would have a major impact on the Suburban. Nerud spotted Whiteley going into racing secretary Tommy Trotter’s office. As Whiteley was walking out, Nerud overheard a jockey’s agent say that Hedevar had been scratched. When Whiteley looked over at Nerud and didn’t deny it he knew it was true. Nerud promptly stood up and said to whoever was listening, “Well, the race is over.”

As the crowd of more than 54,000 began to settle in, the familiar voice of track announcer Fred Capossela could be heard over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, in the seventh race, number 1A Hedevar…has…been…scratched. That sent a murmur rippling through the grandstand.

The fans had what they wanted: Damascus vs. Dr. Fager; titan against titan one on one.

What made Dr. Fager and Damascus such compelling rivals was that they were nothing alike. Dr. Fager, although a pussycat in his stall, was an untamed brute on the racetrack. With his long mane blowing in the breeze, he resembled a wild mustang dashing across the plains with reckless abandon. Once the gates opened, the only thing he wanted in front of him was the wind. Once he got the lead he had no intention of giving it up. In the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, when In Reality came up on his inside to challenge down the backstretch, the Good Doctor tried to savage him.

Damascus liked to come from well off the pace, and needed constant urging to keep his mind on the race. But once he turned on the afterburners, he would explode, turning in the most devastating move I have ever seen, even after 40 years. Unlike Dr. Fager, who ran with his head high, Damascus would get down low and was amazingly quick and agile, pouncing on his foes like a cat its prey. His jockeys had to keep persevering with him once he caught the leaders, because on occasion he would show a tendency to refuse to leave horses. But when he was able to keep up his head of steam he would annihilate his opponents, as he did in the Woodward, American Derby, and other races. In the Travers, he came from 16 lengths back on the backstretch to win by 22 lengths, equaling the track record in the slop.

With In Reality in the best form of his career, the improving George Widener colt Bold Hour also in peak form, having won the Grey Lag Handicap, and the hard-knocking Rokeby Stable mare Amerigo Lady, the Suburban looked to be a race for the ages.

Dr. Fager was sent off as the 4-5 favorite, with Damascus 7-5. Damascus was always quick out of the gate, and, as usual, he broke on top from the rail before being taken back by jockey Manny Ycaza. Dr. Fager, under Braulio Baeza, shot to the lead as expected. Baeza gave a peek over his left shoulder to make sure he was clear of Damascus before easing over to the rail.

With no one like a Hedevar or Great Power to get his blood boiling, Dr. Fager rated kindly and cruised to a clear lead going into the clubhouse turn. He quickly opened up by two lengths and took complete control of the race. In Reality, who was supposed to put pressure on The Doc, had broken on his wrong lead and apparently took a bad step, causing a minor injury that would lead to his retirement. He raced in fourth during the early going, about four lengths back, before retreating to finish last.

With Dr. Fager loose on a slow, uncontested lead, Damascus was now on a solo mission, and Ycaza had no choice but to put the colt into the fray early and test Dr. Fager, who had managed to get away with an opening quarter in :24 and half in :48 2/5, which was trotting horse time for Dr. Fager.

Ycaza took Damascus off the rail and starting pushing hard to get him to close the gap on Dr. Fager. Although taken completely out of his game plan, Damascus was able to use his quickness to collar Dr. Fager as they headed down the backstretch. The battle everyone had wanted to see for so long was on. Damascus pulled to within a neck of Dr. Fager, but that was as close as the Doc would let him get. He loved a challenge; that’s when those nostrils would flare and the daggers would shoot from his eyes.

The pair battled through the third quarter in a spectacular :22 3/5, and that’s with over 130 pounds on their back. With his initial attack thwarted, Ycaza backed off slightly and let Damascus regroup. This was not his game, and Ycaza had to make sure he saved something for the end, especially with Damascus not being fully cranked up. Once he and Damascus were able to catch their breath, Ycaza began pushing hard once again, trying to crack Dr. Fager, which was like trying to crack a walnut shell with two fingers.

Dr. Fager, with his head held high, seemed to dwarf Damascus, even though the two were about the same height. Damascus was now straight as a string as he mounted his second attack. The Doc knew he was in for a fight, and dug in once again. As hard as Ycaza pushed he couldn’t get by the tenacious Dr. Fager.

Around the far turn, Dr. Fager began inching away, putting a good half-length between him and Damascus. But, amazingly, Damascus wasn’t through. He gave it one final desperate try, pulling back alongside Dr. Fager for the third time, and actually might have gotten his nose in front nearing the quarter pole after a quarter in :23 3/5.

As they came out of the turn locked together, the crowd let out a deafening roar. Dr. Fager refused to yield. If you were trying to capture this moment on canvas you’d surely have smoke blowing out of Dr. Fager’s nostrils. Turning for home, a weary Damascus had no more to give. As fresh as he was and having to play Dr. Fager’s game, he began to retreat under the impost following a brutal mile in 1:34 3/5. Dr. Fager, who was built to carry weight, bounded clear, opening up by two lengths at the eighth pole.

The improving Bold Hour, carrying only 116 pounds, had been eyeing the battle several lengths back and moved in for the kill, hoping to pick up the pieces. He collared Damascus, from whom he was getting 17 pounds, and set his sights on Dr. Fager. But Baeza was sitting chilly on the Doc and paid little attention to Bold Hour. He merely hand rode Dr. Fager to the wire, maintaining his two-length advantage. Despite the sluggish opening half and carrying 132 pounds, Dr. Fager still was able to equal Gun Bow’s track record of 1:59 3/5.

Damascus, who wound up third in the Suburban, came back nine days later in the Amory Haskell Handicap at Monmouth and finished third again behind Bold Hour under 131 pounds after stumbling badly at the start. He returned a week later in the Brooklyn Handicap for his rematch with Dr. Fager. When I went to the paddock to look at Damascus, I knew this would be a different story. Not only did he have Hedevar back, he bounced around the paddock on his toes with his neck arched and muscles bulging from his shoulders and hindquarters. He had actually needed both those races and finally was ready to tackle Dr. Fager, who was carrying 135 pounds to 130 for Damascus.

Briefly, Hedevar, as expected shot to a clear lead, as Baeza took a stranglehold on Dr. Fager. After a half in :45 4/5, Baeza couldn’t hold the tempestuous Doctor any longer and had to let him go. He blew right on by Hedevar and opened a big lead through three-quarters in a blazing 1:09 2/5, but Damascus, sitting back a dozen lengths, was flying, and it was obvious this time it was Damascus who had the advantage. With one of his typical explosive moves, he collared Dr. Fager at the quarter pole and drew clear, but the Doc wouldn’t give up, despite the pace and staggering weight. He fought hard through the stretch, but Damascus was always in control, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. His time of 1:59 1/5 broke Dr. Fager’s short-lived record, and amazingly still stands 40 years later.

And this was Damascus’ third stakes in 16 days, carrying 130 pounds or more in all of them. Dr. Fager, of course, would never lose again, turning in what many believe to be the single greatest season in racing history, in which he earned an unprecedented four championships – Horse of the Year, Handicap Horse, Grass Horse, and Sprinter. In the Suburban and Brooklyn he ran back-to-back 1 1/4-mile races in 1:59 3/5, one off a slow pace and the other off a blistering pace, carrying 132 and 135 pounds.

After watching this year’s Suburban and Hollywood Gold Cup won by horses carrying 114 and 113 pounds, respectively, who had never even placed in a stakes race in North America, I couldn’t think of a better moment to look back at a special time in racing; a time of true greatness.

91 Comments

Leave a Comment:

John

As usual Steve, your turf writing is impeccable and a very nice tribute to one of the truly great horses of out time. Thanks for posting it.

01 Jul 2008 1:22 PM
Joan R

The Travers with Jaipur and Ridan was a pretty special race with them running heads apart the entire mile and a quarter.

I was also at the track for the 1967 running of the Suburban when Buckpasser seemed hopelessly beaten carring 135 pounds and a light weight was far ahead carrying  107 pounds but Buckpasser caught him and won. I was sure he had lost because he was so far behind when he passed me but his determination carried him to victory. I think todays "handicaps" should be called something else as none of the horses are handicapped by the weight they are carrying.

Back then most horses raced twice a month or more. You could really become a fan watching for your horse every other weekend.

Not anymore.

01 Jul 2008 1:24 PM
Bill

My interest in racing started at the exact same time and I thought it would be like that all the time!  What an crash-to-earth reality check these last 40 years have been [with the notable exception of the 1970's]. Handicap racing is a complete joke today. We are so eager to relive those halcyon days of the 60's and 70's that we prematurely pronounce horses as "great" without remembering what that word used to mean.  Ah yes, I too miss Dr. Fager, Damascus, Buckpasser & company.

01 Jul 2008 1:38 PM
Marilyn

Steve: you describe the race in such a way that even though I never saw the race, I felt like i was watching it while reading your article. I wish I had been interested in horses back then; it was Cigar who got me interested in horse racing; i missed so much; it really is very sad that horse racin' ain't what it used to be

01 Jul 2008 1:56 PM
Billy D.

A very insightful article which shows how much sturdier horses were back then as opposed to now, unless it's just the training methods used today. These were some of the truly 'GREAT' horses and races of the last century, I lnow the term 'Great' get's thrown around too much today. Although I'd argue perhaps the '67 Woodward would have to be considered as one of the great races of at least the 1960's. It's too bad trainers today don't use the same methods people used back then. Lukas would've fit right in back then, running a horse 4 or 5 times in a month. I suppose you can't blame it all on the trainers either. I think racing secretaries are partly to blame as well; case in point, in '96 at Arlington park the management would not put any more than 130lbs. on Cigar, if Cigar carried 136lbs. he had a real chance to see how good he was under top weight just like Forego and Kelso.

01 Jul 2008 2:20 PM
Brian A.

 Your writing is so passionate when telling about these horses.  I was hooked the second I started reading.  Thank you so much for sharing this.  

01 Jul 2008 2:25 PM
Cgriff

WOW!  What a picture you painted, Steve!  Incredible story, incredible champions, incredibly sad that we don't have horses that thrive on racing and carry weight like a truck anymore.

Thanks for an amazing look back at a real "once in a lifetime" kind of race!

01 Jul 2008 2:37 PM
Rggc

Wonderful and compelling writting!

Thanks for sharing this special memory with us. There will never be iron horses like they had in those days. I hope Curlin can just touch on that magic and maybe we can relive  alittle of yesteryears thrills.

01 Jul 2008 3:12 PM
McD

Those were the days!  With the major opportunities for good horses so few and far between, they ran against each other regularly and often.  It's hard to imagine there will ever be two like these in the same crop again.  Good memories!  

01 Jul 2008 3:17 PM
Kelly S

Bravo!  While I've known your name for years, I've only recently started reading your writing.  This piece definitely establishes you as one of my favorites, though!  I, unfortunately, was not even born yet during the time of most of the truly great horses.  Of course, I know the names Dr. Fager and Damascus, but I never saw them race.  For me, it is hard to connect to a racehorse that I have never seen race.  Citation, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, etc.--I can respect their accomplishments, but I never saw them, so there is no connection.  Yes, I can watch video footage, but something is lost when you don't actually live through the experience.  The exception for me has always been Ruffian because Jane Schwartz did such a magnificent job of capturing the emotion and experience of her races in writing.  Despite being much shorter than an actual book, the above piece accomplished the same feat.  I could actually picture what you were describing, and I could feel the excitement of seeing them battle.  I think I even held my breath a few times.  Thank you!!  I will never be able to hear the names Dr. Fager and Damascus again without remembering this article and feeling as if I finally understand why other fans still talk about them.

01 Jul 2008 3:25 PM
SalB

i wish i was around to witness those races. i became a fan thanks to a horse named "best pal". i still remember the 95 big cap screaming my lungs out cheering for pal as he was closing in on urgent request. he didn't win but i think that was best pal's best race. i love racing and i'm sure i'll see another iron horse come around in my lifetime...please.

01 Jul 2008 3:25 PM
joe

Horse racing is best celebrated through great writing. Thanks, Steve.Now racing is in decline as we see newspaper layoffs and magazines shrinking.  Oh for the days when horses raced and competition drew 54,000 to the Suburban. Here's to the good Dr., Damascus and In Reality.  

01 Jul 2008 3:25 PM
bill

If you were a fan of New York racing in the 60's you must remember these words, "and they're not going to catch the doctor today!"  May they rest in peace.

01 Jul 2008 3:53 PM
rcw

excellent! thanks for bringing us back to a better day. better horses, better horsemen.

01 Jul 2008 4:01 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, everyone for your comments. Writing that was like therapy for me. Kelly S., I especially thank you for your kind words, especially mentioning me in the same breath with Jane Schwartz, who is a good friend of mine. I did the proofreading for "Ruffian" and helped her with facts and racing terminology. She is an exceptional writer and did an incredible job with the book, which has become a classic. Bill, they rarely ever did catch the Doctor. The only horses who ever finished ahead of him were champions.

01 Jul 2008 4:39 PM
fan301

For anyone who is a Damascus fan--you can visit see his last surviving son, Ogygian, at Old Friends in Kentucky.  

01 Jul 2008 4:44 PM
cgriff

Kelly S-  Another on your must read should be Bill Nack's "Secretariat - Making of a Champion."  I'm sure Steve will agree that he is well worth the read - and perhaps you can get a better feeling of connection with Big Red - the greatest of them all!  Once you read that book  -read Nack's SI piece - "Pure Heart" - which was his eulogy to Secretariat.  I defy you not to be swept away and weep before the end.  Powerful, powerful imagery and emotive writing.

And - just so Steve knows  I still have him right up there with Bill - read Steve's 2001 Breeder's Cup wrap on the classic - I still hold that as one of his absolute best pieces on one of my absolute modern favorites - the gutsy Tiznow.  It doesn't get better than that!  

Enjoy!

01 Jul 2008 5:35 PM
s lee

Hi -

ah, 1968 - Damascus, Dr. Fager - and, you know, in some ways racing needed them as much as we need Curlin now.  1968 was the year of Dancer's Image, who was disqualified from the Derby because bute was in his system.  The Derby - tainted by drugs!

I remember Dr. Fager going after In Reality in NH, mouth open, ears pinned and teeth bared.  The look on In Reality's face (and his jockey's face) was amazing - what the heck are we doing here?!?!

But like you say, the really great images are Damascus and Dr. Fager looking each other in the eye - oh, it's you again, you can imagine them saying, ok, well, son, let's see what you've got today!  I'm ready!

01 Jul 2008 5:50 PM
Ken

Although I will always believe that the 1062 Travers with Ridan and Jaipur is the greatest race ever, the races between Dr. Fager and Damascus were the greatest series of races. As a matter of fact, I frequently ask "older" fans to declare their preference-Dr. Fager or Damascus. To me, it is very clear-Dr. Fager.

01 Jul 2008 6:27 PM
Steve Haskin

Cgriff, your compliments are extremely appreciated. Just another note, Bill is also a friend of mine, and you are right about his book being the best ever, along with Ruffian and Seabiscuit. You comparisons of me and Bill are giving me a swelled head. There is no one in his class. It was actually Bill's writing in Sports Illustrated that inspired me to become a racing writer. He was the first to put the reader right on the scene, and I have always aspired to do that. I'm so glad you mentioned the 2001 BC Classic recap, because that is one of my all-time favorite articles, especially coming on the heels of 9/11, and I took great pride in that one, with Tiznow's win the year before right behind. Thanks all again.

01 Jul 2008 6:54 PM
Clay

Wow you people are OLD. I thought I was getting old at 45, but I feel better about my age now LOL. Thanks for a great article in yesteryear Steve, you are a great writer. My favorite dueling horses from my way back was Alydar and Spectacular Bid.

01 Jul 2008 6:56 PM
$BILL

THE GREAT DR. FAGER, BOB JUDY WHO USED TO GALLOP HIM @ TARTAN FARM LIVES UP THE STREET FROM ME IN OCALA

01 Jul 2008 7:05 PM
Mary

I hope it is also appropriate to use this forum to thank The Blood-Horse staff for the photographic tribute to Citation. I felt like I was reliving his career photo by photo. A beautiful tribute to another amazing horse of decades gone by.    

01 Jul 2008 7:59 PM
Stan M

Thanks for reliving the days that I truly enjoyed while working for the "Chief" Allen Jerkens and being part of history as I was in the paddock for a few of those races etc. Yes, capacity crowds and every saturday was like going to a great prize fight! Everyone had an opinion on those races and it made for great karma. You had to be there to feel it, and it was what racing was all about. Thanks Steve for taking us back to memory lane!

01 Jul 2008 8:12 PM
jj

Haha, oh man. This is why horseracing fans are supposedly in 'decline' as mentioned by other bloggers.

I don't know about you guys, but I never really enjoyed the 'When I was your age...' lectures put on by my elders.

It's nice to talk about the good old days every so often, but that seems to be happening more and more often to the point that the only way to make it interesting again is to have a Hollywood movie about it.

"Rambo 5 million: Takin' on Dr.Fager."

Otherwise you've lost the younger generation. ;) juuust kidding, mostly.

01 Jul 2008 8:48 PM
D4BROWN

Thanks, Steve.  You wrote it so well that I felt I was there for both races.  I do remember where I was at that time - my honeymoon.  Has it really been 40 years???  My, my, where does the time fly.  Will we ever see the likes of these two magnificent steeds butting heads ever again?  

01 Jul 2008 9:08 PM
Dawn

Thanks Mr. Haskin.  I had never heard Damascus' and Dr. Fager's stories.  I only knew those names from history.  I have a new respect for those names of lore.  

01 Jul 2008 9:34 PM
Ken from RI

Steve,

Superb writing, felt like I was there watching the races. Really makes you realize how today's horses are coddled and babied. It was so much better when you could see your favorites race every few weeks instead of every few months. If we could only get some owner/trainer combo to go that old route maybe we might see that the wrong path has been taken...or is the stock so weakened now that they aren't capable of big performances in such short periods of time?

01 Jul 2008 10:35 PM
Cowgirlintexas

Steve,

I enjoy your segements on At The Races show on Sirus and love your views on my greatest passion... Horse racing! Keep up the great work!!!

01 Jul 2008 10:35 PM
Steve Haskin

I wish I had known about Bob Judy when I was writing the book on Dr. Fager. I would love to have interviewed him. Stan M., I imagine you were around when Allen had Handsome Boy. He was a very underrated horse and incredibly brilliant on his best day. It must have been great for the barn when he trounced Buckpasser in the Brooklyn. Although I have written about Dr. Fager and Damascus on a number of occasions, I love to share their stories, and other greats, with the young racing fans. When you say that you felt like you were there, that is the greatest compliment and I thank you.

01 Jul 2008 11:04 PM
Maggie

A wonderfully written article, Mr. Steve Haskin!  You surely took my breath away with the beautiful imagery.  Truly captivating!

You have no idea how much I have been interested of horse racing of that era and much earlier.  I keep searching for so-called great horses of today, but none seem to stand in the same stature of those horses like Secretariat, Ruffian, Dr. Fager, Citation, etc.  Unfortunately, I came into the racing world two years after Tiznow's greatest accomplishments in the 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic.  He is one of my all-time favorite past champions of the modern era.  Curlin is right up there on that list, and I am eager to see his heart as he races in his first attempt at grass.

Since I came in late into the racing world, would you be so kind as to re-display your 2001 Breeders' Cup Classic recap of one of Tiznow's gustiest performances?  I would like to honor him somehow by printing it off and placing it in my horse racing memorabilia scrap book that I am in the process of making.  That would be awesome if you could do that for me!

As to the comment about Mr. Bill Nack:  I have read his Secretariat book about five times or more.  The same goes for the book on Seabiscuit.  The passion placed on each page brought inspiration into me as a very young person.  So don't worry; horse racing at least has one devoted, young fan who is eager to get involved into the sport.  Thanks to writers like you and Mr. Bill Nack, horse racing still survives even through all its trials and tribulations.

02 Jul 2008 12:25 AM
Matthew W

Great blog/great subject! I was nineteen when I saw the great 1978 Hol Gold Cup--I believe it was Exceller, Text, Vigors, J O Tobin across the track with Exceller coming up the rail with Shoe....he looked brilliant that day, I believe Exceller was 8/10 that year including JC Gold Cup coming up the dead rail to get Seattle Slew by a neck--he won several Gr I's on turf that year as well...the thing is, Exceller DID NOT win any type of Eclipse Award that year, perhaps the greatest year ever to not win a thing....

02 Jul 2008 12:37 AM
Steve Haskin

Maggie, thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, the 2001 Classic story is no longer available online; I have searched for it and cannot find it. However, if you e-mail me your address I'd be happy to mail you either an old hard copy of the online story or a copy of the story as it appeared in the Blood-Horse magazine. Your passion for the sport is wonderful to see. My e-mail address is Shaskin@bloodhorse.com.

02 Jul 2008 2:51 AM
Ellen

Thank you for that vividly written piece. It brought back some great memories. I was a relatively new racing fan at that time, and like someone else commented, I thought it would always be that way. It's so hard to be a fan these days, with the best horses racing so infrequently and retiring so young. Those of us lucky enough to be fans in the 60s and 70s need to cherish those memories!

02 Jul 2008 10:41 AM
ASSISTANT HOTWALKER

Buckpasser was not trounced in the broklyn,,he had quarter cracks, bothering him. Dr. Fager,,could not have been Buckpassers lead pony.

02 Jul 2008 11:18 AM
Steve Haskin

Eight lengths is considered trounced no matter what he had. Should I say he was narrowly beaten because he had quarter cracks? Trounced is trounced. Your second comment is so ridiculous and juvenile I won't even respond to it.

02 Jul 2008 11:46 AM
Kat

Love it!!! My favorite article that you wrote, Steve, is this one: <a href="opinions.bloodhorse.com/.../20577.htm">Damascus Is Most Underrated Horse of All-Time</a>.

I am a huge <a href="www.alexbrownracing.com/.../a> fan and I have one of his <a href="www.alexbrownracing.com/.../a> - I know, I'm lucky !! :)

The rivalry between Damascus, Dr Fager and Buckpasser was so awesome and I love to watch the old races, over and over again. Thanks Mr. Haskin, for remembering the old GREATS!!!

02 Jul 2008 11:58 AM
Kat

Oops - my links didn't work :(

Since there is no way to edit (for me anyway), here are the correct links:

Damascus article: opinions.bloodhorse.com/.../20577.htm

Damascus "wiki": alexbrownracing.com/.../Damascus

Damascus grandson: www.alexbrownracing.com/.../Mango

...sorry.

02 Jul 2008 12:08 PM
carlos

i was new to racing in 1966 and was at Aqueduct for the 1st meeting between the good doctor and Damascus in 67-it was electric; it was overcast and gray looking and when they hooked up, they race as a team around the far turn into the stretch and slowly, but surely you could see that the Dr Fager was going to win--I was also there when the good doctor left us with another great performance toting 139 lbs and breaking the track record for 7 furlongs in 1:20:1, winning off by 7 or more lengths against the west coast invador, Kissing George. It is truly unforgivable how far racing has gone down due to OTB-where fans rather go to a horse parlor instead of to the track, where the energy is all around you. Until i read your account, it didn't hit me how seldom horses run these days in comparison to when i first came on board--thank you again for the memories

02 Jul 2008 12:11 PM
carlos

i was new to racing in 1966 and was at Aqueduct for the 1st meeting between the good doctor and Damascus in 67-it was electric; it was overcast and gray looking and when they hooked up, they race as a team around the far turn into the stretch and slowly, but surely you could see that the Dr Fager was going to win--I was also there when the good doctor left us with another great performance toting 139 lbs and breaking the track record for 7 furlongs in 1:20:1, winning off by 7 or more lengths against the west coast invador, Kissing George. It is truly unforgivable how far racing has gone down due to OTB-where fans rather go to a horse parlor instead of to the track, where the energy is all around you. Until i read your account, it didn't hit me how seldom horses run these days in comparison to when i first came on board--thank you again for the memories

02 Jul 2008 12:11 PM
Pam S.

Great walk down memory lane, Mr. Haskin.  Horses and racing seem so different today; we have to enjoy what we have but we can sure enjoy reminiscing, too.  

A comment was posted about visiting Ogygian, the last son of Damascus.  Isn't the New York sire Crusader Sword also a son of Damascus?  He (Sword) has an undefeated NY-bred son named Tin Cup Chalice who just won a stakes at Belmont.  If I'm correct, isn't it something that a horse so close to Damascus generation-wise is on the track right now?

Oh, and I believe the dam of Crusader Sword is Copernica (by Nijinsky?) who was second to Ruffian in I think her second race.  She's in the Jane Schwartz book, that moving part about a horse having her heart broken because she tried so hard but couldn't win.

02 Jul 2008 1:07 PM
Old Timer

Mr. Haskin, Thank you for a fantastic article. You have outdone yourself (no small feat) with the colorful description of this race. While I was not there for the Suburban, I did see the Brooklyn, when Damascus had his revenge, as well as the previous year's Woodward, the so-called race of the century. Where are those kinds of horses today? Running three times in one month. Carrying over 130 pounds and breaking track records! I was always a big fan of the Doctor. It never seemed fair having Hedevar in there. One on one, he could take Damascus any time. Wild mustang -- I love it. Thank you once again.  

02 Jul 2008 1:09 PM
JOANR

ELLEN, I have never seen a horse greater than Buckpasser. I know not everyone will agree with me and that is fine. But while I have watched for another horse to claim that spot, no horse has since the 1960's.

I was able to see him up close and personal at Saratoga. I also saw Dr Fager there. He was a beautiful horse too.

I look for Buckpasser in every pedigree and he is still there in many fine horses today.

02 Jul 2008 1:32 PM
Sue in FL

Steve:  As always, excellent article about The Doc.  I hope to visit one of his hotwalkers this week.

02 Jul 2008 1:49 PM
The Deacon

Great article Steve, the visualization of that race captured by your words will stay in my minds eye for a lifetime. Nothing today compares to the glory days of racing. The Dr. Fager, Damascus rivalry for us racing fans who were there and remember will remain legendary. Only the Affirmed, Alydar rivalry came close. These equine champions of a forgotten time will remain many race horses of all time. Dr. Fager is truly one of the top 5 all time greats, and Damascus and Buckpasser deserve noteable mention.

Keep up the great Steve.................

02 Jul 2008 3:24 PM
FormerFan

I first got interested in horse racing in 1969,1970. Dr. Fager was one of the greatest. It always bothered me the way a rabbit had to used so Damascus could beat the much better Dr. Fager.  To me that is unsportsmanlike. Either your horse is better or they are not, period.  It is nice that there are people who still remember the real champions of the track.

02 Jul 2008 3:31 PM
Steve Haskin

Buckpasser is still the one horse I look for in a horse's pedigree, especially being inbred to him. He is one of the true classic horses and sires of all time. The horse he ran down with than incredible closing kick in the Suburban that was discussed earlier was Widener Handicap winner Ring Twice, a top-quality horse in his own right. Do you remember the "Chicken Flamingo" when they had no wagering because of Buckpasser despite drawing an 11-horse field, and Buckpasser miraculously came back to win by a nose after Abe's Hope passed him in the stretch and actually opened up by a couple of lengths?

02 Jul 2008 3:39 PM
$BILL

see steve it's guys like that, that give us hotwalkers a bad rep, however i will say that when braulio was training over @ aqueduct he only had one picture hanging in his office and it was a print of him & BUCKPASSER & he told me he was the best he ever rode

02 Jul 2008 3:50 PM
Jermon

Another good one, young fella,

A little background: I grew up in

passionate racetracker's territory

in Brooklyn, NY; and began going

to the races as a teenager after

WWII. My first Belmont was Big Cys

Citation's in 1948. I'm 79 years

old. Loving the sport and the horse

as I did, I read and studied every

piece of material I could get my

hands on, becoming a student of

the game. I enjoyed great success,

actually beating the ponies through

the windows, until the spring of

1965 when my luck suddenly spun on a dime. I backed off, supposedly

temporarily, but as things turned

out its been permanent. Between

1965 and 1970 I went to the track a limited number of times, to either make a spot play or watch a

particular race. In 1971, I left

NY and relocated to the high

country of the Rocky Mountains, where I remained for thirty years.

Having neither radio or TV and no

longer reading papers and magazines

I lost touch with racing. When we

finally got TV towards the late 90's and began watching the races,

I couldn't believe how far the

sport and the horse had deteriorated. In my day at the races, the thoroughbred was defined

as the modern decendant of Eclipse,

Matchem, and Herod. I think its

time for that to be updated.

When Big Brown won the Derby, ole

Johnny Nerud called him a freak.

Inasmuch as John bred and raced the

biggest freak of all, Dr. Fager, he

should know. I first became aware

of John in the early 1950s, before

he made to NY, and followed his

career closely. In my opinion, he

was the most astute American horse-

man of the last half of the last

century. Because he accomplished

so much with what he had to work

with, I place him on a pedestal

next to Tesio. John, along with

Elliot Burch and Woody Stephens

were among that small handfull

that could compete against the

Bold Rulers when they ruled the

turf, particularly the 2yo stakes.

One of the few times I went to the

track to bet after 1965, was to

bet Dr. Fager as a first time

starting 2yo. I had been aware of

his dam Aspidistra from the time

of her first foal. Any produce of

Aspidistra making its first start

had been an automatic bet for me.

He won and paid $27 and change.

That was the only time I bet him.

Although I kept abreast of his

career, I didn't think he would do

much beyond the sprints as a 3yo

and older. He was bred speed on speed and had the conformation of

a pure sprinter of that time. Heck,

because John Nerud, the most astute

horseman I have known, did not

nominate Dr, Fager to the triple

crown races was confirmation of his

assessment of the horse as a

sprinter. But of course, the best,

the fantastic best was yet to come.

Then there was Damascus. I tuned

in on him at first because of his

breeding, top and bottom. His sire

Sword Dancer had been a big favorite, and I (we) waited

paitently, hoping he would get a

son that could get the classis

distances as he had, just as we

waited paitently for Bold Ruler

to get a son who could get a mile

and a quarter. When I went to the

track to assess him close up and

watch his movement, it was love at first sight. When he was set down

and got low as you described, he

reminded me of Kelso, who ran one

of the greatest races I have seen

when he won the Met Mile enroute

to winning the Handicap triple

crown, only the third horse to do

so. His weights of 130, 133, and

136 totaled more than that which

was carried by Whiskbroom or Tom

Fool. I'm most of you have heard it

said, that generally a horse has

only one move when set down, and if

it has to check, forget it. In

Kelso's Met, which was a time the

consensus among horsemen was that

it was the toughest race in the

books, coming into the stretch, he

he made not one, not two, but three

moves. When he finally found room,

as Bob Horwood of the Morning

Telegraph put it, he got his belly

so low it seemed to be just two

feet off the ground and with his

legs so extended, he looked like a

rocking horse. A truly awesome

sight!

When the confrontations between

Damascus and Dr. Fager began, I

became very unhappy. When I went

to the track to watch these races

you so aptly described, I would

leave the track with a heavy heart,

asking, why couldn't it have been

a dead heat?

You mentioned Gun Bow. As great as

the races between Damascus and Dr.

Fager were, they do not compare

dramaticlly with the three between

Gun Bow and Kelso at the end of

Kelso's career. Because you prob-

ably went into detail in covering

these races in your book on Kelso,

I will not infringe on  your turf.

However. I will give a little

background on Gun Bow and the

atmosphere leading up to their

meetings. Gun Bow had a stablemate

called Gun Boat. They didn't do

much, running in allowance company

when first shipping into NY. I bet

Gun Bow once at seven panels or a

mile. He showed some speed but

appeared to tire. I bet Gun Boat

once and he showed. Shortly after-

wards, they were sold privately in

a package deal for $100,000. Eddie

Neloy became their trainer. Because

it was assumed Gun Boat had more

potential, he was considered to be

the valuable of the two. When making only his second or third

start under new ownership, Gun Boat

went down under Ycaza and was

destroyed. Meanwhile, when Gun Bow

was x-rayed it was discovered he

had a blood clot in a hoof which

was surgically removed. After

shipping to the west coast, recovering and back in training.

He began winning all the big ones

and the headlines of the Morning

Telegraph proclaimed "The Scourge

Of The West." Because the tracks

in the midwest began carding special races to attract him, it

took a while to get back to NY.

Kelso, now eight, and having difficulty getting back into

racing trim was more or less being

written off. When Gun Bow arrived

it was like to the blare of trumpets, heralding him as the heir

apparent to Kelso's crown. I'll let

you take it from here,pal.

Incidently, I enjoy reading you

as much as I did Charlie Hatten,

Bob Horwood, Joe Hirsh, Teddy Cox,

and Leon Rassmussen back in old

glorious days. If some of the pups would stop massaging their egos or

expressing their opinion as fact

and paid more attention to you, they might learn something.

02 Jul 2008 4:21 PM
GunBow

Steve, you're my favorite contemporary racing writer because of your passion and amazing ability to place current events in historical perspective. I started following racing in 1989 when I was 15. That year I saw what is still the most impressive performance Ive seen live, Grand Canyon's 1:33 mile in the Hollywood Futurity. My favorite race, and most exciting experience at a track, was the 2001 Breeders Cup Classic. I didn't think it was possible to put what I had seen into words; as Tiznow hit the wire I was literally lightheaded and could not feel my legs, which were shaking uncontrollably. However, your article put me right back there. I remember finishing the article and thinking that I finally had my "defining" racing experience and I had the article which would give it immortality.

02 Jul 2008 4:30 PM
GunBow

I regret that I will most likely never see true handicaps again. Before Curlin and his Stephen Foster win under 128, I can recall only Cigar (3 times) and Skip Away (4 times including 131 in the Iselin) winning grade 1 level races at 128 and over. While horses do not carry the same weight as those from the past, handicaps still can influence the results of races. The 95 Big Cap, which SalB brought up, was, for me, the most frustrating example, when Best Pal lost by a nose giving away 6 pounds. Another tough beat was the 2004 Stephen Foster with Southern Image going down by less than a neck while giving away 11 pounds. Had Southern Image won the Foster, it would have been his 6th straight (4th of 04), including the Gr.1 Malibu, $1 million Sunshine Classic, Gr. 1 Big Cap, and Gr.1 Pimlico Special. Ghostzapper, who also ran only 4 times that year, with 2 grade 1 wins, was a deserving Horse of the Year. However, I do not understand how Ghostzapper can be widely acclaimed as one of the best horses of the last two decades while Southern Image has been virtually forgotten. No wonder owners and trainers want to avoid having their horses carry weight; had the Foster been allowance-scale, Southern Image would have placed himself in a position to be a legitimate horse of the year rival to Ghostzapper.

02 Jul 2008 4:58 PM
$BILL

nice to see all that stuff about gun bow & gun boat that story brings back many memories as my brother in law from brooklyn the late frank mucci used to work for eddie neloy & frank "rubbed" them both & used to tell me about them

02 Jul 2008 5:11 PM
Alex

Can anyone tell me if there are any books out there on Buckpasser? One of the few truly great horses of the modern era that I can't find anything published on.  Steve, it would be great if you could take up the project!

02 Jul 2008 5:42 PM
Steve Haskin

Actually, if you ask Baeza who is the greatest horse he ever rode, he will not say Buckpasser or Dr. Fager, but Graustark. He's been saying that since the '60s and said it again a few days ago to a friend of mine who ran into him at Philly Park. Graustark would have been one of the all-time greats had he not broken down in the Blue Grass.

02 Jul 2008 5:44 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, Jermon for your trip down memory lane and for the kind words. Charlie Hatton was as talented a racing writer as there ever was. He wasn't the easiest person to get to know or understand, but boy could he write. He was a poet.

02 Jul 2008 5:51 PM
Steve Haskin

Alex, I don't know of any books on Buckpasser. I dont know why we didn't do one for the Legends series. He certainly deserved to be included. As far as I'm concerned, however, my book writing days are over after six of them.

02 Jul 2008 5:53 PM
txbarbfan

Thank you so much, Mr. Haskin, for your sharing your talent of creating almost visual imagery with words.  I've enjoyed your writing for several years through your articles in this venue as well as your contributions to the Bloodhorse Top 100 book and the book on John Henry.  My words are so feeble, but my gratitude is sincere - thank you for another excellent look at wonderful racehorses.  I wish I had been paying attention to racing in the 60's and 70's when horses were around long enough to care for and follow.  Now that I'm an old lady and have time and the inclination to follow the horses in my own small way, I fall in love with one and then boom, they're off the track and into the breeding shed.  With your words, though, I can imagine what it was like to see these races you've described unfold.  Thank you!

02 Jul 2008 6:35 PM
The Deacon

In response to Graustark being the best Baeza ever rode, I have heard Mr. Baeza many times say that the great Dr. Fager was the better horse. Graustark although brilliant did not have an opportunity to make his ever lasting mark due to an career ending injury. It was highly touted that Graustark and Buckpasser who were the same age would have had a fantastic rivalry. It is hard to mention Graustark with the all time greats as he just did not get the chance. Same goes for horses like Holy Bull, Boldnesian, and maybe Candy Ride more recently. There are many others as well and my 58 year old memory is rusty. My dad who saw Man O' War run and Citation, and Native Dancer said that Swaps was the best horse he ever saw.

Kudo's Steve for your insight and great articles. You should have been another Harry Henson, Chic Anderson, or Joe Hernandez.  

03 Jul 2008 12:03 AM
DFayad

Baeza has made comments about all three (Dr.Fager, Buckpasser, and Graustark) being the "best" horse.  However, Graustark (although supposedly "ruined" by his trainer at the time) was mentioned the most.

03 Jul 2008 6:45 AM
Kevin J.

As Usual wonderful reading. Thanks for the good stuff Steve. Your the Best !.

03 Jul 2008 9:50 AM
Harlan Abbey

Steve, great story. Why won't you write more books? You have too many fans not to. How about reliving the great match race between Whirlaway and Alsab?  I rode a grandson of Dr. Fager for 15 years after buying him off Finger Lakes, owned by Judy Bond, sister of James "007" Bond. Now riding a Native Dancer grandson (by Imperial Falcon. 8.25 million yearling) that ran in the Queen's Plate and raced until 11. Actually a lazy winner of 14 races, or maybe taking care of 190 lb, 78 YO jock. I'm jealous of your talent and I have a BJ from Missouri and MSJ from Northwestern.

03 Jul 2008 11:35 AM
Steve Haskin

Thank you, Harlan. There are several reasons why I've decided to stop writing books, one of which being it is a long, drawn-out process and I dont have the patience, and six books is enough. I also hate doing booksignings and promoting my books, which is something that comes along with it.

03 Jul 2008 12:32 PM
draynay

Steve let me ask you a question.  If Dr. Fager ran today do you think he would win a race ? I ask that because Dr. Fager like War Pass was VERY one dimensional.  Racing today wouldn't everyone send a rabbit out to burn him up ?

04 Jul 2008 12:19 AM
Steve Haskin

First off, not everyone has rabbits to spare every race. Second, if they have a former world-record holder like Hedevar and a Hall of Famer like Damascus they could team up against him. Let me know who has that combo in their barn and I'd give them a shot against Dr. Fager. You don't really understand just how great a horse Dr. Fager was and what it took to beat him. In the Woodward, it took two brilliantly fast  rabbits to beat him and in the Brooklyn it took a rabbit and 135 pounds to beat him and he still equaled his own track record. So, if you really expect a serious answer to the question, whould Dr. Fager win a race today, that answer would be yes. I have an even better question for you: would Dr. Fager ever lose a race?

04 Jul 2008 12:08 PM
Steve Haskin

Let me clear up one other point that people seem to have a misconception of. In races up to 1 1/16 miles Dr. Fager won 10 times coming from off the pace, so I wouldnt exactly call him one- dimensional. Seattle Slew was much more one-dimensional than Dr. Fager. Do you think he would win a race today?

04 Jul 2008 12:22 PM
merrywriter

I had heard of Dr. Fager and Damascus, but I never knew why they were so famous.  Now I know.  Thanks, Steve

04 Jul 2008 12:47 PM
Blueplenilune

Well, Steve, you did it again. Your passionate words are very inspiring in reminding us of what the sport of horseracing can be.

I just wish horses were still made the way they were in those days. Between breeding (mal)practice, lack of real training tactics, and synthetic surfaces...it's been a long time since we had horses of that talent and ability. Thank you for the great read. It was refreshing and a lot of fun.

Plenilune

04 Jul 2008 7:21 PM
Jermon

Once again, in your response to

Draynay, you've hit the nail on

the head. Your tone also reflects

something I've been hoping for,

that you would be less tactful in

some of your responses. Asking if

this person expected a serious

answer implies the question was

ridiculous. Would Dr.Fager win a

race today? If any thing, he would

be more formidable today than he

was in the past. Case closed!

Got a chuckle out of your comments

about Charlie Hatten. Had always

felt he was a tough old goat, and

wondered if that flinty look in his

eyes was bourbon induced. Often

wondered if I would have the nerve

to approach him if I saw him at a

track. If I did, it would be with

quaking knees.

04 Jul 2008 9:26 PM
draynay

What I do understand Steve is Dr. Fager did not win a single Triple Crown race.  He did not even try. I guess things get easier when you are 4 and the best 3 year olds are retired.  Its nice that he won some stakes races but frankly Curlin could enter 8 stakes races and beat up on a bunch of weaker older horses too.  Its hard to consider a horse truly great who did not win a single Triple Crown race and chose to wait until 4 and run in easier races. Yes he set some records and that is very nice but winning some stakes races at 4 doesn't put him up there with a horse like Native Dancer.

04 Jul 2008 9:51 PM
Racefan66

Seriously draynay, you're doubting that Dr. Fager was a great horse because he wasn't a Triple Crown Race winner??  The Triple Crown isn't the only test of a champion.  And calling his battles with Damascus, In Reality, and Buckpasser while carrying high weights beating up on "a bunch of weaker older horses" is just plain disrespectful and ignorant.  

By the way, you're wrong about him "waiting till the good ones retired".  He did race at two and three... and won.  He had an incredible year was when he was four, but that certainly wasn't the beginning of his career.

04 Jul 2008 11:24 PM
Racefan66

Mr. Haskin:

Thanks so much for such a stirring reminder of great races and great horses.  I had to go rewatch Dr. Fager and Damascus on youtube after reading this just to see them neck and neck again.

04 Jul 2008 11:30 PM
Jermon

Draynay..some of your comments are

so ridiculous it looks like an

attempt to suck someone in to a

confrontation. If you had me in mind, I suggest you try someone

else.

I'll confine my comments to Native

Dancer. Everyone in the neighbor-hood was a big fan of both the

horse and owner, Alfred G. Vanderbilt, who was known as the

champion of the little guy, the $2

bettor. Because I was in the military I saw the Dancer race only once, which was in the Experimental Free Handicap at old

Jamaica. It was actually carded back then. Believe it or not, despite his record 21 of 22, he was

not considered a very good horse,

among horsemen. Anytime a horse is mentioned as a great horse, horsemen will always ask,

"Who did he beat." In their opinion

Native Dancer didn't beat much, that a

cheap horse like Jamie K ran him roughshod in both the Preakness and

the Belmont. I disagree, I didn't

Jamie K was that a cheap horse. At

times it is said a horse ran its

best race in a losing effort. That

is my opinion of the Dancer's derby. Given what happened in that

race and how the race was run, for

me, it had to be his best race.

Having developed ankle problems, the Dancer did not have much of a

career at 4. When he was retired,

there was talk that Al had retired

him because he didn't want a confrontation with the great Tom Fool in a proposed match race. The Dancer, having propagated his bad

ankles throughout the breed vindicated Al. Anyone who felt that

Al was chicken, was a fool.

05 Jul 2008 12:10 AM
Grandefan

Steve and Jermon - What I wouldn't give to be the fly on the wall if you two were to meet up for an hour or three! Thank you!

05 Jul 2008 1:17 AM
The Deacon

Steve, right on about the great Dr, Fager. Common sense tells us racing is so different today. Horses are more one dimensional, they don't carry the weight, they break down more easily and most of them seldom race past 3 years old. If a good horse runs more then 5 or 6 a year it is an nomily. Dr. Fager carried more weight then any horse I can remember, ran distances up to 1 1/4 miles and won easy, If Nerud ever let him run loose there would be world records out there still standing. Anyone remember his last race, the United Nations Handicap against Fort Marcy and Advocator. Fort Marcy, arguebly one of the best turf horse ever, and Advocator. who was a pretty good horse as well This historic race was on the turf and Dr. Fager had never run on the turf before that race. He was headed by Advocator, at the 1/8 pole, came back and took the lead and won the race. In 1968, the Doctor came out to Hollywood Park for the Californian and beat Gamely, Rising Market, and Barb's Delight. Kissin George, a brilliant sprinter, was the rabbit in that race. Horses today just do not compare to the horses yesterday, they just don't. If things were different then we would be discussing the horses of today as all time greats. Curlin has come the closest in many a year, and we will have to wait and see how the year plays out.    

05 Jul 2008 3:36 AM
draynay

Jermon ??? Who did Native Dancer beat? Every horse he ever faced in every race he ever ran except 1 which he was fouled twice in.  The problem I have with looking back is that we often see it with rose color glasses.

Dr. Fager had a front running style when a rabbit was used Damascus beat him easily.  When he was allowed to run easily up front Dr. Fager would go wire to wire.  He won the 1968 Suburban...good for him there was only 4 other horses in the race. Curlin could run 8 races this year against older horses and win them all by 10... would that make him one of the greats of all time? Dr. Fager was a very good and very fast horse just like Hard Spun (Check out his splits from the King Bishop). If Hard Spun ran at 4 he would be doing many of the things Dr. Fager did and without much fan fair. How excited would you be to see Hard Spun win a stakes race today against 4 other horses? Dr. Fager did not meet the best of the best at 3 in the Triple Crown races.  He ran races against older horses in 1968 and did what Curlin could easily do today.  Hard Spun is gone and Any Given Saturday and Street Sense...so what is left to take on Curlin. Damascus was truly a great horse and he accomplished things at 3 that we will never see again and the true measure of any horse is what he does at 3 ... proof of that is Secretariat which many regard the best ever... they do because he beat the best at 3 having never raced at 4.  Damascus easily beat Dr. Fager when other early speed was in the race and when it wasn't he couldn't match the speed. Racing today Dr. Fager would see a rabbit every time and he would not see many 5 horse fields. Look at what Damascus did at 3... is it any wonder he was a little tired at 4?

05 Jul 2008 8:46 AM
Kate

WOW.

That was a movie script.

The insider bit about John Nehrud growing Dr. Fager's mane and forelock out to give hime a more wild appearance...wonderful reading.

Thanks!

05 Jul 2008 9:13 AM
draynay

Racefan66 ...before you go nuts on me just look at what Damascus accomplished as a 3 year old. Will you EVER see a horse do that again?

Dr. Fager won a couple of races at 3 but he is known for what he did at 4 and when you consider the horse of the year who had already beaten him twice was injured and could not defend his crown well...for me it cheapens it. Meet the best of the best at 3 don't wait until 4 and see who is left still standing. When you look at what Damascus did at 3 you will marvel that he even ran at 4.  Dr. Fager did not go through the grueling Triple Crown races and many as we know are not the same after them. Dr. Fager was a good horse but skipping the Triple Crown races really puts a damper on what he did at 4 with other horse injured and retired. Dr. Fager like it or not did not take on the best of the 3 year olds when it counted and did little until 4.

05 Jul 2008 9:20 AM
Steve Haskin

Draynay, as absurb as I feel some of your comments regarding Dr. Fager are, I will say that Damascus was my favorite horse back then and still one of my all-time favorites. He's the horse who got me interested in horse racing, and I still get an incredible feeling when I see those Belair silks. And you're right about his accomplishments at 3. That was probably the most underrated year any horse has ever had and he was just as underrated as a racehorse. I wrote an editorial about that a few years ago. I respected Dr. Fager back then and feared him, and got to appreciate him more as the years went by. I even wrote his bio several years ago in the Legends series of books. With that said, I find it hard to believe a veteran racing fan like yourself could make such outlandish comments. I guess then you felt Buckpasser wasn't much of a horse, or Kelso or Tom Fool or Seabiscuit or Colin or Cigar.

05 Jul 2008 11:26 AM
draynay

Steve... I love horse racing...make no mistake BUT... we look back at the good old days and many remember them better than they really were.  For example.  Anyone who puts Dr Fager in front of (one of my all time favorites) Spectacular Bid needs their head examined. I never saw Dr Fager run live but I sure did see Spectacular Bid and even Mr. Shoemaker said the Bid was the best he ever rode and you know he rode Damascus. Bloodhorse placed Dr Fager ahead of him in the top 100 and it makes the whole list useless.  The Bid never lost a race between 7 furlongs and a mile and a quarter... compare them at 2 and 3 and 4 ...the Bid at 4 raced 9 times and won them all so HOW on earth can anyone place Dr Fager ahead of the Bid ???  My comments to some may seem outlandish but really take a look. Most of what Dr Fager accomplished he did at 4 and won horse of the year only because the previous winner was hurt and retired along with others. And last but not least Native Dancer? A superstar at 3...undefeated at 4 and lost only once in his life because of a foul and he is behind a non winning Triple Crown horse... Steve ...be reasonable.

05 Jul 2008 12:04 PM
The Deacon

I wish to thank Draynay for the comedy relief he provides this discussion. I know Shoemaker said that Spectacular Bid was the best horse he ever road, but he rode Dr. Fager only once and that was as a 2 year old. The "Bid" is one of the 10 all time greats, but he is no Dr. Fager in my book. Didn't Affirmed beat Spectacular Bid?

C'mon  

05 Jul 2008 1:27 PM
draynay

In all, Spectacular Bid won 13 Gr. I stakes at 10 different tracks, and won 10 other stakes. He was assigned 130 or more pounds on 5 occasions and won all five. He set or equaled eight Track and American records at seven different tracks, at distances from 5 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/4 miles. He twice set Track records while carrying 130 pounds. Eclipse winning 2 year old, Eclipse winning 3 year old, Eclipse winning older horse.... I rest my case.

05 Jul 2008 4:45 PM
The Deacon

Look at the weight the great Doctor carried and the track and worls records. Check out his races, and I might add he won at a 1 1/4 as well with 135 lbs, and if my memory serves me Dr, Fager also carried 139 lbs and won. In his last race he carried 134 lbs and won on the turf. In that race he beat the best grass horse running, Fort Marcy.

As far as I am concerned this discussion is over, Keep smoking the good stuff though.............

05 Jul 2008 9:11 PM
draynay

Deacon... you can't be serious ?

Top 2 year old ... The Bid

Dr. Fager... nope

Top 3 year old and Preakness and Kentucky Derby winner... The Bid

Dr. Fager ...nope and won no Triple Crown Races.

At 4 the both had outstanding years and it would be hard to choose one over the other considering their records at 4.

So the Bid was superior at 2 and 3 and won two Triple Crown races. Care to tell me what Dr. Fager did at 2 and 3.... I didn't think so.

05 Jul 2008 10:36 PM
Racefan66

Draynay: I wasn't going crazy, I just figured you liked a spirited debate, is all.  And you went from a post that sounded completely absurd to posting comments where I may disagree with some of your conclusions, but I could at least see your point.

Maybe it makes me sound like a wuss... but I'm just happy to have gotten the opportunity to see them both (Damascus and Dr Fager) and enjoy what they both brought to racing.  

05 Jul 2008 11:23 PM
The Deacon

Look it up Draynay, you seem to have all the answers.

06 Jul 2008 3:25 AM
Jermon

The Deacon- In naming one horse, you put a dagger in my heart. In

naming another, you twisted it. Enjoyed your postings, neverthess.

This many years later, I can laugh at it.

In asking if Affirmed beat Spectacular Bid, I am sure you knew the

answer, which is yes. In stating my comments when asked what I

thought of that upcoming race, I am not throwing bouquets at my-

self, merely making a point. My comments: Affirmed is a super

4 year old, Spectacular Bid is a super 3 year old. For him to beat

Affirmed, he would have to be a super-super 3 year. I don't think

he will achieve that status.

As a 3 year old, Kelso, in defeating older, true champions and

horses of the year, such as Sword Dancer and Bald Eagle,

certified himself as a super-star.

Before the Belmont, when the speed figures were being tossed

about, Nick Zito said the race wasn't going to be run on paper.

I feel the same way about attempting to compare horses of

different eras. There are too many variables. I recall very well

when Shoemaker proclaimed Spectacular Bid to be the best

he ever rode and had no quarrel with it. Despite the poor luck I

was subjected to when betting horses ridden by him, I considered

him to among the best, perhaps of all time. He was a horseman, as

opposed to a mere race rider. When Eddie Arcaro retired, The Shoe,

his partying buddy, inherited his top mounts. which included Kelso.

The only race Kelso won under Shoemaker was a meaningless

allowance race in a dismal performance. To qualify for the condi-

tions of that race, Kelso had to lose a string of races under Shoe-

maker. Kelso would not respond to Shoemaker, who was known

as a sit-still jock. Kelso needed a so called live jock, and Milo

Valenzuela was the answer. Based upon their relative performances

under Shoemaker, one can easily assume that Spectacular Bid was

the super-star and Kelso, the bum, was lucky to make it out of the

claiming ranks. Another horse that would not respond to Shoe was

little Tom Rolfe, the last 2yo I adopted, in 1964, to go on and

compete in the classics as an older horse.

The difference between racing today and what it was in its glory

years, and it is a huge difference for someone like me, is the lack

of quality racing for older horses. A three year old, in human terms,

is a teenager. Although it matures rapidly in its third year, it has not

fully matured until four, if then. I'm sure some of you are familiar with

little e (epsilon) and the natural growth curve. During the heyday of

racing, during the time of those fine gentlemen, and ladies, the so

called bluebloods of racing, the true sportsmen and improvers of

the breed, that elevated racing to the glorious stature it once enjoyed,

a horse had to prove itself as an older horse in the handicap ranks

before it could be deemed worthy of standing at stud under the owners

banner. The retirement and syndication of Secretariat at three signaled

the end of that era. The horse today is no longer being bred for sport,

it is being bred as a commodity. It should be traded on some commodity

exchange, along with oil, steel, lumber, and gold, etc.

A few years ago it was reported that the leading stallions, in term of

mares serviced, were Lion Heart and Chapel Royal, both freshman

studs. They had serviced well over 200 mares each in what would be

a half season for them. They were to be shipped to the southern

hemisphere to complete their second half.

Federico Tesio, whom many in the industry consider the most influential

breeder of all time, accomplished what he did by breeding no more than

12 mares a year. In his biography, it was stated he broke down many a

horse searching for its bottom. He would not breed a horse he had

broken down.

During racing's last glorious years, Wheatley's Bold Ruler was this

country's leading sire, having led the sire list 11 times in terms of money

won. There was a closed book on his services. This wasn't done from

a position of greed or a desire to hog the good stuff as many assumed.

It was done to control and improve breed, to prevent the destruction of

the breed.

When I began watching the races after a long hiatus, I was puzzled

by the absence of the prominent stables of the past, wondering

why the heirs had not continued with the tradition. The conclusion I

came to is that racing is no longer a sport, it is an industry. Why

bother?

To whomever mentioned having been told that Swaps was a good

horse, believe it! He was one of the greats. He had a beautiful head,

which identified him as the progeny of Hyperion, who was

his grandsire. Back then, the Hyperions were the most beautiful

horses on the track

Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio?

06 Jul 2008 6:35 PM
Karen2

There is nothing more compelling than re-living something from someone with the life experiences and the love and passion for the horses and the sport along with the God given talent to put it in words and share it with the rest of the world. Life means nothing unless it is shared. Steve, it is you that lets me live this life through your eyes and your thoughts. No one paints the picture the way you do and now to bring it to us not only in the present, but in the past........ I always tell you you have the best job in the world, but you have it for a reason...Keep it coming... I am listening.

06 Jul 2008 8:05 PM
The Deacon

Very well put Jermon,Kelso was a great horse who beat some pretty darned good horses in his day. It really does not matter who was the greatest it all is about opinion anywat. The great ones could win anywhere, anytime, on a fast track, slow, or muddy track. We as fans have our favorites, it is what it is, It is the same in all sports, we like the teams we bonded with. Let's just say that in discussing the greatest horses of all time the same names always come up. Whether it is Man O' War, Secretariat, Citation, Dr. Fager, Seattle Slew, Count Fleet, Spectacular Bid, Buckpasser, Damascus, Kelso, Swaps, or Ruffian, all of these equine legends are very special to each and every one of us. They transcend time, they us back to another day when life seemed simpler and meant meant something. Steve, you are truly a great spokeman for the sport. Your insight and in-depth articles and comments are well appreciated. Please keep up the phenomenal work. It will not be too long in the future when there will be no one around who remembers................  

07 Jul 2008 12:11 AM
Steve Haskin

Karen, thank you very much for your kind and eloquent words. I appreciate it. And, yes, I have to agree with you about having the greatest job. I am very thankful in that regard, and have been extremely lucky.

07 Jul 2008 10:52 PM
Big Doc Fan

OK, I'm late for the party.  But I want to toss in my two cents.

I was privileged to watch both Buckpasser and Doc race three times each in person.  And I saw Damascus once.  They are clearly the three best I've ever seen, although Graustark was a monster, too.  But he didn't pass the test of time.

My opinion of the single most impressive career performance among the trio was not one that most would pick.  In fact, it is likely that NOBODY else would.  It is Doc's victory in the 1967 Arlington Park Classic.  

If I were as gifted a writer as Mr. Haskin, perhaps I could help you see how impressive Dr. Fager was on that day.  Halfway through the card, Arlington was transformed into a disaster area, the likes of which I've never witnessed before or since.

The sky turned that funny green/yellow/black color it gets only before severe downpours.  Then almost pitch black.  And then it hit.  The worst rainstorm I've ever seen.  40-50 MPH winds shredded rain drenched flags.  There was a visible current of water running down the stretch.  The winners circle was completely submerged.

When things were cleaned up enough to resume racing, the horses plodded through the quagmire.  Just prior to Doc's race, good dirt sprinters who routinely ran 1:09 for six furlongs staggered home in 1:13 and change.  The race following Doc, high class claimers who normally ran in the 1:35-1:36 range, struggled through a mile in 1:41 4/5.

My conservative estimate is that the track was 4 seconds off at 6 furlongs and 5 seconds off at a mile.  

I went downstairs to get a good look at Dr. Fager in the post parade.  He seemed a bit agitated and fought Baeza while shaking his head quite a bit.  Then back upstairs to my usual perch to watch the race.

Doc broke a step slowly in the Classic.  He had to play catch up in a battle for command through a quarter in :22.4.  From then on, it was strictly no contest.  A wicked :22.1 second quarter put the pretenders away.  Baeza never moved a muscle at any point in the race but Doc still drew off to win by 10 in 1:36 flat.

I know, doesn't sound all THAT impressive.  You had to be there.  And I was.

26 Jul 2008 4:06 PM
dr fager01

dr fager up to a mile and a 1/4 at equal weights the top 3 horses to have ever run what he did at a mile slowing down in the final 1/8, i swore he could have gone 1:30.1/5. in my opinion and only my own opinion, dr fager the greatest that ever lived. s bid great but not comparable to the doc.

22 Oct 2009 2:34 AM

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