Magnificent "7"

Although I have discussed Evening Attire and his stirring performances in mile and a half races at age 10, I feel I must say something about another amazing old boy, Commentator.

These are the horses and stories that stir our souls and reach deep into our heart…and remain there. We all have our favorite Triple Crown horses and speak of them with great reverence. But many of them provide a fleeting jolt of emotion and then depart, leaving us wanting more. Horses like Commentator, Evening Attire, Better Talk Now, The Tin Man, and Perfect Drift -- just to name a few -- are the ones who feel like old friends. The longer they stay around the longer they amaze us with their youthful exuberance.

As I wrote in part in Blood-Horse magazine, on July 26, the injury-plagued 7-year-old New York-bred gelding Commentator defied the years, winning his second Whitney with the same brilliance and fervor he displayed in his victory three years earlier. And it came after layoffs of 10 months and eight months, the result of a shin fracture suffered after the 2005 Woodward. Despite winning his first Whitney by only a neck, defeating eventual Horse of the Year Saint Liam, Commentator’s average winning margin in his 11 career victories still is an astounding 10 lengths. He has won his races by margins of 7 lengths twice, 8 lengths, 9 3/4 lengths, 10 1/2 lengths, 11 1/4 lengths, 13 3/4 lengths, 14 lengths, and 16 1/2 lengths, while earning outrageous Beyer speed figures of 119, 121, and 123. But in the Whitney, at age 7, he made time stand still, winning wire-to-wire by 4 3/4 lengths, earning an unheard of 120 Beyer figure. Not even the defending Horse of the Year Curlin has run that fast (he ran a 119 in the BC Classic), and Big Brown hasn’t come remotely close. Andy Beyer said he can’t recall a 7-year-old getting that high a number.

After the race, owner Tracy Farmer stood by himself on the track waiting for Commentator to return. The applause from the grandstand was already starting to build. Photographers, many with broad smiles on their faces, raced toward the middle of the track to get in position. There was plenty of hugging and even a few misty eyes. Then the cheers from the crowd began to swell as the horse came into view.

“There’s still fun in this game, isn’t there?” Farmer said.

With all the turmoil that has infiltrated racing over the past three months, Farmer’s words were a breath of optimism for a sport trying desperately to come up for air after being deflated by one crisis after another.

Yes, there still is fun in this game. If you have any doubts, just ask the fans who were at Saratoga on Whitney day, and many who watched on TV.

As Farmer’s wife, Carol, said of their ageless wonder, “Seven is the new four.”

Although Nick Zito received all the kudos and congratulations, the unsung hero, and the most choked up person on the track, was Commentator’s exercise rider of five years, Carlos Correa, who kept repeating, “I love this horse.”

The morning before the Whitney, Farmer came by the barn, sat down on a bench, and just soaked up the atmosphere. “This is a field of dreams and (Commentator) is a dream horse,” he said. “Just sitting here with all these horses and being at Saratoga is a dream.”

Another of his dreams was to accept a second Whitney trophy from his good friend Marylou Whitney. In the winter of 2004, the Farmers and Whitney and her husband and racing manager John Hendrickson were on a cruise together during the Christmas holidays.

“There was a wishing tree, and Marylou and I put a star on it and wished for Commentator to win the Whitney,” Hendrickson said. “We weren’t thinking about having it happen twice.”  

When someone asked Zito what he wanted to do with him next, he replied, “What do I want to do with him? I want to put him in a glass house with lots of maids and take care of him the rest of my life. That’s what I want to do with him.”

Actually, Farmer has pretty much the same plan, minus the glass house and maids. “I’ve got a nice paddock for him whenever he tells us he’s ready for it,” he said. “If there’s one thing for sure, he’ll be well taken care of.”

Shortly after the Whitney, the skies opened up and torrential rains pounded down on Saratoga, accompanied by lightning and thunder that would last on and off for over five hours. Commentator was caught in the deluge walking back from the test barn, and after returning was dried off with clumps of straw that Zito and his help rubbed all over him.

Zito still was amazed at what Commentator was able to accomplish. “That fractured shin always kept stopping him,” he said. “They thought the first operation was a success, but it came back and he had to be operated on again. It’s continued to bother him, but here he is. He’s just unbelievable.”

So, that’s a brief look at what it was like being at Saratoga on Whitney day. I’ve experienced many special days at the Spa, but this has to rank right up there with the best of them. And it’s mainly because of Commentator’s age, his perseverance, coming back from several long layoffs, and his remarkable ability to return as brilliant as ever. He is proof that older does not necessarily mean slower.

Punching bag

Remember how they ganged up on Smarty Jones in the Belmont? And how about the tactics employed by a couple of jockeys in this year’s Belmont against Big Brown? There was no way Eibar Coa was going to let Big Brown out of the trap he had gotten into early in the race. The key word there is early. The move hurt Big Brown, but Coa’s mount, Tale of Ekati, came out of the race cut up near his coronet band.

Jockeys apparently are not going to let horses trying to make history have an easy time of it, or any huge favorite on the public stage for that matter. Then there was Ginger Punch in the Go For Wand.

She showed in that race why she is a champion when she fought off a gang of assailants determined to bring her down.

Although none of the other jockeys in the 1 1/8-mile race committed any infractions or were technically guilty of anything other than race-riding, to many observers the race appeared to be a well-orchestrated attempt to get the 1-5 Ginger Punch beat or at least put her in a compromising situation. But 1-5 favorites are always going to have a target on their back, and with Ginger Punch drawing post 1, this was a perfect opportunity for the opposing riders to try to make life miserable for her.

Last year’s champion older female was in a vulnerable spot, and when her jockey Rafael Bejarano tried to go for the lead, Edgar Prado, on Moon Catcher, outran her, and Shaun Bridgmohan, on Copper State, moved up into second, trapping Ginger Punch down on the inside. Runaway Rosie loomed right behind, ready to seal off any escape route.

By slowing the race down to a crawl (:49 and 1:14 4/5), it kept Ginger Punch bottled up longer than usual and prevented her from finding a way out. She was forced to steady on one occasion and then had to sit and wait for something to open up. When nothing did, many thought the champ was beaten, including her trainer Bobby Frankel.

After turning into the stretch, with the field still bunched up and plodding along at a snail’s pace, Bejarano desperately began looking for even the slightest opening. Finally, just before reaching the eighth pole, he and Ginger Punch were able to bull their way through, slicing between Moon Catcher and Copper State. Once Ginger Punch got to the lead she drew clear to win by 1 1/4 lengths in 1:53 2/5, the result of the dawdling pace and the heavy rain that hit just prior to the race.

“How the hell did she win that?” Frankel asked. “They were looking for her, but she showed she’s a champion.”

That she did, slow time or no slow time.

Divine intervention

There have been editorial rumblings in the press recently -- myself included -- about a potential dream match between Curlin and Big Brown in the Aug. 30 Woodward Stakes. The general opinion has been that this would be the battle for Horse of the Year, and would generate a tremendous amount of interest, even beyond racing’s borders.

But wait a minute. This all sounds kind of familiar. Two years ago, there was a similar showdown for Horse of the Year honors in the Breeders’ Cup Classic between the budding 3-year-old superstar Bernardini and the legend in the making Lava Man, who needed one big victory outside California to secure his true place in history.

It all came to pass, and everything seemed ripe for a race for the ages. A poster was made up showing Bernardini and Lava Man ready to do battle in the ring. But, there was another horse around with exemplary credentials in his own right who was never even considered to be part of the poster. His name was Invasor, and because of an ill-timed fever, he was forced to miss the Jockey Club Gold Cup and go into the Classic cold off a layoff. All his trainer Kiaran McLaughlin could do was remain silently confident. After all, Invasor’s victories in the Pimlico Special, Suburban Handicap, and Whitney stamped him as something pretty special, too. Well, we all know what happened there.

So, here we are again with a similar scenario: the budding 3-year-old superstar against the reigning Horse of the Year and the biggest name in the older horse division. But has anyone seen McLaughlin lurking about with a sly grin on his face? He’s been here before, and now he could be back again.

Has anyone forgotten about Divine Park? All this McLaughlin-trained colt has done is win the Westchester Handicap in a blazing 1:32 3/5, the third fastest mile ever run in New York and co-fourth-fastest mile ever run on dirt, anywhere, and come right back and defeat Commentator in the Metropolitan Handicap for his third straight win. So, how come it’s as if he’s invisible in this picture? Yes, he’s been out of action since the Met Mile, just as Invasor was out from the Whitney to the Classic. And yes, he could be nothing more than a terrific miler, but what if he can stretch out another eighth of a mile? Why is a horse with his talent and limitless future being totally ignored in all this talk of a Woodward showdown, just as Invasor was ignored?

Anyway, this is all pure speculation anyway. Curlin’s owner Jess Jackson has never said anything that would lead one to believe he’s thinking about the Woodward, nor has Big Brown’s connections. But Mike Iavarone would love nothing more than to get in a shootout with Curlin for all the marbles. So, in case there is talk of it, I just thought it was an appropriate time to mention Divine Park’s name before he and McLaughlin sneak up on everyone and ruin the party, just as Invasor and McLaughlin did in 2006. Now, I’m not comparing Divine Park to Invasor by any means, but he’s still a horse who shouldn’t be ignored.

Here is another interesting, but unlikely scenario: Music Note in the Travers, instead of the Alabama. Again, it’s not likely to happen, but A.P. Indy out of a Sadler’s Wells mare; ran 1 1/4 miles in 2:01 3/5 in the CCA Oaks, last quarter in :24 1/5, winning in hand by 11 lengths. Is there a colt other than Big Brown who is capable of matching that performance? No one has seen one yet. If Big Brown does run in the Travers, then never mind. And I still think Harlem Rocker could be special. But I’m just tossing it around for fun.


Leave a Comment:


When I was watching the Whitney I was thinking maybe solar flare or some other horse would run by Commentater but he just poured it on! When he's on he's on. He truely is one the fastest horses in the world. And I too see something special in Harlem Rocker....if he's kept on dirt.

29 Jul 2008 9:59 PM

A really lovely article, as usual.  I've been following Commentator, my absolute favorite horse, since his very first start, and Whitney day was by far the finest experience I've ever had at a racetrack.  Hearing the crowd cheer as the jubilant connections walked by the stand with their amazing gelding was almost surreal.

It was, as you say, proof that there is still something great in the sport.  It certainly reminded me why I love it so much.

29 Jul 2008 10:45 PM
phillllly sarrrr

commentator is a great horse. it was so nice to see him win the whitney yet again. he is such a versatile specimen. i agree with your view on divine park. he could be the horse that will sneak into the classic and win convincingly. ginger punch was something else in the go for wand. she is just amazing. as much as i like her..i am more of a fan of zenyatta. remember she did beat GP by 8 lengths in the apple blossom. i would like to see zenyatta in the classic. music note is a very special filly who would give GP and zenyatta a run for their $$$. im anxious to see how big brown runs in the haskell..which i will be attending.

29 Jul 2008 10:56 PM

It is terrific the horses/connections are getting such an ovation.

They deserve one - that's one of the best things about basketball is all the fans swelling shortly before a dominating win.

It's good to know the spectators know what they're seeing - I understand the same thing has happened a couple times with Curlin as well.

Good write up on the Whitney ... loved it ... can't wait to get back up to Saratoga.

29 Jul 2008 11:00 PM

As a great fan of horse racing I could not believe what I was watching in the Go For Wand.  I realize everyone would love to beat a champion but to set out in a race to defeat just one horse and the way it was done was a complete disgrace on the jockeys part.  They should be ashamed of their behavior as athletes and role models.  The manner in which they rode that race was a complete disgrace to their sport.  Horse racing has had enough negativity this year, and to view what those three jocks did was an embarrasment to the sport.  Shame on them.  Thank goodness Ginger Punch came home safe.  As for the Whitney, I loved Commentator.  Great horse, great trainer and owner.  Kudos to them!

29 Jul 2008 11:49 PM

No one narrates the races like you do Mr. Haskin. Your observations are great.

By the way, don't you just love Nick Zito's comments?

I'm from Argentina and I've always loved what you wrote about Invasor. It's nice that you often remember him in your pieces. He never got so much press as the american horses and nothing for he is retired. Maybe when his foals begin to run. It would be great if you could visit him and tell us how he is doing and about his first season at stud with your style. Thanks.

29 Jul 2008 11:52 PM

For me, Bejarano's remarkable ride on Ginger Punch last Saturday highlighted Kent Desormeaux's sad mistakes in the Belmont.  Considering his reputation and experience, his lack of patience when Big Brown got trapped was baffling.  With 1 1/2 miles to run, there was plenty of time to let BB settle and wait for something to open up in front.

30 Jul 2008 12:40 AM

you folk's haven't seen nothing yet so stand by...Long Live The Dirt!!!

30 Jul 2008 4:27 AM

Choked up over Commentator, like I do all the grand "oldies", though I have to laugh at 7, 9, 10 being old with 22, 25 and 30 year old seniors in my barn, LOL. Thanks for the Beyers...not enough is written by the racing media about this stuff unless it's a current obsession over a particular horse.

Ginger Punch is a great example of "cool under pressure" and talent overcoming "luck".

30 Jul 2008 7:35 AM
the wiz

What a job they did with Commentator. It's refreshing to see a horse other than Curlin running at the level that he ran in the Whitney.

It sure would be nice to see Big Brown run against some kind of decent competition. Saturday's race is coming up so weak it's pathetic. Running in a 5 horse field against nobody isn't going to prove anything. Too bad they feel Big Brown needs a confidence booster since he got his rearend handed to him last time out. I sincerely hope that they find a tougher race next out for him (if there is one) since a Breeders Cup Classic run on a fake surface won't prove anything either if he was to win.  

30 Jul 2008 7:39 AM

I enjoyed Commentator's race, but I haven't been able to embrace him because of the durability question (same reason I thought it silly for Zito to put him "in the same league" as Kelso and Forego -- but I love it when connections so obviously love their horse). The race of the day for me was Ginger Punch refusing to lose. The distaffers this year are out of this world.

30 Jul 2008 8:17 AM

Another great article.

The BSF for Commentator's Whitney efforts is amazing. So many folks in his camp never have waivered in their confidence with him - and for good reason. He may be used lightly but like a swiss army knife he's been highly effective.

The sport's fans have long supported the older men from Exterminator to John Henry. Seeing sage runners who know the game and their jobs - like Evening Attire - use their aging bodies so effectively is a beautiful thing to watch.

Before retirement if only we could see Lava Man's connections try something unique: the MassCap. Run on dirt, the distance is right in his comfort zone, and while the competition will be good its not as stiff as he's been put against when all the failed shipping out of California efforts flopped.

30 Jul 2008 8:27 AM

Big Brown - Curlin - Devine Park, what a match up. First of all lets preface this potential race from the standpoint its on dirt not plastic. We would have a gifted miler in Divine Park trying to stretch out being overlooked by everyone, except as you say Kiaran McLaughlin, followed by the media darling Big Brown, who has yet to beat anything except a very bad crop of three year olds who can't get out of their own way, and a truly talented "Horse of the Year" in Curlin. No offense to IEAH but it would be advisable for them to find another race as Big Brown would have a lock on third place. Curlin most likely would collar Divine Park at the eighth pole and, Steve your right on the money, what a race that might be to the wire. 1> Curlin 2> Divine Park 3> Big Brown. Bring it on !!!

P.S. Kudos to Commentator and his connections. What a gamer he is.  

30 Jul 2008 9:28 AM

Tiznowbaby got it right: these distaffers are one tough bunch. Has everyone forgotten about Proud Spell?  Although Music Note - a special filly indeed - beat her at Belmont, Spell had a tough trip.  I'd like to see her, Note, Zenyatta and Punch hook up in a race on dirt someplace.  Probably will never happen, but I can hope.

30 Jul 2008 9:55 AM

Amax, Like Jerry Bailey and Randy Moss said about the race, that's horse racing and race riding. What should they have done? Just quit riding their horses and said go for it? Nobody rode dirty they just rode their race and didn't part the seas and say you deserve this go ahead. If that would have happened the uproar would have been huge, race fixing etc. She would have gotten hurt if Bejarano tried to force openings that weren't there.Kind of his riding style anyway IMHO.

30 Jul 2008 10:23 AM
Steve G

Although I think the word "great" is bandied about too frequently, Commentator, especially given his exploits so far this year, is a great one.  Zito has done a masterful job managing a horse with real physical problems & the horse has exhibited those intangible attributes in his career that we use to describe greatness in equines...

What I wonder about, given Zito's distaste for synthetics, is whether or not Commentator will make the trek West to compete in the BC.  I've already read some talk of going to the Mass Cap (which I would likely drive up from NY to attend if Commentator is entered there) but the prospect of watching Commentator run in the Dirt (synthetic) Mile is also very exciting.  I believe it was Farmer who made the comment about having more trouble getting Zito to Cali than the horse.  That was amusing & also had the ring of truth to it.

It will be interesting to see what course they plot for Commentator for the remainder of the year.

30 Jul 2008 10:36 AM

Like I've said before there are many horses running past age 7 and winning the big ones, so I still believe in Americas strong blood lines.Even though synthetic is a much more honest surface with weather not being a factor, there may be defections from the BC this year and therefore you are not going to get the quality horse to compete. Zito's my man and I believe every word he says in reference to fake surfaces. He is going to fight with every breath in keeping dirt from disappearing from New York. The solution from Pletcher seems reasonable. With 3 ovals at both Belmont and Aqueduct it wouldn't be a bad idea to change one of those turf surfaces to synthetic. This would appease the commission, and please the trainers.

30 Jul 2008 11:47 AM

Ah Steve, how can you leave out Lava Man when mentioning the "old"er warriors?? As a history maker and breaker, he deserved at LEAST a mention! Otherwise, loved the nostalgia, even on our current "senior" staff of runners. They bring hope and thrills to a sometimes frustrating game!

30 Jul 2008 1:36 PM

There is still plenty of fun and reasons to enjoy horse racing. You have definitely laid out many of the reasons to watch racing.

I have only been a fan a year, but man, even with all the crap to step around, horse racing is great.

30 Jul 2008 1:37 PM

The effort by Ginger Punch embraced the gut wrenching moments of peril and the triumph of a champion inherent in this sport.  The victory by Commentator is a tribute to time and patience in the training of a horse; sadly stud values usually preclude the slow and steady approach.  I'm glad for the geldings!

30 Jul 2008 2:00 PM

Respect you alot Steve, but have to reprimand you for leaving out Lava Man, clearly the best of the warhorses you listed. With respect to Commentator, this was only his 3rd graded stakes win. Lava Man won 7 grade 1 races, on dirt, turf, and synthetic, and dominated California's 3 big races (Big Cap, Hollywood Gold Cup, Pacific Classic) like no horse ever! Seriously, Lava Man accomplished more than any other horse in the history of California dirt handicaps. To put it into a New York perspective, Lava Man accomplished the equivalent of winning the Whitney 3 times, the Jockey Club Gold Cup 2 times, the Woodward, and the Sword Dancer. And one cannot overestimate how popular Lava Man is in California. I do, however, want to give thanks to all these old timers for their heart, durability, and talent.

30 Jul 2008 2:43 PM

Yes, don't forget Lava Man, he may be getting a bit fatigued now, but he's a horse that has worked very hard all his racing life - if retirement comes it would be deserved.  As for Kentucky Horse Park vs. Stable Pony for Lava Man - isn't it about time Ca built some kind of Horse Park Facility?  The southwest has a rich history in thoroughbred racing, quarter horse racing, Arabian Racing and of course movie making of all kinds of horse movies based on all the other breed-specific equine activities that are practiced in the wild and not so wild west.  Who better than Lava Man to be its the first resident of such a historic facility (with some buddies to keep him happy, of course)?

Also don't forget Perfect Drift who looks wonderful still but also appears to be tiring - another older hero who will deserve a happy retirement.

Thanks for the Beyer Figure for Commentator by the way - really extraordinary.  Does anyone know what the Beyer was for Evening Attire's astonishing win in his last race?

One last thing, though. Everyone's going wild over the success of these older horses and these positive developments certainly could not have come at a better time, but remember that in Britain where steeplechasing is as popular as flat racing, many steeplechasers don't even reach their peaks till they are about 10 years old.  They don't run as fast, but they run much further and with the jumps exert themselves just as much athletically as our young flat horses.

Let's find ways to keep more of our older heroes running, and I don't mean by pathetically  dropping to the bottom of the claiming ranks.  More of our tracks could card some hurdle or steeplechase races in special event days, for one thing.  Also I'm doing some research into the now defunct Playfair Racetrack in Spokane, and Playfair used to have a race called the Rocking Chair (can't remember if it was handicap or stakes) for horses eight years and older.  How about Rocking Chair Series on some of the local circuits?

30 Jul 2008 2:48 PM

Where else can you get articles as insightful and entertaining as this?

I actually think Commentator might be better at a Classic distance than the Mile race.   That is if, and only if, he is the lone speed horse.   In the BC Mile, he is sure to be in a speed duel (like the Met Mile).  Unless Curlin is in the BC Classic, it should be wide open.  Maybe, just maybe, the old man could hang on and win. That would make for a GREAT story.

30 Jul 2008 2:53 PM
Loretta A.

Commentator reminds me of the great 7 year old Forego. He won the Metropolitan, Woodward adn Nassau County at 7. Yes, it is nice to see horses staying around longer to race and brind excitement to the fans. And what can we say about Ginger Punch?? To quote Phil Rizzuto "Holy Cow!"

Great article Steve!

30 Jul 2008 3:03 PM
Pam S.

I'm another fan of the distaffers, and agree that they've sparkled this year.  For some reason, I was slow to warm up to Ginger Punch (don't know why) but she more than won me over Saturday.  What a tough, tough lady, like Laila Ali with a bridle.  Can't wait to see Zenyatta again.  Tough Tiz's Sis never runs a bad one.  As for the 3-year-olds, Music Note in the Travers should be an intriguing possibility for her connections.

One bittersweet note:  Think of the Ladies Classic if Eight Belles and Nashoba's Key could be there too.  Spine-tingling stuff.

30 Jul 2008 3:04 PM
Steve Haskin

Gun Bow, I knew someone would reprimand me for leaving Lava Man out, but the reason I did was because all the horses I mentioned were top-class stakes horses from the time they were young horses to their older years. Lava Man had two great years, but it took him several years before he got good. I had Lava Man listed, but thought if I included him I'd have to include a dozen other horses who got good later in their career. I've written several features on Lava Man nad have a great deal of respect for him, but I didnt think he fit with types of horses I mentioned -- he certainly fit  talent-wise, but just not profile-wise.

30 Jul 2008 4:21 PM

Lava Man's wins aren't equivalent to the Whitney or the JCGC; he didn't race nearly the same sized fields in most of his races compared the horses Haskin mentioned.

Perfect Drift ran a tough fourth, I believe, just the other day at Del Mar.

30 Jul 2008 5:07 PM

How can age 7 be considered old?  If a healthy horse lives to 30, then 7 is an age of 'tween to teenager.

Racing colts at 2 and 3never made all that much sense to me.  They are young, exuberant, and many 'don't get it.'  With time they can become great race horses, but this sport does not let them.  That's why the horses you mention, and my hero Lava Man, are so fun to watch over the years - to have seen what they can do and watch them do it again.  

But I still don't consider a 7 to 10 year old as old.  The muscles are matured and so is their ability to run.

30 Jul 2008 5:18 PM

JJ, I think Lava Man's wins are an equivalent. I'm not going to degrade Ginger Punch's win in the Go for Wand just because only five ran against her. No matter how you cut it, sweeping the Cali races was huge.

Lava Man, btw, has been officially retired. They were concerned about his ankles.

30 Jul 2008 6:21 PM

Invasor was not ignored by me!  I thought he was the class of the field and one to beat well before post time and was thrilled with his win.  Such a disappointment when he had to retire.  I think there are alot of classy horses right now running in the older ranks and in filly and mare divisions.  Zenyattaa and Commentator, Evening Attire, Hystericalady, Ginger Punch, Benny the Bull to name just a few.  It's a good year to be racing with more than just Big Brown and Curlin to root for!

30 Jul 2008 6:51 PM

Mr. Haskin, I was merely in jest. I loved your article earlier this year on Lava Man. And I definitely see the reason for his exclusion on this particular list.

30 Jul 2008 7:12 PM
Mary W.,Hawaii

To Tiznowbaby:

Was going to write a "long?" comment about Lava Man, but now you say he has been retired..officially...I guess I must be having a "senior moment", as I don't recall reading that...please refresh this "little old lady's" memory...when did this happen.....and on second thought, I'm really glad they decided...he is a wonderful "old charger" and really, he has nothing more to prove!!!!!  Where is his "final" home?

30 Jul 2008 7:19 PM
Joe Grant

I have been looking forward to seeing Evening Attire race in Saratoga this year.

This morning I was very disappointed when I read the new condition book for the end of the Saratoga meet and there was no long race for him. In fact Saratoga has no 10F race for older horses. I guess Attire will have to wait until next year when he is 11 before he can run at Saratoga again.

30 Jul 2008 7:51 PM
mary wilia, Hawaii

To Tiznowbaby:

After asking you about Lava Man being retired (which I didn't know), I checked ESPN.Com and found the was good to know the why's and wherefore's...I thank you for answering my inquery......

30 Jul 2008 7:53 PM
Steve Haskin

Gun Bow, first of all, it's Steve, please. I was just addressing your comment because I felt it was legitimate, especially considering I had originally typed his name in there. I appreciated the comment, and knew you were speaking in jest, which is why I repeated the word a humorous way.

Run Fast, well said. There is more to racing than Curlin and Big Brown. We have to appreciate all the good horses we have. Most owners would have retired Ginger Punch last year -- BC win, Eclipse Award. So, kudos to Stronach for doing the sporting thing.

30 Jul 2008 8:08 PM



30 Jul 2008 9:21 PM
The Deacon

How about a match race between Commentator, Evening Attire, Perfect Drift and Better Talk Now. We can call it the Geritol Handicap. Kudos Steve for your fine articles.  

30 Jul 2008 9:22 PM

Thank you for a great article, as usual. I enjoy reading them all.

I think all of the horses should be Horse of the Year. They are each special in their own way and I love them all.

30 Jul 2008 9:27 PM
fort worth

Lava Man should be the 8th!

All hail the King!

30 Jul 2008 9:49 PM

The announcement that Lava Man has been retired was posted at at 8:18:41 PM (EDT) today (7/30/08) and titled "Lava Man Retired After Stellar Career". Can't say it was unexpected, though I had no idea about his ankle problems.

On another note, I thought there already was sort of a Kentucky Horse Park in California at Charles Howard's old farm and mostly dedicated to things Seabiscuit (another oldie but a goodie). Don't know much about that place, and with gas prices being what they are, don't expect I'll be visiting the Shake-Rattle-And-Roll Coast any time soon. Still, I would like to know more about this horse park.

About 2 years ago, I did get to meet one of the Seabiscuit movie stunt double horses at the Kentucky Horse Park and even got to rub that movie star's neck.  Imagine, this old geezer got to rub a movie star’s neck!

Steve, What's your batting average for home run articles? I personally estimate it around a thousand.

30 Jul 2008 9:57 PM

The only reason a seven-year-old winning a Grade 1 race is newsworthy is because racehorses are retired so early. I have no doubt that if our top horses regularly raced at ages 5-10 we would see just as many smashing performances from the "old" guys. A seven-year-old horse in any of the sport horse disciplines is considered to be very young and at the start of their careers! Not to take anything away from Commentator and it is great to see him racing so long. I just always have to laugh at how skewed horse racing folks view a horse's age.

30 Jul 2008 10:19 PM

in line with your concept--today they announce the retirement of Lava Man, the great 7 year old California champion.  They say ankle x-rays are different from earlier this year.  What is that without  detailed explanation to those of us who adore this older horse and who knows if he, too, could have been healed like Commentator et al when they won't say what is wrong. Aren't they willing to even try for a horse who is still eager to run???  And look how quickly they whisked Heatseeker away when all that was wrong was suspensatory ligament injuries--these are healable.

30 Jul 2008 11:56 PM

10yo is OLD for a Race Horse as we are not speaking of those that hang around the barns all day...Race Horse's are like boxer's...tough as hell & able to take a shot & keep rolling...we love these critters.

31 Jul 2008 4:20 AM

Shamfan49: The Seabiscuit horse you saw a the Kentucky Horse Park was his registered name I Too Step Two? We trained him years ago for a friend and he was used for the starts in the movie cause he was quick away from the gate.

31 Jul 2008 12:31 PM

To Mike Relva,

Please don't yell at me, my hearing is fine. I didn't say Commentator wasn't brilliant, but until he makes the number of starts, wins a distance of ground and carries the weights, he cannot be put with Kelso (give times horse of the year) and Forego (three times horse of the year) in my book.

31 Jul 2008 1:38 PM

Mary W.,

Sorry not to get back sooner. O'Neill would like to keep Lava Man as a stable pony, and Kenly would like for Lave Man to be invited to reside at the horse park.

Btw, Kelso was a five-time HOTY, not a give. :)

31 Jul 2008 2:04 PM
Lava Man Belongs

I totally disagree with Lava Man being left off the list. You say he didn't run well enough at 2 and 3, but just look at this stat - Commentator, 19 starts, Lava Man 47. At least Lava Man ran and ran often, which is one of the hallmarks of these old campaigners. Oh, yeah, he also won. It's hard to follow a horse who shows up an average of 2-3 times a year, like Commentator. So, yeah, it's fantastic that he won the Whitney at 7, but keep in mind that the mileage on him isn't that of a 7-year old. That mileage is what's likely caused the changes in Lava Man's ankles and explains why he needs to be retired. "Wear and tear" isn't something that can really be healed with time off, unless you're talking years. So, no, chances are he can't be brought back. As for comparing Commentator to Forego and Kelso, well....

As for not running against big fields, last year's Hollywood Gold Cup wasn't a 4-horse field (9 entered), 2006 was a small field, but he beat 11 in the Sunshine Classic. Also, none of the other horses mentioned is a grade 1 winner on 3 surfaces.

I know you didn't want to have 8 horses, it would ruin the movie reference, but it's a disservice to a horse who danced every dance and displayed remarkable soundness while winning 7 grade 1 races. We just don't see that anymore. How many grade 1's have the others on the list won? I'm just curious, no time to look it up.

I find it really sad when a horse that does all these things just isn't considered good enough to be listed:

starting 47 times; winning 7-grade 1's; winning grade 1's on turf, dirt, and synthetics; winning the Hollywood Gold Cup in 3 consecutive runnings; winning the SA Handicap twice; only horse to win the Gold Cup, SA Handicap, and Pacific Classic in one year; only horse other than John Henry to win the Whittingham and SA Handicap.

I'm as disappointed with this as when The Bloodhorse chose not to include a photo of Lava Man winning the Gold Cup last year in the annual issue - this was something that had only been done once before, and chances are it will never be equalled again.  

31 Jul 2008 2:37 PM
Steve Haskin

LMB, you obviously did not read my last comment or did not read it very carefully. I specifically said it had nothing to do with talent or how he compared to the other horses. He just did not fit the same profile of running in major races from the beginning of his career to the end. My not including him on an innocuous list like that isnt worth taking offense at. I wrote one of the longest stories I've ever written on Lava Man, in which I detail his entire career, and other columns defending his place in history and how he never got the national recognition he should have. Believe me, I know all about the horse's accomplishments. Please go back and read those stories, and then tell me I did a disservice to him by leaving off a list.

31 Jul 2008 3:39 PM

Better Talk Now has won 5 grade 1 races and I think The Tin Man won 4. Which ever horse one feels is best, they all deserve appreciation.

31 Jul 2008 3:40 PM

Just another great article Steve! I couldn't be at Saratoga on Whitney Day but you made me feel as if I was-thanks!! I watched the races on TV and was just amazed by Commentator and Ginger Punch's races-talk about great performances!! It just doesn't get any better, complete with great calls from TD!! After watching these amazing athletes I still can't understand why more people would rather sit in front of a slot machine-ugh!!! Long live Saratoga!!!!    

31 Jul 2008 5:36 PM

Wanda, I'm sorry but I don't recall the name of the Seabiscuit double residing at the Horse Park on that visit. If my leaky memory recalls anything correctly, I seem to think he was not a permanent resident, but only there for a visit. The Horse Park handler who exhibited him mentioned that he was used for a starting sequence. Since your horse was quick at the break, he very easily could be yours. He was very well behaved. Just a super nice gelding. I'll look through my photos when I get a chance. Maybe there's a clue to his identity. Now where did I put those CDs?

31 Jul 2008 7:14 PM

Wanda, I Googled "I Two Step Too" and found an article that he was euthanized March 7, 2005, because of a tumor in his nasal cavity. My trip to the Horse Park was after that. So the Seabiscuit double I met must have been another. 11 is much too young. Here's the link to that sad story:

31 Jul 2008 7:25 PM
Steve Haskin

The horse who played Seabiscuit who resided at the Ky. Horse Park was Rich in Dallas.

31 Jul 2008 8:15 PM

Thank you all for the imfo on Too Step. I had read something about him having tumor issues but wasn't sure when he was put down.He had alot of issues when he came to us,the least of which was a habit of trying to flip in the paddock.I really enjoyed him after he realized life wasn't to bad. I'm glad his last years were spent in comfort with people who cared.

01 Aug 2008 1:14 AM

Thank you so much Shamfan. I read the link and got a little choked. I'll get out the win pictures and take a look at him, and maybe rent the movie. Good memories.

01 Aug 2008 1:21 AM

all of you here conduct & express your self's in such a wonderful manner...great blog...LLTK!!!

01 Aug 2008 3:57 AM

I shamelessly "borrowed the following from one of my very favorite web sites:

"Rich In Dallas was used in filming the Seabiscuit movie. You can see him as he runs across the bridge and over the meadow, stumbling a little before running up the hill. In March 2004 he was donated to The Exceller Fund. Rich In Dallas spent the summer of 2005 at the Kentucky Horse Park. He resides at Woodridge Farm in Virginia."

So, as usual, Steve gets it right. I was at the Horse Park that summer, possibly in June. I found the photo CDs of that visit, but none of them show the horse's name. I thought I had taken one of the biographical information on the wall next to his stall, but as usual, my old man's memory seems to have been mistaken. Rich in Dallas photos accompany his pedigree at

Thanks, Steve, for helping restore what for me is a wonderful memory.

Anyone interested can learn more about my favorite "movie star" by following this link:

01 Aug 2008 8:11 PM

One of my all time favourites got better with age.  "Sky Classic" reached his brightest and best at age 5.  Although not in the same category as Steve brilliantly described; I bring it up as I wonder how many 3 year olds have been retired, when they are far from reaching their potential in "later" years?   Sky Classic retired with 29 Starts [15 - 6 - 1,] and $3,320,398 in earnings.  He will fondly be remembered as a great "older" [i.e., >3!] horse by me.

02 Aug 2008 3:33 PM
lance guranovich

  loretta a,

i must state that i respectfully disagree with your comparison between forego and commentator.

also, since mike relva owns a few horses, he seems to be more qualified to ascertain greatness in a race horse than the average racing fan.

i don't want to take anything away from anyone's favorite horse and i truly respect a horse like commentator, but he isn't and will never be a forego.

forego was a "champion" handicap horse and the key word here is handicap. unfortunately, the younger generation of horse racing enthusiasts have never had the opportunity to look into a program and see a horse carrying 100 pounds to the favorite's 130 pounds.

today, racing secretaries have to deal with trainers and owners threatening not to run their horse, because it is going to be the highweight, picking up a pound off of it's last race.

forego carried greater than 130 lbs. many times and he carried it far and fast. theoretically, they are all supposed to be at the wire simultaneously, but forego disproved this notion many times.

frankly, i don't believe that there is a horse out there today that could wear his saddle cloth.

03 Aug 2008 2:49 AM
lance guranovich

 mr. haskin,

please correct me if i am wrong, but i believe that you once wrote an article about little current and that he was one of your favorite horses.

i saw him run in the flamingo in 1974 and i think that angel cordero rode him.

my main reason for this posting is that i have a couple of decent pictures of him and if you would like, i could send them to you.

03 Aug 2008 3:12 AM

lance guranovich posted this comment at 2:49 AM on Aug 3, 2008: "since mike relva owns a few horses, he seems to be more qualified to ascertain greatness in a race horse than the average racing fan." I do not know Mr. Relva and know even less about his knowledge of horses which I’m positive is greater than mine. I intend him no disrespect whatsoever! However, simply because a person owns race horses does not indicate anything beyond that person's ability to sign checks. And God love these folks, because this sport needs people who are willing and able to spend money on horses other than at the betting windows (it needs those too). There are many "average" fans who can, despite not having the resources available to own a race horse, recognize greatness. Sometimes it’s so obvious, even I can see it, and I’m far below average.

03 Aug 2008 10:16 PM


28 Jan 2009 6:16 PM
Blood-Horse Staff

M Toland - As long as the vet thinks it's ok, the horse should be fine. I take riding lessons and one of the horses that I ride is 29.

28 Jan 2009 9:37 PM

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