Welcome Home, Alysheba

The day after the 1987 Preakness Stakes, I stopped at a service area on I-95 in Maryland on my way back home from the Preakness and called Jack Van Berg, asking if I could do a feature on him for the Thoroughbred Times, which had only been in existence for about a year. I had never met Van Berg, who was on top of the world at the time and who looked like a sure bet to saddle racing’s next Triple Crown winner following Alysheba’s impressive victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The horse had the right pedigree, the right running style, the right jockey, and the right trainer.

Despite obviously being in high demand for interviews, Van Berg agreed to meet me in the diner across the street from the Belmont backstretch for breakfast. It took about 10 seconds for me to feel as if I’d known him for years. He proceeded to express his innermost feelings about his life and his relationship with his father, legendary Midwest trainer Marion Van Berg. He finished by saying, “Steve, if you misquote me I’ll never talk to you again.” That bluntness impressed me. I actually was flattered that he had entrusted me to tell his story correctly and that the article was important enough to him to add that comment. Most trainers would never be that direct.

We then went back to his barn to see Alysheba. I, like most everyone, had become smitten with the son of Alydar – his personality, his intelligence, and his regal way of moving. Whether he was walking, jogging or galloping, he would arch his neck as if showing off his noble bearing. The faster he galloped the farther down he would lower his head. He was sheer poetry in motion.

There were few Belmont Stakes with a Triple Crown on the line that came as much of a shock as Alysheba’s distant fourth-place finish to his Derby and Preakness victim Bet Twice, who would become his arch rival over the next two years. Not only did the defeat cost Alysheba’s connections a $5-million bonus, but by getting nipped by a neck at the wire for third by Gulch, it cost them a $1-million bonus, which went to Bet Twice. Jockey Chris McCarron knew it was not his finest moment and that his ride likely cost the owners, Clarence, Dorothy, and Pamela Scharbauer the bonus money and Van Berg his 10-percent share of a million dollars. After the race, McCarron drove up to the barn and sheepishly walked toward Van Berg, not knowing what to expect.

“There’s my boy,” Van Berg said in a warm, welcoming manner. All McCarron could say was, “Am I still your boy?” Van Berg went over and put his arm around McCarron’s shoulder as if to assure him all was fine. That was class, and that’s what Alysheba was all about – class.

McCarron would go on to ride Alysheba 13 more times, winning eight -- seven of them grade I stakes. When he crossed the finish line for the final time, in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic, Alysheba was “America’s Horse,” as proclaimed by race caller Tom Durkin, with career earnings of nearly $6.7 million.

Alysheba’s 4-year-old campaign was perhaps the most underrated ever, as it should have launched him into the pantheon of greats. After winning the Charles H. Strub Stakes by three lengths in 2:00 flat for the 1 1/4 miles, he hooked up in two memorable stretch duels with defending Horse of the Year Ferdinand, who had nipped him by a nose in the previous year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic in an epic showdown between Kentucky Derby winners. This time, a more mature Alysheba got the better of Ferdinand both times, narrowly beating him the Santa Anita Handicap and San Bernardino Handicap.

Those two grueling efforts took their toll in the Pimlico Special and Hollywood Gold Cup, in which Alysheba finished fourth and second, respectively. During the early summer, his coat lacked its usual luster and he had lost some weight. In the Pimlico Special, he was beaten by his nemesis, Bet Twice, whom he was meeting for the seventh time, with each finishing ahead of the other three times.

It was Bet Twice who had drifted out in front of Alysheba in the Kentucky Derby, causing the colt to stumble badly, nearly going down. He quickly picked himself up and closed in on Bet Twice for the second time. Bet Twice again cut right in front of him, but Alysheba, after altering his path, kept coming, collaring his rival with relentless determination to win by three-quarters of a length. Then in the Preakness, he ran down Bet Twice again to win by a half-length.

Following Bet Twice’s stunning 14-length romp in the Belmont, the Monmouth Park-based colt defeated Alysheba and Lost Code in a three-horse photo in the Haskell Invitational at his home track, a race that helped establish the Haskell as one of the nation’s premier races for 3-year-olds. The “Duel at the Shore” still remains one of Monmouth Park’s greatest moments. Alysheba actually got trapped down on the rail leaving the quarter pole when pace-setting Lost Code drifted back to the inside. McCarron had to yank Alysheba to the outside, losing valuable momentum. He came flying late but fell a neck short. The time of 1:47 flat was a fifth of a second off the track record.

Returning to Alysheba’s 4-year-old campaign, because it was obvious he was not at his best in the Pimlico Special and Hollywood Gold Cup, Van Berg gave him two months off and decided to remove his blinkers, which he had worn in his previous 20 starts. When the colt arrived at Monmouth for the Philip H. Iselin Handicap and another shot at Bet Twice on his home track, his burnished bay coat glistened and he appeared to have his old swagger back. He was so on the muscle that Van Berg had his hands full walking him in the morning. “I let you out to get some fresh air, you can at least act like a gentlemen,” he said to the horse.

Getting on Alysheba each day was apprentice rider Kelly O’Hara, who admitted to being extremely nervous, hoping nothing would go wrong in front of so many onlookers.

“This horse is so smart it’s scary,” she said one morning. “Jack told me not to move on him. He said if I had a horse in front of me, to just say to him, ‘Go get him, papa,’ just those words. Sure enough, there was a horse way out in front of me. I said those exact words and this sonofagun just opened up and ran that horse down. Jack also told me not to pull him up, just say, ‘Easy papa, we’re done.’ I did just that and he came right back to me. He has so much class and moves like a cat. It doesn’t even feel like he’s hitting the ground.”

A rejuvenated, blinkerless Alysheba, his handsome head now in full view of everyone, proceeded to turn in four performances that would put a final stamp on a great career. He gained his revenge on Bet twice in the Iselin, winning by three-quarters of a length in 1:47 4/5 for the 1 1/8 miles. After the race, Clarence Scharbauer was so choked up he had trouble speaking. When he saw Alysheba return, he said in a quavering voice, “He’s got more guts and heart than anything I ever saw. He gives you everything he’s…” That was all he could get out.

In Alysheba’s next two starts, the Woodward Handicap and Meadowlands Cup, he became the only horse in memory (possibly in history) to set back-to-back track records at a mile and a quarter, winning the Woodward in 1:59 2/5, defeating a tenacious Forty Niner, coming off gutsy wins over Seeking the Gold in the Haskell and Travers, and then coming back four weeks later and winning the Meadowlands Cup in 1:58 4/5.

When Personal Ensign capped off her unbeaten career by winning the Breeders’ Cup Distaff, the pressure was on Alysheba to win the Classic over a deep, sloppy surface he was not particularly fond of. But he dug down deep to win by a half-length over Seeking the Gold to snatch Horse of the Year away from Personal Ensign. Finishing five lengths back in third was Waquoit, 15-length winner of the Jockey Club Gold Cup.

In those final four races, Alysheba defeated a veritable Who’s Who of  The Turf -- Bet Twice, Forty Niner, Seeking the Gold, Gulch, Cryptoclearance, Waquoit, Slew City Slew, Personal Flag, Brian’s Time, and Cutlass Reality, to go along with his two conquests over Ferdinand earlier in the year. By winning the Santa Anita Handicap in 1:59 4/5, he became only the second horse in history, along with Round Table, to break the 2:00 mark for 1 1/4 miles three times in one year. While Round Table ran 1:59 4/5 three times in 1958, Alysheba accomplished the feat in 1:58 4/5, 1:59 2/5, and 1:59 4/5, making him arguably the fastest mile and a quarter horse of all time over a single season. It was one of the greatest campaigns ever, with seven victories in nine starts and one second, but has never received the recognition it deserved.

When it was over, the Alysheba–Bet Twice rivalry stood at 5-4 in favor of Alysheba. Everyone around the two horses, including Van Berg and Bet Twice’s trainer Jimmy Croll, swore the two horses knew each other. When they were at Pimlico for the Pimlico Special, Alysheba was stabled on the backside of Bet Twice. One morning, Alysheba was being walked around the shed by Van Berg and when he passed by Bet Twice’s stall both horses started whinnying and nickering at each other. It happened every time Alysheba went by, and they didn’t do it to any other horse. This went on every morning they were at Pimlico.

Even Alysheba’s groom, John Cherry, was amazed. “I know it sounds weird, but it sure looked like looked they recognized each other,” he said.

Both horses were completely different from each other. Alysheba was pure artistry. In the morning, he would stand motionless on the track with his head cocked to the side and ears pricked for some 10 minutes. When he began to walk it was like seeing a Richard Stone Reeves painting come to life. When he broke off into a gallop and began arching that neck in regal splendor he captured the essence of the Thoroughbred in motion in all its beauty and grandeur.

Bet Twice, on the other hand, had shown such a disdain for training when he was young, Croll had to use a buggy whip to get him to train. By the time he hooked up with Alysheba, however, he was working five-eighths in :58 without raising a sweat.

Van Berg said of the two horses and their rivalry, “They’re like two prizefighters when they get together. They just rear up and fight it out.”

Following Alysheba’s retirement, he was given a farewell at Churchill Downs, the scene of his Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic triumphs. On a cold, dreary afternoon, Alysheba was paraded on the track. As soon as he heard the cheers from the crowd he arched his neck one last time and broke off into the most magnificent gallop I think I’ve ever seen.

I visited Alysheba at Lane’s End Farm several times, and couldn’t believe it when I heard he was being sent to Saudi Arabia in 2000 to stand at King Abdullah’s Janadriyah Stud Farm outside Riyadh. Last week, Alysheba arrived at the Kentucky Horse Park, a gift to America from the people of Saudi Arabia.

That is the second time America has been given the gift of Alysheba. The first was 21 years ago. Alysheba was a gift to anyone fortunate enough to have seen him in action. I’m already looking forward to visiting him and likely will schedule a visit to Kentucky in the near future just for that purpose. The oldest living Kentucky Derby winner will turn 25 at the end of the year. Even if he no longer gallops with that regally arched neck, just one look at him up close and I’ll be able to envision it as if it were yesterday.

 

77 Comments

Leave a Comment:

rob

great article!!! I remember having lunch with my father, Mr. Van Berg and Allen Proctor in the kitchen at DRC, early sixties. Mr. Van Berg is a true legend and horseman.

03 Nov 2008 1:40 PM
Zevida

What a great tribute to a champion! Alysheba is the last Kentucky Derby winner to go on to be a champion at age four. I wonder if we will ever see an iron horse like him again. What amazing talent! Two decades since a Derby champion has lit up the track at age four. I doubt at the time anyone realized what would be missed after he retired.

03 Nov 2008 1:48 PM
longtime racing fan

As usual, Steve, masterfully told. You have the knack of not just relating the facts, but givig your reader the visual and emotional scene as well. Great story about a great horse.

Is there any information about the mares he was bred to in Saudi Arabia? Do they have Thoroughbred mares there that are registered or eligible for the Jockey Club and other world-recognized registries? Any chance of some Alydars coming over here?

I heard somewhere not long ago that he was "...now being bred to Arabian mares..." there. I don't know how factual that info was though.

Again, thanks, and please give us a full report when you go to visit him. He and Cigar might have a bit to say to each other as well!

03 Nov 2008 1:49 PM
needler in Virginia

AGAIN WITH THE TEARS, STEVE!!!

Lovely words, lovely story, lovely horse and the loveliest of memories.

I'm so glad he has come home, Steve, and that he is now available for EVERYONE to see. What a wonderful addition to the KHP!

Thanks again for the great writing and the memories your story brought back.

Cheers.

03 Nov 2008 2:17 PM
Elizabeth

Thank you for this, Steve. Alysheba is the reason I love racing and I've always felt like he was wrongly left out of conversations of great, great horses. It was as if he was judged more by his performance in the breeding shed than on the racetrack, and that just isn't fair. It broke my heart when he left the U.S. before I was able to see him at Lane's End. I feel like I'm 14 again, planning my visit to the Horse Park to see the horse I've loved all along. Thanks for this great reflection. Your affinity for Alysheba is as clear here as it is in your entry in Thoroughbreds Champions/Top 100.

03 Nov 2008 2:23 PM
Jessica

Thank you for writing this story.  I was so happy when I read Alysheba was returning.  1987 was the first Derby I ever watched and the whole reason I am the fanatic I am now.  My favorite horse of all time!  I was too young to see Ruffian or Secretariat run but I am glad I was able to watch Alysheba.

03 Nov 2008 2:26 PM
Draynay

I loved Alysheba and you're right on about the Haskell being a defining moment for the Stakes race.  However, that race was a double edge sword that lives today.  Many Derby winners choose to skip the race because the great "Alysheba" could not win it.  Many choose to rest their horse longer and wait for the Travers.  Only 2 Derby winners have ever won the Haskell War Emblem and Big Brown.  Who knew at the time that one race would have such impact for many years to come.  After a grueling Triple Crown campaign coming back and winning the Haskell has proven very difficult just ask Curlin.

03 Nov 2008 2:38 PM
Runfast159

WOW.  Thank you for bringing memories of Alysheba back for all of us.  He was truly a spectacular horse.  I hope to see him soon in Kentucky!

03 Nov 2008 2:41 PM
Jen

That was fantastic Steve, as always.  I have been so sad that I would never get to see him alive again and when the announcement came that he was coming home, it ranks as one of my top ten days.  He is Americas horse and always will be.  Welcome home Alysheba, we love you.

03 Nov 2008 2:48 PM
LoveMyLava

This really should be among the NTRA's annual moment of the year options. In what has been a long and tough year for racing, Alysheba being returned to the U.S. stands up there as a crowning moment of glory.

03 Nov 2008 2:57 PM
Richie

I was at Belmont to see Alysheba have a go at the Triple Crown-was it really over 21 years ago?! When Bet Twice opened up that big lead on the backstretch I knew everyone else, inluding Alysheba was in trouble. That was the first TC try I attended in person-little did I know that there would be many more-and still counting.

I agree with you totally Steve on Alysheba's four year old campaign. People don't seem to remember it, instead remembering Spectacular Bid's as the best ever- I think Alysheba's was equally good, considering the horses he ran against.

Thanks again for another great piece of writing that brought back lots of good memories of the days when fans actually showed up at the track to watch great horses run.  

03 Nov 2008 3:07 PM
Wanda

Great read as always. Please get pics to post on here if you go see him.

03 Nov 2008 3:09 PM
alydarstar

our greatest champion is back!!! at home!!! there´s no horse since 1988 that faced and defeated so many champions together, so many stars together... yes, the king es back!!! god bless you alysheba, god bless you champion!!!

03 Nov 2008 3:10 PM
Kelly E.

Thanks again, Steve, for your kind words!  We are so lucky to have you!

I loved Alysheba from the time I saw him in the Blue Grass Stakes.  He was the first horse I "followed" throughout his career (though my first "love" was Snow Chief the year before).  My friend and I would argue back and forth about who was better, Bet Twice (who she loved) or Alysheba.  

I can't wait to get to the Horse Park to visit him - thank you to King Abdullah for giving America this gift!

03 Nov 2008 3:22 PM
MikeM

Yeah in those days the Haskell was a legit Grade I. Not like the glorified allowance race it has become.

03 Nov 2008 3:23 PM
DONNA

  Steve, thanks so much for the wonderful story on Alysheba. I could just envision being there at those races. I'm definitely planning a trip to the Horse Park this spring to see him!

03 Nov 2008 4:17 PM
Karen in Texas

Thank you for a wonderful story about one of America's best horses!

03 Nov 2008 4:21 PM
Tiznowbaby

Ha! This time you didn't get me. I had my tissues ready. Alysheba's Derby is one of my all-time faves because of his Texas connections - but mostly because of his determination. I'm glad you reminded us about that terrific 4Yo season. What a horse.

03 Nov 2008 5:10 PM
Maria in NJ

I was a 17 year old, horse smitten young girl in the summer of 1988 when I dragged my friends to Monmouth Park to witness Alysheba's triumph over Bet Twice in the Iselin Handicap. We snuck up to the Clubhouse and were fortunate enough to be standing directly in back of Jack Van Berg's box. A woman with him saw my jaw drop and asked Jack to sign my program for me as I was too starstruck to speak.  Even though his superstar was almost ready to be loaded into the gate he happily obliged. I still have that program and cherish it to this day.  Alysheba is one of my all time favorite horses and I am so happy he is home.  I look forward to visiting him and revisiting my memories of my first trip to the beautiful track at the jersey Shore.  Thank you King Abdullah.

03 Nov 2008 5:17 PM
Blue Dawn

Steve,

Thank you so much for helping to bring Alysheba's racetrack days to life for me.  I'm a little too young to have followed his career while he was on the track, but once I got into racing it didn't take me long to learn of his greatest feats and see his power through highlights on racing telecasts.  I've always known he was outstanding and have always respected him.  I'm helping to take care of him now, and I've been researching hard to learn all I can about his career so that I can answer almost any question about it that a visitor may have.  But what really interests me, and most of the public, is the intangible--WHY he was so dearly loved.  We all know that it's not just the number of races in which he surged to a thrilling finish or how much money he won.  Great wordsmiths such as yourself recalling Alysheba have helped me to visualize those qualities which truly made him such a star in every possible respect.  He is definitely a horse that deserves to stand alongside Cigar as the star attraction at the Kentucky Horse Park.  Thank you, Steve, for bringing back memories for so many and for helping others to learn maybe for the first time what a spectacular animal this is.  We're so proud to have him!  (And, by the way, he's doing great!)

03 Nov 2008 5:19 PM
irabird

Great story, Mr. H!

03 Nov 2008 5:28 PM
rich loughrey

Poetry  Steve Poetry! Back to the Future again.

03 Nov 2008 5:31 PM
lobieb

Love Alysheba and watched so many of his races.  I was in awe of his daddy Alydar, sorry but Affirmed was not my cup of tea but if not one than the other as they were tied together on the tracks regardless.  Guess I have always been for the underdog but there was just something about Alydar that would have me following his racing career.  When Alysheba came along and out of my favorite stallion of all times then I now had a new interest to watch and campaign for. To say the least I am so glad that he has been able to come home where he belongs and I hope to get to see him sometime this year at the Park.  

03 Nov 2008 6:43 PM
rita

I loved Alysheba's sire Alydar so much and hate the man responsible for his death but he did get a chance to reproduce himself. alot of the great horses don't. In Alyshebas case he might have won a few more great races than his father.They will both go down as two of the greatest.Love your stories.Just wish I could have seen them myself but it helps that through you I can see them and all the great ones you write about in my dreams. Thanks Steve keep them coming!

03 Nov 2008 7:06 PM
Rggc

Steve

Thanks for the great article. Alysheba was always my favorite after his father Alydar. When I was a kid, I wrote a fan letter to Mr. Van Berg. I didn't expect an answer but not only did I get an answer I recieved a signed copy of Alysheba's offical Derby win photo! I have it till this day, and I will someday have it donated to charity to raise money for a thoroughbred retirement group. I love Mr Van Berg and Alysheba and I plan to visit him sometime this year too. Thank you King Abdullah.

03 Nov 2008 7:14 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, everyone. I really do enjoy bringing these horses to life, not only for those too young to have seen them, but to those like myself who appreciate the trip back in time.  

Blue Dawn, you're very fortunate to be around him every day for the remainder of his life or for as long as you work at the Horse Park. I look forward to seeing you when I do make it down. I am glad I was able to put a personality and physical attributes to the past performances and videos. I'm sure the visitors will be lining up to see him. It'll be great when they're finally able to show him on a regular basis. He sure loved the attention.

03 Nov 2008 7:15 PM
joe

Preakness Saturday 1987 I was early at the Pimlico gates to join the "land rush" for space at the grandstand rail.  "Sheba's" near fall and recovery in the Derby grabbed me; this was the second of seven Preaknesses I would attend, but never will I forget Alysheba, right before me, passing Bet Twice to take the crown's second jewel. It made a long day in the sun very worthwhile.  I was at Belmont three weeks later, and back at Pimlico in 88 for the Special. Now I know I've got to get back to the KY Horse Park, for my fourth brush with Alysheba's greatness.

03 Nov 2008 7:19 PM
Pat in Florida

Thank you so much Steve for writing this wonderful story about Alysheba.  His daddy was always my favorite, but when Alysheba stumbled at the head of the stretch in the Derby and then picked himself up and came on to win, well- I've always considered him to be my role model since then.  I've got Richard Stone Reeves' print of him hanging in my office and he is just the most magnificent thoroughbred ever.  I was so thrilled to hear he was coming home and ecstatic to see the pictures on Friday.  I am already planning a trip to the Horse Park.  How great is it that he and Cigar are there together and that Jack Van Berg and Chris McCarron were there to welcome him home.  At least some things are right with the world again!!!!!  Our wonderful Alysheba is home where he belongs!!!

03 Nov 2008 7:31 PM
russell maiers

Thanks Steve and thanks Blue Dawn and a special thanks to John Henry. Some how, John picked who would take up his stall. We wouldn't expect less!

Fantastic horse is the great Alysheba for the park. Our Cigar has a new great acquaintance!

What ever happened to Bet Twice?

03 Nov 2008 7:44 PM
Alfred K

Hi Steve,

Great job as usual!!! I was too young this great rivalary between Bet Twice and Alysheba, thank you so much for sharing it with us.

03 Nov 2008 7:57 PM
LyndaP31

That was a wonderful article. I just love this horse; he was the first Derby winner I ever saw and I remember it being a magical race, and Alysheba was my hero. I am so glad he is back and I will be able to see him in person for the first time.

03 Nov 2008 8:08 PM
Claire

Many thanks for that wonderful story and tribute to my favorite horse, Alysheba. I am thrilled that he is home and hope to get to Kentucky to see him for myself.

I loved him so much I bred my mare to his full brother.  

His Derby was the most amazing race I have ever seen. Welcome home, old friend ----

03 Nov 2008 8:17 PM
Alli

Thanks for recalling those wonderful memories. This horse is and always will be my favorite. He raced at a time when I was just starting to really understand racing and your stories make me long for the days when racing a horse was what this sport was all about. I will relish the days he has left on this earth at home where he belongs and I thank the Prince for allowing him to come home to us. If it were me, I wouldn't want to ever give him up. He was scary good something we rarely see these days.

03 Nov 2008 8:24 PM
Diane

Alysheba is the horse who made me a horse racing fan.  In 1987 I had just moved back to NYC after graduate school, and I turned on the TV to watch the Kentucky Derby.

I was enthralled enough to then watch the Preakness, then the Belmont, then the Breeders' Cup Classic and Tom Durkin's amazing call.   I spent the next ten years watching every horse race on TV that I could until I finally met a friend who actually went to the track.  I went to my first horse race in 1997 (the Kentucky Derby !), and I have been attending horse races ever since.  Last week as my friend and I were driving to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup, I was reading the Daily Racing Form and screamed out loud when I read that Alysheba was coming home.  It's the happy ending that I had dreamed for, and it came true.

03 Nov 2008 8:32 PM
MRO

I sobbed when I read that he was coming home. I never thought he would return to U.S. soil. I agree that this has to be a NTRA "Moment of the Year" option, and I too will be making a trip to the Ky Horse Park to see him this winter. Like several of the contributors, my obsession with Alydar led me to Alysheba. I cannot express adequate appreciation to King Abdullah for his safe return and apparent years of excellent care in Saudi Arabia. From the pictures on The Bloodhorse website, he looks as stunning and alert as he did 20 years ago. Long live Alysheba!

03 Nov 2008 8:44 PM
Brian A.

 What a great write-up.  I felt like becoming an istant adoring fan of Alysheba even though I've only seen one of his recorded races.  This article inspires passion for the horse and what he accomplished, I loved it!!

03 Nov 2008 8:48 PM
Katherine

Thank you Steve for the gift of taking us back with you to that special time with a great horse. I absolutely adore your articles.

03 Nov 2008 9:10 PM
Bradgm

Great story Steve, brings back memories of when I was young. I always wondered though why Jack never got the really big horses in huge numbers after Alysheba.

Actually his comment to you explains it. He is what he is, take it or leave it, always was always will be.

Jack, to me is a great guy, like so many of the old timers I've been priveleged to meet.

03 Nov 2008 9:18 PM
LDP

Dray, please leave Curlin and BB out of one discusion please i came on the blog to get away from all the negativity of most of the others and what do i find you and your obssion. Go onto another blog if you wish to speak of Curlin and BB. This blog is about Alysheba, and nobody else, so for just once shut up with BB and curlin or please go away.

03 Nov 2008 9:36 PM
LeeAnne151

Welcome Home Alysheba! lovely article, thank you.

03 Nov 2008 10:08 PM
BaleofAKS

Steve, thank you so much for the story on Alysheba.  In my book, he was one of the greatest horses to look through a bridle -- he had incredible acceleration.  He always seemed to find another gear.

I had the opportunity to meet Jack Van Berg during the Ak-sar-ben "heyday" years; the man is a giant.  I've never met a kinder man.  He is a gentleman in every sense of the word.

Thank you for this wonderful trip down memory lane, and thank you to the people of Saudi Arabia for making it possible for 'Sheba to come home.  

03 Nov 2008 10:21 PM
turnbackthealarm

Was at both the Haskell and the Iselin....Your description of his bearing was perfect. Alysheba knew he was the man!  I'm so glad he is home.

03 Nov 2008 10:26 PM
ttimsan

Thank you Steve for another fantastic article! And deep gratitude for King Abdullah's graciousness. Thank you!!

Alysheba is still my all-time favorite. I remember picking my jaw off the floor during his 3rd place finish in the 1986 BC Juvenile and knew without a doubt I was looking at the next Derby champion. He might have been 3rd, but that was one of the most brilliant closing runs I've ever seen.

Van Berg and McCarron were all class - true gentlemen and horsemen.

Going to KHP next spring - can't wait to see him in person!!

03 Nov 2008 10:49 PM
SLJ

Last week, when I read that Alysheba was coming home, I squealed like a 10-year old  girl.  

Alysheba was the first racehorse I fell in love with, and remains my all-time favorite (only Lure and Miesque come anywhere near him).  Good ones come and go, and the ones that get all the hype nowadays just bore me to tears.  "Meh...he's no Alysheba," I can't keep from saying.  

He never gets the credit he's due, that's for sure, and I consider it a crying shame.  He was a really, really good three-year old and a great four-year old and we'll never know just how great he would have been as a five year old (I would have loved seeing him try the grass).  

I plan to get to Kentucky next summer to see him (dragging my mother along - I'll make her a racing fan yet! LOL!).  It's a long way to Kentucky from central Texas, but the journey will be worth every mile.

There will never be another Alysheba, and no horse will, I suspect, ever take his place in my heart.  I remain so keen on him that I follow the offspring of his daughters and his sisters very closely, and delight in their success.  

He's just wonderful. The news of his return made my entire year.

Welcome home, Alysheba.  The king has returned!  

03 Nov 2008 10:55 PM
Bellwether

ESPN could get some good stuff out of this story for their telacast in the future...the public loves to hear those RACE HORSE stories...guess you could say thats one Great one following another in THAT stall @ the HALL of CHAMPS!!!Long Live The Dirt!!!

04 Nov 2008 12:48 AM
draynot

Alysheba's win in the KY. Derby was truly remarkable. That was a great performance never since matched. To almost go down after a terrible stumble in the stretch and gather himself and his momentum and to re-rally to win was more than amazing. That was a performance for the ages and will be recalled throughout time unlike this years Derby which simply had little in the way of competition and in which the winner just had to stay out of trouble. What a great edition to the KHP.

As for the Haskell we can only hope the watered down competition we saw this year isn't a sign of where it will remain. Alysheba faced some very good horses in his Haskell. Hopefully this years edition was an abbreviation and the level of competitor only a result of the weak 3 yr olds overall who showed up. Not such a tough race to win when the competition is below par.

Here's to Alysheba, may he be treated like a king all his remaining days.

04 Nov 2008 8:03 AM
Blue Blue Sea

Thank you for this beautiful article! Alysheba is one of my favorites - son of my favorite race horse of all time and grandsire of my favorite horse of all time - Blue Blue Sea. Blue and I are thrilled to have him back in the states and I plan to visit him in December.

04 Nov 2008 8:03 AM
da3hoss

A great horse among really, really good horses. The wonderful thing was, we loved them all, never dissing one in favor of our favorite.

Thanks Steve for letting us re-live two years of great racing.

04 Nov 2008 8:07 AM
Loretta

What a wonderful article Steve. It brought tears to my eyes and memories of that year. I would like to thank Saudi Arabia and their King for sending Alysheba back to us, and now his first "true" American fans can visit him at KHP. Who would have thought that Alydar's son would have had such a rivalry as he?

04 Nov 2008 8:16 AM
txhorsefan

Thanks, Steve, for another wonderful story about a great horse!  This is why I read this web-site, to learn about the background behind the horses and your words are always the best.

Thank you!

04 Nov 2008 8:49 AM
Karen2

Steve, you're the man! I can't think of anyone else that can literally put me into a story the way that you can. Thank you for sharing your gift of writing and for sharing the gift of your memories and experience. That is priceless.

04 Nov 2008 10:26 AM
The Deacon

Great story Steve, I was always fond of Ferdinand but Alysheba was quite a gamer. I heard McCarron say that Alysheba was the best horse he ever rode. That is a mouthful.

04 Nov 2008 12:07 PM
Windy City

Thank god for Steve.....and kleenex! What a great story, too bad that I'm not old enough to remember this great horse run. I will surely go to blue grass next year to visit him and others. Welcome home Alysheba!

04 Nov 2008 12:30 PM
dave

Thanks for a great story about a great horse. 1987 was a banner year for 3YOs, and the best ones raced again at four. Curlin/Street Sense could have been a great rivalry like Alysheba/Bet Twice. Point Given, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, so many horses who should have had the chance to run another year. Zarkava vs. Zenyatta in next year's Classic could have been sensational. Racing was much more popular in the days when a 3YO wasn't retired as soon as he won a Gr. I race. Again, thanks for the memories of a true champion.

04 Nov 2008 12:54 PM
Audra

Thanks Steve for a great article. SO WONDERFUL to have him back on American soil where we can all visit him. Loved the picture of him getting off the van--he was looking around like, "it took you guys long enough to get me back here!"  He knows where he belongs.  Glad to hear he is doing well and see that he has great caregivers to make the rest of his years special.

04 Nov 2008 12:59 PM
Dutch

Beautiful article, Steve. Your recollections bring back memories of a terrific time in horse racing, and I can't believe it's been 20 years since Alysheba won the BC Classic. His rivalry with Bet Twice should certainly go down as one of the fiercest in racing history. All the best to the champ in his return to America.

04 Nov 2008 2:35 PM
Dr Frank Mc Govern

Just wanted to add my appreciation for a great article. As King Abdullah's manager we now know that all the effort was worthwhile in bringing the old warrior home.

In answer to one query - he was treated like a King at our farm in Saudi and covered a small number of mares each year - we wanted some of that grit for our future broodmares and no he never covered Arabian Horses. Great article and I am delighted that we have fulfilled the wishes of so many people . Dr Frank Mc Govern

04 Nov 2008 6:05 PM
Steve Haskin

Dr. McGovern, thanks so much for your comments and for reassuring everyone that Alysheba was treated like a king at your farm. I'm sure it makes everyone feel a lot better knowing he had a happy stay there. As you can see from all the comments, he is a very popular horse with a tremendous fan base. Thank you again for bringing him back home.

04 Nov 2008 6:40 PM
Alysse

I really need to schedule a trip out there to see him, too.  Loved this piece.  It's an exceptional treat for those of us who weren't fortunate enough to see him in action.

04 Nov 2008 8:45 PM
Cleone

My youngest daughter and Alysheba were three-year-olds in the same year - and he was her favorite horse!  Anytime I was watching a race, she'd want to know if Alysheba was there, which one was he, was he going to win, etc.  For a long time, she had a picture of him on her bedroom wall, right above her bed!  She still remembers him fondly, and was glad to hear he was coming home.

05 Nov 2008 12:38 AM
Bellwether

gotta pic with John & i'll get one with SHEBA @ that Beautiful Horse Park!!!welcome home Pal!!!...NEVER FORGET FERDINAND!!!

05 Nov 2008 12:50 AM
Steve Haskin

Cleone, my daughter and Alysheba also were 3-year-olds in the same year. Hard to believe they're 24 now. Those were wonderful years, the late '80s, watching our kids grow and following Alysheba, Personal Ensign, Ferdinand, Winning Colors, Forty Niner, Risen Star, then Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. After betting on Winning Colors and Sunday Silence in the Derby we started a Disney World fund, with all winnings going to pay for a trip to Disney World. I'm not a big bettor or a frequent bettor, but when I won $1,200 on Unbridled in the 1990 Derby, I remember calling my daughter, then 6, who was at her grandmother's for the day, and telling her "We're going to Disney World." Yep, great days.

05 Nov 2008 3:16 AM
dalybog

Steve,

Great article, and great responses from everyone.  Would there be any chance of doing a video story on the rivalry between Bet Twice and Sheba, similar to the one of Alydar and Affirmed?  The best thing about their rivalry was that it did go into their 4 year old seasons as well.  That plus the fact that it also included other good horses like Lost Code, Cryptoclearance, Ferdinand, Cutlass reality, Seeking the Gold, andForty Niner.  I can't remember when there was a deeper class of horses that were all here in the USA.

I am planning on taking a trip to KHP to see Alysheba, he has always been my favorite

05 Nov 2008 10:52 AM
Rhonda from Saskatchewan, Canada

Welcome home, Alysheba.

Welcome home.

05 Nov 2008 10:55 AM
BIGHORSEFAN

Steve, another moving and classic story.

I had the great privilege of seeing Alysheba run.

Also, have the great honor of knowing Jack. What a guy, his reaction, talking about his Dad and crying, the John Wayne of horse racing? Never denied it and I think he was pretty proud of that.

For Dr. McGovern to come on to this blog and address us should make everyone realize that the majority of people in racing honor and care for these animals like we do our own families.

Thanks to him and thanks to Steve for your now expected and always present class and style.

05 Nov 2008 12:52 PM
Julie L.

I have always been a great fan of Alysheba and was so disappointed when he went to Saudi Arabia but then when I read that he was coming home tears filled my eyes. I watched him run in the '87' Classic and finish a gallant second to Ferdinand. Where I stood trackside that day they placed the starting gate for the Classic so I had the best view of Alysheba with Chris McCarron up and a view also of Ferdinand with Shoemaker up I felt like a kid I was so happy. Same feeling I had seeing Curlin upclose for this year's Classic. Having the chance to see a great horse is something everyone should have the chance to do so how great it is that Alysheba is at the Kentucky Horse Park in the great John Henry's old stall. Live long Alysheba I plan on visiting you soon.

05 Nov 2008 5:15 PM
EmilioP

Mr. Haskin I cannot thank you enough for writing this piece.  Alysheba is and will always be my favorite horse of all time.  I followed this horse around throughout his career.  I still remember Bill Shoemaker riding him in the Breeders Cup Juvenile, After the race I told my dad the Shoe was going to a win a fifth Derby and second in a row, cause Alysheba closed with a mad rush.  The Shoe like many Derbies before let us down by picking the wrong horse, Can we recall Northern Dancer and Hill Rise.  Then Pat Day let him go. That only made his curse a bigger one.  Mccarron got him and it was poetic justice.  Chris had gotten hurt the Autumn before, and his mount Demons Begone went to Pat Day for the Derby.  Alysheba was the leader of what my humble opinion is the last great generation of horses concerning rivalries.  I mean there was Bet Twice, Gulch, Java Gold, Polish Navy, Gone West, Capote, Cryptoclearance, Talinum, Temperate Sil, Slew City Slew,MAsterful Advocate, Candis Gold, this generation went at each other throughout the country, they all faced eachother and they all beat each other.  It was incredible, It was like the great middleweight boxing rivalries of the 80's with Hearns, Hagler, Duran, Leonard, Cuevas, Benitez etc.  I mean this generation beat other generations greats like Ferdinand,  Cutlass Reality, Broad Brush, Kings Swan, Waquoit, Personal Flag, Forty Niner, Seeking the Gold, Lively One, Skywalker, you name it.  These were our last great generations of runners.  I mean these horses went at each other in every dance, nobody ducked no one.  Everybody would show up.  Now you got all the good ones spread across the country taking on allowance caliber colts, everyone ducks  each other.  Its not the same anymore.  So i am very happy that the one that stood tall at the end from that great generation, Alysheba gets some recognition.  I mean see the names, most of these horses have given us numerous champions in these last 20 years, Thay have stamped themselves in the breed on a worldwide level, so Mr. Haskin Thank You.

05 Nov 2008 11:55 PM
Chiara T.

I want you to know Steve, that this article made the ol' Jack Van Berg very happy. When he called me today to tell me to google this article, his voice had an unusual pitch that revealed an enthusiasm that perhaps belongs to this horse alone. It's been a long time since the two of them, horse and trainer, were together, but I know last week their reunion in Kentucky was welcomed by healthy crowd that remember them well. This story is a great cap on a long awaited welcome home for them both!

Cheers to you!

06 Nov 2008 2:18 AM
Bellwether

thanks to Mr. John Nicholson for helping pull this off...now Cathy & her crew have a new boy on the block to play with & Cigar has a new buddy...gotta love them HORSES!!!...Long Live The King!!!

06 Nov 2008 4:27 AM
Steve Haskin

Thank you for sharing that, Chiara. I'm happy to hear about Jack's renewed enthusiasm. I saw that enthusiasm in his interview on the Bloodhorse's video of Alysheba's arrival. It saddened me to hear Jack speak with such frustration at the congressional hearings this year. Drugs in racing has left some of the truly great trainers behind. Jack will always be one those great trainers, and it's so gratifying to see Alysheba's homecoming bring back memories of a special time in racing. Boy, do we need Jack back on the Triple Crown trail again, and on the national scene in general.

06 Nov 2008 4:42 AM
Chiara T.

Steve,

I have a question for you? Can you contact me at chiara dot tellini at charter dot net?

Thank you for your interest in Jack and Alysheba and for taking the time to write such a wonderful article.

Cheers!

06 Nov 2008 10:54 AM
Tom Van Berg

Steve,

Thank you for a truly great article.  It brought back some emotional memories for me as well as my father.  I hope you can get my email from this post because my dad wanted me to get your phone number so he could call you.  Thanks again for a wonderful story on a equally wonderful horse.

Tom

06 Nov 2008 3:42 PM
SusanW

I actually cried when I heard our beloved son of Alydar was home. I, too, will be visiting him soon.

Welcome home, welcome home!!!!!

07 Nov 2008 1:25 PM
Karen2

This is truly a happy time for all racing fans and thoroughbred lovers but we must never forget Ferdinand who won't be coming home.

07 Nov 2008 2:29 PM
LauraB

I am so happy he is home. I wish I had seen this earlier it would have been a great Birthday present. It is bittersweet though, I wish Ferdinand would have been given the same dignified retirement.

08 Nov 2008 12:56 AM
texohky

I took the Veterans' Day holiday to catch up on my reading, so I apologize for being so late with my take.  I had the good fortune to be at both Hollywood Park when Ferdinand narrowly beat Alysheba, and again at Churchill Downs to witness Alysheba charge out of the dark to take the Classic and become "America's Horse."  In those days I was a newlywed with the pressures of starting a family.   In these days of TVG and HRTV, there's the pressure of getting on to the next race, whether it be the $5000 claimer at Suffolk Downs, or an allowance race at Calder, or a turf race at Golden Gate... the coverage never seems to allow enough time to savor a truly amazing performance in the feature race.  Thank you, Steve, for providing these moments through your writing.  It reminds me how truly lucky I was to attend both those Breeders' Cups and be a witness to such magnificent animals making horse racing history.

12 Nov 2008 9:51 AM
Michelle

Great article about a Truly GREAT Champion!!!  I recently visited the Kentucky Horse Park to see Alysheba and Cigar.  I have to say they look wonderful and well taken care of.  However, I was very disappointed in their barn.  These champions deserve the BEST.  Maybe Bloodhorse could do some kind of fundraiser to have a new barn built for them.  I know I would contribute and many other horse racing fans probably would too.  

15 Nov 2008 7:46 PM

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