If Damascus Raced Today

Racing fans of today embrace a different breed of hero than their predecessors back in the days when horses raced often and were rarely retired at 3.

Sometimes, you have to wonder, what if some of those horses raced in today’s cyber world and accomplished the same feats they did back in their day. How would they be perceived? Most people immediately think of superstars like Secretariat, Dr. Fager, Forego, Spectacular Bid, and a number of others. But there is one horse who deserves to be put in that category and usually never is. I admit to being prejudiced when it comes to Damascus, but I will let his statistics speak for themselves, while interjecting my personal involvement with the horse.

The following is a compilation of past writings on Damascus that may put this remarkable horse’s career in a better historical perspective. Also included is a look at the volatile times in which he ran.

In 2000, I wrote a book on Dr. Fager for the Thoroughbred Legends series. My admiration for the good doctor knows no boundaries, as he is the swiftest, most dominating, and in general, most breathtaking Thoroughbred in action I have ever laid eyes on. No horse ever looked like Dr. Fager and it is safe to say no horse ever will. But, as much as I have come to revere The Doc over the years and his trainer John Nerud, not one second went by while writing the book that I didn't feel like a traitor.

It was his arch rival Damascus, you see, who got me interested in Thoroughbred racing. Here was the ultimate athlete, whose heroics thrust me into a sport that would soon encompass my entire being. A 20-year-old stock trader on Wall Street at the time, I found myself feeling like 20 going on 12. Aspiring stock brokers are not supposed to fall in love with a racehorse. So, the next year I left Wall Street for good and followed Damascus into his world.

Almost four decades later, a new Legends book was published on Damascus. Once again, I felt like a traitor for not writing it, but it had been assigned to someone else. The purpose of this copy, however, is not to rehash old memories, but to bring to light the true greatness of Damascus, who in my mind is the most underrated horse of all time.

Damascus' career record speaks for itself. He won at distances of six furlongs, seven furlongs, one mile, a mile and 70 yards, 1 1/16 miles, 1 1/8 miles, 1 3/16 miles, 1 1/4 miles, 1 1/2 miles, and two miles. In all, he won stakes at eight different distances. He ran seven furlongs in 1:21 1/5 (Malibu Stakes), 1 1/8 miles in a track-record 1:46 4/5 (American Derby), and 1 1/4 miles in a track-record 1:59 1/5 under 130 pounds (Brooklyn Handicap). He also equaled the track record for 1 1/4 miles at Saratoga in the Travers, coming from 16 lengths back in the slop to win eased up by 22 lengths (More on that race later). And only two horses – Kelso and Prove Out – have won the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup in faster time.

In the Woodward, billed as the Race of the Century, he demolished Horses of the Year and future Hall of Famers Buckpasser and Dr. Fager by 10 lengths. Twice at 4 he carried 134 pounds to victory. In one of those, the Aqueduct Stakes, he gave major stakes winner More Scents 20 pounds.

But here is why Damascus ranks among the greatest horses in racing history, and certainly among the most durable horses ever seen. After winning his 3-year-old debut, an allowance race at Pimlico, in which he was slammed into so hard in the stretch it turned him sideways, he raced in 15 consecutive stakes that year alone, winning 11 (including the Preakness and Belmont Stakes) and finishing second twice by a nose and once by a half-length to Dr. Fager, in which Bill Shoemaker blamed himself for the defeat. And here is the truly remarkable part. The intervals between his races were 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 1 week, 2 weeks, 2 weeks, 3 weeks, 10 days, 3 weeks, 1 week, 3 weeks, 2 weeks, 16 days, 26 days, 28 days, and 2 weeks. And he actually got stronger as the year went on.

The following year, when he won the Brooklyn under 131 pounds in track-record time, which still stands after 41 years, he was making his third start in 16 days, all at 1 1/4 miles and all carrying 130 pounds or more (His two memorable duels with Dr. Fager that year -- mainly the Suburban -- were written about last year in my blog dated July 1). Today, a horse would be considered a sure thing to “bounce” off that kind of effort and three huge performances in such a short period of time. But Damascus came back three weeks later and won the William du Pont Handicap carrying 134 pounds.

When he was 3, he was beaten a half-length in the Gotham by Dr. Fager in a gut-wrencher, in which poor tactics by Shoemaker allowed Dr. Fager to get outside him. Despite the heart-pounding stretch battle and 1:35 1/5 mile, Damascus came back one week later to win the Wood Memorial (yes, one week later) by six lengths.

In the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished third, he was noticeably upset walking to the track, and then became very rank early in the race. A perplexed Whiteley said he’d never seen him like that before or after, and could never come up with an explanation for it.

Not only was Damascus durable, brilliant, classy, and one of the soundest, healthiest horses ever, he possessed the most devastating turn of foot I have ever witnessed. He ran low to the ground, and when he took off around the half-mile pole, he made up ground so quickly it was if as if he were moving in a different time frame than his opponents. He didn't catch them, he pounced on them like a cat its prey, and in many cases he left them floundering far up the track.

I never could have imagined that a racehorse would pave the road I would take in life. But here I am after four decades, and the road Damascus paved for me still is as magical as the day I first set foot on it. And I still get that same special feeling inside whenever I see films or photos of him decked out in his familiar Belair silks. I guess you could say that 20-year-old going on 12 is still going on 12.

For many, the spectacular images of Damascus and the herculean feats he performed sadly have faded with the years. But for one person, they remain a beacon that still guides his way.


Kentucky Derby week in 1967 was eventful, not only for Damascus and Frank Whiteley, but for the City of Louisville. Five days before the Derby, five black youths leaped the fence during the first race and dashed out onto the track in front of a field of 10 horses. Eight of the youths were arrested and 20 others were ejected from the grounds for creating a disturbance and singing civil-rights songs. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the incident reflected the volatile atmosphere that would surround this year’s Derby.

With additional threats of disturbances from civil rights advocates, the Pegasus Parade, scheduled two days before the Derby, was canceled, as was a country music show. At the request of Louisville mayor Kenneth Schmeid, Kentucky governor Edward T. Breathitt called in additional National Guardsmen and Kentucky State Police for Derby Day.

Appropriately, the day was bleak and misty, with a foreboding feeling in the air, especially with the sight of National Guardsmen lined up along the inside rail. When the University of Louisville refused to send its band to play at Churchill Downs, members of the Louisville Musician Union came in at the last minute dressed in their street clothes to play “My Old Kentucky Home.”

As for Damascus, for reasons still unknown, the normally professional colt lost his composure going to the paddock and then became uncharacteristically rank during the race.

“He wasn’t himself that day, Whiteley said. “He was kickin’ and raisin’ hell all the way to the paddock. They thought there was gonna be a riot down there, and I don’t know why but everything got messed up. I can’t answer why he acted like that.”

Damascus wound up third behind 30-1 shot Proud Clarion, and the morning after the race Whiteley called Shoemaker and told him emphatically, “You ride this horse back in the Preakness.” Shoemaker replied, ‘Not only will
I ride him back, you get him there quiet and I’ll win it.”

Damascus was back to his old professional self at Pimlico and unleashed one of his patented explosive moves on the far turn to win going away, defeating In Reality and Proud Clarion. After that, Damascus was virtually unbeatable the remainder of the year.

A month earlier, he had begun his heated rivalry with Dr. Fager in the Gotham Stakes, which, like Derby Day, was gray and bleak. There had been doubt whether the race would even be run when the New York horsemen boycotted the entry box a week before the race after a proposed bill to increase purses was allowed to die in committee. Aqueduct had already lost two racing days in March when a surprise blizzard hit New York, dumping eight inches of snow, which immediately froze due to the frigid temperatures.

After several more missed days due to the boycott, racing finally resumed four days before the Gotham following a settlement.

Despite an early morning rain that soaked the track, leaving it deep and holding, a crowd of 50,522 showed up on a damp, foggy afternoon to see the much-anticipated showdown between Damascus and Dr. Fager. The race, which was described briefly earlier, was everything racing fans had hoped for, as the two titans battled to the wire, with Dr. Fager prevailing by a hard-earned half-length. Damascus broke from the outside post and had Dr. Fager pinned down on the inside, but Shoemaker let The Doc come around him and get a clear run at him. Being on the outside gave Dr. Fager a big advantage strategically. The final time of 1:35 1/5 was exceptional considering how deep the track was. After returning, Shoemaker was upset at himself for the ride he gave Damascus and told Whiteley, “Frank, he beat him today, but he never will again as long as I ride him.”

Although Damascus and Dr. Fager would meet only four times, their rivalry was one for the ages. Years later, Peb’s Equine Comedy in The Morning Telegraph showed two survivors of a shipwreck floating on debris. While clutching to their “buoys,” one says to the other, “You’re crazy, I still say Damascus was better than Dr. Fager.” That’s pretty much what it was like.

This was the height of psychedelia, with The Grateful Dead and Timothy Leary representing the drug culture, and The Beatles releasing their Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour albums. America was embroiled in the Viet Nam war, and the Middle East became a hotbed during the Six-Day War, in which Israel turned back the armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq in only six days.

The Damascus--Dr. Fager rivalry, which was played out against this backdrop, was as intense as any ever seen and it all began on a gray April afternoon at Aqueduct, when the racing world got its first glimpse of two horses who ignited a fire and a passion as seething as the times in which they lived.


Speaking of the Six-Day War, the hero of that brief conflict in June of 1967 was Israel's defense minister and military leader Moshe Dayan, recognizable by the patch he wore over one eye.

Once again, we turn to Peb, who was never one to let current events go by without incorporating them into his racing cartoons.

That summer, Peb melded Dayan and the equine juggernaut known as Damascus into an unforgettable sketch, showing Damascus' jockey, Bill Shoemaker, decked out in owner Edith Bancroft's famed Belair (polka dot) silks and wearing a patch over one eye, driving a tank, representing Damascus.

As Saratoga approached, everyone in racing had one common goal: to have the sport's two 3-year-old superstars -- Damascus and Dr. Fager -- lock horns in the historic Travers Stakes.

Damascus had been narrowly defeated by Dr. Fager in the one-mile Gotham Stakes in April, after which Shoemaker vowed to trainer Frank Whiteley that Dr. Fager would never again beat Damascus while he was riding him. Over the next three months, Damascus would win the Wood Memorial, Preakness, Belmont, Leonard Richards, and Dwyer Handicap. Then, on Aug. 5, he journeyed to Arlington where he put on a spectacular show in the American Derby, beating In Reality by seven lengths with one of the most explosive moves ever seen. His time of 1:46 4/5 for the 1 1/8 miles was a new track record.

Damascus was on a roll and it looked like no one could stop him. No one with the possible exception of Dr. Fager, who went on to run the fastest mile by a 3-year-old in the history of New York racing, winning the Withers Stakes eased up in 1:33 4/5. He then romped in the Jersey Derby only to be disqualified in a controversial decision, and then won the Arlington Classic by 10 lengths and the Rockingham Special in track-record time.

It seemed obvious to everyone that Damascus and Dr. Fager were on a collision course that would culminate in the Travers. Then came word from trainer John Nerud that Dr. Fager would instead return to Rockingham for the rich New Hampshire Sweepstakes, which also was the target for In Reality and Kentucky Derby runner-up Barbs Delight.

Many felt Nerud was ducking Damascus; that he wanted no part of the colt going a mile and a quarter. Nerud was shrewd and knew how to pick his spots, and he felt Dr. Fager still had some maturing to do, and his big confrontation with Damascus could wait another six weeks when the 3-year-old championship and Horse of the Year would be on the line in the Woodward Stakes.

That left the Travers as a virtual walk in the park for Damascus. Every top 3-year-old stayed away. The three who did show up – Reason to Hail, Tumiga, and Gala Performance – were decent colts, but not in the same league as Damascus. Tumiga, in fact, was a top-class sprinter/miler who was stretching out, assuring a hot pace for Damascus.

That year's Travers should have been a total bore. But there was never anything boring about Damascus, who knew how to put on a show with his amazing turn of foot and devastating move. 

The Travers set up perfectly for him. The track had come up sloppy, and Tumiga and Gala Performance went at each other tooth and nail. After a blistering half-mile in :45 4/5, they were still separated by only a half-length, and had already opened up some 16 lengths on Damascus, who was biding his time in third.

No one had any worries about Damascus making up 16 lengths, but there was no way they could have predicted the total annihilation that was to come. Shoemaker finally got into Damascus, and it can be said that no horse ever made up 16 lengths so quickly.

From that far back at the five-eighths pole, he was six lengths in front by the time he reached the quarter pole. He was 10 in front at the eighth pole, and with Shoemaker sitting motionless on him, Damascus continued to draw clear of Reason to Hail, who had taken over second, winning eased up by an incredible 22 lengths. Despite the ease of his victory, Damascus still equaled the track record of 2:01 3/5 that was shared by Buckpasser and Jaipur.

Although it was the Woodward Stakes that most people remember, Damascus' Travers victory remains one of the most devastating performances of all time.


Leave a Comment:

Ted from LA

What a champion.  I'd like to see footage of that Travers.  Greg J?  What say you?  Great article, Steve.

14 Jul 2009 11:41 PM

Steve: thanks for the write up on Damascus.

Funny what you remember, though.  I remember his Belmont on TV, the year of Expo 67 (our 100th year celebration) -- I was screaming for a very nice Canadian 3YO, Cool Reception, who came around the turn into the stretch in front but then finished 2nd -- and later, we found out that he had run the last couple of furlongs on a broken foreleg.  

Damascus, Dr. Fager, Buckpasser, In Reality - they all raced beyond their 3YO year and still had time to become good sires.

15 Jul 2009 12:43 AM

p.s. Ted: I have no tech abilities to put it up as a link but I called up the 67 Travers on google and youtube and wow! watch Damascus zoom past the others and jet off to the finish.  Shades of  Secretariat in his Preakness or his Belmont!

15 Jul 2009 1:18 AM

Wonderful writings on two of the greatest racehorses. Their accomplishments are unbelievable! Here is a terrific video of their four races that I found after I had to see this for myself.

Love Harvey Pack's narration, which brings back memories of watching him handicap and recap the races every week.


15 Jul 2009 1:49 AM

I love Damascus. Wish people talked about him more.

This is an amazing piece, Steve. Thanks for sharing your memories with us.

15 Jul 2009 2:50 AM

damascus was allowed to have one really horrible race but it was just bad luck that he decided to do it in the 1967 kentucky derby. since he could've won the triple crown that yr. and he is one of those who deserved to have a triple crown to call their own.

15 Jul 2009 3:20 AM

Great stuff Steve, although Easy Goer ran the Fastest Mile ever by any 3yo in history in 1:32 2/5(just 1/5 of a second off Dr Fagers World Record), Im guessing that Dr Fager at the time ran the fastest mile in 1:33 4/5. Damascus truely was a great horse and very underrated. Easy Goer's Brilliant 3yo Campaign of reeling off the Belmont-G1 in the 2nd Fastest time ever, Whitney-G1 in 1:47 2/5, Travers-G1 in 2:00 4/5, Woodward-G1 & Jockey Club Gold Cup-G1 at 1 1/2miles reminds me little of Damascus',Arts & Letters & Sword Dancers' 3yo years..Easy Goer would have easily won Champion Handicap Horse as a 3yo in 1989, just like those, if the eclipse awards weren't changed!

15 Jul 2009 3:42 AM
stanley marcinkowski, Plowville, Pa

From what I remember about Damascus was 3 things. 1}He lost the Ky Derby because his pony wasn't allowed to be with him in post parade. 2}He needed Hedevar as a rabbit to beat the greatest horse Dr Fager. 3} who was the real sire of Damascus? Ribot?  I was at Delaware Park the day jockey Frank Lavoto beat Damascus, from that day I realized nothing was a sure thing. {Who was the real sire of Native Dancer?}

15 Jul 2009 5:43 AM

Steve, just when I think you can't top yourself with your unique way of writing about these gallant champions - you do - after reading your article -I had to go & pull out my pictures of him - I was lucky enought to see Damascus at Claiborne in 1980 & the pictures I have of myself with him - still make me tear up to this day.  Thanks, Kathy    

15 Jul 2009 6:39 AM

Thanks for a great article.  I was just beginning a interest in racing when Damascus was running his way through the record books. Growing up in upstate NY, I recall watching each Sat. afternoon, the Race of the Week, which was broadcast from Belmont and Aqueduct;  as a result I got to see many of the races you mention, and recall the Damascus - Dr. Fager rivalry. I actually got to see Damascus once, when he ran in the 1967 Travers.  If I remember right there was only a four horse field and as you noted Damascus came from so far behind, it seemed impossible for him to win by the distance he did.  If there was such a thing as an iron horse, it was Damascus.

15 Jul 2009 7:13 AM


I am also a huge fan of Damascus. Apart from his exploits on the track, any horse that can beat exceptional Hall of Famers Buckpasser and Dr. Fager by 10 lengths is a freak. I am not aware of the length of his stud career but I remain puzzled why he had such a dismal record.  His sons and daughters have not distinguished themselves as classic producers either. Is it just a case of another phenomenal thoroughbred not equaling its excellence on track in the breeding shed? If my records are correct he has never been sire, grandsire or great grandsire of a KD winner. He has also never occupied any of those positions on the dam side of a KD winner. This is astonishing as two sons of Buckpasser whom he defeated by 10 lengths sired KD winners Bet A Buck & Silver Charm. I guess I should not be puzzled as the Great Dr. Fager’s stud record is just as dismal.

Thirty one times in the top three in thirty two starts with 21victories make Damascus a true iron horse. I guess steroids were not available during his era.

I will be paying careful attention to the 2YOs of Heroes Tribute as he was produced from a Damascus broodmare. He defeated the exceptionally fast E Dubai in the Peter Pan from gate to wire recording fractions of 44 4/5, 1:08 2/5, 1.33 3/5.  Am I crazy to hope that a stallion produced from a daughter of Damascus that is currently standing for $5,000 will somehow be a good representative of the great one? He has the pedigree and the speed. One never knows.

15 Jul 2009 7:19 AM

I embrace what's offered to me in this new age of "racing few and leaving early"...I am a competitor, so the horses of bygone era's will always be the standard I measure a champion by.

PS Ah, Rockingham Park...I drive by it all the time with a lump in my throat (like right now as I write)....looking over at the crumbling barns I think of the greats it once housed...the track that no longer has crowds roaring in the grandstand...a piece of racing history, silent and almost forgotten.

15 Jul 2009 8:29 AM

Horses do not run like that anymore. citation won a race between the Preakness and Belmont.That would never happen today. If a horse is in racing condition why not race it? Seems like someone got the idea that they need 4 - 6 weeks between races and every else followed suit.

Horses used to race about every two weeks. guess we will never see that again. But, you could really become a fan when you saw your horse racing that often.

15 Jul 2009 8:33 AM

Stanley, please explain what you mean about who was the real sire of Damascus and of Native Dancer?? Only "recent" famous parentage I have heard in question is the sire of Graustark. Can you also recommend sources to read about your contention?


15 Jul 2009 8:41 AM


Great article.  I too was a huge Damascus and Dr. Fager fan.  I remember his trainer mentioning something about not having his pony (peanuts?) with him on Derby day as the reason he was so upset. I was at SA when he won the Malibu and also when he got beat in the mud by Most Host (either in the San Fernando or Maturity).....what a shocker.  Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

15 Jul 2009 8:51 AM

Thank you for another brilliant piece and for reminding us why we love this sport.

15 Jul 2009 8:53 AM

Coldfacts--ironic name, since you are quite mistaken. Damascus sired 71 stakes winners in a long and distinguished career, and was designated as a breed-shaping sire 25 years ago. He is perhaps best known as the sire of Private Account, whose 61 SWs include Personal Ensign. Perhaps you've heard of her. The Damascus sire line has not produced a KY Derby winner. But it has yielded winners of the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (twice), Breeders' Cup Distaff (twice), Breeders' Cup Sprint and hundreds of the world's top races.

In addition, 2008 KY Derby winner Big Brown is inbred 3x4 to Damascus, while the sire of 2009 Preakness winner Rachel Alenandra is out of a mare by a son of Damascus.  And Hall of Fame members Personal Ensign, Skip Away, and Inside Information  are from the Damascus sire line.

15 Jul 2009 9:15 AM
Karen in Indiana

Steve, thank you for your articles, they bring these horses to life again!

So back to your question of what if these horses lived today? The main example I can think of recently is Cetewayo, who didn't show what he could do until he was older. He was also blessed with an owner who had faith, patience and the money to keep paying for a trainer. But he was a rare exception in these times.

I do wonder how much the changes in training and management have to do with the supposed 'fragility' of the horses today. Horses are warehoused and pulled out for short periods of time and pushed to full speed without having the necessary exercise to build muscle, bone and tendon strength. And heaven forbid you race them with shorter than 5 weeks rest. Do you remember which trainer it was that said if he was going to blow a horse out anyway, it may as well be in a race?

15 Jul 2009 9:15 AM

Steve We have a lot in common.

I was also a 20 yr old in 1967. Started a job at White Weld processing stocks. Came from Toronto were I was intruduced to horseracing and was watching Ron Turcotte in his early career. I did not see the Triple Crown that year but I did see Damascus and Dr Fager in the fall races. Like you I was 20 yrs old and did not know much about racing so I did not realize I was watching greatness and being part of history. In the following decades we saw the great horses in the seventies. I used to sit near the C B S cameramen on the third floor at Belmont and he would freeze the frame at the finish line and tell me who won when it was a close photo finish.I saw Secreteriat beat Riva Ridge in the Jockey Club Gold Club. Seatle Slew and the Affirmed Alydar Triple Crown. I live in Houston now and my son manages breeding and racing horses. We have had horses run in the Preakness won the Rebel, finished 2nd in the Arkansaw Derby, won the Spinster and had a filly in the 2001 Breeder's Cup at Belmont.

You stories bring back so many fond memories.Who did you work for on Wall Street?

Thank You.

15 Jul 2009 9:50 AM
Steve Haskin

EZGoer, In all historical pieces, all records refer to the time they are broken. If a horse had broken Damascus' track record of 1:59 1/5 two years ago, I would still refer to it as a track record in the story. If it still existed, I would say, a record that still stands, which I did in mentioning Damascus' 1:59 1/5.

As for the questions posed, the story has always been that Damascus got upset when he couldnt have his regular pony Duffy, but Whiteley either denies that or dismisses it, so I didn't bother mentioning it, especially since he was so upset well before the race.

There have been claims, theories, rumors, what have you, that Damascus' real sire was Ribot, who stood at Darby Dan the same time as Sword Dancer, and Damascus looked like a typical Ribot, and looked nothing like the flashy chestnut Sword Dancer, who had a lot of white in him.

The same kind of claim (also at Darby Dan) was that Graustark was really sired by Swaps for the same reasons. Graustark, a tall regal-looking liver chestnut, looked nothing like the plain bay Ribot or his offspring and looked very much like Swaps and his offspring. Many of Graustark's offpring had Swaps' head.

Of course, these will forever remain urban legends.

15 Jul 2009 9:51 AM

Makes you wonder how Damascus wound up Number 16 on the Blood-Horse Top 100 US Race Horses of the 20th Century. The horse should have been in the Top 10.

15 Jul 2009 9:54 AM
Steve Haskin

Tony, that is wild. I worked at White Weld in 1966 as a page boy and then went to Burnham & Co. in 1967. I dont know what floor you were on, but on the main floor, there was a receptionist, I think her name was Helen, and I wound up going out with her daughter Monica in NYC after I left White Weld, and had the most disastrous date ever, basically because I was a nerd trying too hard to be NYC cool. How's that for bringing back memories?

15 Jul 2009 10:05 AM

Steve, once again you have brought

a lump to my throat and tears.   I loved both Dr. Fager AND Damascus, but I have to admit a real, head over heels, acting like a fool admiration for DAMASCUS!  Like alot of "Horse crazy" girls of my day.....I never had "human" idols....mine always had 4 legs and Damascus just seemed to be of SUPER HERO stature to me.   We don't have horses like him and Dr. Fager anymore becasue everyone has let the "breed for speed" philosophy go to their heads!  I MISS those days and those hard knocking horses who would take on ALL comers no matter the track, conditions, etc.    TODAY, we have horses that might as well be wrapped in "bubble wrap" becasue they've bred the "toughness" and tenacity right out of them.

I remember RIBOT had the reputation as a real man eater, but I think he was just another of those horses who knew his own mind and did things HIS way or Lord knows you'd pay the price in a chunk of your flesh!

Damascus was the consummate professional and tought as nails.   I always wanted a broodmare of his line and then try to "line breed" some of that back up close.

Are there many of his line still in production and if so .....how are their progeny doing at the races I wonder?

15 Jul 2009 10:06 AM

Every time I read one of your magical, historical stories of these great horses from the past, I want to kick myself for not paying attention at the time.  Being realistic, though, I know that it's best to just move on and not dwell on how silly it was to not be a follower back then, you make me more determined to try to keep up with the sport today.  Thank you for bringing the superstars from the past to life for those of us who missed them.  You encourage me to continue learning about them and to keep looking for those special horses who might just show up today, if they get to keep racing beyond three.  Thank you again.

15 Jul 2009 10:19 AM

All i can say is WOW, that is some late kick, and i'm sorry, because she is a great mare, but Damascus' kick makes Zenyattas look just plain normal. No horse has such a devestating kick, and i don't think any horse ever will. That Travers was unbelievable.

15 Jul 2009 10:50 AM

I was a little kid when Damascus raced so I have no memory of him but your article brought him to life.    

It's amusing to think about the impact a horse like Damascus would have if he raced today.  No offense intended to younger fans and bloggers, but those under 40 would have a fit when his connections chose to race him in the Wood after only one week's rest.  They'd be accused of wrongdoing and not caring about the horse, and the racing blogosphere would buzz with predictions of the horse's impending untimely demise.

I often wonder why today's horses appear so weak and fragile compared to horses from the not-so-distant past.  Is it a breeding or a training issue or a combination of both?  It would be interesting to read a Steve Haskin in-depth article on that issue in light of your decades of "up close and personal" experience in Thoroughbred racing.        

15 Jul 2009 10:51 AM

I was a horse-crazy teen when Damascus and Dr. Fager had their famous rivalry. I cut every picture of a racehorse out of the  newspaper (yes, there used to be racing coverage that rivaled any sport now) and kept the photos in a scrap book.  Damascus was a favorite of mine and reading about his great races today makes ME feel like a kid again, too. Thanks, Steve, for a wonderful story.  

15 Jul 2009 11:03 AM
stanley marcinkowski, Plowville, Pa

Skye,   Years ago the only 'old timer' I knew that might know the answer to Damascus' and Native Dancer's real sire was a writer for Baltimore Sun  for like 40 years. I would ask him the answer but he would put me off. If he knew the answer, he took it to the grave with him. Whenever I do matings on mares with Damascus in their pedigree I take into consideration he may have been sired by Ribot {the 'nut' who tried to mate a tree in his paddock} Stanley, Plowville, Pa

15 Jul 2009 11:20 AM


Your words are so moving and heartfelt.  Thank you for sharing your feelings.  Wonderful column.

I was very lucky to have visited with Damascus at Claiborne Farm in 1988.  He was brought out of his paddock and I stroked his neck and he was a very calm and nice horse but what was so memorable for me were his eyes.  He had the most beautiful and soulful eyes I have ever seen on a race horse.  I took pictures of his eyes because I was so moved by what I saw in them.  There was so much intelligence and nobility in them.  He was so amazing in every way.

15 Jul 2009 11:26 AM

The '67 Travers is on YouTube.  Amazing...


15 Jul 2009 11:32 AM
stanley marcinkowski, Plowville, Pa

Did Graustark and His Majesty look alike?   Ever hear comments about Native Dancer's sire?

15 Jul 2009 11:37 AM
Bill Daly

Damascus' Preaknews was a sight to behold. If my memory is correct, he was 'parked out' for most of the race -which in those days was a death sentence at Pimlico - and simply overwhelmed the field.  The Woodward where he demolished Dr. Fager and Buckpasser left me speechless.  I am a huge fan of Dr. Fager and could not believe the good doctor could be beaten off so badly.  Damascus was truly one for the ages.

15 Jul 2009 11:39 AM

I didn't watch my first horse race until 1968, and then I was limited to what was televised, as I lived then (and live now) nowhere near a major racetrack, so I never saw Damascus.  He was just a name I heard - but as I've gotten older, and learned more about horses before my time, he is one I hold in high regard!  I wish I'd had an opportunity to see him live (even if just on TV!).  I'm looking forward to watching the races on the youtube link when I have a spare moment!  

15 Jul 2009 11:41 AM
Bob C

Great article. The iron horses of yesteryear are gone. Damascus, Citation and a number of other racing greats raced more times in one season than today's Thoroughbreds race in their entire career. Breeders surely recognize this glaring fault of creating a weaker product, yet they do nothing about it.

15 Jul 2009 11:44 AM

Great article!  Took me RIGHT back to the 60's.  Damascus has ALWAYS had a special place in my heart and I credit him with why I still follow horse racing today.  I have downloaded every race I could find of him from YouTube and watched them over and over.  My best friend and I constantly argued over who was the better horse; Damascus or The Dr. and I sure got my revenge in that Woodward!!!  I was only 12 when I watched him lose the Derby and actually cried.  I remember hearing that Mr. Whitely said something about the band striking up "My Old Kentucky Home" that got him upset in the post parade but also remember something about his lead pony being absent that further upset him.

I am thankful for people like you that bring Damascus "back to life" for those that are too young to remember when horses were bred for strength, stamina and distance and truly exemplified the word "greatness".

I never heard the Sword Dancer/Ribot story though.  Interesting.............

15 Jul 2009 11:54 AM
Steve Haskin

Graustark and His Majesty were different color. His Majesty was a rich bay, with a star and three white ankles. What he did have in common with Graustark was both were tall, powerful, magnificent-looking colts with an air of majesty (His Majesty was aptly named) about them.

15 Jul 2009 12:00 PM
Greg J.

Mr. Haskin,

     Thank You!, I seem to start every comment to your great article's with a Thank You, But, Once again it is deserving.  While I have read many, many books and articles over the years and try to see every available video possible of the good ole days in this great sport, I sometimes wish I wasn't born in 1967 and missed my chance to see some of the all time greats that existed before my first visit to the track in 1979.  Oh Well, Your great books(Tales from the Triple Crown was awesome!) and articles will have to do, which is great, but not the same as living through those years, close though ;)

The Best I could do for videos/Pictures on the great Damascus:

Dr. Fager VS. Damascus:


1967 Travers:


1967 Belmont:


1967 Travers 1967-1977:


Great Picture!,  Damascus won the

Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park with Ron Turcotte aboard :


Picture of Damascus after a workout with Davis and Whiteley at Delaware Park. June 13, 1967


Lastly, Damascus and his incredible race record in 1967:


Thanks once again...

15 Jul 2009 12:04 PM

The 1967 Travers looks a lot like this years Mother Goose.  I never saw these two race but I have to admit I am not fond of another horse needing another horse to help it win. Dr. Fager was all that and more and losing because a horse is thrown in to set a suicide pace does nothing for the sport and boarders on cheating.

15 Jul 2009 12:10 PM
Tim G

Wow, what a refresher for the fading memories. I drag out your book on Dr Fager every so often and re-read it. I'm convinced that John is one of a handful of the greatest ever to live. Frank was no slouch either. But John is my hero.

Damascus, yep another great one. THOSE races gave us chills to watch didn't they? Even though we had our long hair and our parents thought we were way too wild and free, it was a certain kind of innocence and awe for things now looked on with a jaded eye.


The Iron horses of yesteryear actually live on in the horses of today. Those very types of horses are what preciptiated the rush to the breeding shed. The immense amounts of money to be made from their progeny in the past 25+ years were the carrot dangled in front of our noses.

The economy will correct that somewhat. The down market will have a double edged sword effect. Less people will be retiring them to the breeding shed, less horses will be running, more tracks will be cutting days due to less horses, lower handles due to the economy and less horses, tracks closing etc, etc. Ahhh to go back to the days of Dr Fager and Damascus, even WITH all the other issues.

The market demanded the 'big' stallions and getting their progeny out there asap, strike while the iron is hot. Not so much any longer. But the dream of every breeder or owner was to HAVE the next BIG horse.

15 Jul 2009 12:21 PM
Lady Ruffian

I've been a Damascus fan for awhile because of the sucess he has had as a sire. i just watched his Travers and Im completely in love with him now. It's too bad that horses don't run like that anymore...

15 Jul 2009 12:29 PM
Karen in Texas

Thank you for another brilliant historical account of a previous racing giant! Perhaps Skip Away became something of an "iron horse" himself from the genes of his ancestor, Damascus. DaleB is correct in stating the Damascus sire line is prominent in the pedigrees of many Eclipse and Breeders' Cup champions. (My personal favorite is Skip Away.)

15 Jul 2009 12:31 PM

His Majesty and Graustark looked very much alike except for their colors--they had the same distinct head, as their conformation photos clearly show.

As for the rumors--will they never die? Does Secretariat, product of dark bay Bold Ruler and bay Somethingroyal look like either of his parents?

Let me state for the record: the esteemed John Bell, who not only owned Jonabell Farm, where Kerala was boarded for the Bancroft family, but planned the mating & drove her to the breeding at Darby Dan told me emphatically: "She was covered by Sword Dancer and then I drove her home."

Olin Gentry answered that question this way: "I was there when that mare was bred & she was covered by Sword Dancer--needless to say, there was no mistaking him for Ribot."

Just a quick understanding of finances should have squelched this thing from the start. Kerala was not much on the track, and they did not want to pay much of a stud fee for her. Sword Dancer stood for just $5,000; Ribot was private, meaning a lot more. It seems inconceivable that this rumor persists.

For the record--I am in this industry because of Damascus. Truth is everything.

15 Jul 2009 12:42 PM
Saratoga AJ

Another fine story Steve.

Damascus was a terrific colt, no doubt about it. But he had trouble beating Dr. Fager without a rabbit (Hedevar).

And yes, his Woodward victory over Buckpasser and the Dr. was a surprisingly easy win. But truth be told, Buckpasser was a tired and sore horse by that time. He lost 3 of his last 4 races after winning his prior 15 straight  races and 24 of 26, with 2 seconds. He was not quite the same horse on that day in September, '67.

He missed the Triple Crown in 1966 with an injury in the midst of his 15 straight wins. (The co-favorite for the Derby, Graustark, also got hurt  and thus went the great showdown that never happened). If memory serves me correct, he absolutely destroyed Derby and Preakness winner, Kauai King, who finished more than a dozen lengths behind in Chicago after the Triple Crown that July.

Perhaps a story about Buckpasser someday, Steve?

15 Jul 2009 12:44 PM

What I love about your writing, Steve, is that you can have a personal "favorite", yet still be a passionate admirer and lover of their rivals without the need to diss or belittle another horse's record, trainer or owner...

15 Jul 2009 12:50 PM
Saratoga AJ


If my memory serves me correctly, Native Dancer's sire was Alfred G. Vanderbilt's Hall of Famer Discovery (#37 in the Top 100).  

15 Jul 2009 12:53 PM

Brilliant story Steve. You have stirred many old memories and emotions. I said in an earlier blog that the 1967 Travers Stakes was one of the most dominating and impressive performances I have ever witnessed. Everyone talks about Secretariat's 1973 Belmont Stakes but Damascus Travers Stakes was equally impressive. I believe, and I have said this many times that Damascus belongs in the Top 10 Greatest Race Horses of all time. Next to Dr. Fager, Majestic Prince and Man O' War, Damascus is my all time favorite race horse. If any of these past champions raced today the media and public would go gaga and be hysterical. Racing would again rise to the greatest sport and every network would carry all of the important races. But I am just dreaming so I should just go and slap myself back to reality.

Magnifico Steve.............nuff said............  

15 Jul 2009 1:03 PM
Steve Haskin

Dale B, there will always be rumors. Not only was Kerala a fairly cheap mare, she had not had a foal for many years and was already pretty old when she was bred to Sword Dancer.

Saratoga AJ, I'm sure I'll get to Buckpasser one of these days. As for Damascus needing a rabbit, that's not a knock against him. Name any great closer in the history of the sport that wouldnt need a rabbit against Dr Fager? When Damascus had a fast pace, he won. When Dr. Fager set a slow pace he won. That's the way it should be. That's why Affirmed finished ahead of Alydar in eight of their 10 meetings. Affirmed always had a tactical advantage, either setting or stalking the pace. And he was as game as they come. No matter how great you are, it's tough beating a horse like that if you come from off the pace. Many great horses in Europe have pacesetters who tear out there on the lead to assure a testing pace.

Draynay, "borders on cheating?" If you want to say you're against rabbits say so, that's fine. But if you continue to bring your warped ideas over here and insist on putting a negative spin on everything I am going to have to send you back to your warden, Jason. I guess jail time did not mellow you at all.

15 Jul 2009 1:20 PM
Tim G

Well put da3hoss.

Some of those others on here?

Rabbits are part of the 'strategy' of horse racing. Any good handicapper knows when it's happening because they can 'read' a form.

Cheating? PLEASE. It's STRATEGY in a competitive game. Cheating is using illegal drugs or those legal ones above limits or on race day, an electrical device, pulling up an uninjured horse to intentionally lose the race  and that type of thing.

Entering a rabbit is just a strategic move, similar to sitting at the back of the pack and making one move. Similar to taking them wire to wire. I REALLY wish the people who say these things had SOME practical experience or background, then they wouldn't say it.

15 Jul 2009 1:22 PM
Kat in TX

THANKS, Steve!!!

You already know that Damascus is my favorite racehorse of ALL times...and it was great to read your stories about him again! Also, to read all the comments here, and to know that a LOT of people love this great champion. Of course, I have my reasons to love him, as the owner of one of his grandsons... LOL And, as you pointed out to me - I was born on the day he won the Woodward - the Race of the Century!! LOL

The Travers though, is one of my absolute favorite races to watch - that "Damascus Explosion"!! WOW!!!

15 Jul 2009 1:28 PM

I Always loved Damacus and always will. He was an Iron Horse and only hope he was treated good in retirement. They don't make horses like him & Secretariat anymore.

15 Jul 2009 1:29 PM
Tim G

Steve, LOL. Made MY DAY!

Kindred souls with shoulder length hair back in the day?

Hey did Monica have hair way past her waist? (Remember my girlfriends and sister did, they 'ironed' their hair, wild huh?).

DN's problem? His 'warden' is a little Redfordish (Brubaker) lets him say WAAAY too much.

For a 'real' look? Check out his myspace page.

15 Jul 2009 1:31 PM
Greg J.


    Do you EVER have anything positive to say, Ever?  First it was your nonsense regarding "Sham", Now having a rabbit borders on cheating?, Unreal, First you were banned from Jason's Blog then a week later you were banned from Horse Racing Talk, Do you happen to see a pattern here ???, Unbelievable...

15 Jul 2009 1:36 PM
Mike S

DRAYNAY...I think "borders on cheating" is the phrase you were looking for.

Thank you Steve for this well written look back at one of racing's truly great horses, DAMASCUS. What an incredible horse. He was before my time but I surely recognize how awesome he was.

15 Jul 2009 1:38 PM

Steve!  Plain and simple the most under appreciatted racehorse of ALLTIME is Citation. Man O War nor Secratariat did more on the track, his 2 and 3 year old years before injury stand alone as the 2 greatest years of any horse to step on a race track. If anyone here wants to know what a true monster once in a lifetimer is read up on Big Ci!

15 Jul 2009 1:41 PM

Terrific articles Steve.  I have long regarded Damascas as one of the greatest horses to grace a race track, and still look for him in pedigrees today.

Those were great days when horses were bred to run and compete.  We have gone so soft on horses in the past 20-25 years we've almost created a different animal.  Citation was another one that ran a crazy schedule with sometimes less than a week between races.  With todays practices we'll never see horses of the durability of Damascas, Citation, Round Table and others.  Sad.

15 Jul 2009 1:51 PM

You've done it again, what a great column. The stats on Damascus are astounding.

Wall Street's loss is the horse world's gain. I'm so glad you made the right decision and I love learning from your columns.

15 Jul 2009 2:07 PM
stanley marcinkowski, Plowville, Pa

Steve H, Re: Buckpasser-if you can get the running of the Flamingo, 9 horse field, track made it non betting race, track announcer Fred Capposella practically calls Abe's Hope the winner when Buckpasser gave a GREAT burst at wire to win by 1/5 of an inch.   Buckpasser had a rabbit in Illonois race by name if Impreesive, Impressive ran opening 6 fur of mile race in 1:06 !!!!!!!!!!!!  Stanley, Plowville, Pa

15 Jul 2009 2:21 PM
stanley marcinkowski, Plowville, Pa

Native Dancer was by Polynesian. Polynesian was trained by Morris Dixon who could park and double park anywhere he wanted at Del Park and NEVER get cited

15 Jul 2009 2:25 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, so much, Bobbie B. and everyone else for your comments.

Stanley, I have seen the Chicken Flamingo many times and it still amazes me. Impressive was a good horse in his own right. Actually beat Buckpasser in Buckpasser's first start at 3.

90Proof, I don't know that Citation is underrated. He is usually in everyone's top 5 greatest horses list. I will say one thing about Citation, from watching the clips of him in action, he certainly is one of the most beaitiful moving horses I've ever seen. If he had retired at the end of his 3-year-old campaign instead of coming back a year later to try become the first millionaire, he would be even more appreciated than he is now. His 3-year-old year was nothing short of amazing.

15 Jul 2009 2:40 PM
Steve Haskin

Greg J, thanks for posting those video and photo links. I've had a lot of his big races on tape for years. I'm so glad people can watch all these great horses now; Thank goodness for Youtube. The one race that doesnt exist unfortunately is Dr. Fager's final start in the Vosburgh under 139. It was lost over the years by NYRA. Also, I believe Damascus American Derby doesnt exist either; maybe lost in the fire. What a spectacular performance that was. One of the most explosive moves ever.

15 Jul 2009 2:51 PM
Tim G

Can't wait for your next historic piece, then the Lawyer Ron piece. Will be awesome.

Dodging my question about Monica? Man that must have been humiliating for a guy born in NY. wow. Live in Jersey now, maybe the Jersey cool would have helped back then? LOL

Oh well, worked out for the best, right?

15 Jul 2009 3:13 PM

Steve I said nothing I haven't heard a dozen or more owners say over the years.  Throwing in a horse to run as fast as he can to upset the pace of a race and upset a front running horse boarders on cheating and many owners won't do it because they believe it lacks sportsmanship. What do you call throwing in a horse to run a crazy pace with no chance of winning? What do you call that ?

15 Jul 2009 3:27 PM
Cowboy Bob

Steve Haskin;  I loved and hated your terrific essay. I loved the eloquent and accurate potrayal of a great horse when the sport was truly grand. I hated being reminded we may never see those grand days again unless the reins are taken away from the money mongers who want to see a Triple Crown winner with 3 starts. Foreign investers are the main culprits who have led the charge in tarnishing the sport. I wonder what that Shiek fellow was thinking after the remnant of his 200 million dollar investment was blown away along with the reat of the field by a rat tailed, undersized cow pony by Truck out of the West. Sorry, Mine That Bird but you and can take it. I was just trying to make a point. We need more of you and less of them. Do the math, these fancy high dollar colts don't get he job done. Recently I saw some data indicating Middle Eastern connections had about 50 million dollars worth of bloodstock in training somewhere who will wind up being lawn ornaments. The amount of money being spent in relation to return on investment borders on the absurd. They would qualify for a bailout but they already own all the money. We have seen alot of terrific horses since the great days of Damascus but many of them never get a chance to make a lasting impact or achieve true greatness. Reminders of the 60's and 70's send me straight to the soap box. Thanks

15 Jul 2009 3:29 PM

Steve let me give you a perfect reason why the "rabbit" is almost never used anymore.  The 2005 Kentucky Derby is a perfect example and robbed racing of a Triple Crown winner.  Without the crazy suicide pace set in that race to disrupt Bellamy Road, Afleet Alex wins that race and goes on to win the Triple Crown. But because of the rabbit sent in to disrupt the pace of the race we ended up with the great Giacamo ! Yes Steve... that did a lot for racing didn't it.

15 Jul 2009 3:41 PM
Saratoga AJ

Stanley M...I stand corrected. It was indeed Polynesian. I knew Native Dancer had a connection to Vanderbilt's other champion, Discovery. Well, Discovery was the sire of Geisha, ND's mom.

I should have remembered that....must be losing it in my old age! :)

15 Jul 2009 4:25 PM
Cheryl from Maryland


I always love your columns, but this one is really special. Thanks so much for the memories. Damascus was awesome. I always felt he was way underappreciated. He was my very first favorite horse (so I admit it-I'm biased), and except for my horses, he still is and always will be.

15 Jul 2009 4:29 PM

Greg J,

    The ppl over at that blog are soft skinned. Dray did nothing over there except state his opinion. If people are so bothered by it then ignore it and don't read them. He has the right to express what he wishes. Also he wasn't banned from Jasons blog because of behavior it was a bet, remember.

15 Jul 2009 5:20 PM

I love how you make them come alive, Steve.  Now I'm looking for that book on Damascus.  Maybe if we still had some of these iron horses there would be more racing fans out there like there used to be.

15 Jul 2009 5:22 PM
Steve Haskin

For all of you who are on Facebook, I finally scanned my Secretariat photos and posted them in a photo album on my Facebook page. Included is the photo I wrote about in the Sham story, with Secretariat turning and looking at me. For now, this is the only way I know how to share them.

15 Jul 2009 6:08 PM

Greg J. I stand by what I said and many owners feel the same way and will not use a rabbit under any circumstances.  Understand this,  what I was doing was defending Dr. Fager and his record vs. Damascus. The fact that Damascus needed the help of another horse sent out to alter the pace of the race with no intention of winning is unsportsmanlike at best.

15 Jul 2009 6:33 PM

Aw, Steve, now you've done it!  After months and months of successfully avoiding Facebook, now I'm going to have to go and sign up.  And it's all your fault!  All that hard avoidance work down the drain.


15 Jul 2009 7:00 PM
Next Bonus

I, too, was 20 in '67  I did not work at White Weld nor did I date Monica.  But the turbulence of the times and the memory of Damascus will be with me forever.  

Make no mistake about it.  I am the number 1 Dr. Fager fan in the world.  But I sure as heck admired the power and unbelievable explosiveness of Damascus.  He still remains number three on my all time list of best horses ever (trailing only the good doctor and Buckpasser).  Yeah, there was a pretty nice colt named Secretariat, and no horse who ever lived could have touched him in his Belmont, but there is no way he was a better over all or all around racehorse than those three.

I clearly recall Damascus' American Derby win at Arlington.  I think that race may have been his best in terms of both time (1:46.4 breaking Buckpasser's 1:47) and sheer speed in relation to his rivals (OK, maybe the Travers was more dramatic, but he was set up with that senseless speed duel).

Hats off to a true champion, Damascus!

Thanks for bringing back the memories, Steve.

15 Jul 2009 7:12 PM
Pedigree Shelly

    Damascus was a horse That deserved as much admiration as Secretariat and others !!Idont know if this subject has ever come up but, If Ruffian Would have survived her injury or never been hurt at all "I Wish " I think that Damascus would have been the perfect mate for her !!

15 Jul 2009 7:18 PM
Greg J.


   Yes, I do know that he was banned from Jason's blog due to him losing in the Belmont. He was banned from Horse Racing Talk because of his continued negativity,  I respect everyone's opinion and everyone has a right to them, But I am allowed to state my opinion as well, Besides all the negative remarks, Some others just take the cake, LDP, I do share his high opinion of Big Brown, I loved Big Brown, But when you say "Sham" was a sham, Pioneer of the Nile was better then Sham, Rachel's 3 year old season is going to be better then Secretariat's 3 year old campaign, It just goes on and on, I don't have enough time and space to list them all, I do like that Dray seems to be passionate when it comes to one horse he likes, but some comments need to be thought through before he posts them, That's all...

15 Jul 2009 7:54 PM

Steve your story of these two great horses again was wonderful. It just makes me so sad to think I never got to see them but when you bring them to life as only you can do in your great stories then living with the memories makes it all better. Thanks.

15 Jul 2009 8:26 PM

Greg you need to look at things honestly and stop giving so much weight to horses in history.  Sham did not have NEARLY the stakes wins that Pioneer of the Nile has.  They both have one thing in common neither won another race after their Santa Anita Derby win and both finished 2nd in the

Derby. Here are his stakes wins they double that of Sham.

CashCall Futurity (2008)

Robert B. Lewis Stakes (2009)

San Felipe Stakes (2009)

Santa Anita Derby (2009)

So for me to say Pioneer of the Nile is more accomplished then Sham how am I wrong ?  Or do actual Stakes wins just not matter?

15 Jul 2009 8:29 PM

Greg I fully realize Secretariat is the Holy Grail but he did lose 3 times as a 3 year old.  He won nine times and set records along the way but he did bomb in 3 races.  Should Rachel run the table and win her last 3 races winning the Haskell, Alabama, and Beldame and finish a perfect 9 for 9 setting more records along the way is it really that crazy to call it a better year then Secretariat's ?  Look Secretariat will probably always have the greatest Triple Crown Series ever but the series is in a 6 week period and a year is 52 weeks. While its obvious Secretariat did better during the 12% of the year that makes up the series but the other 88% of the year will clearly belong to Rachel Alexandra.

15 Jul 2009 9:03 PM
Tim G

Steve, thanks for the photos on facebook!

As for Draynay? WHAT owners have YOU talked to?

Plus, master of marketing it's BORDERS like border of a state or boundary!!!!

Boarder is someone who takes a room in your house.

THEN is incorrect it's THAN, when you are saying better then, no it's better THAN. Before you continue to profess all your marketing skills and knowledge, please LEARN to spell and use words in there correct context.

I'll bet I've spoken with HUNDREDS of owners and trainers in the last 45 years and I assure you it is a strategic move, not cheating, not underhanded to put a rabbit in a race to assure an honest pace when there isn't one in the race.

You talk like someone 'in the know' and face it YOU are NOT.

By the way what happened to your pledge to meet up with Jess after the Alabama? I'm going up to Saratoga soon, maybe I'll mention you to Steve A or Scott.

Greg, you are absolutely correct. Everyone says 'he' has a right to his opinion but HE doesn't respect that same right in others and THAT is why people get fed up.

He also does NOT respect the game (quite a few don't), because he (and others) speak totally out of turn, without REALLY knowing any more than any other fan that they denigrate.

My guess is he's probably caused a lot of people to give up on this and Jason's blog because of his nonsense.

I WANT to see him actually COME to the Track and SAY this stuff to these peoples faces. NEVER will happen. He'd be falling all over himself if they gave him the time of day. Steve H included.

15 Jul 2009 9:08 PM
John T.

I did not live in Canada in the 1960,S but certainly appreciate the great horses that ran in North Amercica in that time period and thanks for showing what a class horse Damascus was.Just as I could

never dream of not growing up with the great horses fron Ireland and England in that era I can sense it was the same for you in N.A.

15 Jul 2009 10:11 PM

Steve, wonderful article on one of my all-time favorites.  I was privileged to see Damascus and his sons, Private Account and Ogygian, at Claiborne a number of years ago.  Damascus was pensioned shortly thereafter but I will never forget his beautiful amber eyes - I felt like he was staring a hole through me, gave me chills. Wonder if his foes felt the same way during his racing days when he eyeballed them?  Thanks to your talented way of telling a story, you brought him back to life.  Keep up the great work, I never miss your articles!

15 Jul 2009 11:08 PM

Next Bonus: I love your passion for Dr. Fager but I also claim to be his #1 fan. He has been my favotite since 1967. I was left breathless when I saw him win the Californian Stales at Hollywood Park in 1968. He walked by me from the paddock and I was able to slightly touch his mane. Nerud was very protective and asked me not to touch him.

This blog starts out as a tribute to the great Damascus and ends up being all about Draynay. I think by what I am reading folks, including myself are just sick of Draynay's continual negativity and put downs. It was not uncommon for rabbits to be entered in a race back in the day. Owners and trainers were looking for every advantage they could get. Many times horsemen would run an entry just to get a rabbit in the race. I saw this many times on the west coast. Damascus was a great race horse and he ran some powerful races but un truth, Dr. Fager was the better horse. My God, he runs  7 furlongs in 120 1/5 carrying 139 lbs. Sets the world record for a mile at 132 1/5 carrying 134 lbs. In 8 races in 1968 he NEVER carried under 130 lbs. Citation as great as he was never won at a 130 lbs. The great Kelso, Tom Fool and even Damascus all carried great weights as did Forego. These were the true champions in my mind. We will never see the likes of any of these ever again.

Again Steve, great article and remember folks whatever any other horse accomplished does not diminish the greatness of Damascus...........  

15 Jul 2009 11:31 PM
Matthew W

Steve the first book I ever read about thoroughbred handicapping was the great Tom Ainslee book---featuring that "Race Of the Century", I think it was called...I don't think there has ever been a better one, with those three great ones...and, no, using Hedever against Dr Fager is part of racing, you can look at it two ways--1) No "one" horse ever beat Dr Fager...or 2) Dr Fager couldn't adapt to different pace scenarios...and both are right! And Handsome Boy was no slouch! Damascus and Shoe by ten...this is one of the cornerstone races in the annals of North American Thoroughbred Racing.....The greatest threesome in racing history!

15 Jul 2009 11:33 PM
Matthew W

Dray yes you're right about POTN being more accomplished than Sham--ON PAPER! Sham was the SECOND best horse of the 1970 crop, better than Forego, better than Ancient Title, though much less accomplished.....Sham came around at the right time (not the wrong time) He was there to push Big Red and there's no denying what we saw...

15 Jul 2009 11:38 PM
Matthew W

90 Proof Citation was I think 19 for 20 as a three year old, and was he 9 for 9 as a two year old? I think it was like 28 for 29, and he easily beat the older champ in FEB of his three year old season...way before my time but no way do you toss that kind of record--Winning all the time portends greatness! No way was he the same horse as a five year old but then Noor was some animal...they staged some memorable battles in 1950....

15 Jul 2009 11:54 PM
Matthew W

I'll STILL take Secretariat over Citation /Man O War as three year olds...I mean those last two (turf) races...you're NOT supposed to make early runaway moves on grass...Secretariat did things no horse did, he was so good you just tossed his losses, seeing is believing, you KNEW he was great....

15 Jul 2009 11:59 PM
biff lowry

Thanks, Steve, for a marvelous piece of writing. I was a big Dr. Fager fan, but Nerud did coddle him a lot more than Whiteley did Damascus. I think I know why Damascus wasn't himself Derby Day. Somebody got to him. It happens at the Derby. It happened to Your Host. That's why Meshach Tenney slept in the stall with Swaps before his Derby, when he beat Nashua. They don't make 'em like like Damascus and 'The Doc' anymore. Maybe if we went back to hay, oats and water it would help.

16 Jul 2009 12:07 AM

Excuse me....Rachel Alexandra's 3YO year better than Secretariat's?  What the heck are you smoking?  Secretariat's Triple Crown races are probably the most astounding series any horse has ever put together in the history of racing in this country.  He's dead last in the Derby and winds up running every quarter faster than the one before to wind up setting the stakes records THAT STILL STANDS.  2 weeks later he's off slow again and trailing the field and then he takes off running and passes the field ON THE TURN, something no horse I've ever seen has been able to do, hits the lead and takes off before the rest of the field realize they've lost the race.  And set another stakes record, even though those morons in the MD Jockey Club are too stupid to own up to malfunctioning equipment and do the right thing by correcting that error.  3 weeks later, he comes out of the gate and takes off running like his tail is on fire in a 1 1/2 mile race.  I thought for sure Turcotte had lost his mind and when Pincay sent Sham after him, I knew they were going to burn each other out in a speed duel.....except that horse just kept running....and running...and running.  "Moving like a tremendous machine" still gets me every time I hear it again.  Winning a race by 31 lengths isn't the important thing.  Setting a New WORLD record THAT STILL STANDS and that he broke it by 2 full seconds is what is truly phenomenal about that race.  Secretariat lost 3 times at 3--fine.  But his wins were astonishing.  You don't think his setting a new WORLD record in the Marlboro Cup, beating Riva Ridge wasn't newsworthy?  You think him winning the Man o' War in a new course record wasn't worthy of note?  You think his winning the Canadian Invitational blowing by Kennedy Road, a horse that had been Canadian champion 2YO colt, 3YO colt, handicap horse at 4 and Horse of the Year at 5 (1973), was a negligible accomplshment?  Let me see....Rachel set a record in the Mother Goose beating....ah, who was it again?

Rachel Alexandra is a very nice filly who POSSIBLY may wind up as champion 3YO filly this year--IF she keeps winning (remember, the reason why they put them in the gate and run them around the track occasionally is because there are NO SURE THINGS in racing).  But she has not run against the quality of horses that Secretariat ran against at 3, so maybe we should wait until the year is over before lauding her accomplishments, huh?

16 Jul 2009 12:37 AM

Using a "rabbit" (a pacemaker as they call it in Europe) is merely a strategic ploy -- as others have said, it is NOT cheating. Knowing what he did about Dr. Fager's inability to rate, it would have been professional negligence on Whiteley's part if he did NOT take advantage of that weakness send Hedevar against him.  Face it, if the situation had been reversed -- if Whiteley had trained Fager and Nerud trained Damascus -- you can bet the farm that Nerud would have used a rabbit without hesitation.

16 Jul 2009 2:12 AM

PS Steve -- thanks for writing about Damascus.  I agree that he is under-rated compared to Dr. Fager.  In fact, I would argue that while Dr. Fager was faster, Damascus was the better racehorse, based on his proven superior stamina (the Dr. never raced beyond 1 1/4 miles, while Damascus proved his ability up to 2 miles), his versatility (could race on the lead and as a closer), and his ability to rate.

16 Jul 2009 2:16 AM
Diane J

I love your stories , Steve,you are a throw back to the old days of real journalism...too bad you don't write a polical column! I remember Damascus well, but it was his sire that fired the spark of love for racing for me. Damascus may not have looked like his daddy, but his ability and heart were definitely present in Sword Dancer. He won 10 stakes races at distances up to to 2 miles, was a close second in the Derby and Preakness, and showed immense talent against the great Round Table in the 1959 Woodward Stakes.Every winter I look to see which 3 yr olds have him in their bloodlines and pick them as my favorites. Big Brown, Skipaway, RA, Medaglio D'oro  all show his line is strong in speed, heart and stamina. "Thank-you" to the little horse who stole my heart in 1959.

16 Jul 2009 2:24 AM
Steve Haskin

Biff, I didn't want to come right out and mention that, because it had no place in this column, but I got the feeling Whiteley felt the same way. And yes, it has happened before at the Derby. Jimmy Croll was convinced they got to Holy Bull. But of course there is no proof.

16 Jul 2009 3:50 AM
Steve Haskin

Deacon, I agree with you and am tired of seeing his name in every other post. The matter of rabbits is closed, as are the other pollutants spewed out here by this one person. I don't mind controversy and a good spirited debate when done in a respectful manner, but judging from e-mails I've received, people apparently have reached the end of their tether with this one person, who seems to enjoy rattling other people's chains. His last two posts were fine, but the next time he starts another firestorm on here just for the sake of seeing the flames spread, he will be deleted for good. I have a great deal of respect and gratitude for everyone who posts on here, and because of your apparent feelings for this one person, I feel I owe it to everyone (or at least most everyone) to take action if he persists. Remember, the Blood-Horse used to have its own message board, which had to be removed because of all the mean-spirited comments. That will not happen here.

16 Jul 2009 4:15 AM

Go to facebook now and check out the incredible pictures on Steve's wall!  Memory lane indeed!

16 Jul 2009 9:04 AM
Steve Haskin

Thank you, Diane. I also look for Damascus' name in pedigrees. His line is pretty much the last of the Domino line and we cant afford to lose that. He's always had back luck in the classics as a sire, but his influence is still pretty strong if you look hard enough.

16 Jul 2009 9:15 AM

Thanks for the story Steve really enjoyed it as others have stated on here big fan of In Reality/Relaunch.

16 Jul 2009 9:45 AM


I'm laughing (after this wonderful trip down memory lane by Steve), because all of my childhood heroes were the greats of the day...all four legged,and, I had pictures of Damascus and Buckpasser on my wall, no posters of rock or movie stars for me. The horses were my stars. (and still are)

And like probably everyone on here, horses and horse racing became a lifelong passion.

Steve, thank you so much. A wonderful column about a true Superhorse. I only wish I had gotten to see him in person, but in those days they really didn't let kids in the track and I think my parents thought I was weird anyway with my love of racing.


16 Jul 2009 9:51 AM
julie o

Steve= I'm sure you meant that Damascus was one of the last of the Teddy line.  Everytime he shows up prominently in a pedigree I'm so proud of him.  He was my first great thoroughbred (I saw him race when I was 9) and I'm kind of protective of his memory.

  One thing that stands out (besides how often our heroes ran back then) was his versatility.  Back then champions were expected to race often on allkinds of tracks, over all distances, against all comers, and carry weights proportionate to their accomplishments.  The sheer amount of cheap money out there today means that if an owner doesn't like a weight assignment, they'll go elsewhere against lesser opponants.  I also think that the Breeder's Cup has made the horses less- now the goal is a mile and a quarter at the end of the year, and most races leading up to it are between 1 1/8 miles and 1 1/4 miles.  Heroic distances and horses proving their championship against all competition are a thing of the past.  While I love the Breeder's Cup, I don't think it helped the breed at all.

16 Jul 2009 10:15 AM
Greg J.

Amazing Photos of "Big Red",  Mr. Haskin, Thank You!, What a Perfect start to the day, First, I get to see the Amazing Video of Barbaro's Brothers Together for the first time at "Tracking Barbaro's Brothers" Blog, Then, I get to see the Perfect Secretariat in his prime, This day could not have had a more perfect beginning...

16 Jul 2009 10:16 AM

Excellent words Steve, you are truly a fine ambassador to the sport. I can understand why you love Damascus so much, he was such a brilliant and versatile runner. In the 1967 Travers no horse who ever lived would have beaten him that day. I think I read where you said he was your favorite all time horse, he was also my dad's favorite horse next to Swaps. He is certainly in my top 5. I just love these trips down memory lane.

Interesting scenario brewing with IEAH and the I Want Revenge injury disclosure don't you think.

16 Jul 2009 11:41 AM
Steve Haskin

Boy, my brain really is scrambled these days. Yes, of course I meant the Teddy line. I also said that Kerala was an old mare who had hadn't produced anything for many years when she had Damascus when I meant Kerala's dam Blade of Time, who went 7 consecutive years without producing a foal and then had Kerala at age 20. I better stop posting comments at 4 in the morning.

16 Jul 2009 12:54 PM

Thanks Steve, you always transport me back in time with your stories, even if it combines the conflict with the sublimeness of a beautiful horse, it's real.

Born too late, wish I was there when horses were horses and not the flavor of the month or hyped by people who know nothing.

(Rabbits border on cheating? Puhleeze, owners who say that? Owners of what, one of the strip clubs you apparently frequent).

Give me the days when people were real and didn't have an agenda about the irrelevant and weren't pumped up on energy drinks and steroids (you know who you are) trying to be real men.

Give me the days when people LISTENED to the greats like Nerud and didn't think they knew more than those who really DID know.

I'm especially bummed that those two films are forever gone, just sad.

For those who trash those of us who admire the horses of the past?To those who say “The protectors of history are out again”, make comparisons of current horses to those of old?

No, the proof is in the pudding. How will history remember the horses of today, or will it?

For all the argument about Horse of the Year and saying some of these are better than the greatest? Time will tell.

HOY?  How many of you can even NAME the HOY in the past 10-20 years without looking it up?

These horses Steve speaks of are the horses of a lifetime, the horses with a mere mention of their name has those fortunate enough to have seen them, speak with reverence. THAT is what horse racing is missing NOW.  

The trash talking bravado, buffoonery displayed by a few people is what is RUINING racing and sadly that ’macho’ disrespect of our past is what permeates a lot of the younger people who have no interest in what made this country so great and so unique.

See I would have been a pretty good activist back then. Heard a good joke that's going around the internet right now that sums some people who post on here and ties in with the mention of the Dead and psychedelics: "In the 60's, people took acid to make the world weird.  Now the world is weird and people take Prozac to make it normal." Think a couple on here forgot to take their Prozac.

p.s. Steve, Mini Me says "Hi Mr. Steve"

16 Jul 2009 1:26 PM

Don't worry, Steve.  Lot's of us old farts (who remember Damascus and Buckpasser and Kelso and the bunches of Ribots running in Europe and La Prevoyante and other assorted REALLY GREAT horses) are up at 4:00 in the morning.  Just go ahead and blog.  At least it beats wandering around the house trying to find the cat.

16 Jul 2009 1:27 PM

Sorry Steve didn't see your closure of the subject. Mini me was 'helping' me write to you. Wanted me to tell you to write another book. Hey maybe a childrens book with illustrations? Enchant them minds of the NEXT generation of racing fans?

16 Jul 2009 1:30 PM
Greg J.


     Thank You, You summed it up perfectly!, Loved your line, "These horses Steve speaks of are the horses of a lifetime", How True...

16 Jul 2009 2:17 PM

Thank you a own a granddaughter of his through his son Napur, who although he wasn't successful as a racehorse, had great success as an international grand prix jumper. Thank you for making Damascus come alive for your readers.

16 Jul 2009 2:54 PM

Bradgm, I hereby make you an honorary old fart.  Good comments.

No one has to run down horses running before we learned to read  in order to appreciate current horses.  

If you only think TODAY's horses are good-to-great, does this mean that every year, your previous year's choice becomes less great?  Stupid.  

16 Jul 2009 4:04 PM

Mr Haskin,

Thank you again for a wonderful article. I am very grateful to Damascus for kidnapping you out of Wall Street and bringing you to the horseracing world. Without him, we wouldn't be reading your touching personal accounts of the past and present.

I also loved all the pictures on Facebook, but my absolute favorite is the great photo of Tiz Now. I had the privilege to visit him at Winstar in 2005. What an awesome racehorse and stallion. I feel about him the way you feel about Damascus: utter, unabashed devotion!

16 Jul 2009 4:45 PM

I love that - Horses of a lifetime!  Exactly, horses whose very names conjure magic in your soul.

16 Jul 2009 4:54 PM

Steve, thank you for taking me to a time you and others on this blog knew so well.  I will be very busy watching all the clips provided by Greg J and joining Facebook.

How wonderful racing must have been, back then.  I didn't come to racing's fan base until just a few years ago.  

Love reading about your passion for horses and obviously what you do.  I also appreciate the opportunity to experience Damascus through you own personal memories.

16 Jul 2009 6:00 PM

Thanks for this great blog Steve. I didn't realize that Damascus had anything to do with my love of racing, although I knew him to be a great champion. I was 10 years old in 67 and I was a Derby Party with my parents. Some grown up asked me to pick a horse to win and I looked over the list of horses in the race.  I picked my favorite number and the prettist name Proud Clarion #7 .  I guess if Damascus had been at his best that day I might not have become the racing nut that I am. My whole life could have been different, since even though I never worked in racing for more than a summer or two in my youth, many a minor  and not so minor decision was formed around horseracing through out my life.

(New boyfriend, "what's so special about horseracing?" Me,"next!" )

All this time I thought it was #7's fault and now, thanks to you Steve I know the truth.

Damascus, thanks for all the great memories and all the thrills I have from you and all the great ones that came after you.

16 Jul 2009 6:10 PM

Amazing photos on FB, Steve.  Thank you so much.

Bradgm - you said what was in my heart but could never make it to the keyboard in such a clever way - thanks!

16 Jul 2009 6:56 PM

Great words Bradgm! Well said, glad to hear mini me helps you out.

16 Jul 2009 7:05 PM

Greg J.   HELP!  signed up with facebook just to see Steve's pics of Secretariat... have no idea how to see them... losing patience fast.  Can you help me.

16 Jul 2009 7:06 PM

Robin Williams once said "that if you remember the 60's then you weren't there"  I wonder if he meant horse racing as well. The 60's were the glory days of the sport for me, and the 1970's were just the finishing touches on a Rembrandt. I would respectfully say that of the top 20 greatest horses who ever lived 14 of them raced during the 1960's and 1970's.

I also want to say that so many of you bloggers are so knowledgeable and passionate about the sport, it is very refreashing to see.

16 Jul 2009 7:20 PM
Mike S

"If DAMASCUS raced today" he would have been retired after 3 starts because he has "nothing left to prove."

Seriously, though, horse racing is getting ridiculous. It's all about rushing horses off to stud so that enormous and unjustified stud fees can be charged, and then the yearlings are sold for prices that defy all logic and monetary good sense and judgment. Keep in mind the average horse earns somewhere in the vicinity of $30,000 in his life. You do the math.

DAMASCUS was a great horse in a time where great horses were allowed to race over a span of time in order to prove how great they are. Today's "stars" run one season, make less than 10 lifetime starts, but everyone runs around touting them as "the greatest of all time."


16 Jul 2009 7:57 PM
Greg J.


     Request to be Steve's Friend on his Facebook Page, Then you will get an E-mail from him once he OK's it, Then go back to his page on facebook and you will have access to his amazing pictures...

16 Jul 2009 8:12 PM
Soldier Course

Last night I read Marguerite Henry's novel,"King of the Wind" about Sham, the Godolphin Arabian. This was a wonderful little book, and thanks to all on the previous Sham blog for recommending it.  

16 Jul 2009 9:21 PM
Matthew W

Some more trubute to Dr Fager:...Hedever, the eternal rabbit, was no cheap speed! It was like throwing Fabulous Strike in there to insure Dr Fager had company, Hedever was top class.....

16 Jul 2009 10:19 PM
Pedigree Shelly

    Steve, I love your subjects but I have to say something about Draynay !!! Every time I see his comment or something about him , it Always makes me smile lol :)

16 Jul 2009 10:50 PM

Hey Wanda! The love of my life! I'm so sorry I've been remiss in writing but you know how that goes.

Thanks to everyone for your kind words, but really folks, without Steve and his picture painting with words? How can we not be inspired. My own writing pales in comparison.

Actually I've read so much of his writing that I guess I aspire to write as well as he does, if I'm going to comment and I try to say what's in my heart, sometimes I get upset with what is said but don't we all.

If I'm allowed by Steve, I'd like to tell you Wanda and all that Steve would like to write a children's book on Cannonero. What's everyone think? We should try to make it happen for him and for our sakes.

Although when I told Mini Me that Mr Steve wants to write a book about Cannonero, he took free license and said 'yep, with pirate ships and swords and then they can sink the ships with Cannonero.' Not quite a total grasp of the naming concept. Plus he tells me when we read Steve's books together, that he remembers the horses and he rode them or almost fell or whatever his toddler imagination can come up with. Guess that tells you that Steve really does bring these horses to life huh?

Steve, feel free to exclude that last excerpt if you want to keep your secrets.

16 Jul 2009 11:11 PM

EXCELLENT Steve!  Another great article bringing back history!  I love racing history!  There are a few great horses who haven't gotten the credit they deserve and it is a shame.  Along with him I put Native Dancer (my all time favorite) and Whirlaway - have books on both of them and WOW!

Stanley - I would love to know what reasons you have for calling into question the integrity of Mr Vanderbilt regarding Native Dancer's sire.  If Polynesian was not his sire I think it is doubtful that Geisha would have been bred back to him many times hoping for another Native Dancer.

17 Jul 2009 12:42 AM


Thank you for such a beautiful article. Damascus was a true treasure of a racehorse. Your words brought back to life some of the true glory days of the greatest sport in the world, horse racing.  You also brought back to life one of its greatest sons, Damascus.  Alas, I was not yet born and thus was not able to witness his greatness on the track.  But through your words of passion, I am able to re-live his races and splendid moments.  Also, a big THANKS to Greg J. for all of the links to Damascus's races.    To his delight, I have shared your stories with my 6 year old nephew, who is becoming quite a huge horse racing fan, with a LARGE amount of credit going to you because of how interesting your stories are.  When I read them to him, he hangs on to every word and is sure to remember the name of every horse as if his life depended on them.  It is amazing how this child has taken to this sport.  He will get to enjoy his first racing experience this weekend at Colonial Downs watching Nicanor race in the Virginia Derby.  He is so excited!  He's said to me about fifty times a day since he found out that he was going with me, "Aunt Melanie, Nicanor is the one who's brother won the Ky Derby a few years ago, right? Do they look alike? Oh, I can't wait to see him! Oh, I'll help you win some money too. I'll pick some horses with some high odds. Because if you pick the favorite all the time you sure won't win that much money will you?" (He watches TVG with me for hours all of the time.)  Trust me, the child has a gift for picking horses!  You can only imagine!  Six years old!

By the way, Steve, I think that you have handled the comments of a certain person with alot of class.  It is a shame that there are people out there that do nothing more than try to disrupt the opinions and feelings of others with nothing but outlandish, over-the-top and foolish (to say the least) comments.  All that it comes down to is them embarassing themselves in the end.

By the way, I do most of my blogging in the wee hours of the morning myself.  It's not so bad.lol:-)

17 Jul 2009 3:34 AM

Soldier Course,

Did you read Marguerite Henry's "King of the Wind" with the illistrations?  It's a wonderful book is it not!   I checked that book out of my school library when I was about 8 years old.  Had it ever since!lol  Now wouldn't that book make a great movie!!!!

17 Jul 2009 3:56 AM

The question of Native Dancer sire

goes back to Harold Hampton. New Zealand pedigree authority. Harold had a theory that Native Dancer was actually by Challedon

and not Polynesian.

17 Jul 2009 5:15 AM
Steve Haskin

Brad, you're making me blush :). But I thank you for the kind words. You've built a great foundation with your son, sharing a common passion. We need more of that in racing -- fathers instilling the magic of Thoroughbred racing in their children. They are the future of the sport.

17 Jul 2009 9:41 AM
Steve Haskin

Horswld, my words to Brad also apply to you and your nephew. I love hearing stories like that. I'll bet it makes it a lot more fun for you, too, as I'm sure it does Brad.

17 Jul 2009 9:44 AM
Soldier Course


I did read the illustrated version. I bought the paperback edition, and some of the illustrations were very poorly reproduced. I went back to the bookstore last night and looked at the hardcover edition, and the illustrations were fine. I am thinking of buying it, and passing along my paperback to a child.

Do you happen to know if the novel is based on fact? I wonder how much of that story actually took place.

17 Jul 2009 10:54 AM

Horswld, I just want to say that I read about Nicanor being scratched and then I read your post and I almost cried! Hopefully, his injury isn't life/career ending and your nephew will get to see his hero on another day. Unfortunately, he is going to learn the fustrations of loving this sport and its heros very early in life.  Also, if you want to encourage him further, have the boy go to the library and pick up the Black Stallion series by Walter Farley (or Farly). Those books really sealed the deal for me.... I also remember some gray haired trainer with the first name Bob who said in an interview that he love the Black Stallion books as a kid too. You may never get him away from the track after that.  

17 Jul 2009 11:15 AM
Will W

Thks, Steve, for another intriguing story on one of racing's truly great handicap horses. Dr. Fager, Forego, and now Damascus. Have you done one yet on Kelso or Buckpasser that I missed ? We see nothing like this today: horses that can win at all distances from 6 and 7 furlongs through all the classic distances up to two miles in eye-catching clockings while often carrying well over 130 lbs. and with recovery times between Grade 1 caliber races of a week to three/four weeks with no mention of any fear of today's "bounce." As I am from Louisville and my father was a horse owner at the time, we managed to get upstairs front row box seats in mid- stretch to watch Damascus in the 1967 Kentucky Derby. I was stunned when a field horse, Proud Clarion, defeated Damascus who loomed boldly in the stretch and then, inexplicably, flattened out running third to Proud Clarion and Barb's Delight in a race full of truly unmemorable horses. It certainly was, as you described it, a bleak and misty day in May - drizzling rain off and on. Unfortunately, for me the first two rows of upstairs box seats hung out from under the Twin Spires roof, and I was constantly getting wet and rendered miserable, dressed as I was in suit and tie - but w/o a raincoat - at my Father's insistence. By the time of the race fog had set in, and it was difficult to clearly make out the horses with their silks and numbers on the backstretch. Before the race I had visited the paddock to watch the horses be saddled and remember seeing Howard Cosell waiting to do trainer interviews in the paddock. I was only 19 then and was unaware until I read your column that Damascus had uncharacteristically acted up on the way to the paddock and was rank during the race. Your comment that he was never so out of sorts afterwards or rank and hard to handle during a race certainly lends an air of mystery to his sub-par performance that day, the cause of which has always stumped me to this day.  Was there any speculation at the time that Damascus had been tampered with before the race to cause him to act up and put him off his game ? Hard to believe crowd size/noise and/or miserable, uncharacteristic May weather in Louisville unsettled such a great racehorse who had the calm, relaxed, unperturbed demeanor of a great champion. This was the only time he raced on the Churchill Downs surface as I remember. Don't remember racing surface or track conditions being offered as an excuse for the lackluster performance, but my memory's somewhat hazy after all these years. Any more you can add to the story of Damascus' truly worse performance on a racetrack ?  Kudos to you for keeping the memories of what really constitutes a great handicap horse before the racing public. It's stark testimony to how far the racing game has gone in the wrong direction with steroids and meds, lightly-raced horses, and far too premature retirements characterizing the sport. Never do I remember back then ever hearing the word "bounce" being bandied about after a smashing performance by the great handicap horses of that era.

17 Jul 2009 11:28 AM

Steve, your articles are tremendous.  I love reading your outlook on current racing events, but I must say that it's your historic posts that always give me goosebumps. I  I fell in love with horseracing in '89, when I was 11, in 6th grade and totally awkward.  I was completely infatuated with Sunday Silence- to me, he was the underdog- the "ugly duckling" (according to the press) against the majestic, regal Easy Goer.  I followed racing as closely as possible from then on- although it was difficult for a kid with no access to a racetrack, and we didn't have the internet back then.  I watched Harvey whenever he was on, and kept notes about the races. I fell out of the loop during my college years, but the Silver Charm years brought me back.  I live in MA and try to get a group of my friends to Suffolk Downs at least once a year- not much, I know, but they do enjoy it immensely when we go.  We all live a good distance from it so it's hard to get to.  I hope it's still there in a few years when my son is old enough to appreciate it (he is 11 months now, and we watch TVG somedays when it's rainy! lol). Thanks for all you do.

A quick note about dray- I have to say that the one constructive thing he accomplishes every single time he posts, is that he draws out people with years of experience, and from that I am able to glean new information and see things from insider's points of view...

17 Jul 2009 11:30 AM
Linda in Texas

As usual, i turn on my computer and end up never getting to the kitchen to turn on the coffee pot, so it is not almost 11 in the am and i am still reading Steve's Blog on Damascus,and those comments of all the great and good folks who write in with their questions and memories. Wow, who needs caffeine. And Mary asked a good question of Steve when she asked why the horses are not bred to run a race a week anymore? I was just looking at the photos of some of the thoroughbreds who spent their last years and days at The Old Friends Farm, and some were huge and beautiful even at 26. Somewhere someone thought they had a bright idea. And many horses have suffered an early demise because of it either in their racing life or from injuries. And as i write this, I read that Necanor has been scratched from The Virginia Derby by Michael Matz because of a hind leg injury. Wonder if it is the same type as his brother Barbaro's? Thanks Steve, we all love your recollections. Keep'm coming !!! Those were the good ol' days and we didn't even know it.

17 Jul 2009 12:04 PM

It's wonderful to keep coming back to this blog to find more informative, insightful and educational comments that I appreciate gaining new knowledge from your experiences.  Thank you!  And it would be a resounding YES to a children's book by Steve on Cannonero!  I'm already working hard on getting my granddaughter hooked on horses and racing as I made my daughters take us to the track for my Mothers Day treat back in May and I'd love for her to have a book by Steve.

- another who was 20 back in 67

17 Jul 2009 12:19 PM

Right Steve, capture their imagination while they're young an maleable. Mine is apparently going to be a tall jockey, who plays golf and trains horses on the side.

As for my words? Truth.

What we need, more like you.

What we don't need are the trash talking, tough guy posers of the world.

17 Jul 2009 12:25 PM

Steve, another great article and thank you for the memories. I got to see the famed duo twice and both times Damascus won. One was the Brooklyn and the other the Woodward, the "race of the century" -- also including Buckpasser. I never saw that cartoon with the two guys shipwrecked, but it was so appropriate! I have to admit I was a Dr. Fager guy (and I have your legends book on my shelf). Not to take away from Damascus as he was a great thoroughbred. However the part that always bugged me is that they always had to have their rabbit to soften up the Doctor. It is unfortunate that they never had a match race as I feel that Dr. Fager would have shown himself to be the better of the two.  

One other thing that struck me is your noting Damascus' durability. What's up with the horses today, "training" up to a race and not running for 2 months at a time? It really cheats the fans when a horse runs maybe 5 times a year versus Damascus going 11 for 15 that one year.  (The ultimate crock was Ghostzapper winning horse of the year on 4 races.)

Lastly, there is no doubt that Damascus, like Point Given and some others, is one of those greats who you have to scratch your head and wonder how the heck did he ever not take the Triple Crown. He certainly ranks up there with many of the Triple Crown winners.

17 Jul 2009 1:02 PM


In the days when racing was racing.

No artificial surface controversy, fewer injuries, more weights, further distances, less time between races and higher weights.

And  these champions did their jobs like true champions!

Today, that would be considered abuse in our sport(the animal rights people would have a field day, I'm sure).

What indeed has happened to our "iron horses" like the "great" Dr. Fagar, Damascus, Bold Ruler, Kelso, etc. These great horses would demolish  our current so "called greats" and champions.

No competition what so ever!

Yes, in the days when racing was racing and music was music. Makes one want to "tune in"..LOL

17 Jul 2009 1:13 PM

Soldier Course,

From what I gather a very good portion of the book is based on fact, like for instance all of the places that Sham was passed to. Ms. Henry does have a way of spinning things though.

My illustrated version is paperback but it is of a weaved texture that has kept in very good shape and the illustrations are wonderful.  This book is one of my treasures!

17 Jul 2009 2:55 PM


Thank you so much for your kind words.  My nephew and I are quite heart broken about Nicanor.  The worst part about the whole thing was watching him trying to be a big boy and hold back his tears when he found out that Nicanor was hurt. He said "The same thing that happened to his big brother isn't going to happen to him is it, Aunt Melanie? He's going to be ok ain't he?  Mabe we can still go and see him when he gets better.  Right?"  

My heart was in my throat. Poor, sweet child.  He wasn't worried about if he was still going to the races or not.  He was just worried about Nicanor.  I asked him if he still wanted to go and he asked me, "Do you still want to take me? If you don't that's ok."  Bless his sweet soul!  Of course I said that I still wanted to take him.  More now than ever because I still wanted him to enjoy the pleasures of racing.  I told him I still needed his help picking horses because he's better at picking them than I am.  He loved that idea and gave me a great big smile.  By the way, I have the whole Black Stallion series and we're up to The Black Stallion's Filly.  He really likes this one.

17 Jul 2009 3:32 PM
2 time valley player of the year

yea what memories you brought back the great 60's and the GREAT horses that ran ,nothing like the wussies of today that need vacations and don't want to run on all surfaces  yet are proclaimed great! What a joke they couldn't compete with those greats of the 60's.I have to laugh at today's horses who get such accolades. If your a great champion you run regardless of weights, tracks and don't need vacations .Rachel being called great -give me a break when she runs on grass at 134 lbs and sets a world record mile then i'll call her great unfortunately she won't even be allowed to run against the worlds best horses because of the surface and yet is called great, over used adjactive without a doubt. Damacus was great no if or buts.

17 Jul 2009 6:25 PM

Horswld, your nephew's sadness over Nicanor's injury is so touching.  I think it's wonderful you are still going to the races and I hope he has a ball!  Also hope he picks some winners for you.

17 Jul 2009 7:02 PM
Soldier Course


Very touching story about your nephew and Nicanor. Have a good day at the races, although that won't be easy. What timing for the poor horse, just as he was ready for his first stakes race.

17 Jul 2009 7:37 PM

If Mr Haskin is going to write books I'll be the first in line to buy one for the little boy who will be born in Nov. My late husbands grandson and he will be the next generation handicapper and racehorse lover if I have anything to do with it!

17 Jul 2009 8:19 PM

I am always enchanted by Steve's articles and stories, but never more so than when he brings back to life the careers of great thoroughbreds such as Damascus.  These tributes are a combination of journalism and storytelling that is almost a lost art in our world of "newspeak."  Mr. Haskin, I thank you along with the rest of your devoted readers for these enthralling articles.

Hrswld, I thank you as well for mentioning "The Black Stallion" books.  Mr. Farley may have written fiction; but as a true horseman, he educated several generations of emerging horse-lovers in the special language of racing. Please go forward with his "Island Stallion" series when you're done with the Filly.  The Black meets Red - ahhh, a race for the Ages, that!

Lastly, for those who wondered about Damascus' line...I was looking at Rail Trip's pedigree last evening and noted that his 4th dam was by Damascus; so at least we know his bloodline is still out there and running fast!

17 Jul 2009 8:21 PM
Diane J

Hey Fellow Thoroughbred Fans...after watching the youtube races of Damascus I can't help but wonder if there are better re-mastered copies of the old races ? Does anyone know if the old films are available and digitally cleaned up ? I once bought some vcr tapes of Sword Dancer's races, but they were so grainy it was hard to watch. Anyone??

17 Jul 2009 8:54 PM

txhorsefan and Soldier Course,

Thank you so much for your kind words. This will be my last post until Sunday afternoon because me and my nephew are getting ready to leave.  It takes us about  three hours to get there and we have decided to stay the night so we can be fresh and ready to go tomorrow.  He has his three stuffed race horse buddies, Man-o-war, Affirmed, and Seattle Slew to keep him company as we travel down the road.  I think he's ready! I plan on showing him a great time but knowing him I think it's going to be the other way around!

17 Jul 2009 9:04 PM

Great article, Steve. I still can't understand why Nerud never ran the GREAT Dr. Fager in any of the Classics.

17 Jul 2009 9:50 PM
Melody K

I was 12 years old in 1967 and I loved Damascus.  I followed his career by reading the NY Times in my local library.  In 1968 I wrote a letter to the Daily Racing Form wanting to know more about him and some kind soul sent me a packet of clippings from the DRF, including Damascus' PPs.  That personal response consolidated my love of racing, which endures to this day.

Thank you, Steve, for bringing up wonderful memories of a wonderful horse.

18 Jul 2009 1:04 AM

Another enjoyable article Steve. I was born in 74', and only became interested in racing in 1989. When I started doing historical research on the sport, one of the racing seasons that stood out for me was Damascus' 1967. I have little doubt that when Damascus was on his game, like he was in the 67' Preakness, 67' American Derby, 67' Travers, 67' Jockey Club Gold Cup, 68' Brooklyn, and especially the 67' Woodward, he could have run with any horse that has ever graced a racetrack.

Although Damascus did not win the Triple Crown in 67', I still view his campaign as one of the best by a three year old. With tactical speed and that devastating kick(thanks to those who have provided links to video footage), Damascus was in many ways the perfect 10 furlong horse, as evidenced by his Travers, Woodward, and Brooklyn scores. As with Secretariat and other greats, Damascus was not able to replicate his peak effort each time, but even in defeat he performed admirably, finishing worse than 2nd only once in his first 24 starts, that being his 3rd place finish in the Derby. After that Derby disappointment, Damascus was 3 noses away from winning 15 consecutive races.

Following convincing victories in the Preakness, Belmont, and Leonard Richards, Damascus lost the 67' Du Pont against older horses by a nose while conceding the winner 8 lbs. Once again, Damascus roared back from a defeat, with a workmanlike 3/4 length win in the Dwyer toting 128 lbs setting the table for a 7 length romp in the American Derby and the 22 length Travers stroll. Damascus regressed slightly when winning the Aqueduct Handicap by 2, but then re-entered the stratosphere with that 10 length destruction of Buckpasser and Dr. Fager in the Woodward and an easy 4.5 length win over the very good Handsome Boy in the Jockey Club Gold Cup at 2 miles. Damascus' 6 race win streak was ended in his season finale, but it was another quality performance, losing the DC International on turf by only a head to that year's champion grass horse(and eventual 1970 Horse of the Year) Fort Marcy.

Damascus started his 4 year old campaign by strutting his stuff out West, capturing both the 7 furlong Malibu and 9 furlong San Fernando by just over 2 comfortable lengths. At this point, it appeared Damascus was set to put together another historic season, but then things went slightly off course. Damascus would end up losing 6 of his final 9 stakes races, beginning with a head defeat to Most Host in the Strub while conceding 12 lbs.

Steve, in a discussion concerning Citation's place in history earlier in this thread, you mentioned the possibility that Citation's legacy could have been tarnished when he was brought back at age 5. Similarly, I wonder if Damascus' reputation would be even greater had he retired after the Strub. I do not mean to suggest that 1968 was a bust for Damascus, because he had some brilliant moments, highlighted by his 2.5 length win over Dr Fager in the Brooklyn Handicap, setting the track record with a 1:59 and 1 clocking under 130 lbs. Damascus also won both the Du Pont and Aqueduct Caps' under 134 lbs, giving the runners-up 21 and 20 lbs respectively. Yet, as was the case with Buckpasser, Damascus just was not as consistently brilliant at 4 as he was at 3.

Some of it was clearly the weight he was forced to carry, such as when he finished third in the Haskell by 1.5 lengths under 131 lbs while the winner and runner-up carried 116 and 114 lbs. Damascus also lost the Michigan Mile by 2.75 lengths when he carried 22 lbs more than future champion Nodouble.

While weight undoubtedly played a part, I also believe that Damascus simply wasnt as consistent in 68' as he was in 67'. The 22 lbs Damascus spotted Nodouble in the 68' Michigan Mile was obviously huge, but Nodouble was only a second tier 3 year old at the time, having finished in the money only once in his 5 starts preceding the Michigan Mile. In the 68' Suburban, Damascus finished 5 length behind the victorious Dr Fager and 3 behind runner-up Bold Hour. Damascus had to carry 17 lbs more than Bold Hour(133-116), but he was carrying only 1 lbs more than Dr Fager. Finally, in Damascus' next to last start, a nose defeat to Mr Right in the Woodward, Damascus was running under allowance conditions and carried the same weight, 126 lbs, as Mr Right. Damascus' final start in the 68' Jockey Club Gold Cup is largely immaterial,giving that he bowed a tendon and was eased to the wire, his only out of the money finish. Yet, even if one does not include that race, Damascus was only 5 for 10 in stakes races in 1968, with only one of those defeats coming against Dr Fager.

Damascus' record in 68' appears even weaker when it is compared to the record of his great rival, Dr Fager. In contrast to Damascus, Dr Fager actually improved from age 3 to 4. As good as the Doc was at 3, at 4 he took his game to an entirely different level, a level few other horses have ever reached.  The Good Doctor, unlike Damascus, was able to be put together two full championship-level seasons. One result is that Damascus ended up with a much lower winning percentage than Dr Fager and some of the other all-time greats. Furthermore, in contrast to 3 year old stars like Native Dancer and Buckpasser, Damascus was not a champion at 2.  In fact, Damascus only made 4 starts at age 2, winning 3 including one stakes race, the Remsen.

So, what is Damascus' place in history? Is he underrated? Should he have been rated higher than the #16 position the Bloodhorse assigned him?  As detailed, Damascus'claim to greatness largely stems from his 3 year old campaign, which certainly was one of the best in history. Although Damascus had a strong year as a 4 year old, it does not compare favorably with the handicap campaigns of Spectacular Bid, Affirmed, War Admiral, and Kelso, horses that were champions at age 3 too. Then, as already mentioned, unlike Man O War, Secretariat, Count Fleet, Native Dancer, Seattle Slew, Spectacular Bid, Affirmed, Buckpasser, and Colin, Damascus did not accomplish much at age 2.

Of course, if we are to move Damascus up in the rankings, we would have to move others down. The problem when you look at the Top 100 list is that there are so many good and deserving horses. Round Table was only good enough for #17, Swaps for #20, John Henry for #23, Nashua for #24, Seasbiscuit #25, Whirlaway #26, Gallant Fox #28, Exterminator #29, Ruffian #35, Gallant Man #36, Discovery #37.

Here is the top 16:

1. Man O War  2. Secretariat  3. Citation   4. Kelso    5. Count Fleet  6.Dr Fager   7. Native Dancer  8.Forego  9. Seattle Slew  10.Spectacular Bid  11.Tom Fool  12. Affirmed   13. War Admiral    14. Buckpasser   15. Colin         16. Damascus

So, who would we drop? I suppose I wouldnt have many problems rating Damascus ahead of Colin, Tom Fool, Buckpasser, War Admiral, or even Native Dancer(yet I also do not have a serious problem with the current rankings either). On the other hand, I can understand those who would rank Round Table, Swaps, Equipoise, or Whirlaway ahead of Damascus.  These horses were all so very good.

Interestingly, I have a semi-autographical book written by Bill Shoemaker in the mid-70s. In the book, Shoe writes a paragraph about the top horses he had ridden.  As Steve detailed, Shoe rode Damascus through his 3 year old season and until the 68' Strub. Not surprisingly, Shoe has a very high opinion of Damascus. However, Shoe was actually more complimentary of Swaps and Gallant Man, although he wasn't sure Swaps was a genuine classic distance horse. The book was written before Shoe started riding Spectacular Bid, the horse Shoe would ultimately insist was the best he had ever ridden.

18 Jul 2009 3:14 AM

Damascus was certainly a great horse, and the horses that ran in the 50s, 60s, and 70s tower over those that have come afterwards.

However, we do not have to go back 30 years to find horses that were fast, sound, and raced often. I write this because so many have responded to Steve's article on Damascus by ripping the modern thoroughbred and/or recent training trends. While I am as frustrated as anyone with the premature retirements of horses like Big Brown, Street Sense, Hard Spun, Bernardini, Afleet Alex, Smarty Jones, Empire Maker, and Fusaichi Pegasus, there have been exceptions over the last 20 years.

What about Cigar? Between July 1994 and October 1996, a period of 27 months, Cigar made 24 starts, winning 17 of them, from New York, to Florida, to Arkansas, to Maryland, to Massachusetts, to California, to Illinois, and even Dubai. Of course, Cigar had not been a top 3 year old, like Damascus had been.

What about Skip Away?  Thanks Karen in Texas for bringing him up. Skip Away was the 1996 Eclipse champion 3 year old, trained by old schooler Sonny Hine. Skip Away made 12 starts in 1996, but came back at age 4 and made 11 more starts, earning the Eclipse for champion older male. Proving himself a true iron horse, Skip Away was not done, turning in his best season as a 5 year old when he won 7 of his 9 starts en route to the Horse of the Year. Overall, Skip Away was a champion 3 straight years, winning 10 grade 1 races while placing in 34 of his 38 career starts (6 more than Damascus).  

What about Serena's Song? Although Serena's Song was one of the top 2 year olds of 1994, making 10 starts that year, she was still able to come back for two more gruelling campaigns at 3 and 4. As the Eclipse champion 3 year old filly of 1995, Serena's Song won 9 of 13 starts, including 6 grade 1 races. As a 4 year old, Serena's Song made 15 starts, and although she only won 5 of them, she placed in all but one race. For her career, Serena's Song won 18 of 38 starts, with 11 grade 1 victories, and finished in the money 32 times(including 20 placings in grade 1 events).  Another D Wayne Lukas mare, Lady's Secret, made 17 starts as a 3 year old in 1985, and then followed that by making 15 starts the next year, winning 8 grade 1 races and the Horse of the Year.

What about Best Pal? Best Pal was precocious enough to sweep California's major 2 year old races, the Del Mar Futurity, Norfolk, and Hollywood Futurity while finishing 2nd in Eclipse voting. Best Pal was again 2nd in Eclipse voting as a 3 year old when he defeated older horses in the Pacific Classic and ran 2nd in the Kentucky Derby. Best Pal was 2nd in Eclipse voting at ages 4 and 5 as well, and was still good enough at age 7 to win the grade 2 San Antonio and run 2nd in the Santa Anita Handicap. Best Pal finished his career in 1996 with 7 grade 1 victories(winning a grade 1 race at ages 2,3,4 and 5) and placed in 33 of 47 career starts.

It wasn't so long ago that top 3 year olds like Easy Goer made 11 starts in a season(1989), Holy Bull 10 starts(1994), and Thunder Gulch 10 starts(1995). And while some may not care for Jess Jackson, he did take a horse, Curlin, that made 9 starts when  champion as a 3 year old and brought him back as a 4 year old for 7 additional starts.

In contrast to the period betwwn 1930 and 1980, when it seemed like a truly great thoroughbred came around every year, the 30 years since Spectacular Bid's retirement have produced few equine superstars. Although fewer in number, these recent stars have nonetheless demonstrated the speed, durability, and consistency to be compared with horses from the more distant past like Damascus.

80s: John Henry, Sunday Silence, Easy Goer, Alysheba, Slew O' Gold, Precisionist, Manila, Personal Ensign, Lady's Secret, Genuine Risk, Winning Colors, Princess Rooney, Mom's Command, Bold n' Determined.

90s: Cigar, Skip Away, Holy Bull, Silver Charm, AP Indy, Best Pal, Go For Wand, Bayakoa, Paseana, Dance Smartly, Serena's Song, Inside Information, Silverbulletday, Flawlessly.

This most recent decade has represented the leanest of the lean. While we have been exposed to some exciting talent, most did not remain on the track long enough to equal the accomplishments of the horses of yesteryear. Curlin, as a two-time Horse of the Year and with wins in a Triple Crown race(Preakness), Breeders Cup Classic, and Dubai World Cup probably deserves top billing among the males, followed closely by Tiznow(already in the Hall of Fame), Invasor, Ghostzapper, Lava Man, and Point Given. The fleeting Triple Crown stars like Smarty Jones, Afleet Alex, Big Brown, Barbaro, Bernardini, Street Sense, and Empire Maker are a level below, joined by multi-year competitors like Medalgia d' Oro, Congaree, Pleasantly Perfect, and Saint Liam. When listed like this, it is apparent that there have been alot of talented horses to have raced during the last 10 years. The deficiency with most of these horses is not talent, but accomplishment.

As for the females of this decade, prior to Rachel and Zenyatta the absolute standout was Azeri. A winner of 11 grade 1 races, Azeri started her career 14 for 15 and at one time held an 11 race win streak. Unlike the 80s and 90s which featured some of the best female racehorses ever, this decade had been weak prior to the emergence of Zenyatta and Rachel. After Azeri, the best female racehorses of this decade have probably been Ashado, Sightseek, and Spain.

And had Damascus run during this decade, there is absolutely zero doubt that he would have been hailed as the best of the decade, by far. However, had he come around in the 90s or 80s, I think there would have been some that would have taken Cigar or John Henry over him.

18 Jul 2009 4:48 AM

Two time Valley...

You couldn't have summed it up better, thanks!

18 Jul 2009 10:03 AM

Good horeses run less now than they used to.  Unfortunate for us fans, but a fact nonetheless.  I agree with Gun Bow in that, I believe the talent is still there, but the accomplishments are lessened because the opportunities are fewer. I like J Jackson because he is willing to place his stars in situations where they can make significant accomplishments.  Curlin was a top-notch horse, but not an all time great.  At least he had the chance to become an all timer.  Now he has the horse to surpass the standards of greatness and I think Rachel Alexandra will be up to the task.  

I believe Secretariat and Spectacular Bid were the greatest horses I ever saw run and they were males, but I think the females are greatly underrated on the all time great lists.  To me there is no doubt that Rachel is the best horse I have seen this decade.  Ruffian, Lady's Secret, Personal Ensign, Desert Vixen, Go For Wand, Genuine Risk, Princess Rooney and Zenyatta (just to name some of my favorites) deserve to be ranked higher in comparison to their male counterparts.  Rachel and Ruffian are certainly in my top ten of horses of my lifetime.

18 Jul 2009 12:03 PM
stanley marcinkowski, Plowville, Pa

FagerFan,  not everybody is crazy over spring classics. I remember Mrs Jane Lunger won the Bluegrass Stakes and her colt was favored for Ky Derby a couple weeks later. She wanted to win the Preakness so badly she bypassed the Ky Derby.

18 Jul 2009 1:28 PM
stanley marcinkowski, Plowville, Pa

Gun Bow, I remember you beating Kelso twice, how ever when he was coming off a bad streak Kelso beat you and people in stands were crying- yes crying- with joy over Kelso's victory-something I will never forget

18 Jul 2009 1:32 PM
Karen in Texas

GunBow---Bringing up Skip Away was my pleasure; thank you for further elaborating on his career. I wanted to add that his designation as an "iron horse" was earned not only because of the number of years he raced and the number of wins he attained, but because he was assigned 130 lbs. or more on several occasions. Not only did he win under those assignments, he set a stakes and track record in the '98 MassCap under 130 lbs., while breaking the record previously held by Seabiscuit. I saw him "in person" at Lone Star Park at the beginning of his 4 year old season; the distance (among other things) was not right for him that day, but his best was absolutely yet to come!

18 Jul 2009 1:48 PM

Steve, you may have laid a charm on Damascus' bloodline by writing this piece. Two surprise winners today, Silver Timber in the Jaipur and Careless Jewel in the Del. Oaks, have him in their pedigrees. :-)

18 Jul 2009 6:33 PM
Saratoga AJ

Gun Bow,.

Long, but good posts.

I have one comment ....do you really think that Damascus could be rated better than Native Dancer?

Think about this..If ND had one more stride before the wire of the '53 Derby, (or if he didn't have a horrible trip to lose by that diminishing head) he would have been the only undefeated TC winner...22 for 22. How many places would that have gotten him in that Top 100. Surely higher than 7th. And if we add in the performance as a sire...wow.  

18 Jul 2009 7:41 PM

Karen in Texas:

Good point about Skip Away carrying weight. In that 98' Mass Cap when he carried 130 lbs and set the track record, he was giving future grade 1 winner, Puerto Madero, 14 lbs.  Skip Away also won the Iselin in 1:47 and 1 under 131 lbs, giving the quality runner-up, Stormin Fever,  18 lbs. Additionally, Skip Away won the Pimlico Special by 3.25 lengths under 128 lbs(giving runner-up Percocity 13 lbs), and won the Gulfstream Park Cap by over 2 under 127 lbs.

Not only did Skip Away carry weight, he also ran very, very fast, consistently earning monster Beyers. Here are his top Beyers:

125, 122, 121, 120, 119, 118(twice), 117, 116(twice), 115(4 times), 114(twice), and 113(twice). That is 18 races in which he earned a Beyer of 113 or higher.  

18 Jul 2009 7:52 PM
Soldier Course

Skip Away is at Hopewell Farm near Lexington. Hopewell allows private visits to its stallions and has always been very courteous and welcoming. Call ahead for an appointment. The White Fox, a white Thoroughbred, is also at Hopewell.

18 Jul 2009 8:54 PM
Umatilla Joe

Great article Steve. In the pedigrees, Polynesian is the sire of Native Dancer. I don't understand why that is an issue. Also, Sword Dancer and Ribot don't have to have their traits passed on. Look at NijinskiII. He had a differnt phenotype than his sire Northern Dancer. Expression of genes can vary widely. Breed the best to the best, and hope. Do the opposite and sometimes you come up with a Carry Back.  Most ineteresting article Steve.

18 Jul 2009 9:30 PM
Abbie Knowles

God Bless Damascus for getting you interested in horse racing Steve!  I really mean that.  I understand how you feel abut him.  Feel that way about many horses especially Seattle Slew.  Won't bore your bloggers by listing all the others!

It is very late here in England so have not read your column properly but I will.  Have glanced through the comments too but will read them properly later as well!

Keep an eye out for SEA THE STARS!  One very, very special horse!!!!!!!!!!!!

God Bless you

Best wishes


18 Jul 2009 9:40 PM

I am addicted to reading about the greats of yesteryear and thank you for posting this article on the great Damascus.  I remember reading about him and moving on up to his sire Sword Dancer as well.  Great article:)

I wish today's horses were as durable and ran as much as horses such as Damascus, Citation and others and also would run later in life than 3 years old.  I think some of them would improve more as they age.

19 Jul 2009 1:22 AM

I'm another "night reader".  I enjoyed the article on Damascus very much and just have a couple tidbits:  (1) In the Thoroughbred Legends book on Damascus, photo section shows Sword Dancer, SD's sire Sunglow, Kerala and her sire My Babu.  Caption states Damascus more closely resembled My Babu than he did Sword Dancer.  And the photos bear that out.  (2) Those mentioning the book King of the Wind by Marguerite Henry (illustrator Wesley Dennis) should read a recent Derrydale Press book, re-translating The Godolphin Arabian by Eugene Sue; originally published in 1839 and Henry based her best-selling children's book on Sue's story. (3) I have the book Shoemaker: America's Greatest Jockey (and BTW he rode many of Steve Haskin's favorites); in it he says Swaps was "great" and Damascus was "wonderful."  

19 Jul 2009 2:30 AM
Tony Rags

Dr Fager was better! The doctor didn't need any rabbits to beat Damascus. When they went head and head without any rabbits, the doctor proved he was the better horse by pulling away from Damascus. If it weren't for the rabbits, the doctor would've beaten Damascus 4 times. I'm sorry Steve, Dmascus was a great horse, but the doctor was a tad better.

19 Jul 2009 7:23 AM
Steve Haskin

Will W, I wrote a Legends book on Kelso, so I wont be doing a blog on him.

Thanks Sherpa, always glad to see Damascus' names in predigrees. And thank you for the kinds words, that's very nice of you.

19 Jul 2009 5:06 PM
Abbie Knowles

America's greatest jockey is CASH ASMUSSEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Cash is the greatest jockey EVER in my view!!!!!!!

Just watched Tom Watson lose the British Open, with a great deal of sadness.  Not because he lost, there is no dishonour in coming second!  But because he went to pieces. Tragic.  But Tom showed he can treat those two imposters victory and defeat just the same.  With graciousness and charm!  Stewart Cinc is lovely and how wonderful that he has Faith in God and was not afraid to say so.    A worthy winner!

Cheered myself up (because i felt Tom's pain - the greatest golfer of all time in my view then Bernhard Langer, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller (his temperament stopped him staying at the top but he was great all right!), Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Seve (hope he has recovered now!) and then lots of others!) by watching Alan Titchmarsh prsent All the Queen's horses about the British Royal Family.  Well The Queen and Prince Phillip.  Brilliant programme and I got to see my favourite Princess!  (Princess Haya of Jordan who is of course married to my favourite ruler Sheikh Mohammed!  STOP CRITICISING HIM - HE DOES NOTHING BUT GOOD!!!!!)

SEATTLE SLEW RULES OK!  Been watching my DVD of him.  

Watched my video of CIGAR last night.  Not just an American Legend!!!!!!!!!!!

Later I will watch my DARLEY DVD and DUBAI MILLENIUM and try not to cry as I do so because I still miss him!!! And POLISH PRECEDENT!!!!!!

Great article on SEA THE STARS in the Racing Post.  The answer to the Who am I was DAHLIA.  The greatest racemare and broodmare of all time in my completely biased opinion because I have loved her from 1973 and she never let me down.  Horses don't!  Animals don't.  A lot of people don't.  But a lot of people do too!

God Bless

Kind regards


19 Jul 2009 5:18 PM
Abbie Knowles

Hi Steve

i was not accusing you of criticising Sheikh Mohammed but lots of bloggers do!  Lots of people do!  I cannot understand it.  Can you?  

God Bless


19 Jul 2009 7:27 PM
Steve Haskin

Abbie, I have no idea what you are referring to. Criticizing Sheikh Mohammed for what?

19 Jul 2009 8:08 PM
Abbie Knowles

For buying other peoples horses principally.  Oh perhaps they do not do it in the US.  But on Teletext Racing Chat they often criticise Sheikh Mohammed, Godolphin,Frankie Dettori and say that Saaed Bin Suroor cannot train and it makes me really cross!

Also when I feel fragile as now as I had a hellish week last week, as we all do at times!  I overeact.  Although not in this instance!

I was not getting at you!

God Bless

Best wishes


19 Jul 2009 8:34 PM

Gunbow, I know she doesn't rank with Azeri, but one of my personal favorites this decade was Dreaming of Anna. She was the champion 2YO, and yet she was allowed to race on at 3 AND 4. I think she finished out of the money only three times.

19 Jul 2009 11:04 PM

Saratoga AJ:

What I was trying to convey is that if someone or some publication, like the Bloodhorse, ranked Damascus over Native Dancer, I wouldn't be up in arms. However, as I wrote, I have no problem with the current rankings which have Native Dancer 9 spots ahead of Damascus.

I fully respect Native Dancer and understand why so many rate him highly. He was basically perfect on the track, with that notorious head defeat in the Derby his only blemish. Additionally, since I was not alive when he was racing, I never got to experience the "magic" he created for so many fans. All I can do is look at his past performances and tapes of a few of his races; what I am missing is the effect he had on racing and society, and how popular he was. In other words, I wasn't around to experience the "legend" of Native Dancer.

Given this cavaet, and basing my opinions only on the resources I have 50 years after the fact, I see a few holes in his resume that would allow me to accept horses like Damascus, and especially Affirmed and Spectacular Bid, being rated ahead of him. As consistent as Native Dancer was, he was a non-Triple Crown winner that defeated older horses in a stakes race only once, in the 54' Met Mile.  It should be noted that Native Dancer carried 130 lbs in the Met Mile and conceded 13 lbs to the runner-up.  However, the Met Mile was the only stakes race he won carrying 130 lbs or more, and only one other time carried more than 126 lbs to victory, that being the American Derby under 128 lbs. Finally, time-wise, Native Dancer did not post the times of some of the other greats, breaking a track record only one time when he won 6.5 furlong Futurity at Belmont in 1:14 and 2(on a straight). Coinciding with his solid, but not exceptional times, is that Native Dancer was not particularly dominant in the biggest races of his career, losing the Derby, then winning both the Preakness and Belmont by only a neck, before taking the aforementioned Met Mile by a neck. A typical Native Dancer performance was to settle early, and then sweep to the lead in the stretch before drawing off to a comfortable 2 length win in respectable but not exceptional time. Significantly, Native Dancer was never a sole Horse of the Year, losing the award at age 3 to the older horse Tom Fool(the two horses never met), while sharing the award with One Count at 2 and with Dedicate at 4(when he made only 3 starts and won only one stakes).

Clearly, I am nit-picking, and being overly critical. Native Dancer was an obviously great horse and I am not seeking to refute this. However, as I stated in the discussion of Damascus, when we talk about the 10 best horses EVER, the differences are so small, and so much of it is subjective. With such little separating many of these wonderful horses, the fact that Native Dancer did not win the Triple Crown yet defeated older horses only once in a stakes race, really didnt carry weight(Skip Away's resume is actually more impressive in this regard), and set few speed records should factor into any all-time rankings list. Again, this is not to say that I think the Bloodhorse got it wrong by ranking him #7, but I could understand those who would choose to rank him lower, perhaps even below a horse like Damascus. I must repeat though, that my analysis is lacking the "being there" factor and how Native Dancer was able to captivate the nation. It seems like that for those that either saw Native Dancer in person or on t.v., he is revered as much as any horse; perhaps, Native Dancer is just one of those horses you had to see to get the full magnitude of his greatness.

20 Jul 2009 2:01 AM

Hey Steve, I think you should write a blog on the only man to breed a Hall of Fame racehorse and that horse's jockey! ;-)

20 Jul 2009 6:52 AM


Can you say...Peter Fuller.

You could also have added: and is the ony person to have had a Kentucky Derby winner disqualified three days after his horse won the race.

20 Jul 2009 10:15 AM


I read your post and loved it.  If I could offer a couple of points regarding your “horse of the moment” question about Native Dancer:

• He was one of the first thoroughbreds to capture a national TV audience…the Gotham.

• Apparently after this race he became ‘our first nationally watched TV horse or hero’ as one writer stated.  And back in those days, given the differences in the times, that would take on more significance then today.

• The entire country was aware of his Triple Crown run, following him much in the same way as they did Seabiscuit, albeit for different reasons.

• Made the cover of TIME Magazine in 1954…a huge honor back then.

You also didn’t mention the fact that he carried 137 lbs. in the Oneonta Hdc., his last race….winning it by 9-lengths on a sloppy track.

Some of the strong facts about Native Dancer:

• His remarkable consistency.

• The way he came back after a very long layoff and continued winning.

• It is also worthy to note that in many of his races he didn’t win by much, but the chart callers were impressed nonetheless by listing their comments as: ‘drew out easily’, ‘in hand’ and ‘much the best’.

• His first race he was 7-5.  After that he was never greater than even money again.

Was he better than Damascus?  Once again we’re talking about different era’s.  I think they were both remarkable and would have been stars in any era.

20 Jul 2009 11:34 AM

Steve, Thank You.. for this wonderful story......it is GREAT......

20 Jul 2009 11:36 AM

Let's not forget the great gelding Exterminator,  one of my all time faves!

The following is a quote by Willie Knapp, Exterminator's jockey and who rode "Upset" to victory over the great "Man O'War"...

"Willie Knapp became an instant fan of the tall chestnut gelding. Many years later he said of the champion: "When he was at his best, Exterminator could have beaten Man o' War or Citation or Kelso or any other horse that ever lived on any tralck doing anything."

Also, let's examine  the weight issue..."Exterminator's best season was as a seven-year-old in 1922. He won 10 of his 17 starts, carrying an average weight of 133 pounds and a high of 140."

Today, this feat would be impossible or very unlikely achieved. What indeed has happened to our "iron horse"?

One more question...

Will we ever see another Triple Crown Champion in our lifetime or a horse that can "do it all?"....Just food for thought.

20 Jul 2009 11:36 AM

LAZMANNICK, well, I was trying to phrase it as to not immediately give away the horse's name, which actually you didn't mention and therein lies the problem, the story would be about the great, wonderful and deserving mare "Mom's Command" and her regular jockey, but as you immediately responded, there would be too many that focused only on DI's disqualification and not the wonderful mare of later years. What was I thinking?

20 Jul 2009 12:49 PM
Saratoga AJ

Gun Bow,

i was only 5-7 when the Dancer ran. i just go by what I've read and seen. It was a known fact that ND was a "lazyish" runner...and only ran as hard as he had to to win, and tried to pull himself up once on the lead. But on the other hand, I hear his stride was one of the longest ever recorded...and the equal to Man'O'War's legendary stride.

And again, there is no doubt he was probably the most influential sire of the second half of the 20th Century.  

He certainly belongs in the list of greatest of all time...but it's a very tough task in deed to rate horses from different eras.

But oh that head in the '53 Derby.


20 Jul 2009 1:12 PM


Sorry...you're right, Mom's Command probably won't get the attention and respect she deserves....she never really did.  She was a much more acomplished filly in her element than Dancer's Image was in his although he did beat a pretty good horse in Iron Ruler who in turn would beat Captain's Gig and Dewan and finish placed ahead of the likes of TV Commercial and Subpet.  D.I. also beat Verbatim, a Phipps horse I believe and the sire of a good horse who raced recently called Summing.

20 Jul 2009 1:26 PM
Abbie Knowles

All the racehorses you all mention are great in their own right.  We all have our personal favourites and that is right and proper!

20 Jul 2009 1:49 PM

LAZMANNICK: ...and grandsire of Northern Dancer!

Also, didn't they call Native Dancer one of the first great fan favourites because he was grey and you could see him on TV?

And da2hoss: I wanted to say "Mom's Command" but I figured that everyone would know Abby Fuller and Peter Fuller.  And I still am upset about Forward Pass.  Thank Gawd he didn't win the Belmont -- it would have meant the first (and hopefully, the last ) asterisked Triple Crown.

Dancer's Image was.

20 Jul 2009 2:31 PM


I wanted to keep my comments about Native Dancer confined to his races and not to his extraordinary ability and influence as a sire.

Northern Dancer is without question my favorite race horse, if it is possible to have a favorite.  Northern Dancer was unwanted at auction, was one of the meanner horses that ever lived and was very small, but he had the biggest heart.  Without Native Dancer and Northern Dancer, I wonder what the industry would be like today.

20 Jul 2009 2:59 PM
Saratoga AJ


Northern Dancer was a grandson of Native Dancer...by way of his mother Natalma. So without Native there would be no Northern! :)

20 Jul 2009 6:24 PM



21 Jul 2009 5:09 PM

Gun Bow:  As to Native Dancer, I appreciate that you didn't dimiss him although he obviously isn't real high on your list.  He is my all time favorite and I have researched him extensively even though I was not alive to see him.

All:   I would just like to add a little even though I could go on all day about how incredible he was.  First, it was a WORLD record he equalled as a 2 year old in a race it didn't appear he had a shot to win as he was trapped behind horses til near the end-one of the few times he actually had to really run - and he had just raced 5 DAYS prior to that. As a 2 year old in the month of August 1952 he raced 4 TIMES-all stakes- which was something that had not been done before, followed by the above two races in September.  His first race at 3 was the Gotham which was 2 WEEKS before the Derby.  He then ran in the Wood the following week and the Kentucky Derby the week after that for his THIRD CONSECUTIVE WEEK of racing. He then had 2 WEEKS to the Withers and then ran in the Preakness the FOLLOWING WEEK.  Finally he had a 3 week "break" to the Belmont.  If you calculate that out - he ran in 6 top races in a 9 WEEK period. Now that is incredible!  And to think if it hadn't been for the terrible trip he had and the ride, he would have won them ALL-just one more stride was all he needed! Maybe running 3 weeks in a row up to the Derby wasn't exactly the best plan either!  LOL!  I imagine his smaller winning margins in the Preakness and Belmont were because he was tired - that really shouldn't be held against him since he did make sure to win.  After the Belmont he raced again 3 WEEKS later then TWO WEEKS after that, then got a month break to the Travers then finished his season with a race 1 WEEK after that. For that season he ran 10 times in a 4 month period in all the top races of the day! His trainer said he had blazing speed but was trained to be a stretch runner and his jockey reported he liked to pull himself up after making the lead - maybe it made it more exciting..?  They said he was extremely intelligent!

His Met Mile was considered by those in the know who saw it, to be one of the most exciting races ever!  According to my 1954 American Racing Manuel - he did not share HOTY honors at 4 - only at 2 due to the prejudice at the time of one voting group against choosing two year olds as HOTY.

For the record also - his stride was 29 feet - longer than Man O' War's. And yes, people first took notice of him due to his color but then were captivated by him and his amazing performances!  And just think what he may have done if he wasn't so badly managed....!

Saratoga AJ: did you ever actually see him race that you remember?

Sorry Steve - I usually try not to stray from the topic but I really wanted to get this info out there!

26 Jul 2009 12:46 AM

Mr. Haskins do you think you could find enough info about Forli to develop a story. He was the west coast answer to the eastern stars of his era and stopped over in Chicago on his way east. Unfortunately, as I attested before to a bad ride he never made it. However he was the sire of the great Forego and many useful others. His name can be found in Nuryeve and other foundation stallions. Forli was the sire of Forego, Intrepid Hero, Forceten, Thatch - Champion two year old in Ireland-, Home Guard, Formidable,& Gay Fandango. I would appreciate it as well as I am sure many westerners also.

Also if it is possible for you to email me, I will send a very interesting program for the day of the National Thoroubred Championship in 1975 at Santa Anita. There were notable horses racing on that day and some maidens that I think you would find interesting.

10 Aug 2009 3:00 AM

THANK YOU STEVE for not only the article but stating what I've always felt-Damascus is so totally underated! Another is Whirlaway.

02 Oct 2009 4:43 AM
Ron Wasserman

I was fortunate enough to see both Damascus and Dr. Fager at various times throughout their careers.  Unquestionably, Dr. Fager was the best horse I ever saw (and I have seen every major player since Swaps).  I truly believe that at the end of 1968, 'Fager was unbeatable---he had learned to relax and unleash a run at any time, regardless of weight, rabbit, opposition or distance.  He had a bad knee and considering the 139 lb. impost given to 'Fager for his final race (the 1968 Vosburgh), there was no point in racing the Good Doctor into 1969.

 As years has passed, I have realized that Damascus, while not the equal of 'Fager, was one of the all-time greats as well.  Damascus and Buckpasser each possessed devasating runs, the likes of which maybe only Forego and Kelso had.  I saw Buckpasser win the Malibu at SA when he uncorked a scintillating final 1/8 to get up over Drin.  Buckpasser was definitely a lazy sort, never wanting to do much in the a.m., and doing only what he had to do in the afternoon.  But when Baeza asked him for his run, wow!  Buckpasser was arguably as fast a finisher as any horse---except perhaps Damascus---who ever lived.

 Funny thing about Damascus:  he had that powerful move, but if he didn't get by his opposition, he would so often get beat a nose.  I saw him pull this stunt in the 1968 Woodward when Mr. Right hung a nose on him at Belmont.  The Whiteley runner failed to get past Fort Marcy in the International, lost to the allowance runner Exceedingly at Delaware, lost to Most Host (in the deep mud at SA) in the Strub and couldn't handle Nodouble in Michigan.

 Yet, he fired huge every time, regardless of surface conditions, regardless of weight or the opposition.  

 That was when thoroughbred racing was really something.  The greats carried weight, raced on all tracks, on all surfaces, and would race as frequently as necessary.  Thoroughbreds had a toughness to them, something lost in the breed, I suppose, through the years.  Ta Wee carried 140 and beat the boys; Shuvee won the JCGC when it was two miles, and did it back-to-back years!  Forego packed 137 lbs. and spotted weight repeatedly.  And Kelso?  He was probably the best distance runner this country has ever seen.

 Most of all, watching the greats compete back then was a treasure, a real treasure.  

15 Nov 2009 4:33 AM
Damascus' Grandson

Dear Steve,What a great piece of writing! I have adopted a 23-yr-old Damascus grandson named Mr. J.H.D. (barn name Ben). His race record was nothing like his grandaddy. He ended up at a rescue in Maryland, where I got him for $35. I love learning about Ben's legacy and wondering what parts of Damascus live on in him. He is smart, beautiful, sound, passionate and sensitive, but I guess not very fast!

  Thank you for telling such great stories about racing. The humans might stink, but the horses are so heroic and brilliant, and they deserve to be honored.

19 Oct 2010 10:04 PM
Beau Gar

Damascus is most definitely in my top 5 of all time.I have been watching thoroughbred racing avidly for the past 55 years. My top 5 of all time are Dr. Fager,Damascus,Kelso,Buckpasser,and Secretariat.

24 Mar 2014 10:30 PM
Beau Gar

Ezgoer1  Easy Goer was a very special thoroughbred,but not in the same class as Dr. Fager and Damascus.

24 Mar 2014 10:33 PM

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