Sheba, Joe, and J P

I can remember the image like it was yesterday. And why not? I saw it enough times. The handsome bay colt, his regally arched neck so low you could swear he was looking between his legs. And those strides: smooth and effortless, always reaching out for more ground. Before the term “in the zone” became popular, Alysheba was in the zone every day of his racing life. When he moved, he was sheer poetry, like a Richard Stone Reeves painting come to life. When he broke off into a gallop and began arching that neck he captured the essence of the Thoroughbred in motion in all its beauty and grandeur.

On his back, in perfect harmony with the magnificent steed beneath him, was 38-year-old Joe Petalino, the right-hand man of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg. Petalino, on the surface, was the quiet type, with not a heck of a lot to say. He left the verbal tapestry to Van Berg, who had a bag full of aphorisms about every aspect of life, and applied almost every one of them to racing. Van Berg was the first person I ever heard use the expression “Time only matters when you’re in jail.” He used it when the media virtually dismissed Alysheba’s chances in the Preakness after he breezed a half in a “slow” :50 2/5 at Pimlico. Now, many Derby winners don’t even have a work between the Derby and Preakness.

All I can remember about Petalino was the way he fit Alysheba like a glove. He had the look of a horseman, and was the type of no-nonsense person that could move up the ranks in the widespread Van Berg operation, which encompassed racetracks all over the nation and opened the door for megatrainers like Lukas and Pletcher and Asmussen.  

It came as no surprise when Petalino turned to training. But that seems like ages ago. His name would occasionally pop up over the years. But now after all this time here he is with a newly acquired gift named J P’s Gusto, who has already taken the first step toward the Run for the Roses and Petalino’s first trip to the Derby since that unforgettable day in 1987 when Alysheba virtually picked himself off the ground, averting disaster, and moved his big, burly, hard-nosed trainer to tears.

I hope J P’s Gusto makes it to the Derby, just so I can catch a few moments with Petalino and talk about Alysheba, who in my mind is one of the three most underrated horses of all time. You won’t find him on anyone’s list of greatest horses, and many of the younger generation know him mostly as the old warrior who returned to his homeland from Saudi Arabia only to pass away shortly after taking up residence at the Kentucky Horse Park. But as someone who has seen the greatest horses of the last half-century, I can say with conviction that Alysheba belongs with the best of them.

We’re all aware of Alysheba’s Kentucky Derby heroics and his powerful Preakness victory over Bet Twice, his narrow defeat in the epic Haskell to Bet Twice over his rival’s home track, his victory in the Super Derby, and later that year coming up just a nose short of catching the previous year’s Derby winner Ferdinand in the Breeders’ Cup Classic over Ferdinand’s home track.

But I’m not sure most people realize what a extraordinary year he had as a 4-year-old; one of the greatest I’ve ever seen. But we’ll get to that later.

When he won the Derby everyone marveled at his remarkable athleticism recovering from a near-catastrophic fall after being interfered with by Bet Twice shortly after turning for home, but his time of 2:03 2/5 convinced many of the experts that this was a less-than-stellar crop of 3-year-olds. By the end of the year, however, it was regarded as one of the strongest and deepest crops in many years, with Alysheba, Bet Twice, Lost Code, Java Gold, Gulch, Cryptoclearance, Gone West, Polish Navy, Demons Begone, and Afleet.

I’ll never forget setting up an interview with Van Berg at Belmont after the Preakness for a feature story. I felt a little intimidated interviewing the legendary trainer, who was known for his gruff exterior and speaking his mind. I was met at the stable gate by Don Alvey, better known as Hee Haw, who did just about everything for Van Berg. The first thing Van Berg said to me was, “Let’s go across the street and have breakfast.” It wasn’t the greatest place to conduct an interview, but I liked the personal setting, and sitting in a diner allowed Van Berg to open up a bit more. As strange as it may seem, the one thing he said to me that made me feel comfortable was, “Steve, now if you misquote me I’ll never speak to you again.” I actually was flattered that he had entrusted me to tell his life story correctly and that the article was important enough to him to add that comment. Most trainers would never be that direct.

Back then, Lasix was not allowed in New York, and Alysheba would have to run without the diuretic for the first time. Other than that question mark, most believed Alysheba, with his running style and being by Alydar, would have no trouble becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed. In addition, he would collect a $5 million bonus given to any horse who swept the Triple Crown. Even if he lost, he only needed only to finish third to collect the $1 million bonus for accruing the most points in all three races.

Alysheba’s jockey, Chris McCarron, got him in trouble early in the race, and although Alysheba was not going to beat Bet Twice, who won by a staggering 14 1/4 lengths, he didn’t even win the $1 million bonus, getting nipped by a neck in the final strides for third by Gulch, who was a nose behind runner-up Cryptoclearance. Back at the barn, a dejected Van Berg and crew could only try to figure out what happened. When McCarron drove up and got out of his car, he looked like Daniel about to enter the lion’s den, not knowing the extent of Van Berg’s wrath he would incur. As he sheepishly walked over, Van Berg yelled over to him, “There’s my boy.” A seemingly stunned McCarron replied, “Am I still your boy?” When Van Berg put his arm around him and reassured him everything was fine, McCarron knew he still was Van Berg’s boy. For the next year and a half McCarron and Alysheba would pave their path to greatness and eventual induction into racing’s Hall of Fame.

I can remember those days of Alysheba, Van Berg, Petalino, Alvey, and McCarron as if it were yesterday.

I asked Alvey recently what he remembered most about Alysheba and Petalino. “Joe was very quiet and basically let ‘Sheba do his own thing,” he recalled. “They would walk down to the track to about the finish line where all the stable ponies were waiting and Sheba would back up to the fence and actually set on it. He would stay there for some 10 to 15 minutes before Sheba was ready to go. Joe said many times that he was just a passenger, as Sheba did everything in his own time. They were quite a couple, both doing things in Sheba’s own time.

“When we left Louisville after the Derby, Joe and I knew each other but we weren’t close friends at that time; we were all just a sidebar to Sheba’s date with destiny. Both of us, along with Jack, were merely passengers. The loss in the Belmont was hard on us all. Joe and I became close friends during those three weeks, and still are to this day. Joe was always a top horseman and became a better one working for Jack.”

To give you an idea just what an amazing year Alysheba had as a 4-year-old, he put together a nine-month campaign unprecedented in the modern era, with arguably the greatest final four races anyone has ever seen. After winning the grade I Charles H. Strub Stakes on Feb. 7, beating Candi’s Gold by three lengths, he got his revenge on Ferdinand, defeating the defending Horse of the Year in nail-biting finishes in the Santa Anita Handicap and San Bernardino Handicap, both times outdueling Ferdinand the length of the stretch. Those races may have taken their toll on him, as he returned east and finished fourth behind Bet Twice, Lost Code, and Cryptoclearance as the highweight in the Pimlico Special before heading back to California and running into a buzzsaw named Cutlass Reality in the Hollywood Gold Cup, finishing second by 6 1/2 lengths in 1:59 2/5, while giving him 10 pounds

That’s when Van Berg decided to remove the blinkers and let the world see Alysheba in all his majesty in the grade I Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth, the home of Bet Twice and scene of the previous year’s unforgettable Haskell.

Watching Alysheba work one morning, I could only marvel at what a thing of beauty he was. Instead of having McCarron work the colt, Van Berg called on the services of apprentice rider Kelly O’Hara, who had ridden for Van Berg before and had just moved her tack to Monmouth. She was on cloud nine getting an opportunity to ride a horse like Alysheba.

“I’m trying to get to know a lot of the New Jersey trainers and here I am on Alysheba,” she said. “How many trainers would do that for you?”

O’Hara admittedly felt nervous as she prepared to mount up. She could hope “nothing went wrong in front of all these people.”

But Van Berg made it easy for her. He told her not to move on him at any point. When she was ready to set him down just say to him, “Go get ‘em papa;” those exact words. Sheba would do the rest. He also told her not to pull him up after the work. This time she was to say, “Easy papa, we’re all done.”

O’Hara followed instructions and was amazed at the response each time. “As it turned out, there was a horse about an eighth of a mile ahead of me,” she said after the work. “I said, ‘Go get ‘em papa,’ and this sonofagun just opened up. After the work, I said, ‘Easy papa, we’re all done,’ and he came right back to me. This horse is so smart it’s scary. He has so much class and is like a cat out there. It doesn’t even feel like he hits the ground.”

Alysheba and Bet Twice had built up quite a rivalry over the past two years. Van Berg and Jimmy Croll, trainer of Bet Twice, both were convinced the two colts knew each other.

“When we were at Pimlico this year, Alysheba was stabled on the backside of our barn,” Croll said prior to the Iselin. “Jack was walking him one morning, and when he saw Bet Twice they both started hollering at each other, and they didn’t do it to any other horse.”

Van Berg added, “They did it every morning. They just started nickering like the devil. No other horse in the barn did they holler at.”

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

In the 1 1/8-mile Iselin, the two hooked up again. Bet Twice opened up a 2 1/2-length lead at the eighth pole, but the unblinkered Alysheba took one look at those familiar orange silks ahead of him and put it in another gear. He was relentless as he came charging after Bet Twice, chopping into his lead with every stride. He caught his rival with 50 yards to go and went on to a three-quarter-length victory in a sharp 1:47 4/5.

After the race, emotions soared. Aylsheba’s owner Clarence Scharbauer was so choked up he was unable to finish a sentence. With his voice quavering, he said, “He’s got more guts and heart than anything I ever saw, he’s…” That was all he could get out. Scharbauer and Van Berg also were thrilled to see Alysheba win without Lasix. Although it was allowed in New Jersey, Van Berg had something to prove and ran the colt without it.

After the Iselin, Alysheba put together a string of 1 1/4-mile victories that elevated him into the realm of the all-time greats. Only three weeks after the Iselin, Alysheba went to Belmont Park and in another epic finish, he gutted out a victory in the Woodward Stakes, beating a game and tenacious Forty Niner by a neck in 1:59 2/5, breaking Silver Buck’s track record, set in 1982 carrying 15 pounds less than Alysheba carried. Finishing behind them were the top-class horses Waquoit, Personal Flag, Cryptoclearance, and Brian’s Time.

It was then on to Meadowlands for the Meadowlands Cup. With only five horses entered, the come-from-behind Alysheba would have his work cut out for him. Not only would he have to face Bet Twice and Cryptoclearance again, carrying topweight of 127 pounds and giving four pounds to Bet Twice and eight pounds to Cryptoclearance, he would have to contend with D. Wayne Lukas’ quick-footed Slew City Slew, who was the only speed on a notoriously speed-favoring track, and give him 11 pounds.

Slew City Slew opened a four-length lead, with Alysheba some seven lengths back. Alysheba made a big move on the turn to pull right up to Slew City Slew, who still had a lot left in the tank. He dug in and fought Alysheba every step of the way. But Alysheba, who had not lost a street fight all year, was tenacious, winning by a neck. Not only did they finish nearly seven lengths ahead of third-place finisher, longshot Pleasant Virginian, but Alysheba once again broke the track record, scorching the 10 furlongs in 1:58 4/5, shattering the old mark by a full second and three-fifths.

He became the only horse, along with Round Table, to break 2:00 for 1 1/4 miles three times in a single year. While Round Table ran 1:59 4/5 all three times, Alysheba won his three races in 1:59 4/5, 1:59 2/5, and 1:58 4/5, a feat not likely to be duplicated.

Alysheba concluded his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic and needed a victory to take Horse of the Year honors away from Personal Ensign, who several races earlier had capped off her unbeaten career with a dramatic victory over Winning Colors in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Alysheba not only had to defeat arguably the deepest and most talented Classic field ever assembled, with Forty Niner, Seeking the Gold, Waquoit, Cryptoclearance, Slew City Slew, Cutlass Reality, and Personal Flag, he would have to do it in the mud, a surface he had already proven in the Travers he didn’t care for.

Turning for home under darkening skies, there were five of them across the track, with Alysheba getting a short lead; Waquoit, coming off a 15-length romp in the Jockey Club Gold Cup in the slop, hanging right there with him; and Seeking the Gold charging up on the outside. Seeking the Gold appeared to stick his head in front inside the eighth pole, but Alysheba, for the third straight time, dug in when challenged and regained the lead, easing clear to win by a half-length. As he crossed the finish line, race caller Tom Durkin proclaimed him “America’s Horse.”

Alysheba had won seven of his nine starts at 4, including five grade I victories at a mile and a quarter, giving him a remarkable seven grade I wins at 10 furlongs in his career and missing by a nose in another. As a 4-year-old alone, he defeated 12 grade I winners.

During his career he finished first or second at 11 different racetracks in seven different states across the country – New York, New Jersey, California, Kentucky, Maryland, Louisiana, and Illinois.

Following Alysheba’s retirement, he was given a farewell at Churchill Downs, the scene of his Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Classic triumphs. On a cold, gray afternoon, Alysheba was paraded on the track. As soon as he heard the cheers from the crowd he arched his neck and broke off into another of his magnificent gallops, then strutted majestically off the track for the final time.

Alysheba’s return to his birthplace in Oct. 2008 after spending eight years in Saudi Arabia, was a joyous occasion, rekindling a kaleidoscope of memories. But five months later, at age 25, he was severely injured after falling in his stall. Unable to get up and suffering from a degenerative spinal condition, he had to be euthanized at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

How ironic that the horse who saved himself and all those behind him from possible serious injury or death after almost falling in the Kentucky Derby would end up dying after falling in his stall.

As memories of Alysheba continue to flash before my eyes, I can only hope that Joe Petalino makes it to the Derby with J P’s Gusto – for himself and for Jack Van Berg, and most of all to tell stories of Alysheba and restore the legacy of one of the truly great and underrated horses of our time.


Leave a Comment:


Lovely remembrance, Steve. I've forwarded on to his Saudi Arabian connections.

12 Mar 2011 9:19 PM

Thank you, Steve, for so honoring us by sharing your memories of the magnificent Alysheba.

12 Mar 2011 10:15 PM


As always, a great story that brought back a lot of memories!

Joe's a great guy, and he became a good friend over the two years I spent covering Alysheba...

12 Mar 2011 10:37 PM

Steve, I have always loved Alysheba and wrote to Mr. Van Berg about my admiration for the big horse. About a month later, I recieved in the mail, an signed, official winners photo of Alysheba in the winners circle at the Derby. It is, by far, my most prized piece of racing memorabilia that I have.Years later I got Chris to sign it and he asked my how I got it. When I told him how Mr. Van Berg had sent it to me, he said with a smile, "That's Jack for you!"

Thanks for another great article.

12 Mar 2011 10:50 PM

Hands down, Alysheba was my favorite. I watched his Derby on TV, amazed that he did not fall and cried like he was my own when he won the race. After that, I followed his races on TV whenever they were shown. What I remember most about the Meadowlands Cup was the way he stood on the track before the race, Chris McCarron sitting quietly on his back, as if he were surveying his kingdom. He was. It was sad that he didn't have a great stud career. At least his Arabic owner liked him and allowed him to return; I watched the news, checked from time to time to see where he was, afraid he'd end up like Ferdinand. Maybe Ferdinand's loss kept him safe, allowing him, in the end, to come home.I'd planned to visit him at Kentucky Horse Park, but didn't make it in time. The closest I ever came was getting to see one of his sons in the stables at Keeneland. His groom had said he was a nasty horse, that she hated dealing with "Alyshebas" because they bit. Well,I told him I loved his daddy. He didn't bite me. Didn't even try. Maybe he understood.

12 Mar 2011 10:51 PM

Wow, Steve, you made me cry - again.  But I'm saying thank you because these tears mean that I've learned something about a wonderful horse that I missed out on and in my small way, loved him also.  When he came home from Saudi Arabia I was so anxious to see him and hoping I would get to make another trip to the Kentucky Horse Park soon, then he was gone.  Thank you for bringing back his memory with your eloquent story telling.  You are the best.

12 Mar 2011 10:55 PM

Alysheba absolutely deserves to be named one of the truly great racehorses of our time! True champions pick themselves up like he did in the Derby. They go on to accomplish all he did on the track. True champions KNOW they are champions and they let US know who they are by that arch in the neck and look in the eye. Alysheba is certainly on my short list of all-time greats. I wish Mr. Petalino great success with JP's Gusto! Excellent words, Mr. Haskin!

12 Mar 2011 10:59 PM

Just a sensational story Steve.  Alysheba was always one of my favorites and Tom Durkins’ call…..America’s Horse, was one of my most memorable in all the Breeders cup races.  The most memorable, oddly enough, was the year before when Alysheba just missed the BCC when losing by a nose to Ferdinand.  I’ll always remember Tom’s emotional stretch call and finishing it off with…..and the two Derby winners hit the wire together.  My connection with Alysheba went back to the 70’s when his half brother, Port Master, (Raise a Native – Bel Sheba) was owned by the Stafford Farms and was one of the better stakes horses on the Woodbine circuit.  I also thought that the 1987 BCC that Alysheba lost by a nose to Ferdinand was the strongest BCC field ever, but now when reading your article, man that 1988 field was very strong also.  I wonder what his Beyers would have been, but of course, maybe it’s best that we don’t know.

12 Mar 2011 11:06 PM
Linda in Texas

Steve, i will admit i was delighted when Alysheba was taken off the van and into his stall upon his return from Saudi Arabia. What a regal looking specimen he was even at 25, he just had a certain look that you know he knew he was special.

But in such a short time that delight turned so quickly to sadness when it was written that he had been euthanized,to me the most despised word in the English Language. Next to the 's' word for those unlucky enough to not have someone give them a forever home.

What a memory you have, and as i try and tell you thank you for a sweet story about a great big beautiful creature and those who loved him, i am choked up again.

At least Alysheba died on American soil, the very soil that he raced on in so many races and states. Tough does not begin to explain his constitution. That was born within him.

I have often wanted to ask on your blogs if jockeys or the daily riders of the thoroughbreds whisper in their ears during training? That question has been answered by Mr. Van Berg's own admission to Kelly O'Hara when she rode Alysheba when he told her to tell him "Go get'em papa" and he  sure did. That is a great story.

Thanks for the memories Steve, you did Alysheba proud. I had his picture enlarged, the one someone took as he off loaded the van on his return. He looked regal and splendid and you gave him all the due he had earned with your lovely memories of him.

I just wondered why they did not send Alysheba home sooner, long before he was 25.

So Good Luck Mr. Petalino with J P's Gusto. I will be cheering for you both and thinking about Alysheba.

And thank you Steve. You tell a story as no other and they end way too soon. Reading this means more for some reason especially after the races today, where some we wanted to win didn't and some who weren't supposed to win did. I love and respect all of them, every single one and they all run in the shadows of those who have gone before them of which Alysheba was one.

12 Mar 2011 11:23 PM
Mike Relva


Bravo. Had the pleasure to see him for the first time about a month before he passed away. It was heart breaking,I hoped to have the chance to visit him at the Horse Park for a few years to come,wasn't to be.

12 Mar 2011 11:49 PM

Thank you Steve - what an awesome article. Alysheba is without a doubt my favorite and you nailed it when you said he was consistently underrated. He gave me chills when I watched him close for third in the Breeders Cup Juvenile and I knew at that moment I was looking at the future Derby winner. The intelligence and fortitude in 'Sheba is unmatched.

12 Mar 2011 11:57 PM
Murray Johnson

I remember it like yesterday, sitting in the clocker's box at Hollywood Park when Jack would work Alyseba. Everyone would watch even if their horses were done working, Charlie, Bobby F, John Gosden and Gary Jones among other. This was when horses trained for races, Alyseba would work 1 1/8 mile, once around Hollywood Park in company. But no horse could work with him so Jack would have 3 horses work with him. One for the first 3/8th then another would be waiting on the backside to work the middle 3/8th and then a third horse would join in for the last 3/8th. The time would be 1:49 or even a tick quicker and then he would go win a grade 1 in maybe a second faster than the work. Everyone loved Jack and Alyseba as everyone loved Ferdinand and Charlie, it was all great! The good old days!

13 Mar 2011 12:09 AM

Alysheba was storybook.  And JP Gusto will be storybook too.  Very gutsy, honest horse.

13 Mar 2011 12:18 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

Outstanding. I like the regal looking ones most of all. "I'm the king and I'm just about to show you paupers how to run." Tremendous career. One of the best. Thanks for helping us to remember. What did you and Jack Van Berg eat for breakfast?

13 Mar 2011 12:33 AM

You know I am not even anything close to an equine expert but I often drop by this site because of my love for horses. And I aways enjoy reading your articles Mr.Haskle.  When I was a child I was raised by my Granparents who knew everything about every great racehorse of our time and shared many incredible stories with me. Including the great Alysheba. I remember him very well and recall  watching his spectacular races with them. I Loved him then and love him now. He was a terrific horse.

13 Mar 2011 1:13 AM

Another poignant remembrance. Thank you.

You wrote that Alysheba "in my mind is one of the three most underrated horses of all time." Can you share the names of the other two horses?

13 Mar 2011 3:26 AM
Derby Dew

Steve, as Horseracing's most eloquent wordsmith, you have brought back a flood of memories for me of the great Alysheba.  He remains one of my all time favorites and rewarded me with my biggest score ever in the Derby.

Alysheba had the heart of a lion and put on a thrilling show every time he ran.  Thankfully, I got a chance to visit him a month before he passed away at the Kentucky Horse Park.  He had that keen eye which revealed his very intelligent mind.  Like his many fans, I was heartbroken to hear of his stall accident, yet, took solace in the fact that before his death he seemed so happy to be back home in Kentucky.

Alysheba will always be a horse for the ages.  He kept company with, and beat, the best of his era.

My only regret is that his great Hall of Fame trainer, Jack Van Berg seems to have faded into near oblivian.  Can't understand why he was never given any good quality horses after Alysheba.

I hope Joe Petalino gets J P Gusto

to the Derby.  He's paid his dues and deserves a shot, for Alysheba's sake.

13 Mar 2011 7:18 AM

We did see some great horses in our day, hey Steve? Especially you, up close, you're blessed and we reap the bounty of your great writing, those of us reliving the adventure and the younger ones feeling like they were there!

It was a joy to watch the rivalries, the power, the heart...all without nasty rhetoric and trashing the horses that weren't your favorites...that's what I miss the most...the respect.

Watching Always a Princess fall to the ground in exhaustion, probably severely dehydrated, running because her Thoroughbred heart was being asked to run, so she gave it her all...well, no horse should ever be trashed for running the best it knows how with the talent it inherited & not winning....that's what I hate...the trashing of the horses.

13 Mar 2011 7:20 AM

Wonderful article, Steve.  I'm sad that it was back in the days when I was living in New Mexico and we didn't have TVG or HRTV and the Albuquerque papers rarely covered horse racing.  Of course, I knew about Alysheba during the Triple Crown, but nothing much about him afterward. What a SUPER horse he was and for his connections, I, too hope JP's Gusto makes it to the end.  Thank you for a trip down memory lane!!!

13 Mar 2011 7:52 AM

Wonderful story, Steve.  Forty Niner is one of my 2 or 3 all-time faves, with Alysheba not far behind, and I've always thought that 1988 was one of the best years for racing in a long time, with great crops of both 3- and 4-year olds.  Neither of those two ever got the credit they deserved.

13 Mar 2011 8:32 AM

"AND ALYSHEBA - AMERICA'S HORSE - HAS DONE IT!"  That brilliant call of Durkin's is seared forever in my memory!  I was fourteen when 'Sheba won the Derby, and he was my first serious crush.  I lived in New York back then, and certainly remember all the trash that was written about him.  Other than the '88 Classic my favorite race of his was the Woodward.  There was such good old fashioned East Coast snobbery back then. Back came Alysheba to avenge his Belmont Stakes debacle...  This time without his blinkers OR his Lasix - and he smoked 'em! Of course the Classic, his masterpiece in near darkness, was unparelled for drama, even now in my opinion.  With the wonderful Personal Ensign soaring to immortality just a few races earlier, 'Sheba truly had to deliver a tour de force in the Classic...  And oh, how he did!

Steve, thanks for your marvelous tribute to this great horse, truly one of the last of racing's great road warriors.  Alysheba was such a handsome, charismatic superstar...  I really enjoyed your piece.  It brought me right back to my youth - and right into the shedrow with one of my all time favorite horses.  Thank you!

13 Mar 2011 9:13 AM
Connie Saratoga

THanks for another great Story and reminding us of Alysheba's greatness.

13 Mar 2011 9:33 AM

Oh what a racehorse, just like his daddy Alydar whom I loved with all my heart so you know thaat I would follow his sons and daughters to the bitter end.  When I first saw Alysheba I thought it was a reincarnation of his daddy and loved him as I did his dad.  So happoy that he made his dad so proud of his accomplishmens and I shall never forget either one of them.

13 Mar 2011 9:35 AM
Shelby's Best Pal

Thank you for this beautiful remembrance of a great, great champion. Your writing is a pleasure to read. I treasure my Alysheba Collector's plate that was a giveaway some years back at Santa Anita.

13 Mar 2011 9:36 AM
Blue Blue Sea

Thank you for such a moving and beautiful tribute to this amazing horse!

13 Mar 2011 9:56 AM
Scott's Cause

Looking thru the rafters the other day, I stumbled upon some old DRF forms/programs.  In one of the pages an 8x10 glossy of Alysheba came to my attention.  I took the picture during a post parade at Santa Anita, before some big race.  What a stud, back arched, majestic and true.  Perfect...

13 Mar 2011 10:23 AM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, everyone for your kind words. I enjoy writing about horses of the past and sharing my experiences wtith them. All those great, memorable moments go to waste locked up in my brain. They should be shared.

RGGC, that does sound like Jack. He still gets emotional talking about Alysheba.

Murray, Jack and Charlie had a great relationship. My favorite line when they were together one morning was when Charlie said, "People say Jack isn't fit to sleep with the hogs. But I defended him. I said he is fit to sleep with the hogs."

Dr. D. I believe Jack had a bacon and egg sandwich on a roll. I probably just had scrambled eggs.

Woodswoman, the other two are Damascus and Big Brown. If Damascus raced today (the title of a previous blog) he would be a national hero. And because of all the human turmoil surrounding him, Big Brown has never received the recognition for the absolutely amazing things he did. People insist on talking only about the Belmont fiasco. But that is for a future blog.

Derby Dew, it is sad what happened to Jack's career. I think he and Lukas suffered from over-extending their respective empires. It's called inflation. For Jack, and other legends like Allen Jerkens and Leroy Jolley, time has unfortunately passed them by. Owners today want the young megatrainers rather than have their horses trained by the all-time greats. I dont get it. Maybe it's age discrimination. I do know that these guys have not forgotten how to train a horse.

Shaban, and dont forget Risen Star, who could have been one of the great ones had he stayed sound and not retired so early.

13 Mar 2011 10:24 AM

This was an absolutely fabulous read, Steve. A nice study on a horse I know I'd have been a huge fan of had I been around at the time. I regret not getting the chance to see him when he returned to Kentucky.

13 Mar 2011 10:31 AM
El Kabong

Very nice Steve("Mr.Haskel":0 ), another treasure shared. Thank you. Where can we read your article on Mr. Van Berg?


Nice of you to share that story of Mr. Van Berg's classy reply to a deserving fan, and Chris's comment too. Excellent stuff.


I could not agree more with you about Tom Durkin's call. He has been such exciting part of racing history, I don't want him to ever retire. When I hear people criticize him I just shake my head in disgust. They just don't know their history or their fortune to have a guy like Tom calling a race.

13 Mar 2011 10:47 AM
Dr Drunkinbum

I think Eightbelles had Leave It To Beaver on when writing her post. I love these remembrances of the great ones and their connections. This is Haskin at his best. I always treasure them and want more of them. I vote for one every week or two for life. They don't even have to be great horses, just so it's a blast to the past and we can see how humans and horses connect and horse people connect to one another, and to remember the glory of these magnificient animals. Only someone with the talent, experience, insight, style, and fabulous memory of someone like Steve Haskin can do it. And I know of none that are like him that can give us these glimpses of history into the sport of kings.

13 Mar 2011 11:28 AM
Mike Relva


You on obviously correct regrading that the great trainers like Jack doesn't get the "big" horses any longer. I don't understand it. Without any doubt he can still train on a high level. He deserves the chance. I've admired him for many reasons,one being he says what he thinks. He deserves better!

13 Mar 2011 11:45 AM

Steve - Thank you for the beautiful remembrance of a great campaigner.

13 Mar 2011 12:06 PM
Lindsey S.

Ahhhh, tears as usual, Steve!  GREAT story!  I wish I would have had the chance to see him at the KHP before he passed away.

13 Mar 2011 12:11 PM
Rachel O

Here's Alysheba's goodbye parade in front of the fans. He saluted them!

13 Mar 2011 12:15 PM
steve from st louis

As someone who watched Jack Van Berg close up go about his business in the 1970s and 1980s, from Detroit Race Course to Sportsman's Park to the Fair Grounds and Ak-Sar-Ben, I find it ironic that one of the greatest claiming trainers of all time found confirmation of his skills and the Racing Hall of Fame  with the blue-blooded Alysheba.

There was never a Hall of Famer who was more obliging with the media with his time. Frank Whiteley Jr. was at one end of the spectrum, never using two syllables when one would do. And  Jack Van Berg was at the other, explaining to this city boy why he was rubbing horse's knees with oranges and tapeing fillies' vaginas shut with trainer's tape to keep  dirt and other irritants out.

Van Berg's in my personal top three of all-time trainers along with Woody Stephens and D. Wayne Lukas. When any of those three trained your horse for a particular race, you better wear a nice suit because you were going to be in the winner's circle.

13 Mar 2011 12:16 PM

I saw Ferdinand at Claiborne just before he was sent to Japan.  You could tell his groom was quite fond and very proud of this magnificent stallion, and he was quite a ham for visitors. He'd come running from across the paddock if he heard a peppermint candy wrapper.  Later that week it was announced he was being sent to Japan.  

Some time later I was at Lane's End and excited to see Alysheba.  For some reason he was at the back of the farm, maybe because he hadn't been as successful as the other stars in the stallion barns. Shortly after that he was sold to Saudi Arabia.  Such a handsome stallion and certainly a stellar racing career.  I hate seeing them sent away!  One never knows the eventual outcome.

13 Mar 2011 1:07 PM
an ole rail bird

thanks for the memories. the stories of sheba, & mr jack were refreshing, to say the least. horse racing was a different world in those days. i remember a humorious storey. when ask , what he planned to do , to prepare for a up coming race, with sheba. mr. jack,replyed that he thought he would not change suits. that he would wear the same "lucky suit".  wayne lucas ,replyed " he cant change suits. thats the only one that he has. --we dont hear that good natured ribbing, from the trainers ,& riders anymore. does it no longer go ,on ? or is it overshadowed in the news reporting , by human intrest stories, & constant defence of the over all racing industry

13 Mar 2011 1:51 PM

Great piece Mr. Haskin... but then, they always are. Still, you've built another bridge across the vast gulf of my ignorance of great horses of the past. I knew the name, of course, and a few facts but through your words, Alysheba came alive again, arching his neck, fighting valiantly like a true champion. What a sight he must have been... he of regal name and even more regal bearing!!!

13 Mar 2011 2:13 PM

I was lucky enough to see Alysheba and Ferdinand run against each other twice at Santa Anita Park - I will never forget either horse.

I have a photo somewhere that I took of Alysheba in the walking ring. He was so handsome.

Your article brings back wonderful memories.

13 Mar 2011 2:17 PM
Matthew W

Yes, Steve, you've identified the 1 1/4 distance as the true test of champions--that is why Alysheba was one of the all-time greats--how many people mention Precisionist among their greatest horses list, when truth be told, I wouldn't bet a nickle on him to defeat Greinton at 1 1/4, by the way, Greinton makes my list of underrated horses...others include Quack, Wajima, Skip Away (who could motor early/still hold them off at 1 1/4, truly one of the all-timers), I'd even call Spectacuilar Bid underrated, he's rated 10th all-time--never have I seen a horse who could move early like him, get the (fast) mile split, then motor away like it was nothing--if they put the top twelve or so in the starting gate, hard for me to think any horse but Bid would go off as favorite...but Alysheba, I remember that year (four year old), as well as the Haskell, which was instantly a of the reasons Alysheba got "lost" in the shuffle of great horses was the following year, when Easy Goer came along, thought to be the best since Bid/and even maybe better--until Charlie and his big black horse "Silenced" them--which is why I put Easy Goer right at/near the top of my list of underrated horses--on a fast track, at 1 1/4 miles, how many horses have you seen that you would pick over him?!...for me, maybe Bid, maybe Secretariat, maybe Forego, maybe Candy Ride, maybe Tiznow--I can think of no other, including Sunday Silence, whom I would take over Easy Goer, and yet where does he rank on people's lists?

13 Mar 2011 2:44 PM
Paula Higgins

This was just wonderful Steve! I knew next to nothing about Alysheba and now thanks to you, Rachel O and Youtube, I know considerably more. What an incredible horse! He was drop dead gorgeous in the bargain. Thank you for this great piece. P.S. ITA with you about Big Brown. Loved that horse.

13 Mar 2011 3:45 PM
Soldier Course

I was so sorry that Alysheba passed away between my visits to the Kentucky Horse Farm.

13 Mar 2011 4:21 PM

You certainly brought Alysheba back to life if with every word you've written about him.  Oh, what a glorious read it is Steve.

Thank you.

13 Mar 2011 4:37 PM

Thanks for that - Alysheba was my favorite horse.  I had hoped to get to see him when he came home but unfortunately that was not to be. I will never forget his Derby.  I have it on tape and watch every once in a while.  

Thanks again - wonderful article!!  

13 Mar 2011 5:04 PM

As usual I've missed yet another one of 'the greats' -  coming into the sport woefully late as I have. But thank you again Steve for painting another vivid image of a very special horse and the equally special people around him. It did much to make me feel like I was around during those amazing years of Alysheba's career. I watched all the YouTube videos there were of his races - what a gallant and thrilling horse he truly was. I can see why you hold him in such high esteem.

13 Mar 2011 5:04 PM

They just don't make 'em like that anymore. Thank you for this article Steve.

13 Mar 2011 5:06 PM
Carolyn in ND

Thank you for sharing, Mr.Haskin!  YOu have a wdonderful gift of writing these horses alive again for us to read.  I do believe they did know each other(Sheba & Bet Twice).  From being around my own & others its interesting to see the intereaction they have.  Sometimes I wish I knew what is said between them.  

13 Mar 2011 5:09 PM
cee r

Alysheba gets the last neigh, greatness passed through his daughters , while not the best mares, they produced such greats as George Washington, Grandera, Bright Sky, Bullish Luck and on down to Summer Bird.

13 Mar 2011 5:23 PM

Alysheba will always be one of my favorites.  First of all, I loved his daddy!  Second - my youngest daughter was Alysheba's age and she just loved him.  Any time I sat down to watch a race on TV, she would want to know which one was Alysheba, and was quite put out if I had to tell her he wasn't in this race.  She had a photo of him taped to the wall above her bed.

And third - he just did remarkable things on the track.  I loved watching him run.

My daughter and I had talked about a trip to Kentucky to visit him, and were looking forward to planning the trip, when he died.  

13 Mar 2011 5:59 PM

Alysheba like many past champions  get little or no recognition for their deeds. Only hero's of the pen like Steve Haskin can bring them back to life and rekindle the memories of those glory days. I liken Alysheba to Silver Charm, hard hitting, tough as nails and always there at the finish.

Many great horses over the years have not gotten their just view in my book. Point Given, Majestic Prince (most gorgeous horse I ever saw), Pleasant Colony, Cougar II and the list is endless.

Steve, I agree if Damascus or Dr. Fager were racing today they would be national heroes, same with Spectacular Bid who in my mind is one of the top 5 horses to ever look through a bridle, and trust me

that isn't even debateable........

Fabulous blog Steve, just wonderful. Saw Alysheba run many times............

13 Mar 2011 6:16 PM

Such a great story. Alysheba was the reason I became a fan and racehorse owner. I remember turning on the T.V. in time to watch him streak across the finish first in the Preakness and I was hooked after that. He was my first equine hero and I regret not ever being able to make to Kentucky to see him in person. An amazing animal, the likes of which we'll never see again.

13 Mar 2011 6:22 PM

I was fortunate to be at Keeneland when Alysheba won the Bluegrass but was disqualified for interference and War was put up. After reviewing all the videos tapes of the major preps that year, I was convinced Alysheba and Bet Twice were the two best and cashed a nice exacta when they ran 1-2 in the Derby. I have a Fred Stone plate of Alysheba and thanks for reminding everyone just how great he was.

13 Mar 2011 7:54 PM

I was standing at the rail near the finish line when Alysheba won the Derby after his amazing performance when he almost went down. I visited him at Lane's End after his retirement from the track. He and Bet Twice were in paddocks across from one another and ran the fences together. As I approached Sheba's paddock, he reared up on his hind legs giving me one of those "moment in time" experiences I will never forget. He was and will always be one of my favorite horses! I loved it when he arched his neck!!!

13 Mar 2011 8:15 PM
Steve Haskin

Dr. D. you trying to give me a swelled head? :) Ironically, my middle name is Edward (Eddie) and Baffert always calls me Haskell, but after the race not Eddie.

Steve from St. Louis, I remember one day at Pimlico whenh Jack had Blumin Affair in the Preakness, he got upset when I tried to clean pigeon droppings off my shoulder. He explained how the droppings are good luck and you have to wait until it dries and then flake it off. Who knew?

Zoo, yes, that was asking a lot of him not only go in that race off the one sprint, but in a field with another speed freak. now maybe they'll put him where he belongs. hopefully this race didnt set him back too much

13 Mar 2011 8:42 PM
Scott's Cause

Even before the big races of his 3 year old season and beyond to his 4 year old races I was a big fan of Alysheba.  It all started watching the BC Juvenile when the show horse was making a jaw-dropping late move.  I had VCR'd it and kept replaying it over and over again.  A few months later my girlfiriend went to Vegas to visit her sister.  I sent $50 with her and told her to find a future book and bet in on Alysheba to win the Kentucky Derby.  $50 was half a weeks wage for me.  She comes back and tells me that the sports book she went to wasn't taking future bets yet. (Damn) Later that evening she mentions "When the guy tells me, "We're not taking those bets yet", He pauses and asks "How do you spell that horse's name?" Damn...

13 Mar 2011 8:57 PM
John T

I could not agree with you more

Steve when you say memorable moments about a great racehorse should be shared and thank-you for sharing your thoughts about Alysheba,a horse with a lot of class and no end of courage.

13 Mar 2011 9:10 PM

Thanks Steve!

Wonderful horse, wonderful story!

13 Mar 2011 9:12 PM

Alysheba was the best horse I ever watched race.  I only regret that I didn't get to see him in person - I had planned to travel to Kentucky to see him at the Horse Park, but was heartbroken instead to hear of his death - I actually had to sit down and weep, it was so much like losing an old friend.  

Since Alysheba retired from racing, most of the big stars to have come along have either bored or irritated me in one way or another - not that I *disliked* them - they just didn't have his brand of magic.  None of them came close to Alysheba, and it's not likely that any ever will.

13 Mar 2011 9:22 PM

Steve great memories, Alysheba was my first Derby. I was a young groom and actually won the race prior to the Derby with a horse named Fast Forward in the Twin Spires Stakes while working for Wayne Lukas. Saw the race on the monitor in the test barn and couldnt believe he was able to win with a stumble in the stretch. Jack was the best horseman I have ever known or ever been around. Joe and so many other great trainers worked for Jack. One time at Oaklawn he asked me why I didnt come to work for him and I said Jack are you kidding you work long hours and dont pay as good. I remember he laughed and said we only work half days around here 5 to 5 and I dont care what you do the other half of the day. Amazing man in hindsite wish I would have worked for him.

13 Mar 2011 9:32 PM
Becca Schaffer

Thank you for sharing...Jack is my mentor and I love reading stories about him. He always loves to talk about Sheba. Jack took me under his wing right out of high school and there was no better place for me to be. Great Horse, Great Men around him....

13 Mar 2011 9:49 PM
Fahad M.


As always, brilliant article! I am right there with you on Alysheba.  He was my favorite horse as a kid, and I have always been perplexed by how underrated he is with all that he accomplished.  This story really hit home.  Before he started training on his own, my grandfather was a groom and assistant for Van Berg many years ago.  Growing up, my grandfather told me plenty of stories about Van Berg and his father, Marion.  Apparently his father was an otherworldly horseman.  I had the good fortune to meet Jack Van Berg a few times, and so I know what you mean about the rough exterior.  But he is really a good man from all that I have been told.  One of my prized possessions is an autographed picture of Alysheba winning the Preakness.  That horse was my childhood hero.  

Steve, I really appreciate your writing.



13 Mar 2011 10:11 PM


Thank you for the rememberence of what Alysheba accomplished.

I never realized he was so underrated. Shame to anyone who does not regard him as one of the greatest.  I have always thought of him as one of the greatest horses ever.  Guess it surprised me to read many do not.

I saw him at the Travers he was just a beautiful horse, that so many folks were there to see that day.  

Thank you again for the wonderul memories.  

13 Mar 2011 10:13 PM
Dr Drunkinbum

Swelled head- I seriously doubt it, but if by some freak of nature that does happen for a brief period then just eat some ice cream to reduce the swelling, watch two episdodes of Leave It To Beaver, and write another article in the morning.

13 Mar 2011 10:52 PM

Steve like all the others I love reading your blog.  Alysheba is one of my all time favorites.  I was so hoping when The Blood Horsee was publishing those Thoroughbred Legends books that one of them would be about Alysheba.  I was reLly disappointed when it didn't happen.

You are a great author.  Would you consider writing a book about him?  I'd certainly buy it.  Sounds like a lot of others would as well.  Hope you think about it.

Thank you for the wonderful article.

13 Mar 2011 11:12 PM

Loved that horse!

14 Mar 2011 8:15 AM


In your article, you mentioned in passing one of Alysheba's many contemporaries - and brought to attention one whom I've always believed to be THE most underrated of all times - Java Gold.

Unfortunate to his legacy that he couldn't compete in the Triple Crown that year - with all of his outstanding ability,I'm sure he would have rewritten history, but nonetheless I'll never forget that incredible Travers where he mowed down all the top 3 year olds, and then followed that up with the brilliant Marlboro and  JockeyGoldCup.

Just one more truly magnificent animal who often gets lost in the shuffle.  

14 Mar 2011 9:14 AM
Linda in Texas

Steve, am reading that Mr. John Shear, the paddock guard at Santa Anita, who stepped in front of a loose horse in the paddock area blocking a very young girl, is reported on as doing much better.

The gentle man is 90 years old.

The address for the hospital he is in is as follows and i thought maybe some who regularly read this blog might like to send him a card wishing him a speedy recovery for his brave and selfless act:

    Mr. John Shear, "Hero"

    Huntington Memorial Hospital

    100 West California Blvd.

    Pasadena, CA 91105

Thank you Steve.

14 Mar 2011 9:28 AM
Steve Haskin

Mackenzie, I couldnt agree with you more. I have to include Java Gold in the top 5 of that category. No one remembers what a sensational horse he was in the summer and fall of '87, trained by your namesake

Mark, thanks for sharing. I woinder how many people know that Bill Mott and Frank Brothers came up under Jack.

Linda, that is an amazing story. If the NTRA was on the ball they would get this story out to all the cable news network news shows. But this sporty just sits on its hands and does nothing.

Mary I would have loved to do a Legends book on Alysheba.

Becca, your name sounds familiar. I hope Jack is doing well. He should be a perennial leading trainer. This can be a tough game.

14 Mar 2011 10:17 AM

Thanks Steve great story, Bet twice what a horse saw his video's he's a champ in my heart. What ever happen to him after that last race?

14 Mar 2011 11:12 AM

Steve,  Thanks so much, that was a super article on Alysheba. Remembrances like these are what it's all about.

14 Mar 2011 11:30 AM

Thanks for another great blog Steve. I don't doubt for a second that Sheba and Bet Twice had a rivalry that was personal.

14 Mar 2011 11:30 AM

Thank you for a wonderful, moving tribute to the magnificent individual, Alysheba!

I was in the infield at Churchill Downs for the 1987 Derby--but had no idea of what was to come or how extraordinary Alysheba would prove to be.

It has rained a lot in Louisville prior to the running of the 1987 Derby & the infield was marked by puddles & large patches of mud--& that had to have influenced the speed at which the Derby was run & won (& naysayers knocked Alysheba's time as indicative of the "weak" 1987 field).

And you can add...

...Billy Turner...

to that list of...extraordinary conditioners who are now overlooked & nearly forgotten (& don't forget the magnificent starting work that Paula Turner does--without acclaim).

14 Mar 2011 12:20 PM

Awesome article. It was a great series of races in 87-88 with Alysheba. Dave Johnson was at his best too. These kind of articles rekindle memories of some great horses of the past. Alysheba and how he moved was an art of beauty.

Talking about horses that rarely get mentioned in the history of greatness when they deserve to be so I remember RISEN STAR. 8 wins 11 starts, second memorable Belmont performance. Given the chance I think he would be among many horses we talk about.

14 Mar 2011 12:21 PM


I so enjoyed your memories of the great Alysheba.

I was fortunate to follow him through his exciting career, as my dad sold a 1/2 brother to him as a stallion prospect. So we were on his bandwagon early. After his remarkable Derby, I made sure I made it to Pimlico and ended up in the infield before the race. I never saw a horse tout himself, so much, as Alysheba did that day.

I was at his Breeder's Cup too. And that was thrilling. I got to see him at the Horse Park about a month before he left us. He surely does not get the respect that he so deserves.

Thanks again, for another great read.

14 Mar 2011 12:27 PM

It's a shame that Alydar's sons disappointed in the breeding shed.

14 Mar 2011 12:27 PM
Sue M.

Great article, as always, Steve. I think one of the first horses I went nuts over was Majestic Prince. Just a gorgeous horse and he won 2/3 of the Crown. I'd have to check what decade he even raced in though -70s?? I do vaguely remember Alydar/Affirmed/Alysheba, and before them Secretariat. I was a teenager. Zenyatta is the one who has brought me back to the sport in a big way (I'm now 53).

I love reading about the greats. This is a great site (Blood Horse) is a wonderful site for anyone who loves horses.

14 Mar 2011 12:32 PM

Yes, I would love a book on Alysheba too!  And even though you can see many races on YouTube, a dvd would be great as well.  Thank you again, Steve.

14 Mar 2011 12:47 PM
Steve Haskin

As an addendum to the story, Because of the blog I was able to contact Kelly O'Hara on Facebook. She and Joe Petalino got married in 1999. And Alysheba's groom, John Cherry, is now Joe's assistant trainer. You gotta love it.

14 Mar 2011 12:51 PM
tom durkin


Thanks for that trip down memory lane. Has it been 23 years? Tempus Fugit.His Classic win was one of the most magical racing  moments in our lifetime.Partly because of the light. Or, correctly, the lack of it. It was soooooooo dark! Somebody in charge of  the schedule didn't do their homework and failed  realize how dark it was going to be at 5:35 pm in Louisville that autumn evening. Viewing the video tape now doesn't portray exactly how little light there was. The TV cameras can open up the iris on the lens to make things seem brighter. But the lack of light was part of the magic of the moment. Somebody came into the booth a few minutes before the race and told me with the lack of light and  all the mud that there was no way I was going to be able to see the horses .........(gee, pal, thanks for the thought!) At which point I thought "hey, the pressure is off. If you screw this up noone's gonna know the difference!"

Fortunately, my binocs were pretty high tech and the optics were coated to bring in more light. But i gotta tell you on that far turn there were only two horses i could identify for sure. Waqouit, a massive grey fella. And little Julie Krone  in those bright Claiborne colors on 49 er. Alysheba was out there somewhere.As the field made its way around the oval from the top of the stretch all the way past  the temporary stands on the clubhouse turn flashlights from cameras follwed them around like "the wave" at a stadium. Little galaxies of stars twinkleing as they continued on their journey. When Sheba emerges from  the darkness and hits the wire a cone  of light from the photo finish camera illuminates the image of Alysheba and McCarron. Alysheba crossing into history at that moment is the richest horse in racing. By the time they returned to the winners circle there was no natural light whatsoever. the winners circle ceremony conducted in total darkness.the only really visible thing was Jack Van Berg's smile. He had been photoed out of the three of the first four BC Classics. Twice with Gate Dancer. And the epic photo with Alyseba and Ferdinand under the bright mid afternoon sun at Hollywood Park.


14 Mar 2011 12:56 PM

Alysheba holds a special place in my heart.  The 12 year old me was head over heels in love with him and sat on the edge of my seat for every race.  One of my fondest memories of him is also one of my mom, his '87 BC race with Ferdinand. We were both yelling at the top of our lungs for either one of them, b/c we loved!  Was over the moon when the following year Sheba got his BC - never forget him crossing first under the dark skies.

I was estatic when he came back to NA to the KHP. Unfortunately, the trip I planned to go see him came three months to late so I never got to meet him in person. To this day, that makes me sad.

Those were the days of fantastic racing for me and not many since can top his name on my list.

Thanks for the memories Steve!

Jenn, ON, Canada

14 Mar 2011 2:18 PM

Good afternoon Mr. Haskin.  I have for a few years now been a fan of U.S racing, basicaly because here in my country we don´t have that, and for me this site has been the principal source of knowledge.   I discovered the because in around 2008-2009, when  I was making a research of one of my favorite horses of all time, Skip Away, I really wanted to know everything about him, and while searching in google I saw your article “The Skip Trip”.  I read it and I realize that you were going to be my future reference in terms of this sport.  That article was what I was looking for, perfect written, perfect for me. Since then I always follow your columns on every subject, storys, analysis, opinions and much more, and I share this because I really want to express that this one on Alysheba y by far one of the most beautiful articles you have ever wrote, that of course in my opinion.  Thanks for your time and please continue with the stories.

14 Mar 2011 2:39 PM
Ann Taylor

What a remarkable read, Steve--along w/such touching memories from fans of yours and Alysheba's. (what a bonus to read Tom Durkin's comments!) I seriously share the opinion that Alysheba is an all time great - in ability & sheer beauty. I had the pleasure of meeting him at the Pimlico stakes barn - Bob Manfuso "introduced" us saying how "gentle" Sheba was. (The only Alydar offspring I ever met who was!) And Jack Van Berg -- a forever a hero on my short list of people I'd like to clone. You're on that list as well -- I look forward to another Triple Crown journey with ya! Many thanks, Steve.

14 Mar 2011 2:58 PM
Steve Haskin

Thank you, Alejandro, I appreciate that very much. Sonny and Carolyn Hine were great friends of ours and they deserved a horse like Skippy.

Hi Ann, great to hear from you. Those were wonderful days, when Pimlico didnt have the troubles it has now, and Preakness horses actually shipped there earlier than three days before the race.

14 Mar 2011 4:27 PM

Before deciding to send my mare to Tiago I reviewed the race record of his sire Pleasant Tap. Amongst his impressive resume Is a 2nd place finish in the BC Sprint as well as a secound place in the BCC.

14 Mar 2011 9:31 PM

Thank you Steve and others for the great comments.

I just missed Alysheba, becoming a fan of racing as a young teenager during the spring of 89'.  However, I have since researched on horses of the past and watched as much film as possible, and completely agree that Alysheba is one of the more underrated horses of all time, and that his 4 year old season is especially underappreciated.  He won 6 gr.1 races that year, and did it across the country.  In an era when even the top horses seem to race regionally, Alysheba undertook a truly national campaign, and won some of the sport's greatest events.

Alysheba was clearly one of the top horses of the 80s, behind only Spectacular Bid and John Henry, and alongside Sunday Silence and Easy Goer.  Since Alysheba(and Sunday Silence/Easy Goer), I would only rate two horses as either his equal or better, Cigar and Skip Away.  No horse since Skip Away, with the possible exception of Curlin, compare with Alysheba.  I am a huge fan of Zenyatta, but she simply was never asked to run in, let alone win, the 5 fully unrestricted gr.1 events that Alysheba captured in 88'.

As for JP's Gusto, I was able to see him run in person multiple times out in Calfiornia.  He's bred to be a sprinter, and Steve am I wrong that he looks like a sprinter? He's a short, compact guy, with a strong rump.

But you know what, JP's Gusto has done much better than I thought he would around 2 turns.  Go back and watch the Cash Call Futurity if you disagree, because in that race he had a terrible trip, being forced to take back on the turn from the rail, and then swing out wide in the stretch.  Yet, there he was out-closing Gourmet Dinner and Clubhouse Ride for 2nd.  In the Southwest, JP was blocked just when he needed to move, but came running fastest of all when clear.

JP's former trainer, Dave Hoffmans, swore that the horse's excellent mind, and ability to relax gave him a shot to outrun his pedigree.  10 furlongs is likely pushing it, but I've come to believe that he can run well up to 9.  I wish Mr. Petalino luck.

14 Mar 2011 9:40 PM


I'm going to spoil things and give you what I know about Alysheba's Beyers.  For the most part they reflect what we saw, and certainly tower above many recent supposed "superstars".


Derby/Preakness: 111-113

87' BC Classic: 117

Strub/Big Cap: 116-118

88' BC Classic: 122(career best)

14 Mar 2011 9:43 PM

It's a little off topic, but didn't Creme Fraiche beat Java Gold in the 87' Jockey Club Gold Cup to deny Java a chance at HoY?

Creme Fraiche was an underrated horse, the winner of 7 career gr.1 races, including the Belmont and 2 Jockey Club Gold Cups.  He was a member of the 85' crop of 3 year olds, a crop that included another underrated horse, 8-time gr.1 winner Chief's Crown.

14 Mar 2011 9:48 PM

My son was born ten days before the Breeders Cup and my ticket was what I focused on during labor. My sister wanted to give my ticket away thinking I would not be able to make the trip from Washington.

Anyhow, me and my whoopie cushion made it to the races that day. By the time the Classic was run it was almost dark. I was able to see Julie Krone pull up on 49er thinking he hurt himself. My sister was in a box next to Julie's mother and they were worried about her. All I was thinking about was where was Alysheba? Most of the race I could not see him from where I was standing, but oh what a race. I have a great picture of Winning Colors taken earlier. Great memories Steve.

14 Mar 2011 9:56 PM

you are not alone I to loved Sheba and cried when we lost himI stall do when I thank about him and what we missed out by him going to Sadia Arabia but at least he got to come home unlike Ferenand.He was my pick that year for the triple crown even tho it was affired that I lked as sires.I belive if it had been different years both sires and sons would hace been remembered most of these horses are never talked aboutand yet when we look at thier times and winnings they are better than most is running.I like Jp's gutso as well AND IT LOOKS TO BE ANOTHER YEAR OF GOOD HORSE THAT SOME WILL BE OVERLOOKED AND FORGOTTEN LIKE SHEBA CRYTOCLEARENCE YOU DONT HEAR ANY OF THEIR BLOODLINES AND NOT EVEN FORTYNINER RANKS ANYMORE. THEY HAVE TO BE YOUNG STUDS TO BREED FOR MONEY INSTAED OF SPORT AND BEUTY.

14 Mar 2011 11:23 PM

Thank you for the wonderful tribute to the great Alysheba.  I first became a fan when he finished third in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, rooting for him as one of the first good sons of Alydar and remembering the exciting days of rooting for him in his races with Affirmed.  After Alysheba's memorable Derby I travelled the country to see him race and was in the stands at Pimlico, Saratoga, Santa Anita,The Meadowlands, Monmouth, and Churchill Downs for his final win in the dark.  And then back for his farewell there where he not only pranced but kicked up his heels to give us a show.  The Schauerbauers and Ken were so nice and after recognizing me on several occasions invited me and friends into the winner's circle at The Meadowlands on the memorable night of his victory there.  A promotional film was being shot and the cameramen captured my rooting him home on the rail and asked to use it in the film.  I was crazy with excitement.  

I too was lucky to receive the signed photographs mentioned above and also treasure that fantastic Eclipse-winning photo of Alysheba and Jack Van Berg, head-to-head, mirroring each other's smirk.  I now live in Seattle and didn't quite get it together to travel to the KY Horse Park to see him in time but my fond memories will always be with me.  I am still a great fan of racing but nothing has come close to the excitement of the Alysheba years.  I expect nothing ever will but I am so grateful for the memories.

15 Mar 2011 11:03 AM

Ah Steve you did it again. You turn words into the smooth rhythm of a galloping Thoroughbred. We will never forget Alysheba. Alydar was underrated. He was a better sire than Affirmed I think anyway. Awesome fellow he was. At least he made it back to his home unlike the poor Ferdinand who ended up on someones dinner plate. Lets hope Ararzi(I hope I spelled that correctly) doesn't meet the same fate because she doesn't produce enough winners. Could you do a story on Funnycide? I know he ended up a pony horse like Lava Man but is he still around?

Thank you for a good story you and Joe Palmer must be the best writers in the history of the sport.

Could you write us a story

15 Mar 2011 11:30 AM
Donna Melendez from Grayslake, IL

Great story Steve,  you are the best!  Thank you!  

15 Mar 2011 11:35 AM

You and Red Smith can really write some wonderful stories. wow.

15 Mar 2011 12:26 PM
Tiznow Tim

I've already read this twice. Alysheba was one of the most beautiful horses I have ever seen. So glad he made it home to KY before passing. Good luck to J P's Gusto and Joe!

15 Mar 2011 12:26 PM
Susan from VA

Mr. Haskin,

Another wonderful piece!  With Zenyatta off having babies, I had lost some of my enthusiasm for the Bloodhorse site.  But when I noticed you had written one of your remembrances, I had to read it.  And I am glad I did!

15 Mar 2011 12:31 PM

Beautiful article, as usual!!  I remember his career like it was yesterday.

15 Mar 2011 2:06 PM

Oh, my, Steve! Truly remarkable piece about a most remarkable individual. I was one of those fans who stood in the gathering dark screaming my head off as Alysheba chased his destiny on Churchill Downs' wet track - the track where his most memorable race still resonated in memory.

I also was at Lane's End shortly after Sheba and Bet Twice were retired. They had side-by-side paddocks and there was no doubt they knew each other and still raced up and down frequently. I have recently found my photos taken with Sheba. He was a remarkably beautiful horse with the absolute air of a confident champion. I had hoped to see him after he returned from Saudi. Alas, that was not to be, but I have my photos. A young, strong, gorgeous Alysheba and a tiny, young, red-haired woman. He knew I was in awe, and he was as kind as he was regal. I'll never forget the thrills he gave us. He was truly (as Tom Durkin so correctly stated) America's Horse!

15 Mar 2011 2:15 PM
John McEvoy

Another wonderful piece of work, my friend. I am sending this to all my family racing fans and other racing fans.

My Chicago party was in the same Louisville steak house as Alysheba's wonderful connections that night after the BC.  My children still have autographed napkins from Jack and Chris, both so gracious. Great memory.

15 Mar 2011 3:35 PM

Like many here, Alysheba was my favorite horse, and it's always great to have an opportunity to talk about him.

I saw him break his maiden at Latonia (now Turfway), and he looked like a 3yo compared to the other 2yos in the field.  He came back to run 2nd in a stakes later in the meet, then placed in the Breeders' Futurity at Kee, the BC Juvenile at SA and the Hollywood Futurity.  Early in his 3yo year he had throat surgery and then finished first in the Bluegrass, only to be DQd.  Thus going into the Derby, he was eligible to run in a NW1x alw!

I once asked McCarron what went through his mind when Alysheba almost went down in the Derby, and he said that when it happened, he was to busy and caught in the moment to focus on it: he was just trying to keep the horse on his feet and to the wire first.  It was only when he watched the replay in the winner's circle that he realized how close they came to going down.

I remember watching Alysheba before his final workout before the BC Classic his 4yo year, and it was truly one of the most amazing workouts I've ever seen by a horse.  He galloped a mile, then worked a mile, and just seemed to be strutting his stuff afterwards, like he knew he was about to have another big race, and he was ready to kick butt.

Thanks Steve for the opportunity to relive some memories of this magnificent horse.    

15 Mar 2011 5:01 PM

BTW, McCarron rode some pretty good horses during his career, but when asked which was the best he rode, didn't hesitate to say Alysheba.  

15 Mar 2011 5:12 PM
Steve Haskin

Thank you all so much for your wonderful comments. I really appreciate it. It was fun getting back to the remembrances and being able to tie in to the Derby trail.

15 Mar 2011 5:15 PM

Steve, you write with your heart! The combination of details and dialogue are superb. I'm always fascinated by your articles and left yearning for more. Alysheba was special to me because I loved his sire Alydar.

Could you list for us the names of the horse articles  you have written similar to this one?? Maybe with the link. I've read several but would never tire of reading them again and again. Your articles have that personal touch that no one else has...thanks for the memories!!

15 Mar 2011 5:27 PM
Jean in Chicago

Yes, Steve, please more horses.  Where else would we get to know things about them like the "go get'em papa" and "easy, papa, we're all done".  I'm not even going to suggest specific names, I trust your judgement.

15 Mar 2011 6:20 PM
Jean in Chicago

Linda in TX:  You truly are a wonderful, caring person.  Hope all in going well for you & yours.

15 Mar 2011 6:21 PM
Linda McLoon

I remember that Alysheba had tulip ears.

15 Mar 2011 9:33 PM

Jack Van Berg and I were partners in a Filly many years ago. He is the most knowlegable horseman alive.

Another top trainer taught by Jack is Wayne Catalano, who started out riding for Mr. Van and then Jack and wound up 2nd leading rider in N. America. He has won a Breeders Cup with Dreaming oF Anna and many other top races. Jack Van Berg deserves to train some really good horses, and he will turn them into Champions

15 Mar 2011 10:40 PM
Rick H.

You mention  Alysheba, who in your mind is one of the three most underrated horses of all time.

Who are the other two?  I have a list too, there are several sprinters on it.  But my top two underated horses of all time are In Reality & Nodouble.

16 Mar 2011 9:00 AM
Rick H.

Ok I see you already answered it, Damascus.  Wow! who is underrating Damascus?  Damascus beat the greatest horse to ever live Dr. Fager twice.  Damascus had a little problem when you looked him in the eye, but he would have given Secretariat 10 lbs. and beaten him easier than Onion & Prove Out did.  So don't you worry Damascus is not underrated to those of us who really know how to see thru the hype.

16 Mar 2011 9:15 AM
joe c.

I saw 'Sheba three times.  He passed Bet Twice in the Preakness right in front of me; I'll never forget the roar of the crowd.  'Saw his great reception at Belmont three weeks later, and saw him in 88 at Pimlico.  When you look at his career, and reap the memories, it is sad indeed that today's stars are raced so rarely, so few starts, and retired so early. We are missing much.

16 Mar 2011 2:46 PM
barry aksarben

I worked for Jack Van Berg two summers of high schoool as a hotwalker at the old AK-SAR-BEN which was a beautiful track and Jack although gruff was one of the best teachers I have ever had and has instilled a love and respect for horses in me. I am a lifelong fan of racing because of himand his father, Marion, a true and real horsewhisperer who I was lucky enough to meet before he passed. My all time favorite horse are Jacks' Joey Bob, Alysheba and a poor horse who brokedown My Pal George. I think I saw Jack cry that day. A great man.

17 Mar 2011 9:14 AM
Peter, England

You have done it again Steve!  A lump in my throat and a tear in my eye!  Alysheba has always been a favorite of mine and you bring it all back so well.  Please gather up all your articles like this and put them in a book!

I was also lucky enough to have the opportunity to see him shortly after he arrived at Lane's End and really felt a special presence when close to him that I will never forget.  

22 Mar 2011 8:29 AM

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