Viva Canonero!

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Canonero II’s incredible Triple Crown odyssey; a story that still stands alone in the annals of the Turf. On this occasion, I am reprinting in its entirety, with some additions, the two-part story I wrote several years ago. Be forewarned, it is over 5,000 words. But the real story of Canonero cannot be told in anything less.

The story begins at the 1967 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, where horsemen gathered every year looking for bargain-basement bloodstock. One of the broodmares selling was a 6-year-old daughter of Nantallah named Dixieland II, in foal to the young English-bred stallion Pretendre, runner-up in the previous year’s Epsom Derby. The pedigree had little interest to American breeders, and when the bidding stopped at $2,700, Claiborne Farm manager William Taylor, acting as agent for Dixieland II’s breeder Edward B. Benjamin, took it upon himself to buy the mare back.

The following spring, on April 24, Dixieland II, who was being boarded at Claiborne Farm, gave birth to a bay colt. Benjamin tried to sell the colt the following year at the Keeneland July yearling sale, but the youngster was rejected because of a crooked right foreleg. He was so awkward and ungainly, one horseman described him as having a “stride like a crab.”

Benjamin then consigned him to the Keeneland September yearling sale, which at that time was a low-level auction and a far cry from the prestigious July sale. Hardly anyone had a horse rejected from this sale. By selling on the last day, however, there was a good chance that no one would want a crooked-legged colt by an unfashionable European stallion, who was out of a mare that couldn’t even bring more that $2,700.

But in stepped bloodstock agent Luis Navas, who had a reputation as an equine junk dealer. He would pay dirt-cheap prices for horses and then put together package deals and sell them to Venezuelan owners who were looking for low-priced American-breds. Navas, acting under the name Albert, agent, opened the bidding on the Pretendre colt at $1,200 and that was it; there wasn’t another bid. He packaged him up with a Ballymoss colt and a filly and sold them to Venezuelan businessman Pedro Baptista, whose bald head, scar on his nose, and missing teeth made him look older than his 44 years.

Baptista’s plumbing and pipe manufacturing company was in dire financial straits and was on the verge of bankruptcy. In order to continue purchasing horses, he registered them under the name of his son-in-law, Edgar Caibett. After getting his three new yearlings from Navas, Baptista turned them over to a young up-and-coming trainer named Juan Arias, who grew up in the slums of Caracas and was abandoned by his father. Rasied by his mother and grandmother, he eventually escaped into the world of horses and would sneak into the track and muck out stalls for free. To Arias, the beauty of the horses provided a stark contrast to the poverty in which he lived.

At age 16, he enrolled in trainer’s school at the old El Paraiso Racetrack, after which he got his first full-time job at the racetrack. But with little pay and nowhere to live, he slept in the stalls. He eventually put together a small string of horses, and several years later was introduced to Baptista, who took a liking to the young trainer, giving him 16 horses to train..

One of them the was the crooked-legged son of Pretendre, whom Baptista  named Canonero, after a type of singing group. When he arrived at Arias’ barn, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. Not only was the colt’s cooked leg still noticeable, he had a split right hoof and a bad case of worms. Arias had to clean out the colt’s stomach every 30 days and put him on a special diet, which included seaweed from Australia.

Baptista had been forced to sell 24 of his 48 horses to raise cash for his business and told Arias he had to get Canonero started quickly and have him ready to win first time out.

After Canonero won his career debut by 6 1/2 lengths at La Rinconada, Baptista had Arias ship him to Del Mar, where he hoped he’d run well enough to be sold. After finishing third in an allowance race, Canonero ran fifth in the Del Mar Futurity. One trainer who thought he had potential was Charlie Whittingham. When Whittingham found out the colt could be bought for $70,000 he attempted to buy him for one of his main clients, Mary Jones. Unfortunately, no one with the horse could speak English, the first of many blunders by Baptista. Unable to get a firm price, Whittingham gave up, and Canonero returned to Venezuela.

After failing to sell the horse, an indignant Baptista told Arias, “Don’t worry; we will return next year and win the Kentucky Derby.” Arias paid little attention.

Canonero went on to win six of his next nine races, including a victory at 1 1/4 miles in early March. He also had sprinting speed, winning at 6 1/2 furlongs three weeks later, his third start in three weeks. After finishing third in a 1 1/8-mile handicap on April 10, Baptista unleashed a bombshell on Arias, informing him that Canonero was being shipped to America to run in the Kentucky Derby…in three weeks.

It was remarkable that Canonero was even nominated to the Derby. That February, Baptista had been in Florida and heard that Pimlico vice-president Chick Lang was in town taking nominations for the Preakness. Back then you had to nominate for all three Triple Crown races separately. Baptista was told to contact Lang and ask him if he’d take Canonero’s nomination for the Preakness and also put in his nomination for the Derby and Belmont.

Baptista called Lang at the Miami Springs Villas near Hialeah, but Lang had no clue who Canonero was, nor who this guy on the phone with the Spanish accent claiming he was the horse’s owner was. At first, he thought it was John Finney and Larry Ensor of Fasig-Tipton playing a joke on him. When Lang asked Baptista how to spell the horse’s name, telling him he never heard of the horse, Baptista replied, “You will.”

Lang wrote the name down on the back of a cocktail napkin and told Baptista he’d take care of all three nominations. But when Finney checked on the horse and told Lang he couldn’t find any record of him and that someone was pulling his leg, Lang crumpled up the napkin and started to throw it in the trash, but decided he better hold on to it just in case it was legitimate. A call to the racing secretary’s office the following day revealed that there indeed was a horse named Canonero, and Lang submitted all three nominations.

As the Derby drew near, Baptista had a dream in which his deceased mother told him Canonero was going to win the Kentucky Derby. That solidified his decision to run.

So, one week after his third-place finish at La Rinconada, Canonero boarded a plane for Miami with his groom Juan Quintero, whose expenses came out of Arias’ pocket. Shortly after taking off, the plane was forced to return due to mechanical failure. The second attempt wasn’t any more successful, as one of the engines caught on fire and the plane was forced to return once again. The only other plane they could find was a cargo plane filled with chickens and ducks, which became Canonero’s travel companions.

Finally, a weary Canonero arrived in Miami. But airport officials discovered the horse had no papers or blood work, so he was forced to remain on the plane for 12 hours in the sweltering heat, nearly becoming dehydrated. Someone close to Baptista said that the colt actually was flown to Panama to wait until the papers were in order. In any event, Canonero finally was allowed off the plane, but his troubles were far from over. With no blood test results, he was placed in quarantine at the airport for four days while the blood work was sent to the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in Beltsville, Md.

By the time he was released from quarantine, Canonero had lost 70 pounds and was a physical mess. But there were more problems. Baptista had not sent enough money to pay for a flight from Miami to Louisville, so Canonero had to be vanned the 900 miles, a trip that took some 20 hours. Then came the final indignity. Neither Arias nor Quintero could speak English, and when the van arrived at the Churchill Downs stable gate, no one at the track had any idea who the horse or the trainer was and refused them entrance into the track until the matter was resolved. Finally, the journey was over as Canonero was bedded down at Churchill Downs. The Kentucky Derby was one week away.

When Canonero’s name entered the Derby picture, the Caliente Future Book (the only one back then) quoted him at odds of 500-1.

Canonero’s week at Churchill was a freak show, as word got out about this skinny Venezuelan colt with the crazy bangs that resembled Moe of the Three Stooges. You could count every one of Canonero’s ribs. When Arias inquired how much a sack of bran cost, he was told $45. “Too much,” he said. “Can we have half a sack?”

Arias became almost as much of a curiosity as his horse. Here was a black man from Venezuela who spoke no English, was rarely seen without a cigarette in his mouth, wore a sport jacket and tie to the barn each morning, and had conversations with Canonero. He would relay to the media through an interpreter all the things Canonero said to him during their conversations.

All the while, Arias was telling anyone who would listen that Canonero was a horse of destiny and was going to win the Kentucky Derby. He only trained him when Canonero felt like training, and when he did feel like it he’d gallop without a saddle. Not able to speak English, Arias, when asked what Canonero would do on a particular morning, went into a pantomime of a horse galloping.

Arias firmly believed he had a spiritual relationship with horse. If Canonero didn’t eat, Arias would go into his stall and pet him and talk to him, and he would start eating. If he felt Canonero had something say to him, he’d press his ear against the horse and listen. He’d always ask Canonero how he was feeling and how he slept before sending him to the track. If the horse told him he didn’t feel like training that day, Arias would say to him. “OK, I’m not going to force you. Just relax, go eat, and we’ll wait for tomorrow.”

Quintero wasn’t much different, saying he treated like Canonero as if “I was raising my own son.”

The “Canonero Follies” became a running joke, especially when the horse finally did work and went a half-mile in a lethargic :53 4/5. But the horse was thriving physically and had put back 50 of the 70 pounds he had lost. In defending his training methods, Arias said, “Most American trainers train for speed. I train Canonero to be a star; a horse of depth who can be ridden in front or from behind. They say I work my horse too slow. Let’s see if he runs that slow on Saturday.”

Arias was upset over some of the things that were said and written about Canonero. “They say we are clowns and that we are crazy,” he said. “Someone wrote he crawls like a turtle. They made us very angry.”

Arias had become so defensive, when a rival owner toasted his horse at a party and said “Mucha suerte,” (good luck), Arias felt he was mocking him. “Everyone made us very angry,” he said.

Three days before the race, jockey Gustavo Avila, known in Venezuela as “El Monstruo” (the monster),  arrived at Churchill Downs. So little was known about Canonero, the Daily Racing Form past performance lines for his last three starts provided virtually no information. All it said was, “Missing date unavailable at this time.”

Arias had one more trick up his sleeve. On Derby morning, he put a saddle on Canonero for the first since arriving and worked him under the cover of darkness. The colt went three furlongs in a razor-sharp :35 flat, a workout that was not revealed until two years later.

Baptista did not attend the Derby, choosing to remain home to take care of business, and instead sent his son to represent him.

Arias accompanied Canonero to the paddock, but was too nervous to saddle him and left that task to trainer Jose Rodriguez, who had served as his interpreter. Instead of going up to the boxes a visibly nervous Arias watched the race from the rail, along with the grooms. Canonero was easy to spot with his brown silks and brown cap.

In quickly describing the race, Canonero, placed in the mutual field, dropped back to 18th in the 20-horse field, some 20 lengths off the pace. Around the far turn, fans watching live and on TV saw this brown blur streaking past horses as if moving in a different time frame than the others. The response was the same everywhere: “Who is that?” Even as the mysterious figure came hurtling out of the turn, engulfing the two Calumet Farm horses on the lead, Eastern Fleet and Bold and Able, no one had a clue who it was except Arias and his Venezuelan entourage, who were already jumping up and down and shouting, “Canonero! Canonero!”

Canonero charged by the two Calumet horses and quickly drew clear, with Avila just hand-riding him. He continued to draw away on his wrong lead before the stunned crowd, many of whom still did not know who this horse was. He crossed the finish line 3 3/4 lengths ahead of Jim French.

Up in the press box, even the majority of reporters had no idea who had won. When Chick Lang heard the name of the winner, it didn’t ring a bell. After the horses had pulled up and the winner came jogging back, it finally hit him “like a bolt of lightning.”

The horse whose name he had scribbled down on the back of a cocktail napkin and almost tossed in the trash had just won the Kentucky Derby. “Jesus Christ!” he shouted. “It’s the mystery horse. I can’t believe it. This is like a fairy tale.”

The reporters couldn’t believe it either. It was the horse they had been mocking for the past week. Quasimodo had turned into Prince Charming right before their eyes.

Arias burst into tears and dashed onto the track where he hugged Quintero and just about everyone else who spoke Spanish. But the indignities still were not over. When he tried to go into the winner’s circle, the security guards would not let him in. Fortunately, one of his fellow countrymen who spoke English explained who he was.

When Arias later crossed paths with the owner who toasted his horse at the party, he broke into a smile, raised his hand as if proposing toast, and said, “Mucha suerte.”

Meanwhile, back in Venezuela, Baptista had no idea what had happened, and when a friend called him right after the race shouting that he had won he thought it was a joke and hung up. But his friend called back and swore he was telling the truth. When the phone began ringing off the hook, Baptista finally realized it was true and, like Arias, he broke into tears. He and his father then drove to the cemetery, where they prayed over the grave of Baptista’s mother, who had paid him that fateful visit in his dreams.

That night, Baptista threw a party for some 200 guests that that lasted until Tuesday when Avila returned. By then Caracas was in full celebration, with people singing and dancing throughout the city. When Avila returned, he was carried through the streets of Caracas. He also received a telegram from the president of Venezuela, which read in part: “This great victory will stimulate Venezuela’s progress in all its efforts…”

When Sports Illustrated came out, the headline said it all: "Missing Data Unavailable."

For Arias, there wasn’t much time for celebration. He and Quintero had to pack and head to Baltimore for the Preakness. It was time to start thinking about the Triple Crown. What followed were more follies and more adventures. The story of Canonero was far from over.

Part Two

As the Kentucky Derby hoopla began to quiet down, a stunned racing world was still trying to recover from the bombshell that had fallen on Churchill Downs. An obscurely bred, crooked legged, harlequin of a horse from Venezuela, who had been ridiculed by the press and local horsemen, had just concluded the most bizarre journey and adventure in the history of the Kentucky Derby. Like Clark Kent turning into Superman, Canonero II had turned into the “Caracas Cannonball,” a term by which he became known.

With all of Venezuela still celebrating this unlikely victory, Canonero, trainer Juan Arias, and groom Juan Quintero arrived in Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes, the second leg of the Triple Crown.

But, once again, trouble awaited them. Shortly after arriving, Canonero refused to eat. Veterinarian Ralph Yergey was called in to look at the colt, with an interpreter needed for Yergey and Arias to communicate with each other. Canonero had developed a case of thrush, a foot infection usually caused by a horse standing in its own urine.

Not only did Canonero have foot problems, he was also cutting his tongue on a loose baby tooth, and had contracted a low-grade fever. Six days before the Preakness, Dr. Yergey switched his medication from pen-strep, a standard antibiotic mixture, to ampicillin because the lidocaine in the pen-strep would have shown up in a urine test.

Despite Canonero’s powerful victory in the Derby, most people were convinced the race was a fluke. The final time was a slow 2:03 1/5, and Canonero’s running style of coming from 20 lengths back was hardly suitable to the Preakness, which was run at a shorter distance and over a speed-favoring track with tighter turns. It was the fast Calumet Farm colt Eastern Fleet who looked to be the perfect Preakness-type horse, and many of the “experts” seemed to favor him over Canonero.

Disdain for the Derby winner grew after Canonero worked an agonizingly slow five furlongs in 1:06. One trainer commented afterward, “That was about a fifth of a second faster than might have been expected of a plow horse.” Another said, “If I had that horse and he worked that slow, I’d put him on the first slow boat to South America.”

Arias, however, was thrilled with the work. “Perfecto,” he said. “He’s ready for Saturday.” He later told the Baltimore Sun, “They laughed at us in Louisville, and they’re laughing at us in Baltimore. But it is we who will be laughing at the whole racing world!”

What people didn’t realize was that there was a lot more to Canonero than what appeared on the surface. When a Baltimore radiologist, Dr. George Burke, took an electrocardiogram of the horse, he discovered his heartbeat was only 30 beats per minute, which was five less than the average horse. “Fantastic,” Burke said. “That’s as low as a horse will go.”

Canonero and Jim French shared favoritism at 3-1, with Eastern Fleet, the main danger to steal the race on the front end, bet down to 6-1. This time Baptista came for the race. What he and everyone else witnessed was in many ways more remarkable than what had transpired in the Derby. The mindset going into the race was that Canonero, breaking from the disadvantageous 9-post, would again have to drop far out of it and make his big late run over the speed-conducive track. But they forgot that this was no ordinary horse, and that he never did anything by the book.

Eastern Fleet, as expected, shot to the lead, but as shocked as everyone was when Canonero unleashed his 18th to first move in the Derby, they were even more shocked to see him burst out of the gate and go right after Eastern Fleet. How could a horse who came from 20 lengths back in the Derby and then worked a dawdling five furlongs in 1:06 at Pimlico show that much speed?

Canonero sat right off Eastern Fleet and then moved in for the kill as they turned up the backstretch. For the next five-eighths of a mile the two were at each other’s throat. After a half in :47, they sizzled the next quarter in :23 2/5, while opening up five lengths on the rest of the field. The farther they went the more they opened up.

No one could believe what they were seeing, as the pair went the opening six furlongs in a sizzling 1:10 2/5 and the mile in 1:35. Someone had to crack, and it was Eastern Fleet. Canonero, despite running his six furlongs four and two-fifths seconds (or 22 lengths) faster than he had in the Derby, was showing no signs of tiring. He pulled away from Eastern Fleet inside the eighth pole, again still on his wrong lead, and crossed the wire 1 1/2 lengths in front, with Eastern Fleet 4 1/2 lengths ahead of Jim French. The horse people had laughed at as being as slow as a “plow horse” had just run the 1 3/16 miles in 1:54 flat, breaking Nashua’s track record by three-fifths of a second.

Back in Venezuela, five million people watched the race on television, and once again the country erupted in celebration. Baptista rushed to the winner’s circle pumping his fist, then pointed it up to the sky, shouting, “Belmont! Belmont! Belmont!”

When asked how he felt, Baptista said, “We have come up here – two Indians (he and Avila) and a black man (Arias) with a horse that nobody believed in, and we are destroying 200 years of American racing tradition, dominated by the cream of your society. This is a monumental event for international relations. You cannot imagine the impact this has had in Venezuela. Canonero is truly a horse of the people.”

When Arias was asked how he got Canonero to run so fast off such a slow work, all he said was, “They could not hold back destiny.”

Before vanning to Belmont, Canonero was honored at Pimlico between races. He was led onto the track to the playing of the Venezuelan national anthem, as the applause began to build from those in attendance. In the winner’s circle, Maryland Governor Marvin Mandel signed a document proclaiming the members of the Canonero team honorary citizens of Maryland. Arias, Baptista, and Avila, dressed in suits and ties, stood with their arms locked together. Canonero wore four orange bandages and a white cooler, and when Quintero removed his cooler, the horse strutted proudly on the turf course with his ears straight up. But at one point Canonero became spooked and nearly got loose from Quintero who had to hang on for dear life.

When Canonero arrived at Belmont Park, a circus replaced the freak show of Churchill Downs. Between veterinarians and countless advisors to Baptista all trying to run the show, Arias had to deal with new physical problems that were plaguing Canonero, as well as some of the old ones. The colt was still suffering from thrush, and now his right hock had become swollen. He burned his heels while galloping at Belmont, and then came down with a severe skin disease that covered a good portion of his body.

Security was posted at his barn 24 hours a day. He even appeared on the Today Show when former major league baseball player and author Joe Garagiola came out to the barn to “interview” him. Canonero was brought out, and Garagiola stuck a microphone in his face and began asking him questions, such as, “Where’d you get that haircut?”

Canonero’s physical problems forced him to miss several days of training. Like at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, the cynics were out in full force. There was no way a horse in this condition could win the Belmont. “They still think we’re a bunch of crazy Indians,” Arias said.

But deep down Arias knew that this time Canonero would not be at his best. Veterinarian Dr. William O. Reed examined the colt and told Arias he was only 75% ready to go a mile and a half. Even Sports Illustrated tried to convince Arias and Baptista not to run. An editorial that appeared in the magazine a week before the Belmont read: “Perhaps sometime before the Belmont this Saturday, Canonero’s handlers will forego false national pride and scratch the horse. We hope so. He is in bad shape and has been for a week.”

Arias knew in his heart that Canonero probably shouldn’t run, but there was too much at stake, and the trainer still believed the horse could win. After all, this was a horse of destiny and how can you stand in the way of destiny?

All of Venezuela had embraced the horse as a national hero, and throughout the country came the cries of “Viva Canonero!” Plans were in the works to erect a statue of him at La Rinconada. Songs about Canonero were being played on the radio. At one civil registry office in Venezuela, a couple submitted the name Canonero Segundo (Canonero the second) for their newborn son. At Belmont, a film was made called “The Ballad of Canonero,” featuring a song of the same name. It was later shown on television and was named best sports film of the year at the 15th “Annual International Film and TV Festival of New York.”

It was too late to turn back now.

A group of about 2,000 Venezuelans made the trip for the Belmont Stakes, many wearing T-shirts reading: “Viva Canonero!” and “Viva Venezuela!” New York’s Puerto Rican community adopted Canonero, and Puerto Ricans and other Hispanics poured into Belmont Park by the thousands. The official crowd of 82,694 destroyed the previous record of 67,961. The new mark would stand for 28 years.

Hours before the race, radio broadcasters in Venezuela asked the people to honk their car horns and churches to peal their bells at the precise same moment. Right before the race the city of Caracas was like a ghost town, with its citizens glued to their televisions.

As it turned out, Canonero’s many maladies proved much stronger than destiny. The colt went to the front and ran as far and as fast as his battle-weary legs and body could take him. He tried gallantly, but could finish no better than fourth, beaten only 4 1/2 lengths by longshot Pass Catcher. Even as the Derby and Preakness winner began to tire turning for home, cries of “Canonero!” resounded throughout the huge grandstand. Jim French and Bold Reason, two colts Canonero had already manhandled, finished second and third, respectively.

The morning after the race, Dr. Reed examined Canonero and said the colt still was showing signs of extreme fatigue. Baptista looked at the defeat philosophically and told those close to the horse not to hold their heads down. “Be cheerful,” he said. “We have become rich and famous, the horse is all right, and the future is ahead of us.”

Baptista had turned down several lucrative offers for Canonero, but felt the time was now right to sell. Shortly after the Belmont, he sold Canonero to Robert Kleberg, owner of King Ranch, for $1.5 million.

When the news that Canonero was for sale reached Venezuela, Baptista received thousands of letters with money enclosed from people wanting to help bring their hero back home. A number of the letters were from children, many of whom also sent drawings of the horse. Baptista returned everyone's money along with a thank you letter and a poster of Canonero.

Canonero did not run again until the following May, finishing second in the Carter Handicap, but proceeded to lose his next five races as well, with only a second in an allowance race to his credit. It was obvious he was no longer the same horse. His new trainer, Buddy Hirsch, tried blinkers, but that didn’t help. As a last resort, he summoned Canonero’s old jockey, Gustavo Avila, to come up from Venezuela to ride the horse in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race at Belmont. The colt showed some of his old spark, dashing to the lead and cutting out blazing fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:09 1/5 before tiring to finish a respectable fifth.

With the sleeping giant now showing signs of awakening, Hirsch and Avila agreed that a return to blinkers would help his concentration. Hirsch entered Canonero in the 1 1/8-mile Stymie Handicap on Sept. 20, 1972, where he would be facing that year’s Kentucky Derby and Belmont winner Riva Ridge, who was conceding 13 pounds to Canonero. Around the far turn, it was apparent that this was the Canonero of old, as he hooked up with Riva Ridge in a battle of Kentucky Derby winners. As he did with Eastern Fleet, Canonero locked horns with Riva Ridge all the way to the eighth and ran him into the ground, drawing off to a five-length victory. His time of 1:46 1/5 broke the track record by three-fifths of a second and equaled the American record.

There was still greatness in Canonero, who proved his spectacular Derby and Preakness victories were no fluke. But the Stymie was to be his final hurrah. Still plagued by various physical problems, he finished second in an allowance race in the mud and was retired to Gainesway Farm in Lexington, Ky.

Baptista managed to straighten out his business, but died in 1984 at age 57. Arias, despite the fame he achieved with Canonero, never was able to build up his stable, and his career plummeted to the point where he barely was able to eke out a living training one or two horses. Married with two children, he was forced to retire from training and took a government job, working as a technician for Consejo Nacional Electoral. But horses were still in his blood, and on weekends he’d go to La Rinconada to visit with friends and occasionally work with the horses just to be around them, as he had as a youngster.

Avila continued to ride successfully for several years and also rode for a while in the United States. After retiring, he became involved with real estate investments, and then was hired as a steward at La Rinconada. Arias also became a steward, and the two became a team once again. Avila retired, and as of three years ago, at age 70, was leading a private life. Arias also retired, spending most days at the track. He currently is back training on a regular basis and is again winning races.

Canonero never made it as a stallion and was sent back to Venezuela in Feb. 1981 to stand at Haras Tamanaco. The only stakes horse he sired there was the group II-placed El Tejano, who was ridden by none other than Avila.

Arias was always saddened that Canonero never made it as a stallion, feeling he wasn’t given the opportunity. “The quality of mares he was bred to was not appropriate for a horse they expected so much from,” he said.

Even after all these years, Arias admits his eyes still tear up whenever he thinks back on Canonero’s magical journey. “He was a giant in the United States, even though no one believed in him,” he said. “When we arrived in Kentucky, there was nothing but jokes. But Canonero was a battler and had such a big heart.”

On Nov. 11, 1981, that big heart gave out, as Canonero was found dead in his stall. By then, the magnificent decade of the seventies was history, with Secretariat, Forego, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, and Spectacular Bid all stamping their place in the record books. But few remembered that it was Canonero who paved the way for these media stars..

By the time of his death, the cries of “Viva Canonero” had faded to a whisper, and the horse who had electrified the racing world, drawing the largest crowd in Belmont history, had slipped quietly back into the obscurity from which came.

Canonero’s Derby and Preakness trophies were given to La Rinconada, but they were never exhibited anywhere. The statue of him was never built. As the years pass by and new generations of racing fans emerge, the name of Canonero drifts deeper into memory, as do his amazing feats.

But after four decades, it is time to remember Canonero, and a special time in racing when the entire sport was set ablaze by a horse they called the “Caracas Cannonball.” 


Leave a Comment:

Jhon q

Im crying after read this story!!!!

26 Mar 2011 7:22 PM



26 Mar 2011 7:26 PM

it was good history about my country venezuela we hope some horses someday make something like this we won too the epsom derby with secreto a son of northen dancer

26 Mar 2011 7:44 PM
Little Red

Mr. Haskin,

I've never actually posted on the Blood-Horse before, yet I read it avidly everyday. My particular favorites are the blogs and stories written by you. Your words inspire the imagination and envoke emotions in all who read your work, as has been stated on here countless times. I've only been involved in racing since 2006 when Barbaro was contesting the Triple Crown. Since then, I have read numerous publications about racing as well as taken out a subscription to the Blood-Horse. However, I feel the need to tell you that it is works like yours that keep this relatively new fan to racing coming back for more. Reading your stories brings history to life and leaves me longing for more. I feel that it is people like you who this industry needs right now; people who keep history flowing. Thank you so much for your beautiful stories as they keep this fan coming back day in and day out.


26 Mar 2011 7:46 PM

This was such a great story. I had only heard of Canonero while reading about his Preakness record... these forgotten stories about great horses are some of my favorites. :D

26 Mar 2011 7:48 PM
e e

I've been a BIG horse racing fan since 1984 and never knew the story of Canonero...thank you

26 Mar 2011 7:50 PM

Just a great, beautifully written story, Steve. Yes, that's how it was, no exaggerration. To this day, his Derby and Preakness wins were the biggest shockers I've ever experienced in horse racing. And just think, had he been right the Triple Crown was likely his. I can recall back then that many felt his Derby and Preakness wins were due to an advantageous switch from higher to lower altitudes. But, his track record against Riva Ridge the following year somewhat disproved that notion.

26 Mar 2011 7:54 PM

What a beautiful tribute!  I didn't know anything about this horse other than the name.  Now I've got tears rolling down my cheeks.  Thanks for the moving story.  

26 Mar 2011 8:06 PM

This is just an amazing story. Mad, because his offspring didn't turn out to be like him

26 Mar 2011 8:10 PM

this is a movie story!!!!!

26 Mar 2011 8:32 PM
Matthew W

Steve there was nothing like it, before or since! After his Derby romp, he showed speed vs Eastern Fleet and disposed of that one in his record Preakness--after the Belmont, Sports Illustrated proclaimed "Cannonero Shouldn't Have Run...." on it's cover---the next spring I see him, working out between races--I'm alone, at the 1/2 mile pole--and you could hear him snorting--he was a horse of much power and his ability/and probably that rather loud snorting (!!) that intimidated horses like Eastern Fleet--I mean how would you like this stamina-laden freak with speed snorting alongside---it takes a good horse to win the Kentucky Derby--and Cannonero II ran one of the strongest Derbys of the 40 or so I have seen....

26 Mar 2011 8:39 PM
Steve Haskin

Jhon q, that's why it would make a great movie...animated of course. Children would love it.

Bethany, thank you so much for your wonderful words. They mean a lot.

Sceptre, I was there when he beat Riva Ridge. It was the Preakness all over again. How exciting to have Avila return and win with him after everyone thought he was a has-been.

One other little sidebar, when Canonero was at Gainesway, he had a pet goat that they would tie to the gate of his paddock. Whenever the goat went under the gate into the paddock, Canonero would come charging down and he would scurry back under the gate and out of the paddock. I havea photo of it. I'll see if I can find it.

26 Mar 2011 8:52 PM

Canonero's story is the best Kentucky Derby story that ever was, or will ever be.

26 Mar 2011 9:10 PM
Paula Higgins

I'm crying too. This is a masterful story Steve. I knew 0 about this horse. What an incredible story. You make these people come to life and the horse unforgettable. Viva Canonero and the people who believed in him.

26 Mar 2011 9:14 PM

Thank you once again, Steve, for a marvelous story wonderfully told (which, of course, is nothing new for you to accomplish). I had been a racing fan and horse lover for years by the time Canonero ran those three extraordinary races. I hope I will never forget the experiences of watching those races at some friends' house while attending college (I had no TV at my apartment back in "the Dark Ages," so I caught my racing wherever I could). However, I believe I did have a subscription to The B-H by then...back when it cost something like $10 per year and all the supplements were free. I can recall pouring over the yearly stakes winners supplement with all those wonderful pedigrees. Many fond memories.

Good Fortune and best to you always,


26 Mar 2011 9:17 PM

What a flood of memories your account of Canonero II's extraordinary saga unleashed, Mr. Haskin.

It hardly seemed at all possible, a mere two years out from Majestic Prince's run through the Triple Crown races...

...& then add to the incredible saga the participation of subsequently disgraced Governor Marvin Mandell.

In my  eyes, it is almost epically tragic that Canonero II has not ben memorialized in some lasting way, here & in Venezuela.

It would seem that Pimlico would have been/would be a wonderful place to erect a memorial/statue of Canonero II.

To many of us in Maryland in 1971--a time & place long before the development of the multi-cultural world of today, Spanish seemed exotic & I remember literally being puzzled by the name...Canonero II.

So  sad that Canonero II died in obscurity.  He deserved so much more.

Thanks  for the memories.

26 Mar 2011 9:29 PM

steve, i remember canonero as i was 7 when he won his derby but i didn't know of his whole story; so it was nice to hear it.  i just love reading your blogs because it always leads to many happy memories of the horses i watched and loved.  and speaking of those horses, maybe you could answer a question for me.  secretariat was and always will be my favorite, but i was wondering about one of his foes.  whatever happened to angle light?  i would truly like to know.  thank you and thanks for the memories!!  

26 Mar 2011 9:41 PM

Inspiring story....its good to know that all horses have a chance at greatness no matter where they come from.  This is what keeps horse owners/players in the game...a chance at winning and each year we all have that chance with a fresh crop of Derby prospects!  What a fantastic sport!!!

26 Mar 2011 9:44 PM

WOW! that was great. Pete's right, this is a movie.

26 Mar 2011 9:57 PM
Robin from Maryland

1971 remember it well.  This was my beginning love affair of horse racing.  At only 11 years of age, I anxiously tried to read all about horse racing and bloodlines.  I watched all three of Canonero's races.  In those days there was no TVG or HRTV only Wide World of Sports.  Each Saturday I would wait for the intro on the show to see if they were broadcasting any horse races.  I also remember looking over the Sunday paper sports section to read the race result charts from the MD tracks.  Unfortunately the paper now-a-days rarely covers/mentions anything about the horses.  Sad state for MD racing. Canonero started it for me.  What a wonderful memory.

26 Mar 2011 9:58 PM
Bill Daly

That's a wonderful story, Steve, and one I remember well.  I think the story of Canonero Is a story of hope. Miracles do happen and it certainly happened to him and the people surrounding him. The adversity he overcame to accomplish what he did has to be unprecedented.  It's amazing he lived through the Triple Crown of 1971, much less win two-thirds of it.  Nobody could ever have made this up.  Thanks for the memories.

26 Mar 2011 10:06 PM

Reading these stories really gets me psyched up for the Triple Crown, Steve. Loved reading about Canonero. He showed up at the best time, during the Triple Crown, even if he didn't win it. I'd be thrilled with two-thirds of a Triple Crown win. I just really have a lot of respect for the horse, especially with all of the problems he had. Thanks so much for reprinting the story - all 5,000+ words of it!

26 Mar 2011 10:08 PM
John T

I came to Canada as a young teenager in the summer of 1970 from Northern Ireland and I thought

I had found my first superstar of

North American racing in Hoist The

Flag.But after the Bay Shore Stakes

things went horribly wrong for that horse and I am so happy he was able to be saved for stud duty

as his contribution to racing has been more than expected under the

circumstances.I did not even know

who Canonero was after he won the Kentucky Derby but became immediately intrigued when I found

out his sire was Pretendre who had

just been touched off by Charlottown in the 1966 Epsom Derby

Canonero went on to win the Preakness and just like everyone else I was very excited to see if he could win the Belmont Stakes.Although it never happened I

shall never forget my introduction

to the American Triple Crown because of Canonero.

26 Mar 2011 10:13 PM

Great story, Steve. Just heard of him today....

26 Mar 2011 10:19 PM

Even though we were just re-reading this story last week or so, your telling it again still brings tears to my eyes because it is just such a wonderful story.  And I have to agree with everything that Bethany said regarding your writing - you keep us coming back, again and again.  Canonero's story would make such an incredible movie, especially an animated movie for kids - I can just picture it and it has such a good ending when he comes back the next year to beat Riva Ridge!  Of course, if it was a kids' movie, it wouldn't have to go into the details of his next career, but in my naive and also far too optimistic heart, I'd like to think that he could have succeeded there also had he been given better mares.  Thank you once again.  You are the best!

26 Mar 2011 10:20 PM

i too remember my surprise watching on tv as this "no name" canonero charged from out of nowhere to win the derby, then won the preakness after that speed duel with eastern fleet. it is only with the passage of time that i appreciate how truly unique horses like canonero and his peer and erstwhile rival jim french were. perhaps we may remember in future years those "unique" horses we see today.

26 Mar 2011 10:25 PM

Steve, thanks so much for this wonderful story! Canonero II was the first horse I fell in love with. At the time, my dad was stationed in Japan. Having developed an interest in the Derby a couple of years previously, I made sure to tune in on the radio. I was so happy when he won. Like many teenagers, I often felt like an outsider, so it was easy to identify with him. No doubt many other people did, too. I was even more thrilled when he won the Preakness in record time, and crushed when he lost the Belmont. He was so gallant, and he truly was "The People's Horse."

26 Mar 2011 10:32 PM

Steve- if you google- Canonero Richard Stone Reeves-, and click Google Images, you'll find Reeves' painting of Canonero with his goat. I saw this painting many years ago in Greg Ladd's gallery (Cross Gate) in Lexington. I would have sent it through to your blog, but my computer skills are limited.

26 Mar 2011 11:03 PM
Mike Relva


Bravo! A touching,inspiring story that only you can bring out.

26 Mar 2011 11:09 PM
Jean in Chicago

Dear Steve,

 Please, please collect your stories of these horses into a book.  I grew up loving my mother's copies of C.W. Anderson's "Deep Through The Heart" and "Black, Bay and Chestnut", but they were published before the second world war.

 We need to remember the details of the great ones from more recent times.  (Guess that shows my age if I consider 40 yrs ago recent!)

For some of us oldsters it helps jog the memories, but its really important for the Bethanys who otherwise will only know horses like Canonaro II or Jim French as a name on a list.

 And forget that "children would love it" movie stuff.  I'll borrow a kid to take me if they won't let me go by myself!

26 Mar 2011 11:25 PM
Kristen Ohler

What a great story!!  I didn't get involved with horse racing as a fan until Secretariat, because back then he was on one of the only 5 channels we got back then.  All his 3 year old races were broadcasted.  But, when he set the record in  the Derby, and then went on to the Preakness, it was Canonero's record he was trying to beat.  According to two different clockers, Big Red didn't beat Canonero's record.  I still have the orginal article in my Secretariat scrap book titled "Secretariat faster than Canonero?'  It goes on to hash out the times between these two horses.  Doesn't really matter.  Canonero is an awesome story.  He set the record in his year Preakness, don't know if that record still stands, sometimes the best die young.

26 Mar 2011 11:26 PM
uncle mo lover amy!

thank you sooooo much for reminding every one of this great horse!!!

26 Mar 2011 11:28 PM
Karen in Texas

No one can tell the special racing stories as touchingly as you, Steve! Your words are a tribute to Canonero and his exceptional heart and durability. His is a saga that is almost unbelievable, yet true.

26 Mar 2011 11:50 PM

Thank You Steve for bringing back in these excelent words some of venezuela"s  national pride. Just want to tell you that the call for the Preakness was made in spanish by Virgilio Decan, one of the best ever in the business,  and it was so changed with emotion, that i"ve seen the race and heard the call many many times in my life, and i have never been able hold a little tear of emotion every time.

26 Mar 2011 11:54 PM

What a story!  He had such physical problems, but when he was right he was devastating.

27 Mar 2011 12:20 AM

I remember that Derby, watching it in my cousin's house in Houston. What an incredible story. What an incredible horse. Thank you for re-posting it for us!

27 Mar 2011 12:37 AM

Oh wow,what a story, This is gold !!! and not unlike the story of Black Gold, Thank you it is a story worth reading !! Thank you Thank you thank you !!

27 Mar 2011 1:01 AM

Steve, a couple of months ago I was deep into research into a potential KD horse I was interested in - one you also mentioned in your first Derby Dozen, as it happens, but not since.  My research quickly became very confusing, leading me to Canonero through his trainer, Juan Arias.  But the horse I was researching was 3yo of 2011, Decisive Moment - whose trainer is also named Juan Arias, a former jockey now training a small stable in FL.  

I ended up reading a lot of articles about Canonero and being fascinated by his story...and everything I had pieced together about him is right here in your re-printed blog.  

No point to my comment, really.  Just having one of those deja vu moments. lol

27 Mar 2011 1:20 AM
Joe Alva


Thanks for telling this wonderful story so well and for helping me recall great memories!  Canonero's Derby was the first one I ever saw and I haven't missed one since (including the last 7 in person at Churchill!)

I remember nervously watching all three races in 1971 on television with my dad who, being Cuban, was naturally rooting for this horse to take the Triple Crown.  I recall the disappointment I felt when Pass Catcher mowed them all down the strecth on the outside in the Belmont.

My dad gave me the gift of a lifetime in introducing me to racing that year.  Your sensitive writing and dedication to a treasured tradition helps keep that gift passionately alive!  Thanks for so well understanding the soul of this sport.  

27 Mar 2011 1:37 AM

Steve, as usual, you tell a great story.  I never heard of this Champ before.  That was before my time.  It's always great to go back in history and to learn about past Champs and feel good stories and about the connection between horse/trainer/groom etc...  Some horses just have away of speaking to us and making us understand or, at least try to understand what they are going through.  I would love to see the pic of the goat and him.  Again, Steve, Thank You!

btw... check out my new drawing.  I'm looking for names/title for him.  :)

27 Mar 2011 1:48 AM

Heart wrenching story Steve, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. Canonero II, the Little Choo Choo that could.

The 70's also produced Ruffian, argueably the greatest filly or mare who ever raced, no disrespect to the Queen. In my book, the 1960's and the 1970's (except for Man O War, Native Dancer & Swaps) produced the greatest race horses in history.

Ther story of Canonero II is so amazing that no Hollywood writer could ever have come up with it......

27 Mar 2011 2:11 AM

Thank you Steve so very, very much!

I've been trying for years to find anything written or filmed about Canonero II. You see, he was the very first horse that I actually watch race (outside of movies) and fell in love with. I was barely a teen-ager when my dad introduced me to horseracing and I got to see my first Kentucky Derby whereas I understood what was happening on the track. My dad allowed me to choose a horse of my own and place a bet on him, I chose Canonero and I bet $1 on him to win! I loved that horse from the very first time I saw him run, and when people ask me how did I get interested in horses, I would always tell them that it was because of a cinderella horse named Canonero II who almost won the triple crown before there was a Secretariat!!! I sincerily appreciate your acknowledgement of his life and his accomplishments. He made me so proud that day, because I chose him with my heart and not by what the racing form, scratch sheet, or handicappers said about him. For this young girl, he paved the way for the Northen Dancers, Secretariat, and most importantly Seattle Slew. He was my very first left-footed (wouldn't change leads) horse, then along came Alydar, he was the same way. After that race against Riva Ridge, I always wondered what happened to him, but couldn't find anything. He will always have a special place in my heart and a star-studded hoof in my memory of what a true champion can do! It's about the heart, it's always been about the heart!!!! Again, thank you soooo much!

27 Mar 2011 2:47 AM
Steve Haskin

Thank you all for your comments and recollections.

Jean in Chicago, thank you inparticular for these words: "For some of us oldsters it helps jog the memories, but its really important for the Bethanys who otherwise will only know horses like Canonero II or Jim French as a name on a list." That is why I'm writing and re-writing some of these older stories -- not only to jog the memories, but to bring these stories to a new generation of fans. And the story of Canonero is so unique and improbable, I feel the need to re-tell it every few years. I'm so glad to see so many comments from people who were not aware of the story, as well as those that read it the first time and still appreciate how special it is.  It gives me great satisfaction to bring stories like this and Jim French to life. As you no doubt know I have plenty of them.

27 Mar 2011 3:29 AM

I'm convinced he didn't run the same as a 4-year-old because he was treated like a horse...not the special boy he was for his Venezuelan team, LOL. I mean it, though.

Never a Derby goes by that I don't remember Canonero...he is one of the first horses I rememember winning the Derby...that's why they run the race, to see who is the best on the first Saturday in May. ♥

27 Mar 2011 6:31 AM

When I read your warning at the beginning of the article that is was long, over 5,000 words, I rubbed my hands together with glee knowing I was in for a treat! You did not disappoint! I loved this story about this gallant, brave horse. So sad about his Belmont race. Thank you again, you are an amazing writer. You have no comparison in my opinion.

I would love to see the picture, hope you can find it.

27 Mar 2011 6:57 AM
Tony From White Weld


I was there too for the Riva Ridge race. I was 19 at the time And I bet my White Weld paycheck to win and place on the Secreteriat Riva Ridge entry in the Jockey Club Gold cup. Not sure if that was the name of the race.

After cashing my ticket I felt like I found the easy way to making a living. A week's pay in a bit over 2 minute. At that time it was only 90.00 but in those times that was a lot of money. Needless to say you very few people can make a licing betting horses but I still love them 43 years later.

Thanks for making me feel young again. Tony

27 Mar 2011 7:28 AM

Thank You for the great story...Canonero II was my absolute favorite horse growing up as a kid and this article brought back lots of really great memories.Now this true story should go Hollywood...hope you have the movie rights!

27 Mar 2011 7:48 AM

Wonderful telling of a fairy tale story!  I remember that Triple Crown series like it was yesterday.  Our country was torn apart by the Vietnam War.  The battles of the Civil Rights movement were still fresh and still changing the country's mindset.  The whole story would not been believable had it not been true. The entire country got behind this incredible underdog so different from the usual high society and wealth that we all saw as racing. Thank you!

27 Mar 2011 8:26 AM
leonardo garcia

gran historia y como muchas veces se rien de los caballos sudamericanos como se reian de cuando llego el gran invasor, pero los precios no hacen los pingos ,sino los pingos lo demuestran con el gran corazon que tienen los grandes caballos

27 Mar 2011 8:51 AM
leonardo garcia

una gran historia

27 Mar 2011 8:51 AM
LouAnn Cingel of Union, Missouri

Absolutely a fantastic story!  I will forever remember this horse and he will live on in my memory.

27 Mar 2011 9:23 AM
Steve Haskin

Here is the best translation I can find for the comment above.

Great story and as often laugh at American horses and laughed at when I get the great invader, but prices do not rags, but the rags is shown with the big heart with the big horses

27 Mar 2011 9:25 AM
Pedigree Ann

As a dedicated Jim French fan, I have always grumbled..."One more bout of engine trouble and Jimbo is a Derby winner." Sour grapes, I know, but Jimbo was my boy.

And after all this time, why can't the Jockey Club use diacritical marks to spell foreign names correctly? Is there not a tilde over the first 'n' in his Venezuelan registration? Is it so hard to typeset a tilde? or a circumflex? or an accent? Come on, this is the 21st Century.

27 Mar 2011 9:39 AM
Stephi S.

I just love this story. I watch Cannonero's races on YouTube occasionally. Both the Derby and the Preakness, I usually skip the Belmont. There are two versions of them, in Spanish as broadcast in Venezuela and in English. The ones in Spanish are very exciting, the announcer is yelling and actually knows who the horse is, unlike the announcer at Churchill who apparently didn't know who he was and didn't notice him until he was a length in front of the other horses.

He got a lot more respect in the Preakness calls, though. Hehehe.

27 Mar 2011 9:54 AM

Great Article! Only things missing.

Canonero 2nd was out of Dixieland Band, whos dam was Ragtime Band, whos dam was Martial Air, an own daughter of Man O' War! This family produced some good horses.

27 Mar 2011 9:54 AM
an ole rail bird

great story, i ahd heard parts of it from my uncle " bob short :, who was in cd , when the horse arrived. he stated . " he looked like he was suffering from the miss meal colic." keep coming with those history stories. they will be good for the image of racing. thanks again.

27 Mar 2011 10:23 AM
Linda in Texas

Reading this real life story of Canonero II, as only Steve Haskin can write it, the first time over a year ago is what convinced me that he was the writer i wanted to follow.

And i believe everything he writes

as his stories do not just involve the numbers/fractions etc. they are sprinkled with bits of his sensitive side that makes him so believable. I could just hear and picture Canonero's countrymen cheering for him and believing in something to take them away from their worries as i read the words.

I needed kleenex the first time and so too now.

I can hear the announcer as i type this calling the race. Canonero II came out of nowhere totally unsuspected. I remember hearing his name and i thought Canonero II, what/who in the world?  Well he has left this world with his powerful story.

Thanks Steve.

And how about Pants on Fire winning his big race? i hope Slew got to see him win,we like the funny names and this time it was no fluke. When i saw him prancing in the parade to the gate i knew he would win! He was full of himself and he did not disappoint. I don't think anyone had taken him seriously and those are the ones I always cheer for as i am the resident Hangin' With Haskin underdog cheerleader.

And congratulations Rosie, you rode him beautifully.

27 Mar 2011 10:25 AM

I remember reading this article several times.  It is a heartwarming story; a sad story, and at the same time, a story of tremendous joy.  Thanks, again, for sharing!  

27 Mar 2011 11:21 AM
David Carrico


Thanks so much for this piece.  I was 20 and in one of the cheap seats that first Saturday in May.  The blur that was Canonero II had just inhaled Jim French and Eastern Fleet as he went by me.  I distinctly remember thinking who the hell was that, looking at the number 15 posted as 1st and looking down at the DRF and the banner across his PP – NO FURTHER INFORMATION AVIALABLE.  Years later I got in the business and met individuals like Chick Lang and Jim Padgett.  Chick told me the story on the nomination like he had done a thousands times before and Jim, a trainer and then-patrol judge at CD said Canonero circling horses was the biggest move he’d seen before or since.  The Preakness was electric when you could just see him measuring the Calumet colt at the top of the lane . . . unbelievable.  In my lifetime only the ill-fated Swale would approach the drama of 1971.  It simply doesn’t get any better.  Again, thanks.

27 Mar 2011 11:24 AM
manuel martinez

Great story Mr. Haskin. let me help you with the translation above, he meant: some time the usa racing underrated the southamerican horse, like Invasor " the 2006 horse of the year" he also stated " odd do not determine the greatness of a horse ,heart or ball determine the greatness".

 Thanks again for great story.

 with respect


27 Mar 2011 12:11 PM
Linda in Texas

Steve, just was looking at Pants on Fire's pedigree. He has Seattle Slew, Mr. Prospector, Secretariat, Bold Reasoning, Storm Cat, Buckpasser on both sides plus many others. I had not researched him until today. And not to forget Graustark and Somethingroyal,too. But my favorite bloodlines of his are hopespringseternal and hopespringsforever. How apropos for this delightful gutsy colt who just turned 3 last Sunday and he would not give up yesterday. That is the heart of the matter.

He has some mighty famous hooves to fill and i am so glad for his owners The Halls, trainer Kelly Breen, Rosie Napravnak his jockey and for Pants on Fire.

I really think every horse has The Canonero II spirit in them. It just

takes someone who sees that something special in a horse to open the door so they can shine.

27 Mar 2011 12:41 PM
King Mowlee

Years ago a trainer told me a story about Canonero having a pet goat. when he was sold to King Ranch they told them he needed a goat. So they gave him a goat..and he killed it. They tried several goats and killed them all. they went back to Arias et al.and were told "oh he wants HIS goat". price on the goat several thousand dollars. any truth to the story?  

27 Mar 2011 1:23 PM
Hector Lebron

Nowadays, Cañonero II wouldn't get to participate in the Derby for lack of graded earnings. Bad rule!

27 Mar 2011 1:55 PM
Dawn in MN

What a fantastic read, lost in the story, check, tears of great compassion and joy, check!  

I remembered that I had read this before when I read it today.  Thank you Mr. Haskin, it is because of your writing that remembered Canonero's races.  I was ten-years-old, and I was absolutely fascinated by Thoroughbred racing.  It was a magical story.  

Please publish a collection of your favorite stories and columns, so that I can remember.  Little Red, was so right;

"Reading your stories brings history to life and leaves me longing for more. I feel that it is people like you who this industry needs right now; people who keep history flowing. Thank you so much for your beautiful stories as they keep this fan coming back day in and day out."

27 Mar 2011 2:09 PM

Totally awesome story that I definitely never got the whole deal on. Thanks!

27 Mar 2011 2:13 PM

I was at Belmont that day--what an amazing experience to be part of that enormous crowd.  It felt like everyone, not just the Venezuelan contingent, was pulling for Canonero.  

27 Mar 2011 3:39 PM

Great story, as usual! I remember Canonero very well. I just wish you had included a photo of him with your story.

27 Mar 2011 4:28 PM

Don't animate it... make it like Seabiscuit, Ruffian and Secretariat; use real horses and people.  It would make a wonderful movie.

The only thing your articles don't mention is why his name changed from Cannonero to Cannoero II after the Derby.  As I recall they found another active horse in the JC registry and had to add the II to his name to keep them straight.

Thanks for the memories Steve.

27 Mar 2011 4:36 PM
Abraham Aldana

Amazing this story, is worthy of a great movie such as "Seabicuit" or "Secretariat". Only miss a detail in Pimlico, a journalist he approached "ARIAS" and "AVILA" early the day of the race and said to them "this track being arranged by the rail for"Eastern Fleet"if they want to win you must run inside and wire"

27 Mar 2011 4:55 PM
Monika P

Again, thanks for a wonderful story. I remember seeing Canonero win and being as shocked as everyone else seemed to be - except for Mr. Baptista's mother, of course! As several other writers commented, I was not aware of Canonero's background and the amazing set of circumstances behind his arrival at the Triple Crown scene. Please do publish a book so that we can all enjoy reliving these fantastic memories.

27 Mar 2011 5:03 PM

Thanks so much Steve - great writing as always. I too remember Canonero II. I was ten years old and watching my 2nd Derby on tv. (I've seen all subsequent Derbies "live" except for Mine That Bird - another Cinderella story.) I later actually painted a small horse figurine to look like Canonero - and I have it to this day. I remember the disappointment when he lost the Belmont, and when he beat Riva Ridge the next year I was so happy for him. I just recently found out that he went home to Venezuela and died there.

Now, of course, thanks to the "Graded Earnings" rule, there will be no more "Canoneros". After all, Mine That Bird had been the Canadian Two Year Old Champion and not a complete unknown. The fact that Canonero had already won a race at 10f and ran against older horses just wouldn't cut it today.

I agree you need to publish a book of all your historical columns. So many stories need to be remembered...

27 Mar 2011 5:22 PM
Kristen Ohler

I was just curious why sometimes there is "Canonero" and then it is "Canonero 11?"

27 Mar 2011 5:23 PM

The name Steve Haskin is synonymous with great writing.  Canonero will never be forgotten with a tribute like yours.

27 Mar 2011 5:24 PM
Jeri from Sacramento

Bravo,a beautiful story and one to remember! Thank you, I'm still crying!!

27 Mar 2011 6:21 PM
Darien Grey

Save Our Sport – A Bright Idea for the Thoroughbred Industry

"Horses are naturally competitive... the whip is mostly not needed"

- Hall of Fame Trainer 'Sunny' Jim Fitzsimmons

"Why don't I go to the racetrack?  Because they whip the horses"

- Claire, Los Angeles Resident

Why are there so few women at the racetrack?  I used to wonder.  Women love to gamble, women love horses, and women love to dress up and wear stylish hats, espiecially when they know they are being appreciated in public.  Why then do they (and the children the ones with families would bring with them) stay away from the track in droves?

I am not an expert on thoroughbred horses, but Sunny Jim is.  I am not a woman, but Claire is.  Her sentiment has been echoed at cities and racetracks throughout the country, from Emerald Downs in Seattle to Belmont and Monmouth in the East, and from Pimlico on Preakness Day back out west to Santa Anita.  Women have an intimate and emotional connection with our equine friends that few men share; when they bet on a horse they form a bond with it, and when Chop Chop (jockey Jorge Chavez) lashes a good 20 licks on that horse through the stretch, they feel it with a sharp intensity, enough to keep them away from the sport.

Is it a viable option to phase out  the use of whip?  Sunny Jim says it is unnecessary.  How many other great trainers agree with him?  Could racetrack attendance be doubled and even tripled nationwide, via this method?  The whip is dramatic, visually impressive, and brutal.  Do you think this could be done, and that the thoroughbred industry would gain more (in acceptance of the sport for the mainstream, with commensurate advertising dollars for female and family product placement) than we would lose?

I am Darien Grey, a fan of thoroughbred racing for over thirty years.  I am sending this proposal to all of the race tracks in the U.S.  If you think this is a good idea, please spread it around.

Thank you, Darien

27 Mar 2011 6:51 PM


You couldn't make this up to be more entertaining.  I couldn't stop ready and wanting more. All I can say is excellent.  WOW!

27 Mar 2011 7:15 PM
Steve Haskin

Kristen, there was another horse registered with The Jockey Club named Canonero, so in those cases, the II had to be added. Remember a great French horse named Match who came here for the International. He had to race under the named Match II. There was Grey Dawn II, Cougar II and many others.

Thanks again to everyone for your kind words and recollections. There are more stories from the '71 Derby trail to be told, like Hoist the Flag and His Majesty. But that's for another time.

27 Mar 2011 7:16 PM
eastern fleet

Great story.  In addition to Canonero, it reminds me of my two favorite horses of te time, Hoist the Flag and Eastern Fleet.  I was a teenager at the time, and played for a championship softball team that our sponsor agreed to name "Eastern Fleet" in honor of our favorite horse.  We'd go out in the field with Eastern Fleet across our uniforms, and most folks thought we were named after the Navy.

27 Mar 2011 8:03 PM
Juan M. Villa

From my home here in Maracaibo, Venezuela i say.... Viva Cañonero! Viva Venezuela.... I knew this story, an d it was grat to  read it again.... so sad that this horse is far from being an idol here nowdays.... What he did, what Avila and Arias did is beyond everything you can iamgine in terms of horseracing history in my country. The Copa Cañonero (ungraded stakes), Copa Juan Arias (ungraded) and Clásico Guatavo Ávila (GIII) are held and run at La Rinconada every year in their honor, they deserve that and more... they are HEROES!

27 Mar 2011 8:14 PM
Steve Haskin

Juan, that was beautifully said. Thank you so much. I'm glad at least they have races named after them. But as you stated, they should be heroes, just as Invasor will always be a hero in Uruguay..

27 Mar 2011 8:35 PM
27 Mar 2011 8:38 PM
charlie H

I remember watching teh Derby he won and wondering what had happened.  I remember teb Preakness as well watching on TV with my parents whenmy Mom said there's something magical going on here.  Great article, Steve, but this is a story that deserves a book to rival Seabiscuit and Jimmy Winkfield.  You need to write it.  Go for it!

27 Mar 2011 8:39 PM
needler in Virginia

Steve, as always you've brought the much for the breadth of your talent as the stories you tell and HOW you tell them! Muchas gracias, mi amigo.

Qatmom, if you're looking for yet another improbable, Google "Black Gold Kentucky Derby" and you'll get a real dose of the impossible, unbelievable and downright amazing........

Cheers and safe trips to all.

27 Mar 2011 8:47 PM

@Steve 7:16 "But that's for another time."  What a tease.  Can't wait.

27 Mar 2011 8:57 PM

Canonero II, another wonderful horse from South America, I remember Forli also from Argentina, owned by Arthur Hancock, sire of Forego. Forli was touted as perhaps the next super horse. He got injured not long after and was retired. Then we had Quilche, trained by Robert Wheeler, he was a front running grass specialist. Very nice horse. I think he was from Chile. No one will ever forget most recently Invasor, he won the BC Classice upsetting Bernardini at Churchill Downs. I never thought it was an upset though...........

27 Mar 2011 9:10 PM
Paula Higgins

As Steve wrote, Juan M. Villa, beautifully said! I went to Youtube to see his races and at the beginning of one of the Youtube presentations was a newspaper with a headline in big bold letters VIVA CANONERO! I can only imagine what he meant to Venezuela. I also saw a picture of an absolutely ecstatic Mr. Arias holding Canonero's reins after the Derby. You can see that it meant everything to him. Just a wonderful, heartwarming story Steve. Thank you.

27 Mar 2011 9:14 PM
Diego García

Horseracing is having its share of economic problems but we do have equine heroes to bring back new and youg fans. Movies such as Seabiusquit, Pharlap and Secretariat that have already been released and plenty of great horses such a Stymie, Canonero and Zenyatta would bring back the memory of what horse racing is all about.

27 Mar 2011 9:35 PM

Canonero II's Triple Crown bid was what got me hooked on horseracing. His story is movie-worthy!

Viva el caballo Canonero II!!

27 Mar 2011 10:46 PM
tawnya horton

thank u so much for the story about CanoneroII was the athlete that started me on a 35 year love affair with those noble animals that give it all for our enjoyment and even sometimes pay the ultimate price for their game efforts on our behalf.I shall always have a very special place in my heart for the Caracas Cannonball.

27 Mar 2011 11:51 PM
Steve Davidowitz


You are 100 percent correct: This is the racing movie-story that has been crying to be told and have said as much in my relatively brief rendition of this saga ("The Greatest Upset of All Time"), in "The Best and Worst of Thoroughbred Racing," published by DRF Press in 2007.

You fleshed it out beautifully and with great sensitivity here; it is now ready for a full blown script. Truly Excellent Work.


PS. If I can be of any help in moving the project forward, maybe this would be the way we could reconnect to our roots---having started our careers at the same timne in the same offices of the old Morning Telegraph on 10th Avenune in NY, 41 years ago.  

28 Mar 2011 12:08 AM
Steve Haskin

Hi Steve, thanks so much. Great memories. Received an e-mail today from Geroge Bernet. The article rekindled memories for him as well. It got me thinking of Ralph Pinto and his wad of bills. They dont make bookies like that anymore. And Felix in the cafeteria and crazy Betty Moore and those memorable times in the wire room waiting for a result. By the way, your book still resides in my bathroom book rack, which is the most revered spot for books in my house.

I still occasionally think about the prospects of a Canonero movie, possibly animated to recreate the actual events more easily and appeal to kids, but it's never gone anywhere. He could have been a real storybook hero. I actually did hear from one person interested several years ago, but never heard anything again.

See you at the Derby.


28 Mar 2011 5:32 AM

Steve,I have a few black and white pics of Canonero II if you are interested., Nancy

28 Mar 2011 7:27 AM
Maurice Farias - CHILE

Steve If this history was a movie scrip it will be great, but it was true.I was there and I never seen Belmont like that day,probably never will.

28 Mar 2011 8:02 AM
Especially Horses


I never tire of the Canonero story.  I went to your archives last week to read it and had to reread it again this morning so I wouldn’t miss your “additions”. I’d like to see a Canonero movie, animation or otherwise.  Viva Canonero!

28 Mar 2011 10:32 AM

That great stories like this are generally known only by "insiders" says a lot about what is wrong with the industry I think. Thank goodness we have someone like Steve Haskin to share these types of stories.

28 Mar 2011 10:53 AM
Bárbara Carreras

I was thrilled to read this article about the life of a great horse race (almost cried) and his relationship with his coach, owner, jockey, etc. I think they should make a movie about his life and did not go unnoticed, as has happened even in Venezuela, where even forgot his promise to make a statue.

28 Mar 2011 11:26 AM

Steve, you are awesome!  I'm 28 and have only been in the industry (and a fan)for about 8 years.  I learn so much from reading your articles!

28 Mar 2011 12:29 PM

im from Venezuela and i hope some moviemakers make this movie its amazing and remember that moment of hope its going to be a good example of how we can make dre3ams come true..

28 Mar 2011 12:37 PM
Linda in Texas

Steve, my dad called his "The Throne Room."  Always thought my dad was studying to be a King, til i finally, as a small child, figured out what/where The Throne Room really was.

Louis L'Amour was his favorite author. And John Wayne his favorite actor when he played in Westerns! Oh for the good ol' days

when life was just a little less

stressful and the bridge to the past was not so long.

I listened and watched The You Tube Paula Higgins mentioned about The 1971 Kentucky Derby Canonero II ran in the Spanish version and that was a treat. You could hear the 'unbridled passion' in the announcer's voice when Canonero II was obviously on his way to win it.

Steve, please feel free to not post this if it is off color re: The Throne Room. It was what is was. And for many still is. :)

I was just glad to know that my dad was not the only one with a book case in his bathroom.

28 Mar 2011 12:47 PM

The first time I saw him, I was a kid, I loved him.  He was my first real hero at racing.  I remember part of the story but not the end. I even named my male kitten after him but made him Romeo Canonero because the kitten was a tuff little guy and the name sounded tuff like the horse.

What a great story for a great horse.

Thank you.

I wish you would publish an anthology with your articles like Red Smith and the others did. Soooo many people would love it.

28 Mar 2011 2:09 PM

What a wonderful history, I read it and thought I was reading a book! Marvelous! unbelievable! What is Steven Allan Spielberg waiting for? this could be the movie of the century!

Anecdote: Juan Arias told me, one night after the races here in Maracaibo, that while being at Belmont,  a Millionaire Lady and her dogs used to come every afternoon in her RR to watch and speak to Cañonero.

28 Mar 2011 4:28 PM

Hi Steve, It´s really nice to talk to you. I´m a journalist from Venezuela and a I have been working in the main horse racing magazine of my country, "Gaceta Hípica" since 1983. Since 1992 I manage the magazine and  I also produce a daily TV show named Gaceta Hípica too.

In the name of venezuelan horsemen I really thank you for your comments and for remember our unforgettable champion. Right here, in Caracas, in our Sport Channel, Meridiano Television, we are preparing a micro about the story, maybe the best Derby "underdog" story that also could have been taken to  cinemas as Seabiscuit or the recently Disney´s Secretariat movie.

I even remember when the blood-horse, ten or eleven years ago, published the 100 best horses of last century and you did not mentioned Canonero. My dad, who also is journalist, sent a letter to you and in the next year The Blood Horse published a six page story about Canonero: That made us so proud!

By the way I can tell you that Gustavo Avila often visits La Rinconada Race Track (obviously is retired) and Juan Arias is still working as a trainer and eventually wins and goes to the winners circle.

I would like to keep a feed back (by e-mail) with you for further information.

28 Mar 2011 4:44 PM

Thank you for the great story.  Some of them just have the will to win no matter what.  I hope he was well cared for in his old age.

28 Mar 2011 5:14 PM

Mr. Haskin,

If you were a fiction writer, I would advise you to rein in your over-fertile imagination and to come up with a more realistic plot. What an incredible story you told us here!!! I thought that Mine That Bird's saga had that corner all sewn-up... and then you come up with a tale that tops it.

The more I find out about horses of the past, the more I wonder what other treasures are buried in the rich history of horse racing... waiting for Steve Haskin to dig them up and delight us with them.  

28 Mar 2011 6:32 PM
Nelson Maan, Calgary, AB, Canada

Steve, on behalf of all Venezuelan horsemen, please, receive our heartfelt thanks for reviving the Cañonero saga once again. You are certainly a horse loving soul with a pen...

As much intriguing as Cañonero II’s feat may appear, I should add that he had the most demanding preparation as a three year old in La Rinconada. He ran 8 times in 1971before taking over the Triple Crown challenge (difficult to see nowadays under current “best practices”). Not only that, but he had to compete against a legion  of OLDER great runners from Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Ireland, England, like Yves, Ejemplo, Rienda Suelta, Mon Chanson, Fast Track, Golden Flake, etc.  The level  of competition in those days in Caracas was remarkable as  demonstrated by the immortals El Chama and Prendase who demolished an international outstanding field in the 1955 Washington International Stakes after a successful  campaign in La Rinconada...!  

Cañonero II proved that he had what it takes to win the Kentucky Derby after winning easily at 2000 metres  on March 7 over such great runners like Paunero who had won the most prestigious race in Venezuela the year before (Clasico Simon Bolivar at 2400 metres).

His owner may have been a “romantic dreamer” when he made the decision, but on a deeper analysis anyone knowing the quality of the competition Cañonero II had to face (winning 4 out of 8 strong races) would have at least given a chance for the exotics ...!

28 Mar 2011 7:07 PM
Steve Haskin

Jose Armao, thank you very much for the update, and please keep in touch with me. My email address is All the best.

Douglas, thank you, too, for your anecdote. I enjoyed reading that.

Deb, I would love to publish them, but finding a publisher is not easy.

And thanks, Zoo, and everyone else for your kind words and trips down memory lane.

28 Mar 2011 7:31 PM
Steve Haskin

Nelson, thank you for all that information. all this stuff coming in is great..

28 Mar 2011 8:09 PM

I kept seeing Canonero's name up at Pimlilco, and kept thinkin who is that? Horse racing history comes alive with your words, and the little guy, and the little horse soar.

28 Mar 2011 8:10 PM
Cheryl Denton

Thanks Steve! It's stories like these that make me love horse racing so much. I have no interest in handicapping, just a deep love and admiration for these magnificent creatures and the sometimes colorful folks surrounding them.  I was having Mine That Bird flashbacks reading this piece.  I remember asking my husband while watching the '09 Derby "who is that number 8 horse?" It's certainly true that you can't make this stuff up!  

28 Mar 2011 9:00 PM

This and the the Jim French story were great look backs. You have such an insightful way of writing.

28 Mar 2011 9:18 PM

Steve I don't know how many times I have read this article of yours come derby time, but each time the feeling is the same. I get transported in time to my youth and that afternoon of the KD in 1971. May 1st. (labor day in Venezuela) and you could get no information about the result of the race. Late in the afternoon from the most unlikely source (Susana Duijm Venezuela's first Miss Venezuela to be crowned Miss World gave the news on a radio program she had at the time) that Canonero had won the Derby. Great memories!! Your writing of this story is superb.

This year there is another Juan Arias on the Derby trail (trainer of Decisive Moment). Could he work the magic??? I wonder if its his son... Can you check???

28 Mar 2011 9:29 PM
charlie white



Charlie. Caracas, Venezuela.

28 Mar 2011 9:30 PM
Paula Higgins

Linda in Texas, believe me, "The Throne Room" was THAT room in many homes, including my own growing up LOL!

It is really nice to see our fellow horse racing enthusiasts from South America reading the blog and contributing. Always nice to hear from them.

28 Mar 2011 10:00 PM
Shelby's Best Pal

I loved reading this story.  Thank you.

28 Mar 2011 10:55 PM
Gustavo Sanson

Thanks Steve for bringing back all these wonderful memories of our great Champion.

I frequently go to Haras Tamanaco where Cañonero stood for stud duties and died. He is buried next to a big tall tree right by the stallion barn. Mrs Annamaria Freudman, the farm's owner, once told me of the many people that frequently used to stop at the farm to greet Cañonero, and take pictures with him. Regular racing fans, racing professionals, TV personalities, even politicians. It was like a pillgrimage to see the horse everyone carried within their hearts.

As Juan mentioned, each year we honour Cañonero, Arias and Avila at La Rinconada racetrack in Caracas, with a stakes race for each one. Coincidentially, this Sunday April 3rd is the Clásico Cañonero, a Group 2 race for 3-year-olds over a mile, which is the distance of Venezuela's first leg of the triple crown. On August 14th will be the Copa Juan Arias, a Listed race, and on the same day the Clásico Gustavo Avila, Gr. 3.

Books and films should have been made of this great story. A couple of years ago, a video production was made by a local prestigious film company, about the history of horse racing in Venezuela, which spans more than 100 years, and a very good portion of that was dedicated to Cañonero's accomplishments, told by its protagonists Avila and Arias, as well as other turfmen involved in the feat.

Thanks again Steve for making us live again those fantastic moments.

28 Mar 2011 11:13 PM

Dang it, Steve, you made me cry again!  

I knew some of the story, but you gave us so much more.  Thank  you!

29 Mar 2011 1:56 AM
Steve Haskin

Maantonetti, oddly enough this Juan Arias is not related at all. I  believe he is from Panama. But it is ironic for him to be in the Derby on the 40th anniversary of of the other Juan Arias.

Charley, it is a shame indeed. It's so sad to see what was once a great sport deteriote so much. I hope we can stop the same from happening in the U.S.

Thank you, Gustavo. Good stuff.

Vicky, your tears are what I live for :).

29 Mar 2011 3:05 AM

Steve, what a wonderful topic! I have a little story to tell about the '71 Derby. We were college students in the infield. My fiancee's fraternity bro put me on his shoulder's to call the race.  He said who's winning? I said Canonero II - he said, I don't care who's second, who's winning?  Repeated time and time again .... He finally got the picture!  He'll never live it down!

29 Mar 2011 3:19 AM
Linda in Texas

weekendstorm, that is a funny post. Sounds like an Abbot & Costello skit.

Steve, now you are REALLY famous with so many wonderful cuates o cuatachos des Venezuela y Canonero II writing you with their thoughts. How blessed we all are to be in the same carriage of their memories.

For so many who beg for more of Steve's wonderful stories,the greats he has written about, on in the search window, upper right, simply type in, 1 at a time, the 3 following names:

1. Wanderin Wonder (posted 40ct08).

2. Wanderin Boy (posted 30Nov08).

3. Spectacular Days(posted 1Dec08).

You will see that Steve is all heart with the gentle giants who

somehow were not always lucky but never gave up. Those are the underdogs i admire, and goes along with the theme of Canonero II who surprised everyone in his quest for the trophies.

I am sort of tough Steve, but it doesn't take much for me to well up about horses,even though i was always taught to not wear my heart on my shoulder.

Sometimes though, it just ain't easy to do.

Thanks Steve

29 Mar 2011 12:03 PM

Steve.....I just finished watching Secretariet for the fourth time and have wore out 2 DVD's of Seabiscuit....this would make an amazing movie.  What does it take to get the attention of the movie industry to make this happen?

29 Mar 2011 2:08 PM
Native Dancer

Steve, another great hit to your plethora of great accomplishments...!  Thank you very much for generating this tsunami of passion. You have opened a wonderful door for a huge community to voice their pride and excitement about Canonero and the Triple Crown ritual.

This thread is amazing... it has been going on for three days now and does not seem to stop...! Wow!!!

On the cold realm of calculations, facts and numbers, it is a good reminder that Canonero,  as a 3 year old, was able to win in his base La Rinconada (1000 m above sea level) at the Derby’s distance logging a time only 3/5 of a second shy from the track record over highly qualified older imported stakes horses.

On the ethereal  domain it was clear that his tale of heart and courage in overcoming adversity is parallel to great warrior epics.

Canonero’s story is a forceful  and authentic reminder about how noble the horses are, their eternal magic relationship with humans  and that anyone can dream big in this industry of horse/people partnerships.

Thanks again Steve for bringing moments of happiness in this forum!

29 Mar 2011 3:06 PM

I have read about Canonero before.  Thanks for the wonderful article and reminder of hope and miracle that racing is all about.

30 Mar 2011 9:22 AM
James Morrisey

A beautiful story crafted skillfully, congratulations Steve.

30 Mar 2011 10:10 AM
Laurie Covert

Thank you sharing this incredible long lost story about this beautiful horse--

31 Mar 2011 12:21 AM

Thank you for sharing this beautiful article about Canonero and wishing well to his long lost connections--xoxo

31 Mar 2011 12:26 AM
saratoga frank

Great story.1971 belmont stakes,

my first day at a racetrack. We got there for the fourth race,do to the traffic.the only horses,Ive heard of,were Canonero 11 and Pass

catcher.Two weeks prior to the belmont,I read a story how Pass

Catcher lost the Jersey Derby by a nose.Knowing nothing about handicapping, pass catcher was my horse for the belmont stakes. When it was time to bet, my friends talk me into betting my last 60 dollars on Twist the axe. Pass catcher paid 73 dollars. Ive been a racing fan ever since.

03 Apr 2011 8:54 AM

I had read this column before but it was so much fun to reread it as I had forgotten a lot of it. I will never forget Canonero II. A friend of mine who was working at Belmont at the time called me the morning of the Belmont and tole me that they had galloped him almost 2 miles the morning of the race to "take the edge" off of the colt. I couldn't believe it-maybe if they had only run him for 6 furlongs he would have won--who knows. Anyhow, Thanks for bringing back all the memories of perhaps the greatest decade of horse raceing. I hope Canonero's amazing story will never be forgotten. Please include this in your book-so many of us are waiting for it. BTW as many have said it also brought tears to my eyes and many happy memories. You are the best.

03 Apr 2011 8:47 PM

oops, I almost forgot. I would like to request that you re post your column on the wonderful little Dark Mirage. Sadly, she is mostly forgotten these days, except by those who say her run. Even though she is in the HOF she needs to be mentioned again to some of todays fans. She is the first horse that I absolutely fell in love with.

03 Apr 2011 8:53 PM

This story is a gem. So touching, moving & inspirational! Thank you Steve for bringing the story of this amazing horse who against all odds who achieved such success.

Steve...Your story is a winner! It has all the elements to teach us to never ever lose faith in ourselves & in our dreams. And that being uniquely 'different' is a great gift to embrace, celebrate & use to step further into our greatness!

05 Apr 2011 10:21 AM

Hi Steve.

About 4 years ago, in october of 2007, i went to the movie with my wife to saw “Seabiscuit” or “Alma de Heroes” (heroes soul) how was called in Venezuela the film. At the end of the movie, my wife asked me my impresions and i told, that i liked very much, it was a good film and a very interest storie, but  there was a better tale than that. The Cañonero History. After that, i told her that i have been waited for a complete book about Cañonero, for almost 35 years and nobody made it. I told her that i will write his complete history. She saw me and told anything. At arrived home i began to investige about Cañonero in the web, and i spent the whole night worked in the computer. I  continue worked the rest of the year the next year also, found informatión in the web and in the olds news papers. At this time, I tried to get in touch with the actors of this history, but i was bad luck. I got the Cañonero sindrome. Nobody belived in me. Finally in  January of  2009 i got in touch with the family of Cañonero owner. Pedro Baptista. This wonderfull people gave me all the information that i nedded and i also discovered a new story. The Baptista Dream. If you love Cañonero you become crazy with the Baptista saga.

Pedro Baptista Jr, Baptista son, gave me all the details and his point of view. He was in the trhee triple crown races 1971 and the two races of Del Mar in 1970. I confirmed with him some informations that i read in your article “Viva Cañonero I and II” published in november 19 and 23 of 2008. Others he dennied. By instance that Baptista sent Cañonero to Del Mar to tried to sold it. The phone call with “Chick” Lang. He alleged that he belived that was improbably to happen because Baptista no spoke english. He also gave me unknow informations.

In all this time i read weekly your Blood Horse´s column and i also revised the articles of William Reed; Kelie Reily – Cañonero II. On the muscle -; Witney Tower; Charles Hatton, Barbara Helberg; Hill Finley and more others in the states, in venezuela and in south america.

In January 2009 i began to wrote the Cañonero Saga. Finally i had finished the two versions. Original in spanish and English version. – traslated by profesional traslators-. I hope to publish in this year in venezuela and if Cañonero soul help me in the states.

I write this note because i know that you falled in love with Cañonero as happen to me in Agust 1970, when with 17 years old i knew about him in Caracas.I followed all his carrer and her life. I´m not a writter or a horse race´s worker. I´m only a horse´s races fanatic that wanted to read the storie of my favorite horse and because nobody did and i did in the way i wanted to read.

Thank you for yours wonderfulls articles and excuse me for my lousy english. If you want to know more of my book give me your e-mail and i will give more information.

My best regards.

My e-mail is

06 Apr 2011 7:20 PM
Bret Honeycutt

I was a 12 year old riding cutting horses with my NCHA Hall of Fame Grandfather during Canonero`s great run. Pop used to say about him, "he will never win a halter class, but he has great heart and character". Canonero II has always held a special place in my heart. Great article. VIVA CANONERO!!!!!

20 Apr 2011 10:32 PM

Sorry I am late to respond.  I always wondered why Canonero II wasn't included in the beginning of DECADE OF CHAMPIONS - not even a mention.  Also, in whatever passed for Public Broadcasting in the 1970s, there was a 30 minute production of "The Ballard of Canonero II" which was available in VHS format.  Finally, in what certainly was a metaphor for the breeding industry in 1971, we drove to the Belmont Stakes with (2) identical bumper stickers that read: "CANONERO II  KENTUCKY BRED", as a reminder (I guess) that he was not bred in Venezuela.

21 Apr 2011 11:21 AM
Pedro Baptista

Mr.Haskin,Just to say thank you , for keeping the story alive.My father use to say during those days"... we are making history..."

God Bless You !


23 Apr 2011 5:41 PM

The story is indeed very touching and an example of true perseverance and faith by those that always believed in Canonero.  I am Luis Navas's daughter, who purchased Canonero for only $1,200 back then.  Although he is portrayed in the article as a equine junk dealer, he is still the one that first believed in him and also purchased many other good horses during his younger years as a blood stock agent, and contributed to the thoroughbred history in Venezuela…For the record my dad is still alive.

30 Apr 2011 1:55 PM
Marshall Cassidy


Congratulations on a very interesting piece on Canonero II! I am able to relate to several elements of the story as a former member of the Belmont Park racing department at his time, and I shall always remember fondly the 1971 Belmont Stakes because of Canonero II specifically.

In addition to his Triple Crown-candidate aura, the weather was stifling hot, our hispanic-dominated crowd was especially jubilant and rhymically musical (I had never before heard so many bongo drums echoing around the Belmont grandstand) and our record-breaking attendance broke the toilets! The then-three-year-old New Belmont Park was not up to handling so large a crowd.

Despite the adverse details, it was a wonderful day for racing!

28 May 2011 8:59 PM

HI Steve! I just learned that a movie about Cañonero II is in the making in Hollywood. It certainly has everyone very excited here in Caracas. This is the talk of the week in La Rinconada Racetrack.

I digged this Facebook page on the movie:

Thanks Steve! I always enjoy your articles on horse racing very, very much -- especially the ones on our champion Cañonero II!

28 Aug 2011 11:04 AM



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