Haskin Series Part 3: Clash of the Titans

For as long as one can remember, July 4th has been synonymous with the Suburban Handicap. But unlike the 1 1/8-mile grade II race that is run now, the Suburban of old was one of the premier races in America, serving as the second leg of the once prestigious Handicap Triple Crown. And back then, a handicap was truly a handicap; not the feeble imitation it has mutated into.

In 1968, racing fans had been clamoring for a rematch between racing’s two titans, Damascus and Dr. Fager, since the previous September when Damascus annihilated Dr. Fager, as well as reigning Horse of the Year Buckpasser, in the Woodward Stakes to clinch 3-year-old and Horse of the Year honors.

The two future Hall of Famers had first faced each other in the one-mile Gotham Stakes, with Dr. Fager edging out Damascus, but managed to avoid each other until their showdown in the Woodward. Dr. Fager’s trainer, John Nerud had decided early on to bypass the Triple Crown and major mile and a quarter races, biding his time and picking his spots until the tempestuous Dr. Fager had a chance to mature and harness some of that blazing speed.

In the Woodward, both Frank Whiteley, trainer of Damascus, and Eddie Neloy, trainer of Buckpasser, empoyed “rabbits” to soften up Dr. Fager, who had been known to get his blood up when a horse looked him in the eye. In the rich New Hampshire Sweestakes at Rockingham Park, In Reality tried to surprise Dr. Fager, sneaking through down the backstretch and attempting to catch him off guard. The Doc responded by reaching over and trying to savage his opponent.

In the Woodward, Ron Turcotte, on Damascus’ rabbit Hedevar, a former world-record holder at a mile, and Bobby Ussery, on the quick-footed Great Power, charged out of the gate screaming and whipping their horses. With Dr. Fager in between the two of them, it was the perfect scenario to ambush the Good Doctor. Even though substitute jockey Bill Boland had a stranglehold on Dr. Fager, there was no controlling the colt’s speed, and he proceeded to cut out suicidal fractions of :45 1/5 and 1:09 1/5.

Damascus, who had won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes, was in the form of his life, having defeated top quality older horses in the Aqueduct Stakes, giving Widener Handicap winner Ring Twice six actual pounds. Before that, he had come from 16 lengths back in the slop to win the Travers Stakes by 22 lengths eased up and still equaling the track record. And this was after breaking the track record at Arlington Park, defeating In Reality by seven lengths in the 1 1/8-mile American Derby in a sizzling 1:46 4/5.

In the Woodward, Damascus’ devastation of his opponents continued, as he left Buckpasser for dead and blew right on by Dr. Fager at the quarter pole to win by 10 lengths.

A frustrated Nerud approached New York Racing Association chairman James Cox Brady after the race and said, “You tell them I’ll put up $50,000 and the Association will put up $50,000. Winner-take-all, Dr. Fager against Damascus. They (Damascus’ connections) put up nothing.” But Brady quickly nixed the idea.

Dr. Fager, instead, went to Chicago and easily won the 1 1/4-mile Hawthorne Gold Cup, while Damascus toyed with his opponents in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup before dropping a tough nose decision to grass star Fort Marcy in the Washington D.C. International in his first ever attempt on the grass. It was his 16th start of the year, in which he won 12 times, 11 of them stakes.

Throughout the winter and spring, all the talk was about a Damascus—Dr. Fager rematch. Nerud felt Dr. Fager finally was mature enough to handle Damascus going a mile and a quarter. The year started out well enough with victories in the seven-furlong Roseben Handicap and 1 1/16-mile Californian Stakes, both under 130 pounds. Nerud had actually been told by Hollywood racing secretary Jack Meyers that Dr. Fager would have to carry only 124 pounds under the allowance conditions. But when he arrived, Nerud was told there had been a miscalculation and Dr. Fager would have to carry 130 pounds. Nerud just shrugged it off. “If he’s got thirty, he’s got thirty,” he said.

What the racing fans would see in 1968 was a new-look Dr. Fager. Nerud let the colt’s mane and forelock grow over the winter and eventually equipped him with a figure-8 bridle. Dr. Fager had grown into an intimidating powerhouse and Nerud wanted him to look the part.

“The way his mane waved in the wind, it made him look like a wild horse,” Nerud said. “It was a great show.”

Damascus, meanwhile started the year off by heading to California and winning the Malibu and San Fernando before dropping a shocking head decision to Most Host in the Charles H. Strub Stakes over a quagmire, while giving the winner 12 pounds. Everything worked against Damascus that day. The race had been scheduled for the previous week, but was postponed due to a horsemen’s dispute with management. Damascus’ regular rider Bill Shoemaker had fractured his leg in a spill after the San Fernando and was unable to ride him. Then, heavy rains turned the track heavy and new rider Ron Turcotte wound up putting Damascus on the inside, the worst part of the track.

Although Damascus was beaten, the battle lines were now drawn. Damascus and Dr. Fager were on a collision course that would bring them face to face on the Fourth of July in the mile and a quarter Suburban Handicap.

But both Damascus and Dr. Fager had strikes against them going into the race. Following his victories in the Roseben and Californian, Dr. Fager looked like a sure thing in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap, despite the presence of another nemesis from the previous year, In Reality, who was in the best form of his life, coming off three straight wins, including the Carter Handicap and John B. Campbell. When Dr. Fager came down with a severe case of colic on the eve of the Met Mile, Nerud was forced to scratch him, leaving the race to In Reality, who won comfortably for his fourth straight victory.

So, Dr. Fager had to go straight into the Suburban coming off a serious colic attack, which left him gravely ill, and having to miss the Met Mile. Damascus, who thrived on competition and needed a steady diet of racing to get himself fit, had been given four months off after the Strub and had only one easy allowance victory at Delaware Park 17 days before the Suburban. He was not as finely tuned as trainer Frank Whiteley would have liked, but the Suburban had always been his target and there was no turning back now. This was a horse who had raced 19 times in an 11-month period, 18 of them stakes, and actually kept getting better as the year went on.

So, of the three big horses, only In Reality was coming into the race dead-fit and in form.

Damascus was assigned highweight of 133 pounds in the Suburban, with Dr. Fager at 132, and In Reality in with 125. NYRA racing secretary Tommy Totter said he had never weighted two horses that high in a race.

On the Monday before the race, Trotter received a call from Whiteley, informing him that Damascus definitely would be coming, but he wouldn’t be coming alone. Accompanying him him would be Hedevar. To Nerud, it was starting to look as if Dr. Fager would never get a chance to go one-on-one with his arch rival. But Nerud had used the same tactics with Gallant Man in the 1957 Belmont Stakes when he ran Bold Nero as a rabbit against Preakness winner Bold Ruler in the six-horse field.

Whiteley didn’t care about one-on-one showdowns. His objective was winning the Suburban, just as it had been in the Woodward. It didn’t diminish Damascus’ reputation to admit that Dr. Fager was virtually unbeatable on an uncontested lead, especially trying to beat him with a come-from-behind horse like Damascus. Not only did Dr. Fager possess extraordinary speed, he was nearly impossible to crack if you looked him in the eye.

The morning of the race, as usual, I took the Pioneer bus to Aqueduct and made my way into the grandstand to find a seat around the eighth pole.

Just about the same time, in the racing secretary’s office, a mini-drama was being played out that would have a major impact on the Suburban. Nerud spotted Whiteley going into Tommy Trotter’s office. As Whiteley was walking out, Nerud overheard a jockey’s agent say that Hedevar had been scratched. When Whiteley looked over at Nerud and didn’t deny it he knew it was true. Nerud promptly stood up and said to whoever was listening, “Well, the race is over.”

As the crowd of more than 54,000 began to settle in, the familiar voice of track announcer Fred Capossela could be heard over the loudspeaker: “Ladies and gentlemen, in the seventh race, number 1A Hedevar…has…been…scratched." That sent a murmur rippling through the grandstand.

Hedevar, it was reported, had taken a few bad steps following a six-furlong workout, and Whiteley didn’t want to take any chances running him.

The fans had what they wanted: Damascus vs. Dr. Fager; titan against titan one on one. Charles Hatton wrote in the Morning Telegraph and Daily Racing Form, “Then, Hedevar took a couple of bad steps, and trainer Frank Whiteley took the hasenpfeffer out of Nerud’s cabbage.”

What made Dr. Fager and Damascus such compelling rivals was that they were nothing alike. Dr. Fager, although a kindly, sensitive gentleman in his stall, was an untamed brute on the racetrack. With that long mane blowing in the breeze, he resembled a wild mustang dashing across the plains with reckless abandon. Once the gates opened, the only thing he wanted in front of him was the wind. Once he got the lead he had no intention of giving it up.

Damascus liked to come from well off the pace, and needed constant urging to keep his mind on the task at hand. Most of his defeats came when he simply was allowed to get too lazy and would refuse to leave his opponents. He needed constant reminding. But once he did and turned on the afterburners, he would explode, turning in the most devastating move I have ever seen, even after 45 years. Unlike Dr. Fager, who ran with his head high, Damascus would get down low and was amazingly quick and agile, pouncing on his foes like a cat its prey. His jockeys just had to keep persevering with him once he caught the leaders. When he was able to keep up his head of steam he would annihilate his opponents, as he did in the Woodward, American Derby, Travers, and other races.

With In Reality in the best form of his career, the improving George Widener-owned colt Bold Hour also in peak form, having won the Grey Lag Handicap, and the hard-knocking Rokeby Stable mare Amerigo Lady, the Suburban looked to be a race for the ages.

Dr. Fager was sent off as the 4-5 favorite, with Damascus 7-5. Damascus was always quick out of the gate, and, as usual, he broke on top from the rail before being taken back by jockey Manny Ycaza. Dr. Fager, under Braulio Baeza, shot to the lead as expected. Baeza gave a peek over his left shoulder to make sure he was clear of Damascus before easing over to the rail.

With no one like a Hedevar or Great Power to get his blood boiling, Dr. Fager rated kindly and cruised to a clear lead going into the clubhouse turn. He quickly opened up by two lengths and took complete control of the race. In Reality, who was supposed to put pressure on The Doc, had broken on his wrong lead and apparently took a bad step, causing a minor injury that would lead to his retirement. He raced in fourth during the early going, about four lengths back, before retreating to finish last.

With Dr. Fager loose on a slow, uncontested lead, Damascus was now on a solo mission, and Ycaza had no choice but to put the colt into the fray early and test Dr. Fager, who had managed to get away with an opening quarter in :24 and half in :48 2/5, which was trotting horse time for the Doc.

Ycaza took Damascus off the rail and started pushing hard to get him to close the gap on Dr. Fager. Although taken completely out of his game plan, Damascus was able to use his quickness and rapid-fire acceleration to collar Dr. Fager as they headed down the backstretch. The battle everyone had wanted to see for so long was on. Damascus pulled to within a neck of Dr. Fager, but that was as close as the Doc would let him get. He loved a challenge; that’s when those nostrils would flare and the daggers would shoot from his eyes.

The pair battled through the third quarter in a spectacular :22 3/5, and that’s with over 130 pounds on their back. With his initial attack thwarted, Ycaza backed off slightly and let Damascus regroup. This was not his game, and Ycaza had to make sure he saved something for the end, especially with Damascus not being fully cranked up. Once he and Damascus were able to catch their breath, Ycaza began pushing hard once again, trying to crack Dr. Fager, which was like trying to crack a walnut shell with two fingers.

Dr. Fager, with his head held high, seemed to dwarf Damascus, even though the two were about the same height. Damascus was now straight as a string as he mounted his second attack. The Doc knew he was in for a fight, and dug in once again. As hard as Ycaza pushed he couldn’t get by the tenacious Dr. Fager.

Around the far turn, Dr. Fager began inching away, putting a good half-length between him and Damascus. But, amazingly, Damascus wasn’t through. He gave it one final desperate try, pulling back alongside Dr. Fager for the third time, and actually might have gotten his nose in front nearing the quarter pole after a testing quarter in :23 3/5.

As they came out of the turn locked together, the crowd let out a deafening roar. Dr. Fager refused to yield. If you were trying to capture this moment on canvas you’d surely have smoke blowing out of Dr. Fager’s nostrils. Turning for home, a weary Damascus had no more to give. As fresh as he was and having to play Dr. Fager’s game, he began to retreat under the impost following a brutal mile in 1:34 3/5. Dr. Fager, who was built to carry weight, bounded clear, opening up by two lengths at the eighth pole.

The improving Bold Hour, carrying only 116 pounds, had been eyeing the battle several lengths back and moved in for the kill, hoping to pick up the pieces. He collared Damascus, from whom he was getting 17 pounds, and set his sights on Dr. Fager. But Baeza was sitting chilly on the Doc, whose long mane was blowing wildly in the breeze. Baeza seemed unfazed by Bold Hour’s feeble attempt to close the gap. He merely hand rode Dr. Fager to the wire, maintaining his two-length advantage. Even with the sluggish opening half and carrying 132 pounds, Dr. Fager still was able to equal Gun Bow’s track record of 1:59 3/5.

Despite his gut-wrenching attempts to crack Dr. Fager, Damascus, who wound up third in the Suburban, came back only nine days later in the Amory Haskell Handicap at Monmouth and finished third again behind Bold Hour under 131 pounds after stumbling badly at the start. As difficult as it might seem to believe, these two races actually were just what Damascus needed to get him tight and razor-sharp. He returned only a week later in the Brooklyn Handicap for his rematch with Dr. Fager. When I went to the paddock to look at Damascus, I knew this would be a different story. Not only did he have Hedevar back, he bounced around the paddock on his toes with his neck arched and muscles bulging from his shoulders and hindquarters. He was ready to tackle Dr. Fager, who was carrying a staggering 135 pounds to 130 for Damascus.

Hedevar was now healthy again and this time he showed up for his search and destroy mission. The hassenpfeffer was back on the menu.

Nerud didn’t bat an eye over Dr. Fager picking up three pounds. He understood the concept of handicap racing. He was more concerned about Hedevar than the weight. Nerud had toyed with idea of just having Dr. Fager try to outrun Hedevar from the start. The colt had shown the ability to rate kinder as 4-year-old, but that was when he was running freely by himself. What would happen with Hedevar blasting out there? A rank Dr. Fager lugging 135 pounds was the last thing Nerud wanted.

Hedevar, as expected shot to a clear lead, as Baeza took a stranglehold on Dr. Fager. Tommy Lee, aboard Hedevar, broke from the outside, and when he looked over to his left, much to his surprise, Dr. Fager was nowhere to be seen, as Baeza kept pulling back on the throttle. Before Lee knew what was happening, he had opened a three-length lead. But Dr. Fager was not a happy camper. His head was up and he was fighting Baeza, and when Dr. Fager fought you it was only a matter of time before you caved.

Ycaza, meanwhile, had Damascus well back in the pack where he liked to be. Hedevar was on a kamikaze mission, with or without Dr. Fager, and he still blazed the opening half in :45 4/5, with Dr. Fager a length and a half back. That’s 2 3/5 seconds, or 13 lengths, faster than Dr Fager had run in the Suburban. And this time he was carrying 135 pounds.

By the time they passed the five-eighths pole, Baeza no longer had any say in the matter and he was forced to let Dr. Fager go. He blew right on by Hedevar and quickly opened a four-to-five-length lead. But the Doc was out of control, his three-quarters in a blistering 1:09 2/5, while Damascus, as he was in the Woodward, was in full gear and cutting into Dr. Fager’s lead with every stride.

It was obvious this time it was Damascus who had the advantage. With one of his typical explosive moves, he collared Dr. Fager at the quarter pole and drew clear, but the Doc wouldn’t give up, despite the pace and staggering weight. He fought hard through the stretch, but Damascus was always in control, winning by 2 1/2 lengths. His time of 1:59 1/5 broke Dr. Fager’s short-lived track record, and, amazingly, still stands 45 years later.

And this was Damascus’ third stakes in 16 days, carrying 130 pounds or more in all of them.

Dr. Fager, of course, would never lose again, turning in what many believe to be the single greatest season in racing history, in which he earned an unprecedented four championships – Horse of the Year, Handicap Horse, Grass Horse, and Sprinter. In the Suburban and Brooklyn he ran back-to-back 1 1/4-mile races in 1:59 3/5, one off a slow pace and the other off a blistering pace, carrying 132 and 135 pounds.

Damascus would go on to win the William I. DuPont Handicap and Aqueduct Stakes, carrying 134 pounds each time. In an odd turn of events, however, he was ridden in those races by none other than Braulio Baeza, a decision made by owners Edith and Tom Bancroft. Here was the regular rider of Dr. Fager now riding the Doc’s arch rival, with whom he had battled in the Suburban and Brooklyn; and with both horses neck and neck for Horse of the Year honors. Baeza gave Damascus a poor ride in the Michigan Mile and an Eighth, taking him so far back and leaving him with far too much ground to make up on the 3-year-old Nodouble, who was in receipt of 22 pounds from Damascus.

One of the true iron horses, Damascus began having issues with a tendon. When he was beaten a nose by Mr. Right in a slowly run Woodward Stakes, with Baeza putting Damascus in a head-and-head battle on the lead and then never going to the whip on the colt, despite a :26 final quarter, Whiteley was so infuriated, he unleashed a verbal assault on Baeza upon his return. Whiteley remained furious with Baeza for getting Damascus beat in that manner and never spoke to him again.

The Bankrofts wanted Damascus to end his career in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, although the colt’s tendon was getting worse. Whiteley equipped him with front bandages, an ominous sight indeed, and put Larry Adams up for the Gold Cup. The record shows that Damascus was beaten 37 lengths, but the truth is, while any other horse would have been eased to a halt, Damascus, in obvious discomfort, jogged home and refused to be eased until the second he crossed the finish line. One step past the line he came to a dead stop. One of the saddest sights I’ve ever seen on a racetrack was Damascus, one of the toughest, most durable horses ever, having never finished out of the money in 31 career starts, being loaded onto an ambulance.

Although Damascus and Dr. Fager provided so many thrills in their career, both being elected to the Hall of Fame, it was that summer of 1968 in the Suburban and Brooklyn that they tested each other’s greatness. They showed in the Suburban that historic battles need not be limited to stretch runs. When two courageous heavyweight fighters pummel each other for 10 rounds, neither backing down, it doesn’t detract from the epic nature of the event if one knocks out the other in the last round.

Yes, both colts set track records in those two races, while carrying staggering weights, but it was their gut-wrenching confrontation down the backstretch and around the far turn in the Suburban that still brings chills to all those who were privileged to witness it.

77 Comments

Leave a Comment:

Cassandra.Says

Wow!

He had so much stamina. Everybody knows that to give a horse a stamina-sparing trip you take it back and rate it but few seem to turn it around when a horse goes flag-fall to wire as though all

the fiends of hell were snapping at his heels.

Expectations make a difference. I remember everyone waiting for early blooming sprinters from his first crops. His stud career might have been compromised by that.

26 Jun 2013 7:05 PM
Mary in VT

No words. Words just don't say it.

26 Jun 2013 8:55 PM
Bill Two

If you go to YouTube you'll find a great series of videos - a compilation if you will - of this storied rivalry.  The great Harvey Pack, in his own inimitable style, narrates each stirring race between the two titans.  It's almost like reliving the drama of those days.  Granted the quality of the videos is pretty poor, but the emotions of those times is apparent.  Unforgettable.

26 Jun 2013 9:51 PM
Bill Rinker

Thanks again Steve for another super article. These two horses have always held a special place in my heart. There's a historical reverence to their aura. I wish I could have seen them in real life, but being able to see them through your written words is the next best thing. I saw Da Hoss's Breeders Cup Mile race the other night, and your recent article made the veiwing much more insightful. Really Really enjoying this series!

26 Jun 2013 10:22 PM
mjp

Dear Steve,

I don't post much, probably not for a couple of years but I am a regular reader of your column.  I love to read about your stories from the past.  Even though I am  a young man I feel like a "throw back" that lives in a world that does not make sense to me anymore.  One of the things I love about racing is how it parallels real life.  And when you say, "And back then, a handicap was truly a handicap; not the feeble imitation it has mutated into.", I could replace the word handicap with America.  I started out working at an OTB in PA while I went to collage. Before the advent of full card simulcasting, the big thrill of the day was to be able to show and bet on the feature race from NYRA where my hero's competed instead of enduring what was in those day's a less than stellar show from the PA tracks.  I won't get political here except to say I miss the racing I use to cherish 20 years ago, and I also miss the America I lived in then, but I guess one of the constants of the universe is change so I may as well get used to it.... Please never stop posting about Damascus, Dr Fager, Buckpasser, Secretariat!!!  

26 Jun 2013 10:28 PM
Steve Haskin

I may have one more part of the series on Friday, and that likely will be the last blog for a while. Vacation next week and then I'm going to give this blog a break, including this new series. Reader interest is at a low, perhaps summer doldrums or overkill, so it's time to cut back and start looking toward the Breeders' Cup.

To all the regular readers and those who comment, I thank you for your support and insightful comments. See you all down the road.

26 Jun 2013 11:22 PM
MrPick4

Steve,

Sorry to hear about the break, but it's understood. I was privileged to see both these great horses, as well as many others over the course of the years. I still chuckle every time I hear a comment at the track about a horse having that "refuse to lose" attribute, as I believe that I witnessed the horse that coined the phrase ....the "Doc" ....and I always enjoy when you point out about the "Old School" handicap divisions vs. today's laughable imposts. History and more importantly, historians, are what keep the fans of today involved, and you provide that much needed guidance.

27 Jun 2013 6:44 AM
Secreteriat

Steve,

I was 21 that year had been at White Weld for a year and had my son John June 5 1968. That was one of my best years in my life and I was at Belmont that day of the Suburban sitting on the 3rd floor next to the C.B.S cameraman whom I befriended for many many years. he used to freeze the frame at the finish line and we always knew who the winner was with every photo finish. I live in Texas now but 1968 thru 1980 was the best racing ever. I was introduced to horseracing in Toronto watching Victorian Era foloowed by Northern Dancer at Woodbine. I moved to N Y in 1967 and saw all the great ones in the 70's. Thank you for bringing back the memories and although I did'nt know you personally at the time I'm sure we were at Belmont on many days.By the way we worked together at 20 Broad. I was on the 19 floor in the P&s department.

Have a great vacation!

27 Jun 2013 9:43 AM
Mahuba

Steve, I would love to hear your opinion of Frankel.  I just saw the DVD about his career and I am stunned at his speed.  When you have the time and the interest, maybe you could tell us about your reaction to him.

Thanks!

27 Jun 2013 10:10 AM
steve'sphil

I remember those days when a Handicap was a handicap. Another really great race was the Travers with Jaiper and Ridan. Nose to nose for the entire race. To bad one of them had to lose.

27 Jun 2013 10:12 AM
Pedigree Ann

"This was a horse who had raced 19 times in an 11-month period, 18 of them stakes, and actually kept getting better as the year went on."

This is because he wasn't coddled by giving him layoffs after every race or by not starting him in difficult races because they were afraid he might get beaten and devalue his stud value. Top colts were for racing in those days, not for establishing the basis for a high-priced stallion career. Horses got fit and maintained their form, instead of always coming off of a layoff.

27 Jun 2013 10:30 AM
CarolinaJude

What a tremendous article about my favorite horse of all time (besides Zenyatta), the mighty Damascus.  I witnessed that "Summer of '68" (as well as Damascus' entire racing career) and he, The Doctor, and Buckpasser are the reason I laugh at the races today that are labeled "handicap races".

Thank you for taking me back to a time when racing was truly great as were it's equine participants.

27 Jun 2013 10:55 AM
Steve Haskin

Anthony, I was a mere page at White Weld, a few years ahead of you. I was at Burnham & Co. in '67 and Pershing & Co. in '68 before giving up Wall Street for good. I remember Richard Nixon's law office was in the same building as White Weld.

27 Jun 2013 11:09 AM
robinm

After reading this, I almost feel as if I were there, even though these titans of the track were before my time.

I've seen (on film or video) some pretty good rivalries, but nothing approaching these two, and their supporting cast.

I too, find the current handicap weights laughable.  When the high-weight in a G1 handicap race at a mile is 124 lb while 3-yr olds carry 126 lb through the TC series, something is amiss.

Finally, the first thing I do when I get home from work is look for a new blog from you.  I will miss them tremendously.  Looking forward to Fall!

27 Jun 2013 11:35 AM
mz

Steve: re: "Low interest", I lurk all the time on your history blogs and I love them.  Don't confuse no comments with no interest - sometimes there is nothing to say except: "Wow. Great. Where did the time go since then?"

(Hey Secretariat, what about Cool Reception in the Belmont that Damascus won)

27 Jun 2013 11:41 AM
A Horsey Canuck

Steve, I normally just lurk now and am so sorry that you are going to take a break, even though you well deserve it. You are one in a million when it comes to writers of our horse world. I look forward to hearing from you as we go forward to the 2013 Breeders' Cup. Have a great time off with your family and many thanks for all of your stories. Wish more of them could be of a Canadian content, but we'll take what we can get from such a great horse analyst and historian such as yourself. We appreciate you.

27 Jun 2013 12:00 PM
Steve Haskin

Mz, it has nothing to do with comments. I understand many people just read and dont comment and that's fine. I'm looking at the number of actual views and they are down, so it's either post Triple Crown summer doldrums or just plain overkill. Either way, I thought it was best to just take a little break and come back fresh :). I'm thinking of reprinting a bunch of Secretariat blogs over the years to commemorate his 40th birthday, starting with the Meadow grooms story, which has always been one of my favorites. I have photos to go with it.

27 Jun 2013 12:27 PM
mz

OK, Steve.  Just as an aside, can you think about doing some blogs later (when you have recharged) about some of the great fillies / mares too:  Ta Wee, Shuvee, Gamely, Dahlia and Allez France, La Prevoyante, Fanfreluche (OK, some Cdn content) Mocassin and Priceless Gem as 2YO's, Drumtop, Affectionately and more I have just forgotten about?

...as well as the Secretariat stories and photo's, of course.

27 Jun 2013 12:44 PM
steve from st louis

Steve, I understand at your age, you need to freshen away from the track. I'll spend that time to again read Horse Racing's Holy Grail, your John Henry, Kelso  and Dr. Fager books, along with Tales from the Triple Crown. I'll throw in a little John McEvoy and Joe Palmer and meet you when you return at The Spa. Not a bad way to spend my summer.

27 Jun 2013 1:10 PM
Linda in Texas

No blog from Steve.

My God, my life is over.

Vacation. What are those?

Horses Forever as only Steve can present them.

I think it is The Triple Crown affect causing depression and restoration and gearing up with revitalization for the next round.

Steve, it has nothing to do with you. You are the sunshine of our race horsey lives.

And now just reading that Who's The Cowboy is being retired by Einhorn the owner and given to The Sleeter Family Cowboy's original owners and where he was born - New Jersey - and "they have a brand new paddock waiting for him." 11 years old. 88 starts. Won over a million. And now gets to graze in retirement. I think that is super news. All owners should follow suit.

Steve, vacation if you must and everyone knows you deserve a nice long one but please don't forget the paddock where you belong, ever.

If you post nothing but ads i will read them.

Be safe. And Thank you.

Linda

27 Jun 2013 2:40 PM
derbylin

Thanks Steve.  Dr Fager, Damascus, In Reality, Buckpasser.  Wow, that story really brought back great memories.  Have a great vaca you so deserve it.

And I really liked your post, Pedigree Ann.

27 Jun 2013 2:43 PM
Steve Haskin

Mz, I have done blogs on Dahlia and Gallant Bloom, with names like Shuvee, Gamely, and Ta wee thrown in to cover 1968 and '69. I actually was at Longchamp when Allez France won the Arc. I just dont think many people would be interested, even though it was a great story with Yves St. Martin riding her with a broken leg and that sensational stretch run. I guess I couls write one on her.

Linda, I thank you for your kind words, as I do everyone else who commented. I'll probably get the itch when I get back from vacation, and say, in the words of Emily Litella, "Never Mind."

Steve, I will be back as soon as they let me out of the old age home.

27 Jun 2013 3:58 PM
smarie

I wonder just how the racing history books would read if no one used "rabbits," in races and if good horses weren't handicapped? I have never understood handicapping. Basketball never handicapped Michael Jordan so that the other players could have a chance against him. No other sport strives to limit their stars. If someone could explain the logic of this, even then I'd probably be against handicap races. Oh, well...

European trainers seem to use rabbits far more than American trainers. A truly great horse needs no help from another horse to win races. Look at Secretariat. Of course, there has been only one of him.

Enjoyed this article Mr. Haskin. Thank you.

27 Jun 2013 4:12 PM
slee

Thanks for the memories (again!).  I think the only bad part about the Damascus, Buckpasser and Dr. Fager years was that I expected ALL racing years to be like that.

Have a good vacation, and let the ideas percolate.  As for us, we'll struggle along without you and, after all, "absence makes the heart grow fonder", and we'll look forward to spending summer at the Spa with you in text, if not in person.

27 Jun 2013 5:03 PM
tjconway

Dear Steve, those colts were awesome in every respect. There may be "low" reader interest right now but myself and everybody I know are very busy and working tons of overtime. Don't fret, the Spa and 2nd half of the season look very intriguing!

P.S.I'm at work right now and were very busy. Gotta Go!

27 Jun 2013 7:05 PM
The Deacon

CarolinaJude: I concur 100% with your post.

I remember all those great races. I saw many of them in person. For those of us who are older and been around this game a long, long time the horses today pale compared to the stars of the 1960's and 1970's.

We've had a few glimpses of greatness the past 25 years or so but it was nothing like the 1960's and 1970's.

Horses today seldom carry weight, their race times are getting worse, and they lack durability.

It's more difficult to fall in love with a horse when he/she runs only 5 or 6 times.

When I was at Hollywood Park in 1968 to see Dr. Fager run in the Californian I couldn't believe how many folks were there that made the long trip from the east.

This wasn't a Triple Crown race, it wasn't the Hollywood Gold Cup or Santa Anita Handicap, it was just another hundred grander run at 8 1/2 furlongs. I had fallen in love with the Doc the year before and had hoped he would run out west. I as well loved Damascus and we were honored to see him run out here. Back in those days eastern trainers brought their horses out west much more often then today.

Thanks much for these continued wonderful articles Steve, they sure make for great reading and conversation.

One point about the Doc though, I always heard that Nerud didn't run him in the Triple Crown races because he was had sore knees and was still developing as a runner.

The Doc getting disqualified in the Jersey Derby for interference on the back stretch in my opinion was the single worst decision by a steward I have ever seen. The Doc won by open lengths.....

Have a great summer Steve, all my best.

27 Jun 2013 7:15 PM
SJ

Great era. Saw only Damascus in his Michigan Mile defeat by Nodouble, but was a big fan. Little did I know what was in store for me a few years later when I followed my dream. Enjoy your time off.

27 Jun 2013 7:25 PM
ROBBIEJOE25

Steve thanks for the wonderful read, had a couple rough days in a row but this story put me in a frame of mind where I am not so short fused......Thanks so much and enjoy the time off.....and by the way what the heck is a hasenpfeffer?

27 Jun 2013 7:32 PM
Steve Haskin

Glad you're doing better, Robbie. Hassenpfeffer is rabbit, usually rabbit stew.

27 Jun 2013 8:35 PM
JayJay

Steve : It's never overkill, I think I speak for everyone here when I say we all crave new blogs from you, doesn't matter what the topic is.   Having said that, you have definitely earned a vacation from blogs.  Thanks !  See you when you get back.

27 Jun 2013 9:04 PM
Cassandra.Says

HEY MZ:

If you want to stir things up at a horsey BBQ, try referring to Cool Reception as "arguably the best son of Nearctic."

Re fillies and mares: Drumtop is Canadian content too. She was Cdn champion grass mare. And La Prevoyante -- it's not clear whether she's included in your comment. La Prevoyante is one side of the Salix debate: that beautiful, superbly talented filly bleeding out on the racetrack where she fell.  

27 Jun 2013 9:10 PM
Sewabastion

Damascus, Dr Fager (and Buckpasser) True greats that still stir my blood. Titans indeed.

smarie you obviously do not understand,

Horse racing is not Baseball, football or Basketball, The goal of a Handicap was to get runners to finish together. The better you are the more weight you carry.  But it is more than that, it is about courage, determination and refusing to bend. Watch  races of Damascus, Dr Fager, Round Table, Forego and many others from days long gone perhaps you will understand.

Racing just might get more people excited if there was more reasons to get excited.

Horses proving how great they truly are, racing often ducking no one, owners and trainers knowing they will get beaten once in a while. Seeing your warrior hero give it all and lose to a horse carrying pounds less makes us respect him or her even more. And to really prove it come back next year and do it again.

Steve I will miss your thoughts and stories,

When you came back I would love to have you tell about Allez France, She is one of my favorites and I will never forget her Arc.

And please keep introducing the warriors of the past to those who think a great horse is one who raced 10 or so times for one or two years.  

27 Jun 2013 10:35 PM
Alex'sBigFan

Steve,

I love reading these stories.  I was but a wee wittle kid in the 60's so it is a history lesson in thoroughbred culture for me. The heck wuth TVG, I wish we had a "Steve Haskin Channel."

Happy vacation Steve.  You deserve a break  I'll miss the blog and articles terribly. I hope you will still be at the Haskell, believe me the Haskell is not the Haskell without you there.  The 3 year old season is wide open and it will be interesting to see if a star finally emerges during the summer and fall races.  Thanks for all you do Steve, we'll muddle along until your return.

27 Jun 2013 11:05 PM
Bill Two

Steve, you could do a blog on Nodouble - the Arkansas Traveler - as he was called.  Quite a horse. Thanks for the entertaining and informative works you share with us. It is appreaciated.

28 Jun 2013 6:56 AM
Secreteriat

Steve,

I used to ride the elevator with Mr Nixon each morning. After he became president security would stop me from getting in the elevator with him and he would tell them. Let him in " Tony is a good guy"

28 Jun 2013 7:49 AM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, Cheryl. Actually, the break is not FOR me, it is FROM me :). In football, it's called piling on. As I said, interest is down, and I just figured it's been overkill. The curse of being so prolific LOL. I'll probably re-post my Secretariat grooms story today before I leave for vacation.

As for the Haskell, as of now I guess I'll be there as usual, but the Jim Dandy most likely will get all three Triple Crown race winners, so it is possible I will wind up covering that instead. We're playing it by ear.

28 Jun 2013 9:56 AM
ThoroGreats

Steve, thanks for your very informative, historical columns. They are much appreciated. Just 1 last question before your vacation. Where did you work during the late 1980's(Easy Goer, Personal Ensign, Sunday Silence, Alysheba days,etc) and in 1992(Arazi)? I was thinking for the DRF or Thoroughbred Times but I am not sure? Thanks again, and enjoy your vacation.

28 Jun 2013 11:04 AM
Mary in VT

Actually .. I think smarie *does* get it. Perfectly.

It ticks me off when I see rabbits used to soften up the competition. Use of a rabbit is admission that you have doubts that your horse can win on the square so you have to effect one or more of the other horses negatively or create the perfect pace scenario for your horse. Where is the sport in that?

While I am certain that Frankel is a great horse I was dismayed to see his connections use a rabbit in every one of his races. I would have liked to have seen him run in and hopefully overcome a variety of pace scenarios instead of always having the pace set up perfectly for him. And what about the poor bloke that wanders in from the street to see what horse racing is all about and unwittingly wagers on Bullet Train because he could not possibly conceive that any of the horses was never in it to win it and everyone is ok with that.

I am also not a fan of handicapping with added weight for the same reason; it deliberately negatively effects some entries and favors others - not America's idea of sport. And is piling weight on Wise Dan in his best interest? Nope.

Ditto so called "race riding" such as keeping a horse in a box or Rachel Alexandra having to fend off successive waves of horses being taken out of their own best game just to try to beat her in her famous Woodward Stakes. I am surprised that was even allowed. And what about John Q Public wandering in off the street and innocently placing a wager on DaTara because he was the Belmont winner never guessing that he would be used up early as a rabbit thereby throwing any shot he had at winning the race away. Racing picked that man's pocket. It picked several pockets that day because it looked like most of the field was not in it to win it themselves but to play their part trying to beat the filly.

As much as I love horse racing, even as it is, it is all too clear to me why it is steadily losing ground with the public. America wants to see a fair fight. But all the above rings of playing dirty and leaves a bad taste while the horses pay for it with their lives. Of course the American family looking for entertainment says "No thank you."  because they want every horse given a chance to do it's best running and let the best horse win.

28 Jun 2013 11:26 AM
Racingfan

We don't need a break from you!!!! I come to this site several times daily and the first that I look for is your columns.

28 Jun 2013 11:33 AM
carol in utah

Absolutely wonderful article...have a great vacation and bring us more when you return

28 Jun 2013 11:48 AM
Slew

Wow, Steve!  No one does it better. Beautiful! You have a turn of phrase that puts the reader right in the seat next to you. I think my pulse was racing as fast as the horses, and my heart thumped as loud as their hooves.

They were truly Titans of the track...Immortals.

A Vacation?  You've certainly earned it with your consistent TC coverage. What a ride! You will be missed. I'll be looking forward eagerly to your return. (You had better be covering Saratoga.)

I think I've been in a funk since the Belmont.  Yes, I want to see another TC Champion before my bucket flops over. But there have been 5 since I've been born. I feel truly sorrowful for those who are 35 or younger; they have no idea what it feels like when that Crown is on the line, and finally captured. It's more exhilarating than mere words can convey. I wish you all an immortal Hero soon.

Robbie: Hase is German for 'hare' and Pfeffer is German for '(black) pepper'. The point is that it's a very spicy stew. (and strong black pepper is used in a variety of cole slaw) Hedevar was meant to be the hot spice to motivate the Doc to wear himself out.

28 Jun 2013 12:09 PM
Steve Haskin

ThoroGreats, you're right on both occasions. From 1986 to 91, I was still librarian at DRF, but freelanced for Thoroughbred Times, writing features, covering N.J. racing, and doing owner stories and sidebar features for the Triple Crown races and Breeders' Cup. In 1991, I began writing for the DRF full-time, and I wrote a works column and covered Arazi's arrival at Churchill Downs in '92. I took over lead coverage for the Triple Crown in '94.

28 Jun 2013 12:15 PM
Steve Haskin

Thanks, Racingfan. I'm sure when I get back I'll start writing columns again, just not as often. There is one coming today on Secretariat's grooms, that you probably have read already, but this has some photos and it continues the 40th birthday celebration.

Thank you, Slew, you do have a way with words. And thanks to everyone for your comments.

28 Jun 2013 12:19 PM
Ted from LA

Here's Johnny Wins 140th Kentucky Derby!

28 Jun 2013 12:33 PM
Wrensflight

Thanks for the great story, Steve, about my childhood heroes - Dr. Fager, Damascus, and Buckpasser. I had a scrapbook filled with newspaper articles about their races.

Hope you enjoy your vacation but you'll be missed! The first thing I do when I open The Bloodhorse website is look for your blog.

28 Jun 2013 1:41 PM
PioneerCountry

Absolutely had goosebumps reading this blog!  I felt like I was actually there for all those races. I understand your love affair with Damascus & The Doc.  Brilliant, just brilliant writing Steve. I too go immediately to look for a new Steve blog whenever I open the BH. First thing I do. I will miss you. Hurry back!

28 Jun 2013 2:19 PM
Mahuba

I cannot believe that reader interest in your writing could be down.  Maybe it's going to be like the original Star Trek; it was cancelled due to "lack of interest," but a bunch of hysterical fans got it brought back and look what it morphed into!

I would be interested in a series on the great fillies and mares!!  And I still want your reaction to Frankel!

28 Jun 2013 3:24 PM
spitting the bit

Damascus was my great love.  Years later I meet Tommy Lee who had ridden Hedevar in the Brooklyn.  He was a big fan of Dr Fager even though he was beaten by Damascus. Thanks Steve for your wonderful memories and writing style!!

28 Jun 2013 3:42 PM
Davids

Steve, thank you again for another heartwarming tale from the distant past during the glory days of racing. This era was my incipient introduction to a life long devotion to the sport of kings.

At about age four your thoughts are extrapolated into absolutes. I adored Dr. Fager and despised Damascus - obviously you grow up and learn from the follies of childhood.

Even so, I have always despised the use of 'rabbits' in races - if it takes two (or more sometimes) horses to beat a great horse then what has been achieved?

In Europe, the habit of sending out a target (rabbit) or providing a certain pace for the 'champion' to win a race is a hollow victory really.

I am still as passionate about horse racing as I was as an infant but today's champions aren't as luminous as they once were, and that is a shame.

28 Jun 2013 6:07 PM
Slew

Speaking of "rabbits", Frankel usually had a rabbit sent out to set the pace.  However, Frankel seemed to view the rabbit as just another competitior, and would outpace the rabbit early in the race.

Odd, how things work out.

29 Jun 2013 9:34 AM
Pedigree Ann

Davids, the horses in Euro races are generally not rabbits as known in US racing. They are called 'pace-makers' and they are in the race to give the main hope a target or to set reasonable pace, not to wear out a rival. It is not unusual to see the pacemaker and the main hope running one-two during a race. In the biggest races there may be several pacemakers for several of the main hopes. They don't go out like bats out of hell. There are there to see that one doesn't have a race like the Ormonde S (G3) of 2009, a 3-horse field in which all three walked out of the gate, did a hand-canter for a hundred yards, nearly dropping to a trot, before one rider decided to take the lead even though his horse didn't usually run that way (he won).

29 Jun 2013 9:12 PM
duchess

I am another who does not comment very often, but had to tell you how much I am loving these historical columns.

Thank you very much for these, and please have a wonderful vacation. And please be back soon!

30 Jun 2013 12:15 AM
Paula Higgins

Well, I am late to the party as usual. Great read Steve. Dr. Fager is one of my favorites. Really enjoyed this one. Have a wonderful vacation Steve and we are looking forward to your return.

30 Jun 2013 10:29 PM
Davids

Pedigree Ann,  you are right :) I used the term ''rabbit" for a more domestic vernacular with regards to European racing. I have been following European racing since the halcyon days of Brigadier Gerard, Mill Reef, Roberto et al. The Brigadier was my English idol of the time.

As you wrote, the pace is set for the 'champion' to take over say about 1 - 2 furlongs out and then run away with the race. Not all the great European champs had pace setters and those are the ones I really respect.

These days, it's an annunual Europen claim that 'their next best thing' is the latest Sea Bird,Ribot, etc. After watching horses run for over 40 years you tend to be a bit sceptical of such claims. Mind you, it keeps the punters interested and that's what we need here.

01 Jul 2013 1:01 AM
Will W

Steve is at his best when he writes about the great iron horses of the past. The inspiration comes through because of the quality of the horses he writes about, their rivalries, and, I imagine, what he knows is an unrequited longing to see racing return to what it should and can be before drugs, brittle horses, long layoffs, and the "business" of breeding horses with unblemished records secured by ducking rivals and picking spots captured the racing world. I lived through that era of Dr.Fager, Damascus, and Buckpasser and watched avidly these clashes of the titans albeit by television. Only got to see Damascus race in person and that was when he was far from his best in the drizzle and fog of the 1967 Kentucky Derby where he ran third to a field horse Proud Clarion and Barb's Delight who did not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with that great handicap horse. The only downside of the story was the callous disregard of the owners of Damascus for the horse's well being in insisting he finish his career running with tendon problems in the Jockey Gold Cup. I'm assuming they knew the full extent of the colt's injury and Whiteley had kept them fully informed. Maybe Steve can clarify that  point. Of course, the money was on the track then and not in the breeding stall. The horses were not the brittle animals we see today and certainly with their superior soundness, stamina, endurance, and versatility were not coddled as they are now. A horse could be a sprinter, a router, a grass performer, and a dirt star. When will we ever see that again. Still, agreeing with Steve, seeing the spectacle of a never out of the money, iron horse like Damascus vanned off after a humiliating 37 length defeat in a race in which he should have been eased - let alone run - was one of the saddest sights ever inflicted on the racing public.

01 Jul 2013 9:49 AM
Will W

Steve is at his best when he writes about the great iron horses of the past. The inspiration comes through because of the quality of the horses he writes about, their rivalries, and, I imagine, what he knows is an unrequited longing to see racing return to what it should and can be before drugs, brittle horses, long layoffs, and the "business" of breeding horses with unblemished records secured by ducking rivals and picking spots captured the racing world. I lived through that era of Dr.Fager, Damascus, and Buckpasser and watched avidly these clashes of the titans albeit by television. Only got to see Damascus race in person and that was when he was far from his best in the drizzle and fog of the 1967 Kentucky Derby where he ran third to a field horse Proud Clarion and Barb's Delight who clearly did not deserve to be mentioned in the same breath with that great handicap horse. The only downside of Steve's story was the apparent callous disregard of the owners of Damascus for the horse's well being in insisting he finish his career running with tendon problems in the Jockey Gold Cup. I'm assuming the owners knew the full extent of the colt's injury and Whiteley had kept them fully informed. Maybe Steve can clarify that  point. Of course, in that era the money was on the track and not in the breeding stall. The horses were not the brittle animals we see today and certainly with their superior soundness, stamina, endurance, and versatility were not coddled as they are now. A horse could be a sprinter, a router, a grass performer, and a dirt star. When will we ever see that again ! Still, agreeing with Steve, seeing the spectacle of a never out of the money, iron horse like Damascus vanned off after a humiliating 37 length defeat in a race in which he should have been eased - let alone run - was one of the saddest sights ever inflicted on the racing public.

01 Jul 2013 9:55 AM
Old Old Cat

Steve, God bless you and enjoy your well earned vacation.  We all love you.  Your'e the greatest.

This article was RIVITING.  It was like that great novel you just can't put down.  I thought I was there.  Your descriptions are so eloquent and descriptive. Your asides add a little perkiness to the narratives.  I agree with your other fans, you are the best thing on BloodHorse, or in the whole racing industry.

Thanks again.

01 Jul 2013 10:46 AM
Alex'sBigFan

I don't like the use of rabbits in any race, human or equine.  Just run the damn race.  I hate it in human marathons when the rabbit drops out all of a sudden after his "job" is done.  It's sneaky or something like he is an imposter that does not belong in the race at all.  If you run it then finish it.  Don't like interjecting equine rabbits either in a race.  Just run the damn race and may the best trained athlete win.  Darn pesky wabbits!!!!!!!

Steve, you could write about stall mucking, or taking the equine's temperatures daily or a farrier shoeing and we would all be enthralled as we all have a hunger for knowledge for all things thoroughbred and equine.

01 Jul 2013 6:41 PM
The Doctor

Steve - As you know in my humble opinion you're at the pinnacle of National turf writers and correspondents. So after reading your current blog it's hard to believe that you gave me the opportunity to correct The Master. As you know Braulio Baeza did NOT ride Dr. Fager in the 1967 Woodward as he was under contract to Ogden Phipps. I'm sure just a simple oversight. But this is the perfect segue to an opinion that I have held firm since that fateful day. John Nerud made a mistake by believing that any rider could ride Dr. Fager, which really wasn't true. Shoemaker simply didn't have the physical strength to rate him as was acknowledged by Nerud himself. Bill Boland who DID ride Dr. Fager in the Woodward, was not in the top echelon of the riders in the 60's. My feeling is that he should have gone back to Manny Ycaza, but certainly after the Jersey Derby debacle it was never going to happen. Manny was one of the premier riders at the time and certainly had the strength to possibly rate the Good Doctor off the not one but two rabbits that were entered specifically to kill him off!!!! Although it would have been very difficult breaking between the two rabbits with Ussery and Turcotte screaming and yelling like banshees, Manny definitely would have been John's best choice for that particular day. As I've stated in a previous response, I believe that there isn't a horse that ever lived that could beat Dr. Fager from six to ten furlongs at EQUAL weights. Please enjoy a well deserved vacation and I hope to see you at Saratoga later this summer!

01 Jul 2013 7:23 PM
The Doctor

As a caviate to my first response... Equal weights...No rabbits. Done and done.

01 Jul 2013 8:16 PM
The Doctor

MZ - You're probably are aware or maybe not that Cool Reception broke down in that Belmont, finished the race from the 16th pole in on three legs with Damascus going by at the finish.

01 Jul 2013 8:30 PM
The Doctor

The Deacon - You're 100% right with you're Jersey Derby opinion. Go to Florida Derby Flashback: Ycaza, bloodhorse.com and read my post regarding the truth of the 67' Jersey Derby!!

01 Jul 2013 8:48 PM
The Deacon

The Doctor:

I have read your post and I concur 100% as well. I saw the race, it was the greatest travesty in horse racing with regards to a disqualification. That and the Travers Stakes disqualification of Affirmed.

I would like also to say I agree with your assessment of Dr. Fager being the greatest who ever raced.

My word, look at the weight that poor animal carried, up to 139 lbs. He was the best in my opinion.

Maybe Secretariat was the best at 12 furlongs, I won't argue that and Spectacular Bid would give the "Doc" a run for his money at 10 furlongs but other then that no other horse would be close.

Go watch his race on YouTube when he beat grass horse of the year Fort Marcy and Advocator. First and only time the Doc ever ran on grass.

I believe that because he never ran in the triple crown races he doesn't get the accolades he deserves. America is in love with the Triple Crown, most folks have no clue on what a great horse truly is. These horses today pale in the shadow of our stars from the 1960's and 1970's........

Just my opinion.  

02 Jul 2013 4:53 PM
Bigtex

Steve,

Horse racing is a passion I didn't know I had until around 2003 & it was because I read the book, Seabiscuit, by Laura Hillenbrand.  I've been reading & watching ever since.  Your writing has kept my flame roaring for the sport & never better than when you give historical accounts such as this.  I love getting caught up in a race through your eyes!  Thank you!

03 Jul 2013 9:45 AM
The Doctor

The Deacon - Very impressed that you mention "Bid" in your last post, you and I are definitely on the same page regarding these fabulous animals. Another tidbit,  I actually had a great conversation with Mr. and Mrs. Nerud a few years ago at Sperry's Restaurant in Saratoga, and obviously the conversation revolved around "The Doc" and all of his accomplishments. I do have to  share a quote that  John made that evening. He stated that "the best horse of all time evaluating their full careers was Spectacular Bid"!! So hats off to you Deacon for reminding me of the terrific conversation that I had with the Nerud's years ago.

04 Jul 2013 10:19 AM
The Deacon

The Doctor:  I have been around this game a long time. My dad used to hang around the "backstretch" folks, the people who really know horses. We had a minor friendship with Robert Wheeler. Wheeler trained Silver Spoon, Quilche and other greats.

Most of the conscious was that "The Bid, Dr. Fager and Swaps along with Man O War were the greatest horses they ever saw run. Having seen 3 out of those 4 race, I totally concur.

I suppose comparing Swaps to the likes of a Secretariat or Seattle Slew is like comparing Babe Ruth to Hank Aaron.

In my heart I know what greatness is. It takes your breath away. The awe of being there. Seldom in our lifetimes are we blessed with having that feeling.

Have a great holiday weekend....

04 Jul 2013 5:56 PM
Davids

Another sign of greatness is singularity of the feat achieved... Seattle Slew is the only undefeated Triple Crown Winner.  Unique, and the panicle of achievement in US racing.

05 Jul 2013 3:11 AM
The Doctor

The Deacon -

Regarding your post where you mention Advocator and Fort Marcy in the UN Handicap of '68, which many consider to be the Doc's best performance. Also in that race was the Australian champion Tobin Bronze who definitely was an outstanding turf horse. The famous quote after the race came from his owner, who said, " I didn't believe there was any horse in the world who could give Tobin Bronze 16 lbs. and beat him"!!! Well he met one that day in New Jersey!!!

I hope your weekend is going well...

05 Jul 2013 7:19 PM
The Deacon

The Doctor: That quote you mentioned gave me goose bumps. I forgot Tobin Bronze was in that race. Fort Marcy came out west here and beat the best we had to offer. In the 1968 Californian a sprinter named Kissin George was in there to be the rabbit. He was an awfully good sprinter and he set some decent fractions. The "Doc" just bid his time and went around him like he was standing still. Gamely champion mare was also in that race as was Dr. Roy E, Barb's Delight, and Rising Market. The time was 140.4 for 1 1/16 and he carried 130 lbs. Get this, Swaps, Kelso, Round Table and Prove It all lost the Californian while carrying 130 lbs. That weight was the lightest he would carry all year....

Having a good weekend, hope you're doing the same.  

06 Jul 2013 1:50 AM
ML/NJ

Demise of Handicap Triple (et al.) ... Thank you Breeders' Cup.

06 Jul 2013 8:19 AM
Davids

Tobin Bronze brings back fond memories for me as well. The family had recently visited Australia and we saw Tobin Bronze win the Cox Plate and Caulfield Cup (2 very prestigious races in Australia). The Australian fans idolised him.

My mother brought back a lady's magazine called "Women's Weekly" as a memento - the centre spread had pages on Tobin Bronze.

06 Jul 2013 5:31 PM
Zen's Auntie

This readers interest is NOT at a Low.  Great Piece as always. Enjoy your well deserved vacation and keep bringing the stories of these True Iron Horses to us as only you can Steve!

07 Jul 2013 3:02 PM
Saratoga AJ

Buckpasser was a sore legged horse in that final race of his career in the 1967 Woodward. When healthy he was  superior to Fager and Damascus. He probably would have won the Triple Crown in 1966 if not for getting hurt just before the Derby while in the midst of his 15 race winning streak (and winner of 24 of 26 races from May 1965 to May 1967). He was not the same horse his final 4 starts in 1967 before being retired.  

09 Jul 2013 6:41 AM
The Deacon

Saratoga AJ:  I respectfully totally disagree with your last post. Buckpasser was truly a great horse, but not as good as the Doc and Damascus. This is just my opinion.

09 Jul 2013 9:19 PM
The Doctor

Saratoga AJ -

I definitely agree with The Deacon's last post regarding Dr. Fager, maybe not Damascus.  Buckpasser truly was one of the all time greats. But, if you remember he had to use "rabbits" in several of his races, he also had the habit of severely pulling himself up when he got the lead, i.e.; 1966 Flamingo which he still won.  At the end of the day, he doesn't beat Dr. Fager straight up in any race and certainly not a match race. The "Doc" was simply to FAST!!!

10 Jul 2013 1:45 PM
Ta Wee

Great story and description of the'68 Suburban which truly was a clash of Titans. I recall running in high school gym class in'67 and my buddies and I while racing each other would holler out their favorite horses-Kelso, Buckpasser, Damascus, and I was always Dr. Fager and of course in front.  Many yrs. later while teaching middle school Phys. Ed. and coaching boys track I would tell stories of the old aforementioned greats and kind of insist they watch the triple crown races. When they properly pronounced Fusaichi Pegasus I gave them a big hand.

09 Apr 2014 10:07 PM
Tamara Ault

Wow, that was almost like being there. I got to see Damascus in retirement and I still was in awe of this great horse. Is that "match race" that wasn't , on tape anywhere?

28 May 2014 5:38 PM

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