A King Any Other Year

Last week, it was reported that King Glorious had died in Japan at the age of 30, having been pensioned since 2010 due to declining fertility. This news likely was of interest only to a handful of racing fans who remembered the brief exploits of one of the fastest and classiest horses of the 1980s, and most notably his victory in the 1989 Haskell Invitational.

But following the Haskell, King Glorious, a California-bred son of Naevus, out of the Reflected Glory mare Glorious Natalie, was injured and retired, all but disappearing into obscurity.

Whatever reputation King Glorious had at the time, it was overwhelmed by his fellow 3-year-olds Sunday Silence and Easy Goer, who he outlived by many years.

With Sunday Silence remaining in California for the summer and Easy Goer opting for the Whitney Handicap to replace the Phipps’ injured Seeking the Gold, it was up to the Northern California invader King Glorious to save the Haskell from mediocrity, especially following epic Haskell battles in 1987 and ’88, with Alysheba, Bet Twice, and Lost Code putting on a show for the ages in 1987 and Forty Niner and Seeking the Gold  going eyeball to eyeball in a gut-wrencher in near 100-degree heat the following year.

Monmouth was at its apex and was on a magnificent roll, with the sport’s top stars, such as Lady’s Secret, Personal Ensign, and Precisionist, competing there and the Haskell emerging as one of the major events of the year on a national scale.

But that roll ended in 1989, and Monmouth had to do its best to promote this virtually unknown California speed freak, trained by the king of Northern California trainers, Jerry Hollendorfer, who was not widely known back then.

King Glorious was a terror at 2 after coming down to Southern California and rattling off impressive scores in the grade I Hollywood Futurity, grade II Hollywood Juvenile Championship, and grade III Hollywood Prevue Stakes.

King Glorious was scheduled to compete in the grade II El Camino Real Derby at Bay Meadows and the track made up thousands of hats saying, “The King Will Reign.” But after working one morning, he was found to have swelling on his knee and Hollendorfer was forced to break the bad news to track officials.

At 3, King Glorious defeated two opponents in the six-furlong Piedmont Stakes for Cal-breds at Golden Gate by 21 lengths, but was upset at odds of 1-10 stretching out to 1 1/16 miles in the Gold Rush Stakes when jockey Chris McCarron tried restraining him for the first time, which he resented.

Hollendorfer still was determined to prove he could go two turns and sent him to Thistledown for the grade II Ohio Derby, where he quickly opened a huge lead, tore through fractions of :45 2/5 and 1:10 4/5, and won by four lengths while never threatened.

King Glorious came into the Haskell having won from 4 1/2 furlongs to 1 1/8 miles on fast, good, and sloppy tracks, and his average half-mile fraction in eight starts was an amazing :44 2/5. He put in opening quarters in :21 flat, :21 1/5, :21 2/5, ad :21 4/5. When he won the Piedmont, he went his half in :43 4/5.

On top of that, King Glorious was a magnificent-looking horse and took your breath away. He was big, powerful, and nearly black.

So, where did this freakish horse come from? Ted Aroney of Halo Farms purchased his dam, Glorious Natalie, who was carrying him at the time, at a public auction in California for a meager $6,700, with the intention of breeding her and several others he purchased to his stallion Shanekite.

Aroney put King Glorious in the Northern California yearling sale along with two other horses. Hollendorfer asked him if he wanted to put a reserve on his Naevus yearling, but Aroney hadn’t given it a second thought, so he just picked a figure and blurted out $8,000. Unfortunately, the highest bid on King Glorious was only $6,200.

Aroney wanted to sell badly and told Hollendorfer to go find the guy who made the bid and get the $6,200, even though it was nearly $2,000 under the reserve. Hollendorfer went back and looked for the person, but couldn’t find him, so Aroney was forced to keep the colt, eventually selling 25% interest to Alan Magerman of Philadelphia following the Hollywood Futurity.

So, here was King Glorious, the horse no one wanted and who they couldn’t sell even below the reserve, now the huge favorite for the Haskell. Even though the loss of Sunday Silence and Easy Goer was hard on Monmouth, there was something exciting and unknown about this big beautiful California speed machine that everyone found so intriguing. Trainer Shug McGaughey had contemplated substituting the classy Awe Inspiring for Easy Goer, but admitted he wanted no part of King Glorious at equal weights (both were assigned 123 pounds, three less than Easy Goer).

Another intriguing horse in the Haskell was the French-trained Le Voyageur, who had been sent to America by trainer Patrick Biancone, where he finished third to Easy Goer and Sunday Silence in the Belmont Stakes. The main problem was what to do about a quarantine barn. Nothing seemed feasible until chief carpenter Bruce Rusin suggested the firehouse, located right by the one of the gaps to the racetrack. The firehouse quickly became the hub of activity, as people tried to get a glimpse of this mysterious French invader.

Meanwhile, one barn away from the firehouse, King Glorious took up residence in trainer Danny Perlsweig’s barn under the care of exercise rider Scott Saito.

The first day after he arrived, King Glorious became a curiosity for Perlsweig’s goat. That first night, the goat slept in King Glorious’ stall and two became instant friends. It was quite a sight seeing King Glorious butting heads with the goat and literally lifting him off the ground by his horns. When he wasn’t with the goat, King Glorious was often seen leaning out his stall wolfing down bran muffins.

So, Monmouth was ready for their big show, with horses shipping in from California, Finger Lakes, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Belmont Park, and France, as well as a couple of locally based horses. Also shipping in from California was the Del Mar Futurity winner Music Merci, who had finished fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

King Glorious was made the 7-to-10 favorite, with Le Voyageur 5-2 and Music Merci 5-1. Surprisingly, it was Hopeful Stakes winner Mercedes Won who burst out of the gate under the whip, with Gary Stevens hustling Music Merci. King Glorious was third going into the clubhouse turn, but that didn’t last very long. After an opening quarter in a rapid :22 2/5, King Glorious carried McCarron to the lead and that basically was the race.

King Glorious’ huge, effortless strides, were a contradiction to the fractions on the tote board. He had run the opening half in :45 2/5, the fastest half-mile in the history of the Haskell. Despite a brutal three-quarters in 1:09 3/5, King Glorious managed to extend his lead to six lengths at the eighth pole. The fast fractions began to take their toll and he started to tire a bit, but still maintained a comfortable three-length margin at the wire.

And he accomplished this conceding three to 11 pounds to his opponents over a track that was not producing fast closing fractions all day. His victory boosted his lifetime earnings to $1,175,650.

McCarron said it best after the race. “No one seems to realize how much this horse can run,” he said. “Everybody is asking me, ‘Were you surprised, were you surprised, were you surprised?’ No! No! No! This is a running mother.”

Gary Stevens sitting nearby, said, “In other words, my week-old son can probably ride this sonofagun,” to which McCarron responded, “I don’t know about that but T.C. could (referring to Stevens’ 4-year-old son Tory Chad).

McCarron added, “I never know how fast he’s going. He gets across the ground so easily and fluidly. I just know he’s going very much within himself.”

We’ll never know how good King Glorious could have become and how he would have fared against Sunday Silence and Easy Goer. He was like a whirlwind, who came and went far too quickly. We do know one thing: he could fly, regardless of the distance. To repeat McCarron’s words, he was a “running mother.”

There is a moral to the King Glorious story. The next time you bid on a horse who doesn’t meet his reserve, think of Ted Aroney, who got “stuck” with King Glorious. And remember, after bidding on that horse, stick around. Someone might just be looking to make you a millionaire.


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