Courtesy of Becky Johnston
This weekend’s races offer a feast for the fans, but they also honor some important people and equine athletes in our sport’s history.
The Beverly D. Stakes will be run on Saturday. This is a race named in honor of Churchill Downs’ board member Richard Duchossois’s late wife, Beverly E. Duchossois. She passed away from cancer and since that time, the family foundation has endowed millions of dollars to the University of Chicago for the outstanding treatment she received at the facility. The Beverly Duchossois Cancer Laboratories are named in her honor. The Duchossois Family Foundation has been active in many other charitable endeavors.
Mr. D. bought Arlington Park in 1983 and oversaw both the reconstruction after the fire of 1985 and the sale of the track to Churchill Downs Inc in 2000. The Beverly D. has been run at the track since 1987.
The 1994 running of the Beverly D. featured a five-year-old mare named Hatoof. The Criquette Head trainee will be honored with a stakes race bearing her name on the undercard on Million Day at Arlington Park.
Watch the 1994 Beverly D. Stakes
Others remembered with a race on Saturday afternoon at Arlington are Secretariat, Cigar, Forward Pass, Spectacular Bid and Top Flight.
Calder Race Course
Calder will kick off the rich Florida Stallion Series this Saturday with the Desert Vixen Stakes for two-year-old fillies and the Dr. Fager Stakes for the two-year-old colts. The first two legs of the series contested at six-furlongs.
Both of the honorees are members of the National Museum of Racing – Hall of Fame. She, inducted in 1979 for owner Henry Mangurian and he in 1971 for his owner/breeder, Tartan Farms.
Desert Vixen won eight consecutive races as a three-year-old for trainer Richard Root, including the Test and the Alabama Stakes in 1973. She faced older fillies and mares including the champion Susan’s Girl in the fall at Belmont Park in the Beldame.
Watch the 1973 Beldame Stakes: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aylLJEZvCZ4
Her four-year-old season saw her repeat this victory and add the Matchmaker Stakes and a second place effort in the open-company D.C. International won by the French-bred Admetus, but she defeated Dahlia who checked in third. Dahlia would go on to be the Eclipse Award Turf Champion of 1974 (male or female). Desert Vixen won her divisional honors for Eclipse Awards in both 1973 and 1974.
Dr. Fager came along in an era that many could argue produced some of the best colts and fillies in the history of the American sport. Buckpasser, Damascus, Fort Marcy and In Reality were all foaled between 1963 and 1964. Iron fillies Gamely (1964) and Straight Deal (1962) were followed by the great Shuvee (1966) and Gallant Bloom (1966) .
Before Dr. Fager and his ’63 and ’64 friends, the country was enjoying Kelso (1957) and Roman Brother (1961). Following Dr. Fager’s retirement were Arts and Letters (1966), Ack Ack (1966), Riva Ridge (1969), Secretariat (1970), Forego (1970), Seattle Slew (1974), Affirmed (1975) and Spectacular Bid (1976).
It would be hard to top these twenty years in terms of production. We may never see these kinds of careers again because of the rush to see them off to stud, but at one time, it was not the “norm” to rush them off the race track after their three-year-old season.
Dr. Fager was a fiery son of Rough’n Tumble. He did not like restraint. He liked to swing wide into the stretch and he may or may not switch leads when he got there. Something tells me he thought he was much too busy to worry about such things.
Dr. Fager was arguably one of the most versatile and brilliant horses to ever run, many would argue that he was, in fact, the best they ever saw.
He won stakes from coast to coast and points in between. He won on dirt and turf while carrying weights unheard of today. He won at sprint distances like the Vosburgh and at classic distances like the Suburban and Whitney Stakes. He won 18 of his 22 races.
Dr. Fager was honored twice as the Champion Sprinter in 1967 and 1968, Champion Older Horse, Champion Turf Horse and Horse of the Year in 1968.
In one of Dr. Fager’s most scintillating performances, he set a world record in the one-mile Washington Park Handicap carrying 134 pounds.
Watch the 1968 Washington Park Handicap
This next video shows Dr. Fager’s race day temperament and also shows the colt’s foray into California racing in 1968.
Watch the 1968 Californian Stakes
The Spa will feature the Whitney Handicap Saturday. The race was inaugurated in 1928 and honors the great racing family that includes John Hay Whitney, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and the beloved Belle of Saratoga, Marylou Whitney. See: The Whitney Handicap: a look at a treasured American family
In 1980, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney entered his five-year-old son of Buckpasser, State Dinner. The horse was descended on the female side from the Whitney raced and bred Equipoise. Equipoise won the 1934 Whitney Handicap and was Handicap Champion from 1932-1934.
Watch the 1980 Whitney as State Dinner faces Dr. Fager’s son, Dr. Patches in this Saratoga fixture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j5FJWQe_RxA
Sunday, Saratoga will honor another pillar of the sport when they run the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap. Vanderbilt was the owner of historic Sagamore Farms in Maryland and he was one of the owners of Pimlico Race Course, the track that played such a large part in the match race between Sea Biscuit and War Admiral run at Old Hilltop in 1938.
Mr. Vanderbilt knew about great horses of his own. He bred and raced one of the greatest, Native Dancer, who won 21 of 22 starts.
Watch this mini-documentary on Native Dancer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVjiT5yI-8c
Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
The west coast will also pay tribute to their great contributors. The founder of the Del Mar track we know as Del Mar Thoroughbred Club will be honored with a Grade 1 sprint, The Bing Crosby Handicap, a fixture since 1946.
In 1992, Bob Baffert, then new to thoroughbreds, would use this race as a prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint to be run at Gulfstream Park. Next week, Baffert will become a member of the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame.
Watch the 1992 Bing Crosby. The announcers were not impressed with the soon to be Breeders’ Cup Champion of 1992.
Clement L. Hirsch will be honored Sunday with a race run in his name. Zenyatta heads the Grade 1 field for fillies and mares. Mr. Hirsch was a founder and President of the Oak Tree Racing Association that runs the fall meet at Santa Anita. The association will host the Breeders’ Cup for the second consecutive year this fall. Mr. Hirsch is further honored for his great contributions with a Grade 1 turf stakes race at the Oak Tree meet.
Clement Hirsch raced Grade 1 winner Magical Maiden, the second dam of Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem.
Watch the 1991 Hollywood Starlet
The Grade 2 Best Pal Stakes will also be run Sunday. A race for two-year olds named in honor of the California-bred colt by Habitony.
Best Pal would shock many in his three-year-old season when he defeated a stellar cast in the first running of the Pacific Classic. Best Pal raced for Mr. and Mrs. John C. Mabee’s Golden Eagle Farms. Mr. Mabee was a longtime officer of the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. oversaw the massive overhaul of the track facilities in the early 1990’s and was a leader in putting the Grade 1 centerpiece onto the seaside track’s calendar.
Watch the 1991 Pacific Classic
If you live in Florida:
Check out the precocious two-year-olds stakes. You never know you might see a champion sprinter like Smile or a Derby Champ like Unbridled.
If you live in Chicago:
There is no better racing day of the year than the Arlington Million International races. Get out there at all costs. There will be something for everyone from distances to surface. Einstein, Precious Passion and Gio Ponti should be enough to lure you out.
If you live in New York:
Saturday it is time for the distinguished gentlemen stakes, The Whitney Stakes. Then the lovely three-year-old fillies in the Test Stakes. A race known as the broodmare maker race.
If it is speed you like, The faster rowdy horses will line up for Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at six-furlongs on Sunday and the fillies will do the same in the Honorable Miss. Both races are run at 6 furlongs.
If you live in San Diego, Del Mar, L.A.:
If the beach doesn’t lure you in, let the history of old Del Mar with Bing singing Where the Surf Meets the Turf greet your day at the races.
Saturday will produce Zensational as he will take another step towards the Breeders’ Cup Sprint for trainer Bob Baffert.
Then Sunday, there is the regal Zenyatta. A trip to see her is like watching fine art come to life. Then in the Best Pal Stakes, look for a west coast Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Favorite to emerge from this race.
Just get out there. Go and support the sport.