How many Derby winners are still running at age 12? In the case of 2000 Texas Derby victor Eagle Time (pedigree), maybe it's more accurate to say he's running "again" instead of "still," since he took a pretty long break from the track. But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit.
Bred in Florida, the dark bay son of Light of Morn was sold at the 1999 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic sale of 2-year-olds in training. Eagle Time brought a final bid of $4,000 against an auction average of $26,939. At that point, the low price wasn't too surprising. His 4-year-old full brother had never started -- in fact, he never would -- and his 3-year-old Navarone half-sister was four days away from her first start. That plus the fact that his sire and dam weren't especially "commercial" made it certain he wouldn't inspire a bidding war.
A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with Eagle Time's connections. Trainer Rick Jordan recalls that he "liked Eagle's 'old' pedigree" but much more important, liked him as an individual. Jordan was looking for a racing prospect for his uncle and he remembers that hip #267 "stood out at the sale" as a horse built for running.
Four and a half months later, Jordan sent Eagle Time to the post for the first time. A show effort in a maiden special weight earned him the first of many paychecks. He improved on his second outing 15 days later and came within a half-length in a sprint allowance. One week later, though, he hit in a mile maiden, winning by 3 lengths
During the next six years, Eagle Time would contest 58 races and score 10 times; his 25 additional place efforts gave him a fantastic 60% in-the-money record. When the stallion retired in 2004 at age 7 -- "dead sound," according to Jordan -- he had bankrolled $253,723. His biggest wins came in the Texas Derby (age 3) and the Memorial Day Handicap (age 5).
Jordan, who had remained "Eagle's" trainer throughout his career, sent the newly-retired Eagle Time to stud initially in Ohio, and for the last few years at his son's Breakway Farm in Indiana. Three named foals arrived in 2006 and the same number a year later; a single foal was born this year. Suffice that Eagle Time wasn't attracting a lot of outside mare owners, but Rick Jordan saw in the young sire a horse that had stayed fit and still showed interest in a work routine. He acquired Eagle Time outright and decided to take him out of retirement.
From his final 2004 start to his return in 2009, there elapsed 1,709 days away from racing. Eagle Time is now preparing for his eighth contest of the year and 66th lifetime, to be run tonight at Beulah Park. (He's the "4" horse in race 8, a mile and one-sixteenth claimer run on the main dirt track.) He's coming off the all-weather at Turfway, which he didn't seem to relish, and is also back to his favorite distance after Jordan experimented with a sprint that the horse never really got in to. Eagle Time already has a win since his return from retirement and should contest the race this evening.
A couple of interesting notes that Rick Jordan shared with me:
Eagle Time has amassed more than 180,000 miles in the trailer, being hauled from track to track over the years. Jordan thinks the horse has "more miles behind my pickup truck" than just about any horse travels in a lifetime.
Jordan has trained two of Eagle Time's sons. Both 3-year-olds this year, one is a multiple, albeit modest, winner, and the other was -- and here I quote -- a "stark raving idiot ... the mare [his dam] was a nut ... he had some ability but his mind wouldn't let him use it." Jordan has two juvenile fillies by Eagle Time in training currently; both are pointed towards 3-year-old debuts.
Something about the family just hits with Jordan: he purchased Mecke Monster and Power Stroking, both gelding half-brothers to Eagle Time, and was the underbidder on half-sister Mecke's Queen. All four are stakes horses.
Just because he's racing doesn't mean his stud career has ended, or even been put on hold. Eagle Time is already booked to two mares for the 2010 breeding season.
It's not every day that you see a horse returning from a five-year layoff. But, not many horses are like Eagle Time: he retired sound and kept his form -- both mental and physical -- despite being years removed from works. Age 12 is getting on, but in this case, it appears that Eagle Time is being handled with care. Jordan has dropped him down in class to keep the stallion from straining himself early in his comeback. And he's watching for any signs that the routine is taking a toll on his senior runner, ready to send him home again if that's what's best for him.
I, for one, will be cheering him on and hoping to see Eagle Time add to his quarter-million-plus in earnings.