Special Moments - by Dan Liebman

The recent passing of Kentucky Derby (gr. I) winners Lil E. Tee and Alysheba and Well Armed’s major victory have caused memories to come flooding back, from the world’s richest race in Dubai to the world’s most famous race in Louisville, Ky. Not only that, but of publications worked for in a life of covering Thoroughbred racing and breeding.

My pick in the 1987 Derby was Bet Twice, who, had he finished first in the race, assuredly would not have been declared the winner. Bet Twice bumped Alysheba in the stretch and by all accounts would have been disqualified had Alysheba not gone on to win.

That night a large group from Daily Racing Form was discussing the race while settling down for dinner at a well-known Louisville restaurant. Another large table sat unoccupied a few feet away, but after just a few minutes, in walked the group that was to dine adjacent to us.

Leading the way was Alysheba’s trainer, Jack Van Berg, who was followed closely by Clarence, Dorothy, and Pam Scharbauer, the latter two the mother/daughter team that raced the son of Alydar. Ken Carson and Jay Pumphrey, who advised the Scharbauers, were also in the mix, and took pleasure in discussing the pedigree and recalling the Keene-land sale where the colt was purchased.

Winding up seated next to the winning connections of a Kentucky Derby winner makes for a special evening with special memories.

I have always considered myself the tiniest of footnotes in the story of the horse that won the Derby five years later. The Racing Times was short-lived, but a highlight for this editor was the day trainer Lynn Whiting called to inquire about obtaining the speed figure of a colt that just moments earlier had broken his maiden impressively at Calder Race Course.

“You should call Chuck Streva,” I told Whiting. “Chuck does his own speed figures.”

Whiting did call Streva, and did buy the colt. And about 20 minutes after Lil E. Tee won the 1992 Derby, Whiting had his hand outstretched and recalled that conversation seven months earlier.

I picked Lil E. Tee to win that day, but not just because I happened to answer the phone the day his trainer called seeking information. Rather because in a year in which the Derby seemed to be wide open, Lil E. Tee could not only put Whiting in the winner’s circle, but do the same for the jockey who had won more races than any other at the track, except for the feature race on the first Saturday in May.

As a longtime handicapper of the Kentucky circuit, I found it hard not to appreciate the talents of Pat Day. Watching him glide under the wire first on Lil E. Tee was another memorable occasion.

In March 2000, a trip for The Blood-Horse sent this writer across the world for the fifth running of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I). A pair of friendly faces appeared in the desert in the form of Eoin and Kathy Harty, who showed me where to eat, where to shop, and where to sightsee.

Eoin Harty, formerly an assistant to Bob Baffert, was living in Dubai and working for Sheikh Mohammed, the man who conceived the race in his native land. 

The day prior to the race, Sheikh Mohammed invited the media to a press conference where he sounded quite certain his colt Dubai Millennium would win the World Cup.

“This is a very special horse,” Sheikh Mohammed said. And, he was right.

Dubai Millennium toyed with his competition in the World Cup much the same way this year’s winner, Well Armed, did. Well Armed just happens to be trained by Eoin Harty, who now has a public stable based in Southern California.

This game leaves one with special memories.


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I watched my first Preakness in a crowd, jumping up and down to see Snow Chief score in 1986. Next year I was early at the gates to join the land rush to choice areas at the grandstand fence.  What a thrill to see Alysheba grab the lead from Bet Twice right in front of me!  The crowd's roar at a possible triple crown was tremendous.  I would see the duo next year at the revived Pimlico Special, won by Bet Twice.  Really sorry I didn't see 'Sheba back in Kentucky, and I should have stopped in at the farm that advertised as the home of Lil' E Tee, 92 Derby winner, but I have Pimlico pictures of both.

31 Mar 2009 8:12 PM

I was saddened to hear the news of Alysheba's death the other day. I remember being excited back in October when I heard he was returning to this country and would be at the Kentucky Horse Park. Last month I scheduled a trip to Kentucky to visit him. It will be too late for he is now gone forever. I will still visit the Horse Park and his grave. May he and Lil E.T. rest in peace with all the others who have gone before them.

01 Apr 2009 10:32 AM

Alysheba's Derby win was a great victory for the horse and his connections. But his greatest race, and one of the greatest I ever saw, was the Breeders Cup when Ferdinand just beat him: "Two Derby winners hit the wire together". It was one of those terrific rides by Bill Shoemaker. What a shame that we seldom see the great horses racing against one another anymore. We almost did at last year's Breeders Cup, but Big Brown was withdrawn. The Dubai races are nothing approaching a "world cup". Let's face it: They have become a local cup, with horses owned/bred by the Sheikhs racing against one another.

01 Apr 2009 11:59 AM
rj kulina

i well always remember the 87 derby because in lead  to the greatest race in NJ history The alyhebia/Bet twice/lost code Haskell but what even is more special where the three great /classy horsemen/trainers who where brave enought to run the game tuly misses their sportsmanship and love of the game

02 Apr 2009 8:00 AM

Thank you, Dan.

We all need reminders sometimes of why we love this game so much. It's easy to get cynical in the era of early retirements, our 'stars' only racing 4 times a year, huge syndications tempting their connections far from a racetrack, and a potential great being remanded back to the ranks of "We'll never know, now".

I had planned on visiting Alysheba this May, and now I will only be able to pay my respects at his final resting place. I am just so thankful he came home, and that Jack was there to greet him. A "special moment" that made everything right in the sport for that time.

It's these superstars of racing's not-so-distant past, both equine and human, that remind us there are still stars to be found, we just have to look for them.

Thank you 'Sheba, rest easy.

03 Apr 2009 10:53 AM
John Mc

Wo derful memories. The year after Allysheba's Derby,he won the Classic in the CD gloaming. Our family was at Del Frisco's restaurant when in walked the Scharbaer-Van Berg-McCarron party. What a nice bunch of people! We will always cherish that fun night.

03 Apr 2009 11:08 AM

Poor Alysheba didn't get a very long retirement back here in the states.  Sometimes when you move an old horse from where they're comfortable and have been living most of their life to a new place, the move itself is physically stressful for them and the excitment is really more than these old champions can sometimes handle.  Take Kelso,  They pull this old champion out of his retirement and parade him in front of the grandstand at Belmont Park before the running of the Jockey Club Gold Cup back in the 1980s, it was like 2 or 3 days later Kelso was dead,  coincidence, I don't think so.

03 Apr 2009 3:13 PM

I remember the Breeder's Cup won by Alysheba at Churchill because it was almost dark. Could not see the horses on the backside but could follow their progress by the flashbulbs and when they turned for home all i can remember is Dave Johnson calling here comes Alysheba.

06 Apr 2009 9:58 AM
Cris McHenka

Could be your right, could be that Mrs. Dupont, who loved that horse, could see one last trip to Old Belmont for his New York fans to pay their respect to him was no less than what he deserved. New Yorkers loved him too, and they stood and applauded him and he looked great for an old man. He knew it was for him. Remember she used to ride him herself and she knew him well.

As an owner, you can tell just by little things that their time is short even when they are eating good and are still playful and he was well into his twenty's.

Maybe the Arab's could tell Alysheba did not have much time either, and they wanted him to have the chance to die at home. They love their horses too.

06 Apr 2009 7:23 PM

I treasure hearing the wonderful behind the scenes stories of the great people associated with racing. It does give those of us who aren't so closely involved a peep into a least a little bit of the human side. So thanks to those who tell their fond memories, as i just love the history of it all: horses, trainers, owners, shoe shine people like the gentleman who recently passed away, the racetracks, Saratoga Springs, the jockeys,the vets, the walkers,the stable people, goodness at its best. Thanks from a horse admirer from way back.

06 Apr 2009 8:54 PM

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