(Originally published in the August 11, 2012 issue of The
Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and
the bottom of the column.)
By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter
In this issue Steve Haskin presents his list of the top 10 geldings of the last 75 years. While few could argue about the top three—other than perhaps in which order they belong—the others may spark some debate. We encourage your comments, either in print or online.
One of the biggest complaints about Thoroughbred racing comes from those who habitually harp on the fact the sport’s brightest stars disappear all too soon to the breeding shed. Racing does have its version of the “Sunshine Boys” in the form of geldings—the bread-and-butter horses that fill most racing cards, from claiming to allowance to graded stakes races. At every track there seems to be one or two that are charismatic enough to attract an adoring fan base.
Many tracks have their handful of hometown heros that make their way to the stakes level and seem to be ready for battle every Saturday.
Richard Bomze’s Fourstardave thrilled fans at Saratoga for nearly a decade, winning a race at the Spa for eight consecutive years from 1987-94. At age 7 in 1992, he won in his third attempt at the meet in late August, drawing a loud ovation from the crowd. He bowed out at age 10, missing in three Saratoga starts against allowance company.
At Keeneland, where they run short meetings in April and October, George Strawbridge’s Rochester made at least one start in 12 straight meets, running in the spring and fall from April 2001 to October 2006, and winning the 12-furlong Sycamore Breeders’ Cup Stakes in 2001, 2002, and 2005.
A trio of geldings built a great rivalry in the great Southwest in the early 1990s. Working for the Daily Racing Form in Phoenix from 1994-98, we were witness to several sprinting slugfests—seemingly weekly—at Turf Paradise among Honor the Hero, G Malleah, and Last Don B. Honor the Hero made 21 of his 58 career starts at the north Phoenix track, while G Malleah ran there 49 times in a 61-race career and Last Don B. made 78 of his 104 starts in the desert. The threesome won or placed in 46 stakes from 1991-98.
Combined, they won the six-furlong Phoenix Gold Cup four years running from 1993-96, with Honor the Hero topping G Malleah and Last Don B. in 1995.
And the fun didn’t end there. Later that decade we were witness to Honor the Hero’s “second career” as an eventing horse in the Phoenix area.
The most recent example of a big-time gelding—and he’s No. 9 on Haskin’s list—is Lava Man. Despite his less-than-stellar record outside California, the old guy developed a hard-core following during his glory days and has enjoyed a resurgence as the wingman for I’ll Have Another through this spring’s Triple Crown run.
On the Thursday prior to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), a handful of pre-teen girls watched the morning works at Pimlico Race Course from the rail in the winner’s circle. After his morning gallop I’ll Have Another was walking clockwise back toward the barn area along with his star stable pony. As they came by, one of the young ladies said, “I love you, Lava Man,” while ignoring the recent winner of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I).
That’s star power.
We’re not going to grumble too much about the dismantling of the Joe Hirsch Media Center at Churchill Downs to make way for “The Mansion,” an ultra-high-end perch on the sixth floor beside the famed Twin Spires. The prime real estate has become too valuable a space for Churchill Downs Inc. to house a bunch of freeloading media types. They can now “invite” people for the privilege of spending several thousand dollars each for the Oaks/Derby weekend.
To be honest, the workspace has been underutilized since it opened for the 2006 Kentucky Derby. There has been a steady decline of actual working journalists in the media center, which has accelerated of late with consolidation of news outlets and the shrinkage of travel budgets for daily newspapers.
Beyond the media center, relocating the neighboring Twin Spires Gold Club from the sixth floor with its premier view of the track to the second floor where the sightlines aren’t that hot could be seen as a lack of respect for some of the company’s best customers: those upper-bracket players that day in, day out, actually push (a lot of) money through the windows.