Geldings Make It Go - by Evan Hammonds

(Originally published in the August 11, 2012 issue of The Blood-Horse magazine. Feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions at the bottom of the column.)

By Evan Hammonds - @BH_EHammonds on Twitter

By Evan Hammonds

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.

Refurbished Mansion

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.


Leave a Comment:

Pedigree Ann

Alfred G Vanderbilt has been quoted as saying that if he had gelded every one of the colts he bred, he would have made only one (two?) mistake(s). (Depending on the source of the quote.)

Back when I was a newby, colts that looked like they were going to grow to be too big and heavy were gelded young, so that they didn't develop the stallion weight in the front end. Forego was well-bred enough to make a stallion, but his size made gelding optimal; even so, he fought ankle troubles all his life.

07 Aug 2012 10:02 AM
Love 'em all

Love those geldings!  John Henry and Lava Man are/were my absolute favs, but I really do love 'em all.

Thanks for this tribute ... and for the slideshow of great geldings.  You've made my day!  

Cheers to all the geldings out there!

07 Aug 2012 4:43 PM

While we get nostalgic about great geldings, we spin it that they were the best of race horses, but horses are usually not gelded until they have demonstrated that they are not competitive with the top runners.

A frequent reason for gelding is an unsound temperament -- this was the reason Kelso was gelded before he raced -- but those wayward colts get a whole lot more tractable in their trainers' eyes if they work in :57 off the van.

Horses with faulty or injury-prone forelegs may be gelded to keep their weight down on their front end -- geldings don't develop a stallion's heavy neck. Geldings are lighter all over but especially in front.

John Henry took 20 starts to go through his conditions. Forego's first graded stakes win was late fall of his three-year-old year.

What the great geldings may be demonstrating for us is the racing capacity of the thoroughbred if its allowed to reach maturity, or manages to make it through its early races unscathed. A spring two-year-old is the equivalent of a 12-year-old boy. Horses finish growing at five.

08 Aug 2012 2:02 AM
an ole railbird

"geldings are the backbone of the horse industry".

   i dont know who came up with that phrase, but have always believed it ,whole heartedly.

 thank you ms. pedigree ann, for that quiote. i had heard it all for a long time, but had no idea who had ,come up with it.

  i came from a family very deeply seated in the horse industry.

  on my daddys side of the family, they were," mustangers", & made a living catching horses out of the wild.

   my mothers side of the house, made a living in a "general store & livery stable." their main deal was buying horses for the US goverment.

 i am presently doing research, in order to write a book on " the effects of the mechanized army, had on the horse industry.

 in this book there will bea chapter on the "prefeered specs," for gelding horses".

 there is a science & art to gelding horses, that now is a forgotten skill. there are few that ever heard of it. & even fewer that practice it.

 thanks for the articule on the unsung heros of racing.

 i remain,

"an ole railbird"

08 Aug 2012 9:47 AM

Some colts are also gelded because they are ridglings (having undescended testicles) which can be painful when they run. If the colt has royal bloodlines they might be left intact if a ridgling, but otherwise they might be gelded.

From what I remember Funny Cide was gelded for this reason. He was from the first crop of Distorted Humor, and if people had known what a good stallion DH would turn out to be, perhaps Funny Cide would have been left intact.

The best thing about geldings is that we actually get to see them around for awhile! None of the win a grade I or two and then get whisked off to the breeding shed nonsense involved.

I have hoped that if we ever get another Triple Crown winner it will be a gelding or a filly for this very reason. Unless he has an extraordinary owner, an intact colt will very likely be whisked off after the Belmont to never race again.

08 Aug 2012 1:12 PM

On the subject of geldings, Hansen would probably be a better race horse if he were one.

09 Aug 2012 1:38 AM
Karen in Indiana

From what I've read about Man O'War and his temperament - high strung and opinionated - I think he would have been gelded if he was born now and what a loss! There have been a few of those high achieving geldings that make me wonder what if???

09 Aug 2012 12:51 PM

From what I remember reading in various accounts, his owner and trainer wanted to geld Count Fleet because he was supposedly downright dangerous. His jockey fought on his behalf to keep him an intact colt.

Since he ended up being a pretty good sire and broodmare sire, I'm glad the jockey prevailed.

10 Aug 2012 12:14 AM

I really enjoyed the article and slideshow.  Each and every one of these horses was a tremendous performer, full of heart and worthy of remembrance.  Native Diver remains one of the most exciting racehorses I have seen and the subject of some of my fondest racing memories.  I may not remember what I did last week but I will never forget Harry Henson's first call after the break, which most often began 'Native Diver, going to the front...'.  Those horses could afford to lose from time to time, live to fight another day, and come back to win again.  There was no angst about them losing their potential value as a stallion by not winning a big race.  Native Diver carried high weights, ran classic distances, and liked to run in front.  There was no hand wringing that he couldn't rate.  He won alot of races and was an exciting performer whether or not he won.  He showed up dependably in the big races, regardless of the weight he was assigned, and gave it his best shot.  He was a  big fiery black horse and it still gives me goose bumps to watch his races, old and grainy as they are.  It made me very happy to see him recognized in this article.  Thank you for the great retrospective on these champion geldings.

10 Aug 2012 1:30 AM
Pedigree Ann

Karen - not likely that Man o' War would have been gelded because of temperament issues early. He was third highest-priced yearling at Saratoga of his year and royally bred. He was a tall, rangy sort of yearling, so Riddle had jocularly said that if he can't run, they could geld him and put him over fences. But it was soon clear that he COULD run. And it was never recorded that Man o' War was dangerous to humankind the way some of his relatives were.

Now Coronado's Quest was a candidate for gelding; his fit in the the tunnel at Gulfstream WAS dangerous for his jock as well as the ground crew. And his impact as a stallion has been negligible, probably because he passed on too much of his own nerves. That was what sunk J. O. Tobin as a sire, too, in all likelihood; super-high nervous energy.

10 Aug 2012 11:28 AM

I'm certainly not suggesting that Hansen is dangerous. He's simply his own worst enemy on the track. I get a kick out of people who fault the rider for going straight to the lead. Hansen is head strong like my 150 pound pit bull. When he's on the leash, I'm just along for the ride, and if I wasn't as strong as I am, he would drag me to my death. Darn shame, I really like the white pony, wish someone could train him to run a smarter race, wish I could train my dog too. LOL. Hansen is a good horse, in spite of what some may think, and he's such a beauty. It would be a shame to lose him as a potential sire.

11 Aug 2012 1:41 AM

  I absolutely LOVE Lava Man.  You know, here in the United States at least, most colts of other breeds are gelded.  The idea is to leave only the best intact.  (Of course, some people always will think they have a horse better than it actually is.)  There are far more intact males in racing.  I agree with Pedigree Ann that Coronado's Quest was a candidate for gelding...that horse scared the life out of me every time he set "hoof" on the track.  I was sure he was going to kill someone or give his poor trainer a massive heart attack.  No matter how talented the horse is, that sort of disposition should not be passed on.

  As for Hansen, he seems a well-tempered but nervous little horse, which does not really surprise me.  Three is still very young and many thoroughbreds are high-strung.  I do wish that his owner would not mess with his tail and parade him with his collection of "girls."  

  A long time ago, when I was doing a lot of showing, I had an Arab gelding who was quite good in trail class.  At one show, where he ended up winning seven classes, a man stabled nearby asked me how I did it.  I offered to tell him what he was doing wrong but told him if I did he could not get angry.  He wanted to know.  His horse was in the half-Arab division, and was a pinto with a lot of white, and every morning, while it was still cold, he'd bathe the horse.  Since trail began at eight, the horse did not get much warm-up and was nervous and silly.  I told him that instead of bathing the horse, he needed to get on and lope him for a while, to burn off extra energy so the horse would have patience to work the obstacles.  I told him to give the stall an extra cleaning and since the horse was wearing a sheet anyway, he should not need a bath.

  He did what I said, and the horse won the reserve championship that day.

  Hansen needs energy to run, but messing with his tail is just nerve-wracking, I am sure.  So is the rest of the circus.


13 Aug 2012 3:19 PM
Old Timer

Karen, I hear you with the "what if?" question. I guess the flip side is that these classy geldings never would have achieved what they did had they not been gelded. (in terms of longevity and their entire careers)

I was at Belmont to see Kelso win his 5th straight JCGC.  That was truly an amazing feat for a 7year old horse.

If I could add one name for honorable mention, I'd stick Evening Attire in there... He loved a distance and always came out to run.

24 Aug 2012 2:37 PM
Lynda Tanner

Dear Mr.Hammonds.I just found this article today. Thank you so much for remembering LAST DON B. He is still alive, retired on his owner's farm in Camp Verde, Az. He spends much of his day dozing under a shade tree in a large field on the banks of the Verde River. His owner is retired with him and I, hid trainer retired farther to the east in the White Mtns. The horse may out live us both! He certainly provided us with a collection of blankets,trophys,bowls,plates and memories. Thanks again for mentioning him! Lynda Tanner.

08 Jun 2013 2:01 PM

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