If the recent Eclipse Awards signaled the end to what was the best year of Thoroughbred racing this century, that curtain was pulled down even tighter with the deaths in the past fortnight of a string of equine heroes that remind us the time between the heroics provided by these great athletes and the sadness their passings bring slips by all too quickly.
Although he placed just 123rd on the 2015 leading broodmare sires list due to lack of volume, Arch had become well-known to savvy breeders through his daughters. John Liviakis, breeder of graded stakes winners such as Gomo, Reneesgotzip, and Handsome Mike, tabbed Arch and Smart Strike as the best broodmare sires on the scene today. Mares by, and in foal, to Arch brought prices of $700,000 and $500,000 at the just completed Keeneland January sale. His passing Jan. 20 at age 21 was a blow to the breed.
"He was one of those horses—everyone who was ever around him did good with him," said Bernie Sams of Claiborne Farm, which stood Arch and raced him along with Adele Dilschneider. "He did really well from the time he sold as a yearling to his racing days (grade I winner) to standing stud and now with his daughters as broodmares."
Claiborne took a double blow when Storm Flag Flying, boarded there by the Phipps family, died while giving birth to a Candy Ride filly Jan. 22. Storm Flag Flying, like the Phipps operation, represented excellence through generations. When she won the Long John Silver's Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (gr. I) in 2002 on the way to being named champion 2-year-old filly, Storm Flag Flying replicated her dam My Flag's Breeders' Cup victory and became the third consecutive generation of her female family to win a World Championships event. Her granddam was the undefeated 1988 champion older mare Personal Ensign, who won that year's Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I).
"Storm Flag Flying was a really special horse," said Daisy Phipps Pulito, who manages the family's racing and breeding operations. "What those three accomplished on the racetrack for my grandfather and father and for all of American racing was unbelievable. They were true champions and were so much alike in their determination and their heart."
With all the luminaries at the Old Friends Retirement Farm near Georgetown, Ky., such as dual classic winner Silver Charm, the star of the show right up to his death Jan. 17 remained champion Gulch. He was for many years the oldest living Breeders' Cup winner, having captured the 1988 Sprint (gr. I). Gulch resided in the best-placed paddock on the grounds, just behind the office, and was the first star that visitors thrilled to on their tours. After 18 years at stud at Lane's End, the farm sent Gulch to Old Friends so that he could greet admirers for the last decade of his 32 years.
"He's one of the irreplaceable ones for what he accomplished on the track and what he meant to our visitors and our staff," said Old Friends founder Michael Blowen. "Sometimes I would just sit and watch him for a half hour—nothing bothered him. His trainer LeRoy Jolley came out a couple of years ago and said Gulch looked so good 'We could throw a saddle on him, give him some gallops and one blowout, and run him again.' Up until the last day his eyes were bright and clear. His passing is a big hole in the story."
The death of grade I winner Somali Lemonade while foaling Jan. 23 brings emptiness to her breeder/owner Caroline Forgason, who loved her dearly. Forgason is a sister to horsewomen Helen Alexander and D.D. Matz and a granddaughter of the legendary King Ranch founder Robert Kleberg. Lane's End mourns the passing of pensioned stallion Kingmambo, whose runners excelled around the globe, and whose legacy is continued at Lane's End by his son Lemon Drop Kid.
"We spend a lot of time with our horses. We breed them, race them, and know the entire family. We have a special connection to them," said Pulito. "This isn't something you get used to. It's like losing your dog or your cat. There's going to be a hell of a race up there."