In a year notable for a paucity of name horses, there was, paradoxically, an overflow of memorable races in 1987.
There were so many races worth recalling that stakes such as the Travers, the Budweiser-Arlington Million and the Belmont were squeezed off this department’s annual list.
Maybe it’s regional prejudice, or perhaps it’s a reflection on the quality of racing back East, but most of the races that made the 1987 list were run in California.
Alysheba wound up in four of them, three in defeat. Here, then, are thoroughbred racing’s 10 most memorable races of 1987:
1--The Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs.
This was a Derby that had everything: The crushing defeat of the favorite, Demons Begone, who bled profusely on the backstretch and didn’t finish the race; trainer Wayne Lukas’ Derby crusade again ending in failure, with an unsuccessful three-horse entry that was punctuated by Capote’s next-to-last finish; and the incredible victory by Alysheba, who somehow managed to stay on his feet even though Bet Twice tried to block him through the stretch.
Jack Van Berg, Alysheba’s trainer, blew his John Wayne image by crying into the night, and Chris McCarron celebrated his first Derby victory, thankful that he was alive after a spill at Santa Anita seven months before had left him with a steel plate and several screws in his leg.
2--The $3-million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park.
There couldn’t have been a more heart-stopping finish to racing’s richest race when, in a battle of Kentucky Derby winners, Ferdinand, under cool-headed Bill Shoemaker, held off Alysheba by a nose at the wire.
3--The Breeders’ Cup Turf Stakes at Hollywood.
Just 30 minutes before the Classic, the best of America and the best from Europe--Theatrical and Trempolino--pounded at one another through the stretch. Trempolino came to Theatrical in mid-stretch, and might even have put his nose in front, but Theatrical reached back under a superb ride by Pat Day and scored a half-length victory.
4--The Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.
A ballyhooed race that was as good as it was supposed to be. Bet Twice, who had upset Alysheba by 14 lengths in the Belmont, costing Van Berg’s horse the Triple Crown and a $2-million bonus, was only a neck better in this one, with Craig Perret outriding McCarron to ensure the victory.
There was an added dimension in the appearance of Lost Code, a colt who had ducked the top 3-year-olds but had won four derbies--the Alabama, the Illinois, the Ohio and the St. Paul. Lost Code was third but he finished only a half-length behind Bet Twice, proving that he was a quality horse.
5--The Santa Anita Handicap.
Ferdinand carried three more pounds than Broad Brush, 125 to 122, and that, plus Ferdinand’s quirky ways when he takes the lead, was the difference. Broad Brush and Angel Cordero came wheeling down the middle of the track to nail Ferdinand by a nose at the wire.
Ferdinand had victory snatched away from him by another dirty nose just a month before, when Snow Chief won the Strub Stakes.
6--The Fall Sprint Championship at Bay Meadows.
The year’s most tragic race. Bedside Promise was a durable horse, who had raced 36 times and earned close to $1 million. He had won the San Antonio Handicap at Santa Anita.
But on this October day, he didn’t beat a horse, and coming back to unsaddle, jockey Gary Stevens couldn’t imagine why his performance had been so poor.
Minutes later, there was a stark explanation. Being led back to the barn, Bedside Promise collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.
7--The ninth race at Santa Anita March 14.
Bedouin had once run in the Kentucky Derby, but since had been gelded and had been running most of his races late in the day, going from trainer to trainer as they claimed him for cheap prices.
But this was Bedouin’s day in the limelight, for with his late-running style he provided Laffit Pincay with his seventh win of the afternoon, as the smiling Panamanian pulled a feat that had never been accomplished in Santa Anita’s 50-year history.
8--San Felipe Handicap at Santa Anita.
This was a race that made the list not because of the horse who won it--Chart the Stars--but because of what it told about the colt who finished second. Alysheba, gasping for air, threw his head in the air at the top of the stretch.
Jack Van Berg had been hesitant to approve a throat operation for the son of Alydar, but after this race he was convinced that it was necessary. A few days later, the surgery was performed, and able to breathe freely, Alysheba became a national name with victories in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.
9--Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Hollywood Park.
For the second straight year, Groovy, the zephyr from the East, was supposed to win this race. He had lost at Santa Anita in 1986, but this year he was considered unbeatable, and a horse-of-the-year title might even have been riding on the outcome.
Those hopes were dashed by Very Subtle, a 3-year-old filly who had wowed the Saratoga crowd in August, then ran back to that race and beat Groovy by four lengths.
The tote board lit up a $34.80 win payoff for Very Subtle, and owner Ben Rochelle and trainer Mel Stute were astounded. Not that she had won, but that so few had believed in her.
10--The Phoenix Gold Cup at Turf Paradise.
Most people knew that Zany Tactics, a 6-year-old gelding that his owners once couldn’t give away, was fast. But this fast?
He ran six furlongs in 1:06 4/5, breaking the world record by two-fifths of a second. And his jockey, Cowboy Jack Kaenel, didn’t even have to urge him.
Horse Racing Notes
Another California jockey has been caught trying to give a horse a jolt with a battery device. Dennis Rond, a thoroughbred rider at Bay Meadows, was found with the device in his possession before a race last Saturday. Earlier this year, two leading quarter horse jockeys--Kip Didericksen and Eddie Garcia--were caught with prods at Hollywood Park and Los Alamitos. They were suspended a year and fined $2,000 each.
An 88-night harness meeting at Los Alamitos will begin at 7:30 tonight. Racing will be held Tuesday through Saturday during a season that ends April 30. A top Canadian pacer, Conditional, who is being aimed for the New Marathon Series later in the meet, will race in the feature Saturday night. . . . Los Alamitos’ races will be sent by satellite to 13 off-track betting locations state-wide, including Del Mar, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and Golden Gate Fields.
Seven fillies, who will become 3-year-olds on New Year’s Day, are entered in Friday’s $125,000 California Breeders’ Champion Stakes at Santa Anita. Fa La Te Dough, carrying 121 pounds, probably will be favored. Others running are Braujoia, Hard To Fathom, California Big Red, Super Avie, Raveneaux and Pirate’s Angel. Variety Baby is missing the race because of a muscle injury suffered while running second in the Hollywood Starlet. . . . Pine Tree Lane will try to win the Las Flores Handicap for the second straight time when the stake is run today.