HORSE RACING 1991 : Arazi’s Brilliance in Breeders’ Cup Was the Performance of the Year
A breeze of anticipation blew across Churchill Downs on Nov. 2 when Arazi shifted into a gear that 2-year-olds are not supposed to be familiar with and won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.
Soon after the colt had zoomed past the famed Twin Spires and across the finish line, jockey Pat Valenzuela shouted: “Kentucky Derby winner--1992.” A lot of witnesses agreed.
The first start in the United States, on the dirt and around two turns, by the Kentucky-bred, French-based Arazi was the top performance of 1991.
It also injected Arazi into a wide-open race for horse of the year, with other leading contenders being Black Tie Affair, Dance Smartly and In Excess.
Black Tie Affair won his last seven starts but was a Midwestern rather than national star, at least until his front-running victory in the $3 million Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Dance Smartly, a Canadian-bred and based 3-year-old filly, won all eight starts in 1991, including four against colts and one at 1 1/2 miles on grass, but U.S. fans didn’t get a chance to see her until she won the nationally televised Breeders’ Cup Distaff.
In Excess won four consecutive Grade I stakes on the dirt, including the 1 1/4-mile Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. Then, in a much criticized decision, trainer Bruce Jackson elected to run the Irish-bred colt in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on the grass rather than in the 1 1/4-mile Classic. In Excess finished in a dead heat for ninth with Tight Spot, who had won eight consecutive grass races, five in 1991.
Hansel finished 10th as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby, then won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes. The 3-year-old colt, however, was injured while finishing second in the Travers and was out of racing by Breeders’ Cup time. Strike The Gold won the Derby, but at year’s end he was on a seven-race losing streak.
Rivaling the top horses for national attention, and outdoing most of them, was rap star Hammer, who, with his father and two brothers, owns the good 3-year-old filly Lite Light and other horses under the name of Oaktown Stable.
A lot of attention was focused on great horses and moments of the past in light of near-fatal injuries to Bill Shoemaker, the world’s winningest jockey; the deaths of Laz Barrera, a Hall of Fame trainer, and Fred Capposela, a “voice of racing,” and the demise of Calumet Farm.
“It is now post time,” delivered in the high-pitched tones of Capposela, was the clarion call to New York horse players and television viewers in the 1940’s ‘50s and ‘60s. Cappy died at 88 on April 3 in Upland, Calif.
On April 8, Shoemaker, who had become a trainer in 1990 after riding 8,833 winners and great horses such as Swaps, Damascus, Forego and Spectacular Bid, was paralyzed from the neck down in a one-vehicle crash near Glendora. Shoemaker, confined to a wheelchair, resumed his training career Oct. 1 at Santa Anita.
On April 25, Barrera died of cardiopulmonary arrest in Los Angeles. Barrera, who was 66, had guided Affirmed to the Triple Crown in 1978, a feat no horse has achieved since. His brother, Oscar, a leading trainer in New York in 1980s, had died of a heart attack at 63 April 8.
The horse that chased Affirmed to the Triple Crown was Alydar, who raced in the famed devil’s red and blue silks of Calumet Farm of Lexington, Ky.
On July 11, Calumet filed for bankruptcy, listing total liabilities of $135 million. Eight Calumet horses won the Kentucky Derby, including Triple Crown winners Count Fleet in 1943 and Citation in 1948.
Hansel’s Preakness and Belmont victories earned him a $1-million bonus for most points recorded in the Triple Crown races. Farma Way got a $750,000 bonus for the most points earned in the 10-race American Championship racing series.
Fourstars Allstar, trained by Leo O’Brien, a native of Ireland who is based in New York, made news when he became the first American horse to win the Irish Classic 2,000 Guinness May 18 at the Curragh in Ireland.
Three other horses who made news on Oct. 7 at Belmont Park were Cafe Lex, Space Appeal and Scorecard Harry. In the ninth race, they finished in the 19th triple dead heat in thoroughbred racing history.
Angel Cordero joined Shoemaker and Laffit Pincay as the only jockeys to ride 7,000 winners; Pat Day set a single-year record when he rode his 58th stakes winner Nov. 24, and Willie Clark, the nation’s oldest jockey, retired Sept. 8 with 1,143 victories in 10,630 races. Clark, 69, finished sixth on Gama Force at Charles Town in his final ride.
In other developments, the Racing Times began publication April 12; the sport returned to North Texas, at Trinity Meadows on May 30, after a 50-year absence, and Hialeah in Florida opened a 50-day meeting Nov. 10 after having been closed for 23 months.
Three jockeys were killed in track accidents through November.
Rodney Dickens, a 20-year-old apprentice, suffered traumatic cardiac arrest after a four-horse spill at Chicago’s Sportsman’s Park on April 7. Luther (Luke) Proctor, 22, was injured fatally when he was thrown and stepped on June 15 at Bay Meadows. John Hoak, 32, was killed Sept. 15 in a quarter horse race when he dismounted shortly before a filly he was riding crashed through the inside rail.
Another racing personality who died was owner-breeder David A. (Sonny) Werblin, a former chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. He died of a heart attack Nov. 21 at 81.