Happy birthday to all thoroughbreds, who are a year older Saturday, and in particular a loud whinny for Sam Who, the sway-backed, white-faced gelding whose life story is equal parts “My Friend Flicka” and “The Black Stallion.”
Sam Who, a 9-year-old as of midnight tonight, ended a meandering, controversial career by running next to last in a $3,000 race at Los Alamitos the night after Thanksgiving. Passed hand to hand several times as he ran 58 races since his 1987 debut at Hollywood Park, Sam Who was much in demand at the finish. Who ever heard of an 8-year-old gelding with a 12-race losing streak running for a $2,000 claiming price and having three people waiting in line to claim him?
That’s what happened at Los Alamitos on Nov. 26. Shaking the numbered pills after Sam Who’s 13th consecutive loss were a mixed bag of potential takers: Donna Davis, who is jockey Martin Pedroza’s mother-in-law; a representative of Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., and a fans’ group representing the “Inside Track” radio program.
Davis won the shake, but Steve Arthur, host of “Inside Track” on KGRB, asked his listeners for contributions, and enough money was raised to send Sam Who, under a two-year arrangement, to trainer Sandy Shulman’s barn.
Shulman, who claimed Sam Who for $12,500 in 1991 and saddled him about a year later for his last victory, will not subject the horse’s sore knees to any more pounding. Sam Who has become a stable pony, a role that he’s not adjusting to overnight. After seven years as a runner, all Sam Who knows is full throttle.
“He has a tendency to run off in the mornings,” Shulman said the other day. “He’s still very fresh. We’re going to have to gallop him some to take that out of him.”
Taylor Made wanted to claim Sam Who because there’s always been a soft spot for the old gelding at the Kentucky farm. “Frank Taylor is to be commended,” Sam Stevens said. “If it hadn’t been for him, this horse would have never lived.”
Stevens and another Texan, Nita Brooks, bred Sam Who by sending their broodmare, Faneuil Lass, to the English-bred stallion Lypheor. It was a difficult pregnancy, aggravated by a tendon injury that Faneuil Lass suffered on her left hind leg. To relieve the pressure on the foot, Ric Redden, a veterinarian, took an ordinary hinge from a barn door and strapped it to the mare’s leg, giving her about a 2 1/2-inch cushion for the problem hoof.
Faneuil Lass was also suffering from a shortage of oxygen, and on Sam Who’s foaling day, Feb. 1, 1985, Frank Taylor and his father, Joe, watched in horror as the newborn 100-pound colt gasped for his life.
“They didn’t think the clinic was doing the right thing by the foal,” Duncan Taylor, Frank’s brother, said Thursday.
So, the minutes-old Sam Who was rushed to another clinic, Joe Taylor carrying the oxygen bottle out to the street and Frank Taylor depositing the foal in the back seat of a car.
“Before this horse finished nursing, he had about four or five mothers,” Stevens said. “We had to geld him right away. He was ornery and playful, and I think he got studdish because of the way he had been bounced around. He acted that way for his own protection.”
Stevens and Brooks consigned Sam Who to a yearling auction but bought him back for $15,000. Sam Who was broken at San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, by Rod Kaufman, who was once trainer Wayne Lukas’ father-in-law. Stevens wanted to send the horse to Lukas, but Brooks preferred another trainer, Henry Moreno, and Stevens agreed.
With large hindquarters, Sam Who was built like a quarter horse, and he had been born to sprint. In 1987, he won his first start, and two years later, in the middle of a five-race winning streak, he ran three-quarters of a mile at Hollywood Park in 1:08, still the track record.
That fall, Sam Who won the Ancient Title at Santa Anita in 1:08, a stakes record, and Moreno announced that the horse would run in the $1-million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Gulfstream Park a couple of weeks later.
Of the 70 Breeders’ Cup races run in the last 10 years, the 1989 Sprint was probably the roughest. Sam Who, the 4-1 third choice in a 13-horse field, broke from the No. 12 stall and swerved into Mr. Nickerson at the bell, causing a seven-horse chain reaction. The Wayne Lukas-trained On the Line, suffered severe leg injuries and later died.
Sam Who finished fourth, but was disqualified to last place by the stewards.
Sam Stevens, the source of the horse’s name because a wife’s friend would say, “Sam who?” when he answered the telephone, has looked at a tape of the race dozens of times.
“I think that filly (Safely Kept) outside us had as much to do with what happened as anybody,” Stevens said. “That was the only disqualification Sam Who had in his life.”
Indeed, the Daily Racing Form’s chart footnotes refer to the filly’s trip this way: "(Safely Kept) angled toward the inside after breaking in front. . . . “
The Breeders’ Cup was the start of a 19-race losing streak for Sam Who, who was blanked for more than two years. He finished in the money several times, however, and trainer Bill Spawr claimed him in 1991 for $100,000. A kidney infection prevented Sam Who from running much for Spawr.
After 11 victories, six seconds and 11 thirds, Sam Who is retiring with $470,137 in purses. The day last March when he was claimed away from Shulman for $12,500 by trainer Eric Guillot, Stevens was watching the Santa Anita program at a Las Vegas casino.
“If I had known he was running, I would have claimed him then,” Stevens said. “The fans loved this horse. I’d still like to have him back, some day.”
Horse Racing Notes
Mike Smith, riding Hey Baba Lulu Thursday in the Ticonderoga Handicap at Aqueduct, registered his 61st stakes victory this year, breaking the record set by Pat Day in 1991. Most of Smith’s winners came in New York, and one was aboard Lure in the Breeders’ Cup Mile at Santa Anita. Smith, 28, led all New York riders for the second year in a row with 297 winning mounts.
With the Pick Six pool at close to $3 million because of carryovers, there were 19 winning tickets at Santa Anita Thursday, each worth $100,784.
Nine horses are entered for Saturday’s $100,000 San Gabriel Handicap, with the high weights Navarone at 119 pounds and Earl of Barking at 118. Navarone will be ridden by Gary Stevens in the 1 1/8-mile race for 4-year-olds and up on Santa Anita’s turf course. Earl Of Barking will be ridden by Chris McCarron. Others entered in the race were Fanmore, who will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux and was assigned 116 pounds; Eastern Memories, Eddie Delahoussaye, 115; Square Cut, Chris Antley, 115; Ranger, Gary Boulanger, 115; D’Arros, Corey Nakatani, 114; Lissitki, Goncalino Almeida, 113, and Bossanova, Alex Solis, 112.