Bill Heller, who has been covering New York racing since the Ice Age – actually since 1974 – is ranking the top ten moments in New York-bred history from the last 46 years. The ranking is completely subjective – just one person’s Top Ten. They’ll be presented here in David Letterman’s Top Ten style, beginning with No. 10 and proceeding, week by week, to No. 1. Feel free to agree or disagree with any of the selections. Isn’t that what makes racing so much fun?
No. 1: Funny Cide Wins the Kentucky Derby – May 3, 2003
Funny Cide’s victory in the 2003 Grade 1 Kentucky Derby was many things: a watershed moment for New York-breds; a once-in-a-lifetime victory for two top New York horsemen, trainer Barclay Tagg and jockey Jose Santos; and an exclamation mark for a group of high school friends from Sackets Harbor, a small village on the shore of Lake Ontario in western New York, who came to Churchill Downs on a rented yellow school bus years after Jack Knowlton asked his friends at a Memorial Day barbecue: “Do you want to take a shot?”
Funny Cide’s victory was not a fluke, a point he drove home when he ran the best race of his life two weeks later, taking the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes, by 9 ¾ lengths, the largest margin of victory since Survivor won the inaugural Preakness by 10 lengths in 1873.
Funny Cide would add another Grade 1 stakes victory in the 2004 Jockey Club Gold Cup on the way to becoming, at the time, the richest New York-bred ever with $3,529,412 in earnings from 11 victories, six seconds and eight thirds in 38 career starts.
He will forever be remembered for that single afternoon in Louisville when he showed that a New York-bred three-year-old can beat the best of his generation in the world’s most important race, becoming the first New York-bred to win the first leg of the Triple Crown. His performance was enhanced exponentially when the first words out of Santos’ mouth after the Derby when Donna Barton arrived next to him on her horse to get his initial reaction were, “Get with the program: New York-breds.”
There should be a golden shrine to Santos for uttering those words, right out of a popular TV ad for New York-breds concocted by Joe Spadaro of the New York Thoroughbred Breeding and Development Fund. The commercial first aired in 1999. When I asked Jose about that, as I wrote his 2011 biography “Above It All: The Turbulent Life of Jose Santos,” he replied: “I didn’t even know how it came out of me. That surprised me when I heard it.” Asked about that comment a month ago for this story, he laughed and said, “I was not planning to say that.”
Spadaro, now retired, couldn’t believe Santos said that. “I went nuts,” Spadaro said on May 11th. “I was coming back from a Christening, and I stopped at Aqueduct to watch the Derby. That’s when I heard him say it. It was great. It went all over the world. We had seen him all through the week coming up to the Derby, and I told him, `We’re counting on you. New York is behind you.’”
And that was before he won the Run for the Roses.
WinStar Farm bred Funny Cide, a gelded son of first-year stallion Distorted Humor out of Belle’s Good Cide by Slewacide who was born on Joe and Anne McMahon’s farm just outside Saratoga Springs on April 23, 2000. Pinhooker Tony Everard, who runs New Episode Training Center in Ocala, Florida, purchased Funny Cide for $22,000 at the Saratoga New York-bred Yearling Sale on August 12, 2001. Sackatoga Stable Sackatoga Stable purchased Funny Cide for $75,000.
Tagg wanted Edgar Prado to work Funny Cide for the first time. “He wasn’t available,” Tagg said. Santos was and, after riding Funny Cide in his initial workout, he was asked by Tagg what he thought of the horse. Santos told him, “This is the best two-year-old I have ever been on.”
Tagg was surprised: “First, you have to wonder if he’s bullshitting you or if he knows what he’s talking about. He was a world-class jockey, so why shouldn’t I believe him? I knew he was a very nice horse, very, very fast. He was really strong and difficult to train.”
After Funny Cide’s second work, Santos told his agent, Mike Sellito, “We’re going to win the Kentucky Derby with this horse.” Sellito laughed and said, “Remember, he’s a New York-bred.”
Sellito had a point. No New York-bred had ever won the Derby, and the last gelding to win the Derby was Clyde Van Dusen in 1929.
Funny Cide made his first three starts against New York-breds at Belmont Park, winning all of them: a maiden special weight by a staggering 14 ¾ lengths as the 2-1 favorite, the Bertram F. Bongard Stakes by nine lengths at 5-2 odds, and the Sleepy Hollow Stakes by a neck at odds of 1-5.
Funny Cide’s next three starts heading into the Kentucky Derby were in open graded stakes, and he didn’t win any of them.
He began his three-year-old campaign by finishing fifth by 6 ½ lengths in the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park on January 18th at 5-1 odds. Freshened a bit and shipped to the Fair Grounds, Funny Cide finished third by 3 ¼ lengths in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby on March 9th.
Sent off at 5-1 odds in his final prep for the Derby in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 12th, Funny Cide came again after being passed by Empire Maker. After dropping behind by a length and a half, Funny Cide re-rallied to finish second by a half-length.
“When we ran in the Wood Memorial, I told Barclay, `He’s not going to embarrass you in the Derby,’” Santos said. “He was peaking. I knew I had a real good chance of winning the Derby.”
Tagg knew too. Though he rarely bets, Tagg laid down $200 to win on Funny Cide in the Kentucky Derby, a nice score. Funny Cide went off at 12.80-to-1.
Santos delivered a flawless ride, keeping Funny Cide a close third on the inside behind Brancusi and Peace Rules. “When we broke out of the gate, the first time past the wire, I was in great position,” Santos said. “He was doing it himself. I wasn’t pushing him. Past the first turn, I said, `We’re doing pretty good, boy.’”
Then Peace Rules took over as Funny Cide moved two-wide and Empire Maker, Peace Rules’ stablemate in trainer Bobby Frankel’s barn, arrived on the scene three-wide.
“Bailey was asking Empire Maker already,” Santos said. “I know how Jerry Bailey rides. Empire Maker was a great horse. When he came close to me at the quarter pole, I started whipping Funny Cide. He responded. He always responds. He gives you a little bit more. What a great horse he was.”
Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby by 1 ¾ lengths over Empire Maker, who edged Peace Rules by a head for second.
“When I crossed the line, It was like a replay of my life,” Santos said. “I was thinking about my father, how he taught me to ride horses.”
Then Donna Barton rode up to him and told him, “You’re very happy about winning the Derby.”
And Jose replied, “Get with the program: New York-breds.”
Jack Knowlton’s expression watching Funny Cide cross the finish line was pure joy and adrenaline. Seventeen years later, Knowlton was doing a TV interview with Kenny Rice about Knowlton’s New York-bred Derby contender this year, Tiz the Law. “The second half of the talk was about Funny Cide,” he said. “The school bus, that never gets old. We became everybody’s darling. It was a feel-good story when the country needed a feel-good story.”
The country, indeed the whole world, needs a feel-good story today. And if Tiz the Law, one of the absolute top contenders for the rescheduled Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday of September, stays healthy, Funny Cide’s name will come up again and again leading up to the race.
He deserves it. Funny Cide provided a New York-bred moment that will never be forgotten.
No. 2: Fourstardave wins an allowance race – July 24, 1994
How does an allowance victory earn the second-best moment ever by a New York-bred? Actually, this performance lost a photo finish for the No. 1 spot. That’s because Fourstardave’s romp in that allowance race cemented the safest record in the entire sports world. On a beautiful July afternoon at Saratoga Race Course, Fourstardave won a race at this prestigious racing meet for the eighth consecutive year.
Any horse being healthy enough to race for eight straight years anywhere is a dicey proposition. Making those starts at Saratoga every year? Hard to believe. Winning a race as a two-year-old, three-year-old, four-year-old, five-year-old, six-year-old, seven-year-old, eight-year-old and nine-year-old on the hallowed ground at Saratoga? Who does that?
Meet Fourstardave, a bona fide equine rock star. And his kid brother Fourstars Allstar (a full brother) wasn’t too shabby either, becoming the first U.S.-trained horse to win an English Classic when he won the 2000 Irish Guineas.
Ready for this? Dave’s late owner Richard Bomze, the popular long-term president of the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and former publisher of American Turf Monthly, spent all of $2,500 to purchase Broadway Joan, the unraced daughter of Bold Arian who was the dam of both Fourstardave and Fourstars Allstar, each of which earned more than $1.5 million. Bomze had also purchased a piece of the stallion Compliance. “I bred the two and out came one of the greatest lines of horses in America,” he said in my book Saratoga Tales, which has a photo of Dave on the front cover. I could have spent $5, $10 million a year buying horses. You can’t buy a horse like Dave. They just come along once every 100 years. That’s why we’re in the game.”
Dave’s trainer, Leo O’Brien, knows. “He just loved to run,” O’Brien said on May 7th. “He ran faster on turns than he was on straight, especially at Saratoga. He was an incredible horse. It was strange what happened when he came to Saratoga. He really liked the hot weather. He loved Saratoga and the people loved him back. I used to come back to the barn at 7:30 or 8 o’clock at night. He heard my voice and he whinnied like crazy.”
O’Brien did an incredible job not only training the chestnut gelding with a long white stripe splitting his face, but also managing him through his 100-start career as he raced from the age of two to 10. Dave wasn’t at his best at Aqueduct – going zero-for-21 there – but was a superstar at Saratoga, where his won 10 of 18 starts with four seconds and one third. His first 11 starts at Saratoga were in stakes. He won six of them over the course of five years.
His final record was 21-for-100 with 18 seconds, 16 thirds and earnings of $1,636,737. Fourstars Allstar’s record was 13-for-58 with 14 seconds, nine thirds and earnings of $1,596,760. Fourstardave was the 1991 New York-Bred Horse of the Year, and Fourstars Allstar won the award two years later. Their combined success earned Broadway Joan the New York-Bred Broodmare of the Year Award three times.
Dave raced at 12 different tracks. Besides Saratoga, Belmont Park and Aqueduct, he raced at Finger Lakes, The Meadowlands, Hollywood Park, Canterbury Park in Minnesota, Philadelphia Park (now Parx), Laurel Park, Rockingham Park, Calder and Sha Tin in Hong Kong.
Eighteen jockeys had the pleasure of riding Dave: J. C. Estrada, Hall of Famer Randy Romero (who gave Dave his first career victory, at Saratoga of course), Nick Santagata, Robbie Davis, Darryl Montoya, Hall of Famer Angel Cordero Jr., Herb McCauley, Hall of Famer Jose Santos, Hall of Famer Chris McCarron, Hall of Famer Chris Antley, Richard Migliore, Hall of Famer Jerry Bailey, Hall of Famer Mike Smith (who rode him 30 times), Diane Nelson, Jean Cruguet, Corey Black, Dennis Carr and D. Murphy in Hong Kong. Migliore rode Dave in his final 13 starts, 20 of his final 21, and 25 in total.
While most people remember Fourstardave as a turf star, he didn’t make his first turf start until he had made his first 51 starts on dirt. He is one of the few Thoroughbreds to win graded stakes on both dirt and grass.
Dave made his first start at Saratoga in a $60,000 stakes as a two-year-old on August 28, 1987 under Romero, scoring by 2 ½ lengths at odds of 2-1. The following year, Dave won a $100,000 stakes at the Spa by a nose under Cordero. Dave extended his Saratoga streak to three by winning his third start of the meet by one length in a $100,000 stakes with Migliore aboard.
At age four in 1990, Dave won a $75,000 stakes by 2 ½ lengths – at 11-1 odds. As a five-year-old in ‘91, Dave captured the Grade 3 Daryl’s Joy Stakes by three lengths and the $119,000 West Point Stakes for New York-breds by six lengths. Smith was the pilot in all three of those scores.
Dave extended his Saratoga streak to six years in 1992, winning an open allowance race by two lengths with Robbie Davis riding.
Migliore was aboard when Dave won an open handicap by two lengths at 4-5 odds in 1993, his seventh consecutive year with a Saratoga triumph. He covered the mile-and-a-sixteenth on grass in 1:40 3/5, then the fastest time at that distance in the storied history of New York Thoroughbred racing at any track on turf or dirt.
Dave finished first by a neck in his next start in the West Point, but was disqualified and placed fifth for bearing out under Migliore. It was not a popular verdict with Dave’s immense number of fans.
On July 24th, 1994, at the advanced racing age of nine, Fourstardave contested a $44,000 open allowance race at Saratoga, his 93rd career start. He had drawn the rail in the one-mile race and settled in third, four lengths off the pace, under Migliore. Then he went after the two horses in front of him.
“He’s only a length and a half from the lead,” announcer Tom Durkin called.
Dave drew closer. “And now Migliore makes his move with the old boy,” Durkin called. Then “There goes Fourstardave, and he sweeps to a short lead as the field turns for home.”
The crowd roared so loud that the building seemed to shake.
Dave began drawing away. Durkin: “Fourstardave is one furlong away from eight years of Saratoga victories. The legend lives on! Fourstardave wins again at the Spa!”
He won by five lengths.
Just a year later, Durkin described that incredible moment.: “I’ll never forget the roar that crowd gave last year when Fourstardave made that move on the turn. I mean, goose pimple time. It was a wonderful, wonderful thrill, maybe the thrill of my race-calling life.”
This from the man who was the voice of the Triple Crown and the Breeders’ Cup.
O’Brien upped the ante in Dave’s next start at Saratoga in the Grade 2 Bernard Baruch Handicap, in which he took on two of the best turf horses in decades: Lure and Paradise Creek. Lure’s career record at that point was 10 victories and five seconds in 15 starts. Paradise Creek had won six straight races, defeating Lure in two of them.
But it was the nine-year-old New York-bred, sent off at 9-2 odds in the field of five, who seemed to be in control of the race on the front end. Until he took a bad step. “The race he got hurt was one of his best races,” O’Brien said. “He was in front of Lure and Paradise Creek. He stepped in a hole and broke a cannon bone in his right front. It was a shock. He never had a pimple on him.”
Amazingly, Dave still finished third, seven lengths behind Lure and Paradise Creek.
Dave recovered and he returned to the races as a 10-year-old. “He was never the same,” Bomze said. “He just wasn’t the same horse.”
Fourstardave made five starts in 1995. He finished fourth and eighth at Belmont Park, then returned to Saratoga, finishing fifth, fourth and fifth in his final start on August 21st, 1995.
In the fall of 2002, the New York Racing Association decided to have Fourstardave make an appearance at Belmont Park to promote Showcase Day, a whole card of racing, including several stakes, for New York-breds only. Fourstardave came out of retirement to get ready for his appearance. Jogging on the Belmont Park training track four days before Showcase Day, Fourstardave suffered a fatal heart attack. He died on the track. He became just the fourth Thoroughbred to be buried at Saratoga Race Course, joining A Phenomenon, Mourjane and the brilliant filly Go for Wand.
A small street next to Siro’s, the popular restaurant just outside the gates of the track, was re-named Fourstardave Way. A Saratoga stakes Dave had won, the Grade 3 Daryl’s Joy, was renamed the Fourstardave and ultimately elevated to Grade 1 status. The New York Turf Writers Association began a Fourstardave Award to honor special achievement at Saratoga.
One of the e-mails Bomze received after Dave’s passing read:
“Saratoga has a special place in my heart – so much that my license plate reads 4TOGA. I visit the town quite often, and one of my most treasured memories was watching your horse win year after year. For as steeped in tradition and history as that town is, if you asked 10,000 people what is the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word `Saratoga,’ I guarantee that the majority would reply `Fourstardave.’ You can be certain that Fourstardave will never be forgotten.”
No. 3: Fio Rito wins the Whitney Handicap – August 1, 1981
Fio Rito was a gray giant, literally and figuratively. Standing at 17.1 hands and weighing 1,300 pounds, the six-year-old New York-bred Finger Lakes shipper sent a shock wave through the racing world when he grittily held off challengers on his inside and outside for the entire mile and an eighth to win the prestigious Grade 1 Whitney Handicap by a neck at Saratoga Race Course. That he did so after breaking through the stall before the start made that victory even more special. Rarely does a horse who prematurely breaks through his stall reload and win any race, let alone a Grade 1 stakes.
This was anything but a freak occurrence by an unworthy competitor, however. Fio Rito had won four straight races heading into the Whitney, and though he was facing several quality opponents, he went off at 10-1 odds, not 100-1. And he followed his Whitney victory with another one in a $150,000 stakes at Detroit as the 4-5 favorite.
This was a superior racehorse who struck a blow for New York-breds 22 years before Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby.
Ray LeCesse, a bowling alley owner in Rochester, bought Fio Rito, a son of Dreaming Native, when he purchased Fio Rito’s dam, Seagret by Sea Charger, in-foal for $2,300. LeCesse, who was 51 when Fio Rito stepped into the starting gate in the Whitney, had a stable of nine at Finger Lakes. His trainer was Mike Ferraro, a former candidate for Mr. America who had been the leading trainer at Finger Lakes for six years. Fio Rito’s rider, Les Hulet, had been the track’s leading rider for six years. Eleven different jockeys, including Hall of Famers Jorge Velasquez and Jacinto Vasquez, rode Fio Rito. Hulet rode him in 16 of his final 18 starts, including the last eight.
Fio Rito is a legend at Finger Lakes, where he won 19 of 27 starts and was named the track’s Horse of the Year three times. After he died at the age of 21, Fio Rito became the first Thoroughbred buried in the track’s infield.
But the horse just loved Saratoga Race Course as well, where he had won four of five starts – finishing second in the lone miss – heading into the Whitney. “We figured if we were ever going to prove he belongs with the best, I think it would be here at Saratoga,” Ferraro said. “He won’t embarrass us in any way. He’s a genuine racehorse.”
Fio Rito came into the 54th running of the Whitney on a roll. He began a four-race win streak by setting a six-furlong Finger Lakes track record of 1:09 4/5 in a seven-length allowance victory at 1-5 odds on June 7th. Just six days later, he set another track record there of 1:40 1/5 for a mile and 70 yards in an 11-length allowance romp, again at 1-5 odds. An 8 ½-length $20,000 stakes victory at Finger Lakes, this time at 1-10 odds, followed on July 4th.
Shipping to Belmont Park to contest a $50,000 stakes, Fio Rito didn’t let a sloppy track prevent him from making it four straight, scoring by 2 ½ lengths, once again at odds of 1-5.
But just two days before the Whitney, Fio Rito injured his left front foot. “We’re not really sure how bad it is,” Ferraro said that day. “We want to run, but if he’s not one hundred percent, there’s no way we’ll start him.”
The foot healed.
The Whitney field he faced would have been a lot stronger had three top contenders not scratched: 1980 Three-Year-Old Champion Colt Temperence Hill, 1980 Champion Older Mare Glorious Song and 1981 Grade 1 Carter Handicap winner Amber Pass.
Still, Fio Rito’s task was imposing, as he faced three hard-hitters. Winter’s Tale, who would carry 121 pounds, eight more than Fio Rito, had won five of seven starts the year before, though only one of five, an allowance race, in 1981. Noble Nashua, who would become the most expensive stallion ever to stand in New York, at $55,000, had won the 1981 Jerome Handicap, Dwyer Stakes and Swaps Stakes. Ring of Light had finished second in the Brooklyn Handicap.
Would Fio Rito join a list of Whitney Handicap winners that included Kelso, Dr. Fager, Key to the Mint and Alydar? A Finger Lakes shipper?
Winter’s Tale was the 3-2 favorite, The Liberal Member went off at odds of 3-1, Noble Nashua was sent off at 4-1 odds and Ring of Light was 6-1.
Fio Rito broke through the starting gate before the start. If not for a miraculous acrobatic catch by assistant starter Jim Tsitsiragos, who held onto the reins, Fio Rito would have taken off and been scratched. Instead, he walked back around the starting gate, stepped back into his stall and ran the race of his life.
Hulet rode Fio Rito daringly on the front end. First he put away 50-1 longshot Blue Ensign after dueling with him head-to-head, twice exchanging leads before Fio Rito edged to the front by a half-length. When Blue Ensign folded, Ring of Light, Noble Nashua and Winter’s Tale, who got through on the rail, took their best shots.
Fio Rito refused to let any of them by, holding off Winter’s Tale by a neck at the wire. Ring of Light finished third, one length behind Winter’s Tale.
There was nothing fluky about Fio Rito’s victory. He had covered the mile and an eighth in 1:48, just one second off Tri Jet’s track record and the fourth-fastest winning time in the stake’s rich history. “He’s a truly great horse,” Hulet said. “He really proved himself today, that’s for sure.”
Ferraro struggled to find the right words. “This is unreal,” he said. “It’s just… it’s a Cinderella story.”
The story continued exactly two weeks later at Detroit Race Course, when Fio Rito gamely won the Michigan Mile and an Eighth Stakes by a neck as the 4-5 chalk, extending his win streak to six.
Fio Rito made his final start in the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes on September 5th at Belmont Park. He finished seventh by 6 ¾ lengths to 1981 Three-Year-Old Champion Colt Pleasant Colony.
Fio Rito had won 28 of his 50 starts with eight seconds, six thirds and earnings of $584,142. He had won 17 of his final 22 starts, with two seconds and a third.
For the second straight year, he was named New York-bred Horse of the Year.
On that magical Saturday afternoon at Saratoga, Fio Rito had sent a message to the racing world:
Take that, Kentucky!
No. 4: Mind Your Biscuits wins the Golden Shaheen – March 31, 2018
About as far away from New York as you can get, co-owner/trainer Chad Summers’ five-year-old New York-bred Mind Your Biscuits made a breathtaking rush down the center of the track under Joel Rosario to win his second consecutive $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai by a head over XY Jet, who looked home-free with 200 yards left, on the final day of March 2018. In doing so, Mind Your Biscuits passed 2003 Kentucky Derby Champion Funny Cide as the all-time leading New York-bred in career earnings.
“You talk about cementing your legacy,” Summers said. “That is stand-alone. You’re the best. At the end of the day, we’re the No. 1 New York-bred. You have to look at him and work your way down the list.”
Mind Your Biscuits wasn’t done, making four more starts, including finishing second by a nose to Bee Jersey in the Grade 1 Metropolitan Mile, second by 3 ½ lengths to New York-bred Diversify in the mile-and-an-eighth Grade 1 Whitney at Saratoga, and first in the mile-and-an-eighth Grade 3 Lukas Classic at Churchill Downs by a dominating 4 3/4 lengths.
Summers, who took over Mind Your Biscuit’s training in the middle of his career, had successfully stretched a fast-closing sprinter into a versatile star at a mile to a mile and an eighth.
Heading into the 2018 Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs, Summers had to choose between the six-furlong Grade 1 Sprint and the mile-and-a-quarter Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. Summers opted for the Classic and Mind Your Biscuits wasn’t a factor, finishing 11th in his only start at 10 furlongs.
A deal was made to send Mind Your Biscuits to stand in Japan to begin his stud career at Shadai Farm.
What he had accomplished was nothing short of remarkable: eight victories, 10 seconds and three thirds in 25 starts, for earnings of $4,279,586.
Fifteen of Mind Your Biscuits’ final 16 starts were in graded stakes. He posted six victories in those 16 starts while travelling across the globe, including wins in three Grade 1’s, with six seconds and two thirds. Two of his placings came in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2016 and 2017. “He basically showed up every time you put a saddle on him,” Summers said.
Ultimately, Summers and his family’s partners in Mind Your Biscuits’ ownership were Shadai Farm, J Stables, Head of Plains Partners and Michael Kisber.
Jumping Jack Racing bred Mind Your Biscuits, a son of Posse out of Jazzmane by Toccet. Summers, his father and brother purchased the colt when he failed to meet his reserve at the 2015 OBS April Two-Year-Olds in Training Sale.
Mind Your Biscuits made his first four starts for trainer Rudy Rodriguez, finishing second in a pair of New York-bred maiden special weights at Saratoga, then finishing third in the $200,000 New York Breeders Futurity at Finger Lakes. He made his final two-year-old start at Aqueduct, finishing a tiring fourth while stretching out to a mile.
From his three-year-old debut for trainer Robert Falcone Jr. through the Lukas Classic for Summers, Mind Your Biscuits made 20 starts, posting seven victories, eight seconds and three thirds.
Think about that – in the money in 18 of 20 starts while transforming from a top New York-bred to one of the best horses on the planet at 11 different tracks while stretching out to distances most thought he could not handle.
In his three-year-old debut for Falcone on April 9th, 2016 at Aqueduct, Mind Your Biscuits rolled to a 7 ½-length maiden special weight victory. He followed with a third-place finish in a state-bred allowance, a second in the $125,000 Mike Lee Stakes for New York-breds and a 9 ¼-length romp in a New York-bred allowance with blinkers added.
Mind Your Biscuits’ final 17 starts were in open company, all with blinkers on.
He announced himself at the national level when he stepped into the gate for the Grade 2 Amsterdam Stakes at Saratoga.
“There was a New York-bred allowance the day after the Amsterdam,” Summers said. “There was a lot of discussion. It looked like the Amsterdam was going to come up a little light. The allowance was against older horses. We said, `Let’s take a shot. Let’s see what happens in this kind of race.’”
He was stepping up considerably off a state-bred allowance victory, but went off at 3-1 odds under Joel Rosario in the field of seven. Rosario rallied him on the rail and he drew away late to score by a length and three-quarters. “I’ll never forget it,” Summers said. “My dad was interviewed in the Saratoga Special. He said, `I don’t think it will ever get better than this.’”
Mind Your Biscuits’ final four starts in his three-year-old season were in three Grade 1 stakes and one Grade 3. In the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga, Mind Your Biscuits finished fifth in a field of 12 at 15-1 odds under John Velazquez.
Cornelio Velasquez was his pilot in the Grade 3 Gallant Bob Stakes at Parx, and Mind Your Biscuits rallied strongly to finish second by a length and a quarter at 7-2 odds.
“The day after the Gallant Bob, he seemed angry,” Summers said. “He wanted to go again.”
He would, in the six-furlong Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita. “Everybody thought I was crazy going to the Breeders’ Cup,” Summers said. “It cost us $45,000. That was a lot of money for us. He worked lights out, :46, :58 and change and 1:11.1. That’s why I sold 25 percent of him, 10 days before the race, two days before the fee was due. We sold a piece of him with the stiplulation that I’m in control of the horse.”
His horse liked the West Coast. “He loved California,” Summers said. “He loved the attention.”
Bettors were skeptical, sending him off at 15-1 odds in the field of seven. Mind Your Biscuits was last by eighth lengths after a half-mile. “I was so nervous, I’d gotten away from everyone to watch him by myself,” Summers said. “He was eight lengths back. I said, `What the heck was I thinking?’”
Then Mind Your Biscuits kicked in under Joel Rosario and came flying. He finished third by a length and a quarter to Drefong, just a nose behind Masochistic in second. Masochistic would ultimately be disqualified from second following a positive drug test, moving Mind Your Biscuits up to second.
“The one thing about him was he always tried,” Summers said. “He didn’t care who was in the race.”
Summers decided to leave Mind Your Biscuits at Santa Anita to contest the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes seven weeks later. With Rosario up again, Mind Your Biscuits rallied to a half-length victory at odds of 7-2.
Two months later, Mind Your Biscuits would make his four-year-old debut in the Grade 3 Gulfstream Park Sprint for a new trainer: Summers. “I think it was just a matter of fact that I had a lot of owners that wanted me to go on my own,” Summers said. “I got into the hype. You get that opportunity once in a lifetime.”
Mind Your Biscuits finished second by a neck at Gulfstream, then journeyed to Dubai for the $2 million Golden Shaheen. Racing last in the field of 14, Mind Your Biscuits blew away the best sprinters in the world, winning by three lengths while carrying a career high 132 pounds, including Rosario.
“We had six horses before we went to Dubai,” Summers said. “When we came back, we had 60. I was miserable for a year and a half. When you have that many horses, you have to hire a lot of help. I’m very hands-on. I have 15 horses now, and I’m so much happier to see them all day-to-day.”
Mind Your Biscuits was freshened for 3 ½ months, returning to action July 8th in the Grade 2 Belmont Park Sprint. Sent off the 7-5 favorite in a field of seven, Mind Your Biscuits won by 3 ¼ lengths.
At that point, Mind Your Biscuits was the best sprinter in North America if not the world.
But he lost his next four starts. He never fired in the Grade 1 Forego at Saratoga, finishing sixth by eight lengths to Defrong at 5-2 odds.
Summers freshened him and raced him off a 2 ½-month layoff in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar. He rallied from 10th to finish third by three lengths at 9-1 odds to Roy H, who would be named Eclipse Champion Sprinter in 2017 and 2018.
Mind Your Biscuits shipped back to New York. Stretched out to one mile for the second time in his career, Mind Your Biscuits finished second by 5 ½ lengths under Irad Ortiz Jr. to Sharp Azteca in the Grade 1 Cigar Mile.
Deservedly, Mind Your Biscuits was named 2017 New York-Bred Horse of the Year as well as New York-Bred Champion Three-Year-Old Male and New York-Bred Champion Sprinter.
Mind Your Biscuits finished second by a head at 2-5 odds under Ortiz in an open allowance race at Gulfstream Park in his five-year-old debut, a tightener for his return to Dubai.
When he defeated both XY Jet and Roy H in repeating in the Golden Shaheen, Mind Your Biscuits signaled he was back, ending a four-race losing streak.
He ran a great race in the Grade 1 Met Mile to finish second by a nose, 5 ¼ lengths clear of Limousine Liberal in third.
The second-place finish in the Whitney at a mile-and-an-eighth was on a sloppy track after a delay of some 45 minutes due to severe weather. Diversify got loose on the lead and won, but Mind Your Biscuits completed a New York-bred exacta in that Grade 1 stakes. Diversify would be named 2018 New York-bred Horse of the Year.
Mind of Biscuits won the Lukas Classic before flopping in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. “What happened in the Breeders’ Cup was actually that he had a reaction to the Lasix shot,” Summers said. “He was just so dull after he got the shot. In the paddock he was always a bear. Not that day. To this day, I thought the Classic made more sense. I don’t have a ton of regrets, other than I would have loved to have a Breeders’ Cup on the mantle. That’s one we didn’t get.”
What Summers did get was a chance to not only own a once-in-a-lifetime horse, but also to train him. The highest-earning New York-bred ever.
No. 5: Fleet Indian wins the Beldame – October 7, 2006
Fourteen years after New York-bred Saratoga Dew won her second straight Grade 1 stakes in the Beldame on the way to being named Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, Paul Saylor’s incredible five-year-old mare Fleet Indian also made the Beldame her second consecutive Grade 1 stakes score. It was her eighth consecutive victory for three different trainers on the way to being named Champion Older Mare. She won the Beldame by a head over Balletto.
“What a filly she was,” her Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos said. Santos rode Fleet Indian in her final seven career starts, winning the first six.
Thomas/Lakin bred Fleet Indian, a daughter of Indian Charlie out of the Afleet mare Hustleeta.
Jim Toner trained Fleet Indian for her first 11 starts. In the last one, she began her winning streak by taking the $80,000 Montauk Stakes for New York-breds by five lengths under John Velazquez on November 27th, 2005 at 4-5 odds.
Fleet Indian then changed barns, and she won her lone start for trainer Clifford Sise, taking an open allowance race at Philadelphia Park by 5 ¾ lengths under Harry Vega at 4-5 odds on December 30th, 2005.
She then changed barns again and made her final seven starts for trainer Todd Pletcher. “We were fortunate to get her when she was about to peak,” Pletcher said. “She had the ability to carry her speed over a lot of ground. When she got into that rhythm, she could keep going and grind them down.”
Santos was delighted to take the mount in her first start for Pletcher in the Grade 3 Next Move Handicap at Aqueduct on March 26th, 2006. “I have a lot of respect for Todd Pletcher,” Santos said. “He knows when and where to place horses. He’s a good trainer and a good manager for horses.”
Sent off at 4-1 odds, Fleet Indian rated in second early then took the lead, opening a two-length advantage and holding on to win by a length.
She followed that with the most dominant performance of her life, winning the Grade 3 Sixty Sails Handicap at Hawthorne in Chicago by 12 ½ lengths as the 3-5 favorite. She won the mile-and-an-eighth stakes in a final time of 1:49 1/5, earning a career-high Beyer Speed Rating of 112.
After a brief freshening, Fleet Indian made her next two starts at Delaware Park, capturing the $100,000 Obeah Handicap (named for the dam of Go for Wand) by 7 ¾ lengths at 1-5 odds, followed by the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap by 5 ½ lengths at odds of 2-5.
Fleet Indian stretched her winning streak to seven with a dominating victory in the mile-and-a-quarter Grade 1 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga by 5 ½ lengths at 3-5 odds on August 25th.
She would go off the 4-5 favorite in the mile-and-an-eighth Grade 1 Beldame on October 7th at Belmont Park, but she conceded the early lead. Fleet Indian raced in a close fourth through a blazing three-quarters of a mile in 1:10 1/5. By comparison, in the longer Personal Ensign Stakes, Fleet Indian had strolled through three-quarters in 1:15 1/5.
Fleet Indian rallied around the far turn to take a two-length lead in the Beldame, but she was all out to hold off Balletto, who had been second in the Personal Ensign Stakes, by a desperate head in a final time of 1:48 3/5. “She almost got beat,” Santos said. “The race was set up for a closer.”
On November 4th, 2006 at Churchill Downs, Fleet Indian was made the 5-2 favorite in the mile-and-an-eighth Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff. She would not finish the race.
Fleet Indian got away eighth. “She switched leads very early,” Santos said. “I said, `Oh, something’s wrong.’ When she switched leads again, I knew she was in trouble.”
Santos did an amazing job pulling her up and then making sure she remained standing as they waited for an ambulance. “He did a great job of keeping her up,” Pletcher said. “His quick recognition of the situation certainly made a big difference.”
Fleet Indian had suffered what Pletcher termed “a strange fracture in her knee. Kind of a bitter end to a remarkable season.”
Santos couldn’t have known, but far behind him Pine Island, the Shug McGaughey-trained three-year-old filly who had captured the Grade 1 Alabama Stakes at Saratoga, had suffered a more serious breakdown, one she did not survive. She was humanely euthanized on the track.
Santos was amazed when the ambulance went right past him to get to Pine Island. “The outrider came by, and I said, `What’s wrong with the ambulance?’” Santos said. The outrider informed Santos of Pine Island’s injury. The ambulance returned to take care of Fleet Indian.
She had done enough earlier in the season – six victories in six starts – to make her the Eclipse Champion Older Mare. Saratoga Dew, the first New York-bred to win an Eclipse Championship, had also won the award despite a poor performance in the same race, the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. Each horse had won a second straight Grade 1 race in the Beldame before the Breeders’ Cup.
Two months after the Distaff, Santos received a gift from Paul Saylor. It was a poster of Jose holding up Fleet Indian in the Distaff. There was a note on the poster:
Thank you, Jose Santos, for a phenomenal year. And for taking care of me at the Breeders’ Cup. Because of you, I can look forward to many dates with the boys.
Muchos Besos (lots of kisses),
On October 7th, 2008, Fleet Indian produced her first foal, a colt named Storm ‘n Indian, a son of Storm Cat who sold for $2.05 million as a yearling at the 2009 Keeneland September Sale.
That never would have happened had Santos not kept Fleet Indian safe that afternoon at Churchill Downs. “Any jockey could have done that,” Santos said. “I have a passion, a love for the horses.”
No. 6: Saratoga Dew wins the Beldame – October 10, 1992
Saratoga Dew had only one season of racing, but what a splendid season it was. She became the first New York-bred to win an Eclipse Award when she was named 1992 Champion Three-Year-Old Filly. Of course, she was also New York-bred Horse of the Year, as well as Champion Three-Year-Old Filly and Champion Sprinter after compiling eight victories and one second by a nose in a Grade 1 stakes in 11 starts.
“She really kickstarted my career,” trainer Gary Sciacca said. “The next year, I won the Belmont Spring meet. People gave me horses. She built me up.”
Bred by Penny Chenery, owner of Secretariat and Riva Ridge, Saratoga Dew was a daughter of Cormorant out of Super Luna by In Reality who sold for all of $10,000 in January 1990 to Charles Engel. “Charlie was a new owner,” Sciacca said. “This was his first horse.”
Sciacca said that Hall of Fame New York Giants linebacker Sam Huff was originally a co-owner of Saratoga Dew: “Sam Huff’s neighbor in Virginia was Charlie Engel. Charlie bought Huff’s share.”
The trainer said he got Saratoga Dew as a late two-year-old. “She was tall, skinny and lanky,” Sciacca said. “First couple times I went on with her, she shocked me. The first time I breezed her, she bolted. Next time I worked her, she bolted again.”
Sciacca used a trotter bit, and that seemed to do the trick as Saratoga Dew recorded several blazing works for her debut at Aqueduct on January 19th, 1992. “She was training like a monster,” the trainer said. “She showed she could run in her works.”
Sciacca said that Mike Smith was supposed to ride Saratoga Dew in her debut, but opted to ride another horse in the race. Jockey agent Steve Klesaris had just picked up Herb McCauley as a client. He would be the only rider Saratoga Dew had in her entire career.
Disregarded at nearly 9-1 odds in her debut, Saratoga Dew rallied from fifth to take a state-bred maiden special weight by 5 ¾ lengths. She followed that with a wire-to-wire score in a New York-bred allowance by 11 ½ lengths on February 8th at 3-5 odds.
Sciacca upped the ante for her next start, and Saratoga Dew captured a minor stakes by 4 ¾ lengths. Then she captured the Grade 2 Comely by one length as the 4-5 favorite.
She then improved her record to five-for-five, taking the Hyde Park Stakes for New York-bred by a neck.
Her next start was in the Grade 2 Post Deb Stakes at Monmouth Park, where she got away 11th and finished sixth by 9 ¼ lengths. Nearly 18 years later, Sciacca still doesn’t know what happened that afternoon. “I have no idea what was wrong,” he said.
Sciacca decided to give her a softer spot in the $100,000 New York Oaks at Finger Lakes. In her final start against New York-breds, she aired by 6 ½ lengths as the 2-5 favorite.
Saratoga Dew made her only start at Saratoga in the mile-and-a-quarter Grade 1 Alabama Stakes on August 15th. Sent off at 6-1 odds, she led almost every step of the way, losing by a nose to a high-quality filly in November Snow.
Through Sam Huff, Sciacca had become friends with former New York Giants Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells. Sciacca would train several talented New York-breds for Parcells, including Saratoga Snacks and Bavarro, named for Giants legendary tight end Mark Bavarro. Sciacca watched the Alabama in a box seat with Parcells. When Sciacca was crushed by the narrow loss, Parcells said, “What did you want her to do, split blood out for you?” Sciacca said years later that Parcells fired him three different times but they still are friends and talk to each other frequently.
Saratoga Dew made up for her narrow loss in her first Grade 1 stakes by winning a pair of them after the Alabama. First, in the Gazelle at Belmont Park, she won by a length and a quarter as the even-money favorite.
Five weeks later, she faced older horses and went off at 2-1 odds while taking on the outstanding Grade 1-winning four-year-old filly Versailles Treaty in the Grade 1 Beldame Stakes in October 10th. Saratoga Dew dominated on the front end, winning by six lengths in a sparkling final time of 1:46 4/5 for the mile and an eighth, earning a career-high 108 speed rating.
Saratoga Dew’s final start came in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Distaff at Gulfstream Park on October 31st. Sent off the 2-1 favorite, Saratoga Dew got involved in an early duel for the lead. After three-quarters of a mile in 1:10 4/5, she tired badly, finishing 12th by 13 ½ lengths. “She stumbled out of the gate and hurt herself a little bit, nothing serious,” Sciacca said.
Saratoga Dew had done enough to be named Three-Year-Old Champion Filly. But she would never race again.
While Saratoga Dew was enjoying a much-deserved rest at the farm in Middleburgh, Virginia, Sciacca got a call from Engel. “He said, `I need to talk to you. I’m flying into Kennedy Airport,’” Sciacca said.
They met at the airport. “He says to me, `I really love this filly,’” Sciacca said. “`I love everything about her. I can’t send her back to New York.’ He said, `I’m going to keep her in Middleburgh and train her.”
Sciacca couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “This was his first horse,” Sciacca said. “He thought what an easy game this is. It was hard for me as a young man, 30. He thought it was easy. I realized this is a once-in-a-lifetime horse.”
Engel ultimately hired former pioneer woman rider Diane Crump, the first woman jockey to ride in a pari-mutuel race in the United States, who had switched to training. “Saratoga Dew never made it back,” Sciacca said. “I heard that at Middleburgh she got hurt.”
Sciacca was right about Saratoga Dew. “She would work in :46, :59, for her races,” he said. “She was doing things that I’ve never had a horse do. She did it easy.”
No. 7: Funny Cide wins the Preakness – May 17, 2003
The joy of winning the 2003 Kentucky Derby with Sackatoga Stable’s three-year-old New York-bred gelding Funny Cide lasted exactly one week for Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos. Very early the following Saturday morning at Belmont Park, he was having breakfast in the track kitchen with his agent Mike Sellito and his eight-year-old son Jose Jr. Jose had agreed to wear a microphone for the entire morning for an MSNBC documentary about the life of a jockey.
Sellito got a phone call and Jose saw Sellito’s face drop. Sellito told the caller, “You’re kidding me.”
Jose said, “I knew looking at his face that something was wrong. I thought somebody had died.” Sellito told Jose to take the microphone off and step outside.
Jose asked, “What happened?” Sellito told him that the Miami Herald had published a picture showing a machine in Jose’s hand when he won the Derby. Jose replied, “Are you (bleep) kidding me?”
He wasn’t. The Herald’s story and accompanying photo alleged that Jose had used a buzzer to win the Derby and discarded it after they crossed the finish line.
The claim was absolutely untrue, a fact easily discerned by blowing up the alleged photo, which showed that there was no object in Jose’s hand. Santos was holding his whip in his right hand with a space between his thumb and index finger, making the silks of Empire Maker’s rider Jerry Bailey, behind Funny Cide, visible and leading to the mistaken interpretation of the photo.
“As soon as I saw the picture, I knew what it was,” Funny Cide’s trainer Barclay Tagg said. “You could walk over to Walgreen’s and blow it up.”
The damage had already been done. The story was the lead item of the NBC Nightly News. “It was on all the TV channels,” Jose said. “My brother in Norway called and asked me if it was true. My brother in Chile got in a fight with somebody.”
An investigation by the Kentucky Racing Commission two days later quickly invalidated the charges, five days before the Preakness Stakes.
“There were still a lot of questions,” Jose said. “I wanted to clear my name. People at the racetrack gamble. They think you’re always cheating. There was a lot of pressure on me. I said, `Jesus Christ, if I don’t win this race, people would think that it was all bull.’”
Just minutes before the Preakness, Jose Jr. was crying. His mother, Rita, asked him what was wrong. Jose Jr. told her, “Because he has to prove something today. He has to prove he didn’t do it.”
Funny Cide would go off the 9-5 favorite from the nine post in the Preakness, which would be run on a drying-out but muddy track officially listed as “good.”
Jose and Funny Cide were a lot better than good. Jose did a great job of getting Funny Cide over from the outside to sit third behind longshot Scrimshaw and Peace Rules. “I thought Jose did a super job of getting him position without losing ground,” Tagg said.
Jose had trouble throttling down his confidence. “In the first turn, I knew I had a lot of horse,” he said. “On the backside, I knew right away I was going to be a winner. He was overpowering the other horses. He was doing in one stride what other horses were doing in one and a half.”
When Peace Rules put away Scrimshaw, Funny Cide was in second and gaining. “Tom Durkin called, `And the race is on,’” Sackatoga Stables’ managing partner Jack Knowlton said. “I always say, `A second later, the race was over.’”
And it was, as Funny Cide unleashed an incredible spurt. “Funny Cide put on a burst of speed that was unbelievable,” Knowlton said.
Funny Cide won by a staggering 9 ¾ lengths, the largest margin since Survivor won the Preakness by 10 lengths in its inaugural running in 1873. “I never thought I’d win by that much,” Jose said.
As Funny Cide was crossing the finish line, Jose opened his right palm to the crowd and the national TV audience, showing there was nothing in his hand. “I didn’t plan it,” Jose said. “All of a sudden, I opened my hand.”
Tagg said, “The Preakness was kind of a walk in the park for him. Funny Cide won with a 114 Beyer (Speed Rating). You don’t see a three-year-old do that.”
Knowlton said, “We had to vindicate the horse and vindicate Jose. He did it with style.”
No. 8: Diversify Wins the Whitney – August 4, 2018
Late trainer Rick Violette Jr., who by August 2018 was beginning to lose a lengthy battle with cancer, was a popular figure in New York racing because he spent a good chunk of his career helping horsemen during his long tenure with the New York Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, as well as helping horses. Violette was NYTHA president for 10 years and served 25 years on its Board of Trustees. He was a founding member of the Board of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance and the founding member of both the NYTHA TAKE2 Second Career Thoroughbred Program and the NYTHA TAKE THE LEAD Thoroughbred Retirement Program. He was also a co-chair of BEST (Backstretch Employment Service Team). “It is of utmost importance to racing owners and trainers that our horses have happy and productive lives after they leave the track,” Violette said about the programs.
“There aren’t enough words to adequately describe Rick’s contributions to the racing industry,” Alan Foreman, Thoroughbred Horseman’s Association Chairman, told reporter Teresa Genaro after Violette passed away. “Simply put, he was a giant of our industry and a consequential force, both in New York racing and the industry as a whole. Horsemen’s leaders are often criticized. Rick was beloved.”
Violette trained several outstanding horses, including New York-breds Read the Footnotes, Samraat and Upstart, but none were as accomplished as Lauren and Ralph Evans’ speedy gelding Diversify. Bred by Fred Hertrich III and John Fielding, the gelded son of Bellamy Road out of Rule One by Street Cry (IRE) won his first four career starts.
Violette did a masterful job managing Diversify’s career, not rushing him into open-company stakes until he was ready, and Diversify rewarded his patience by taking the Grade 1 Jockey Club Gold Cup as a four-year-old at Belmont Park on October 7th, 2017 by one length.
Though Diversify finished fourth in the Grade 1 Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs in his final start as a four-year-old and seventh in the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic in his five-year-old debut, he bounced back to win the Commentator Stakes for New York-breds by a nose and the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap by 6 ½ lengths. That dominating performance set him up for the Grade 1 $1.2 million Whitney Handicap and a showdown with Mind Your Biscuits, the 2017 and 2018 New York-bred Horse of the Year who had finished second by a nose in the Grade 1 Met Mile in his previous start.
The showdown between these two New York-bred titans would play out on one of those crazy Saratoga thunderstorm afternoons, many of which are legendary. The Grade 1 Hopeful in 2000 was contested during a violent thunderstorm, with lightning and wind challenging the inexperienced two-year-olds. That memorable race ended with a dead heat between City Zip and Yonaguska. Macho Uno almost made it a triple dead heat, losing by just a neck, then won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and was named Two-Year-Old Champion Male.
In 2004, Birdstone, who had denied Smarty Jones the Triple Crown by taking the Belmont Stakes, confirmed his class by winning the Travers during a frightful electric storm.
The storm that pelted Saratoga Race Course for the 2018 Whitney might not have been quiet as frightening as the other two, but it lasted much, much longer, producing a delay of more than a half hour. NYRA had already canceled the two races carded after the Whitney. The horses racing in the Whitney had arrived in the paddock, and they kept walking in circles over and over again as a second downpour struck.
Finally, the rain stopped. The clouds broke up and blue skies made a welcome appearance on an absolutely soaked racetrack. Bettors made Diversify, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., the 3-5 favorite, and Mind Your Biscuits, who was stretching out past one mile for the first time in his career, was sent off at 3-1 odds in the field of eight under Joel Rosario.
Diversify broke sharply from the six post and was immediately in front. Ortiz doled out his speed masterfully, and Diversify took the field to an opening quarter-mile in :23.22, a half-mile in :46.50 and three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.70. He had a four-length lead by then as Mind Your Biscuits rallied into second and tried to close the gap.
Ortiz had plenty of horse left, and Diversify won his second Grade 1 stakes by 3 ½ lengths.
“The wait was tough,” Violette said afterwards. “I felt for the horses, because you just didn’t know how they’re going to react to that. When he broke like a shot, that was half the battle. Then Irad really threw down the gauntlet at the half-mile post and said, `Come and get me.’”
Off that performance, Diversify went off the 3-5 favorite when he tried to win a second consecutive Jockey Club Gold Cup on September 25th at Belmont Park. He led for a mile but weakened late, finishing fifth by five lengths to Discreet Lover. That would be the final start of his five-year-old season.
Violette died at his home in Del Ray Beach, Florida less than a month later on October 21st. He was 65.
Diversify was voted 2018 New York-Bred Horse of the Year and transferred to trainer Jonathan Thomas to prepare for his six-year-old campaign. It never began. A suspensory injury was discovered and Diversify was retired, almost as if he decided not to race again without his original trainer.
Diversify had posted 10 victories and two seconds from 16 career starts, for earnings of $1,989,425.
Violette was posthumously named the winner of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association’s Joe Palmer Award for meritorious service to racing.
His legacy will never be forgotten.
No. 9: Tiz the Law Wins the Florida Derby – March 28, 2020
The Kentucky Derby has been pushed back to the first Saturday in September, Aqueduct has been converted into a hospital, and there’s little normalcy for the entire world. But despite efforts to shut down Gulfstream Park, the Grade 1 $750,000 Florida Derby went on as scheduled behind closed door and, in a race that was easily the deepest Kentucky Derby prep of the entire spring, Sackatoga Stable’s New York-bred colt Tiz the Law left little doubt as to who’s the top three-year-old in the East if not the entire country. With Manny Franco delivering a flawless ride, Tiz the Law backed up his 7-5 odds with a dominant 4 ¼-length victory, his second Grade 1 triumph and his second straight victory. He improved his career record to four-for-five with one forgivable third when he was trapped without room to run on a sloppy track.
That put Sackatoga Stable’s managing partner Jack Knowlton and trainer Barclay Tagg well on their way to seeking a second Kentucky Derby and Preakness victory 17 years after their New York-bred Funny Cide won both races convincingly on the way to being named Champion Three-Year-Old Male and New York-bred Horse of the Year in 2003.
“Tiz is a talented horse,” Knowlton said. “We really don’t know how much is in his tank because he’s never really been asked. He just goes out there and does it.”
Knowlton would have loved to be at Gulfstream Park for the Florida Derby, but in the stay-at-home world we’re currently living in, he and all the Sackatoga owners, friends and family had to improvise. Knowlton, his wife Dorothy and their 12-year-old grandson Jordan watched the race on TV from their nearby Florida condo. “It was so different,” Knowlton said. “I missed the camaraderie. It was frustrating to be a mile away. We had probably 70 to 80 people planning on being in three suites at Gulfstream.”
Knowlton said he was confident before the race: “We felt if he ran the race he did in the Holy Bull, he’d win.”
Tiz the Law ran even better than he did when he won the Holy Bull Stakes by three lengths on February 1st at Gulfstream. Then again, Tiz the Law has been special since day one.
Bred by Twin Creeks Farm, the son of Constitution – who also sired two other Florida Derby starters in Independence Hall and Gouverneur Morris – is out of the Tiznow mare Tizfiz. He sold for $110,000 as a yearling at Saratoga in August 2018.
Tiz the Law debuted the following August 8th at Saratoga, winning a 6 ½-furlong New York-bred maiden special weight by 4 ¾ lengths despite racing greenly at 7-2 odds under Junior Alvarado. Part of the Daily Racing Form’s comment in his past performance line said “unasked,” which is a rare comment. Franco has ridden Tiz the Law in every start since.
Tiz the Law’s second start was incredible. Stepping up to the Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont Park on October 5th and sent off at 7-5 odds, he stumbled at the start, encountered traffic, again raced a bit greenly in the stretch and still won by four lengths. That propelled him up the charts in talk of the 2020 Kentucky Derby.
Rather than flying to Santa Anita to contest the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Tiz the Law raced in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs on November 30th. Sent off at 3-5 odds on the sloppy track, Tiz the Law became trapped on the inside. Franco frantically looked for room in the stretch, eventually finding clear space. Tiz the Law finished third, three-quarters of a length behind Silver Prospector.
Tagg talked about skipping the Breeders’ Cup: “I’ve never won a Breeders’ Cup race, and I’d like to win one or two, but I didn’t want to take him to California. I didn’t want to take him that far away.”
Tagg and Knowlton’s attention turned to Florida. In his three-year-old debut in the Holy Bull Stakes, Franco had to yank Tiz the Law back sharply on the backstretch to get him clear room outside of horses. Tiz the Law didn’t seem to mind, and he powered away to a three-length victory as the 6-5 favorite, a performance flattered when second-place finisher Ete Indien captured the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes by 8 ¼ lengths in his next start.
That set up a rematch with Tiz the Law in the Florida Derby, but Ete Indien was no match.
Tiz the Law broke well from the four post, stalked the early pace three-wide on the outside and made his move around the far turn. “Barclay talked to Manny beforehand and said, `Let’s not get down inside. Make sure we’re out of trouble.’” Knowlton said. “Manny carried out those instructions to perfection. What was nice was that in his first two races, he had a little trouble getting out of the gate. The last two, he broke like a shot. Manny was able to do that. Quite honestly, by the time they were going into the far turn I was highly, highly confident that he was going to win.”
Tiz the Law not only won, he romped. “It was certainly enjoyable to watch,” Tagg said. “That’s just him. I was screaming and hollering, and all of a sudden he’s drawing off. It’s fun to have that happen.”
Going to the Kentucky Derby off that race would have been fun too, but now the first Saturday in May has been moved to the first Saturday in September. “There’s a lot worse happening now,” Tagg said. “We’ve waited a long time to get a horse like this. We didn’t have that kind of a horse, but we also didn’t have a pandemic.”
Tagg said of Tiz the Law’s upcoming schedule, “If I had my druthers, I’d like to see the Preakness a month from now, the Belmont a month after that, the Travers a month after that, then the Derby. If he has to miss one of them so be it.”
Neither Tagg nor Knowlton are concerned about Tiz the Law stretching out to a mile and a quarter. “Whatever you ask him, he does it,” Tagg said. “I don’t think he has any distance limitations.”
Tiz the Law may have to wait a bit to verify that. “We’d be a lot happier going to Louisville in 4 ½ months,” Knowlton said. “I think he’d be primed to go a mile and a quarter on the first Saturday of May. Now other horses can catch up, maybe one of Bob Baffert’s horses. But Tiz can get better, too.”
He’s pretty darn good already.
No. 10: Cupecoy’s Joy Wins the Mother Goose Stakes – June 4, 1982
Less than 10 months after Fio Rito shipped in from Finger Lakes and shocked the racing world by becoming the first New York-bred Grade 1 stakes winner in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, and 21 years before New York-bred Funny Cide won the Kentucky Derby, there was Cupecoy’s Joy, a three-year-old New York-bred filly, racing on a loose lead under Angel Santiago in the 19-horse 1982 Kentucky Derby. Owned and bred by Robert Perez and co-owned by Ri-Ma-Ro Stables, the daughter of Northerly out of Lady Abla (ARG) by Alsina (ARG), sent off at 8-1 odds as part of the mutual field, had drawn the dreaded rail in the Derby. She mitigated that unfortunate situation by using her blazing early speed to immediately open a 2 ½-length lead, allowing her to avoid the usual crush of horses pushing inward to gain position before the first turn. Cupecoy’s Joy stretched her lead to three lengths by running a half-mile in :46.15.
The pack began closing in heading for the far turn, but Cupecoy’s Joy still led by a half-length after three-quarters of a mile in 1:10.45. She actually led to the one-mile mark, when she was finally passed. She didn’t pack it in, and finished 10th by 11 ¼ lengths to Gato del Sol.
The experiment against colts did nothing to discourage this talented filly, who returned to the races 22 days later for trainer Alfredo Callejas to capture the 52nd running of the one-mile Grade 1 Acorn Stakes, the first leg of the New York Filly Triple Crown, by 2 ¾ lengths in a stakes-record time of 1:34.20. Christmas Past, who would ultimately be named Champion Three-Year-Old Filly, finished fifth by 9 ½ lengths.
Cupecoy’s Joy’s effort was remarkable when you consider that most three-year-olds who compete in the Kentucky Derby, other than those who move on to contest the Preakness Stakes, are given plenty of time to recover, sometimes not returning to the races until the summer or early fall.
Cupecoy’s Joy’s record victory in the Acorn Stakes set her up for the second leg of the Filly Triple Crown, the mile-and-an-eighth Grade 1 Mother Goose Stakes on June 4th. She won by three-quarters of a length over Christmas Past.
Now Cupecoy’s Joy had a shot at sweeping the New York Filly Triple Crown in the July 1st mile-and-a-half Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks. She was hoping to become just the sixth three-year-old filly to win that crown. The first five winners were racing royalty: Dark Mirage (1968), Shuvee (1969), Chris Evert (1974), the immortal Ruffian (1975) and Davona Dale (1979).
Unfortunately, Cupecoy’s Joy finished second by six lengths to Christmas Past, who also won the Grade 2 Monmouth Oaks by a length and a quarter. Christmas Past then finished fourth in the Grade 2 Gazelle Handicap before taking the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap by five lengths in her first start against older fillies and mares.
Cupecoy’s Joy concluded her career after her three-year-old season with six victories, including five stakes, seven seconds and four thirds in 22 starts, for earnings of $377,960.
As a broodmare, Cupecoy’s Joy had three winners from 11 foals. She died at the age of 25 in September 2004 at Perez’s Haras Lucy Grace Farm near Otisville, New York.