by Terri Bey
Before I start this blog, I want to emphasize that the absolute TWO WORST days of my life was when I lost my parents. No two days in my life were as bad as those two days. I write this disclaimer, so no one gets the wrong idea.
Tomorrow will be the 30th “anniversary” of one of the worst days of my life. I remember it all too well. On the evening of November 15, 1990, I was at home in Edison, NJ, where I was living with my mother at the time. My father had passed four years earlier and my mother would pass away around seven years later. Anyway, on this particular evening, we had the local CBS news on and my mother was lying down and waiting for me to finish cooking dinner. I had just closed the the oven after checking on the chicken we were going to have, when I heard CBS sportscaster Warner Wolf say something about Alydar, the famous rival of 1978 Triple Crown winner of Affirmed.
As Alydar’s my all-time favorite racehorse, I had to go see what Warner Wolf had to say. In the back of my head, I was hoping it wasn’t bad news. After all, a couple of weeks earlier, three horses had died at the 1990 Breeders’ Cup World Championships, including the brilliant 3YO filly Go For Wand and the legendary Secretariat had died 13 months earlier from laminitis. Unfortunately, Warner Wolf announced the news that I didn’t want to hear. Alydar had to be euthanized one day after surgery. He was 15. Wolf also showed the 1978 Belmont, where Alydar and Affirmed had that famous head to head battle with Affirmed just holding off Alydar for the win and the Triple Crown.
I remember shouting, “No!” My mother was semi-awake and asked, “Who died?” I told her it was Alydar. She was a bit sad about it. I could not believe it. I was absolutely heartbroken. I cheered him on during the 1978 season. I followed just about all of his sons and daughters, such as Althea, Miss Oceana, Easy Goer and Alysheba, and every horse that had him in his or her family. As we horse people say, he was and still is my “heart horse.” I didn’t want to believe that my beloved Alydar was dead. I remember switching to the two other channels, NBC and ABC, as all three local networks ran their sports news at about the same time. Both reported Alydar’s passing and showed the 1978 Belmont. Here I am. I am changing the channels, as if the news was going to be different on the other stations. Grief certainly does do a number on you. It certainly did a number on me that night.
I was also a student at Middlesex County Community College at the time and it was very tough for me to get through my homework that horrible night. After going to bed, I got up and went downstairs just in time to hear Warner Wolf announce Alydar’s passing. I cut out the small article about Alydar’s passing in the News Tribune, our local paper. The next morning at the bus stop, I saw a man with the New York Post in his hand and I could see the sports headline saying, “ALYDAR DEAD.” Seeing that was like a punch to the gut. It was so final. My favorite horse ever was gone and I had to accept it.
As most racing fans and those in the industry know, the official word from the legendary Calumet Farm who owned and bred Alydar was that Alydar kicked his barn door and broke his right hind cannon bone. An operation was done and Alydar’s leg was put in a sling. In the recovery room, Alydar was fighting the sling and also got attracted to some mares outside and the sling was removed. Alydar tried walking and unfortunately slipped and broke his femor and had to be euthanized. I don’t want to get too into this, but as sad as I was about what happened, I realized that these things are unfortunate and do happen. However, when rumors of some suspicious activities surrounding Alydar’s injury started circulating, I was stunned. You can read more in, “Wild Ride: The Rise and Fall of Calumet Farm Inc. , America’s Premier Racing Dynasty” by Ann Hagedorn Auerbach. I am NOT saying the suspicions are fact, not at all, but I found them to be interesting and IF true, to be quite upsetting. Ms. Auerbach’s book definitely is a recommended read and has shaped my opinion of the racing and breeding business and of business in general.
To get through my grief, I knew there would be a few more crops of Alydar’s offspring to come. One particular offspring did bring a lot of joy to my broken heart and his name was Strike the Gold. Strike the Gold was bred by Calumet, but due to the farm’s financial difficulties, he was sold as a yearling to B. Giles Brophy, William J. Condren, and Joseph M. Cornacchia for $500,000. Trained by Nick Zito, Strike the Gold broke his maiden, meaning won his first race as a 2YO, ironically, on November 15, 1990, the very day Alydar died. This is a great example of a symbolic passing of the torch, if I ever saw one.
The passing of the torch would be an omen of good things to come because as a 3YO the following year, Strike the Gold would go on to finish second in the Florida Derby, a prep race for the Kentucky Derby to Fly So Free, the prohibitive 1991 Kentucky Derby favorite Three weeks later, Strike the Gold turned the tables on Fly So Free and won the Bluegrass Stakes, a race his late sire Alydar had also won back in 1978 In the 1991 Kentucky Derby, despite being about a dozen or so lengths back, Strike the Gold with the late Chris Antley aboard, made his move down the backstretch and was about 5th or so at the top of the stretch and was way outside. Coming down the stretch, Strike the Gold took the lead and won the Kentucky Derby.
I was cheering Strike the Gold all the way. I was jumping up and down and crying. I was so happy that Alydar had sired another Derby winner, Alysheba being his first. Even though Strike the Gold would not win another race for almost a year, even though he did run a valiant second to Hansel in the 1991 Belmont, I still cheered him on and over the years, I was still able to “follow Alydar,” by looking at horse’s pedigrees. There have been many horses I love who have Alydar in their family, like Gio Ponti, Point Given and Hard Spun. What I mean is that it has to go through the horse’s dam, as stallions can have many offspring and mares can only have one a year on average. I will “cheat” a little and be happy if Alydar is in the horse’s sire’s family also, like Blame, who is sired by Arch who has Althea on his (Arch) dam’s side.
Even so, every time November 15th rolls around, I can still remember the sadness of losing Alydar. After all, he was only fifteen when he died. Whatever the circumstances of his injury were, he was robbed of at least another 5-10 years of life. As a stallion, he was robbed of at least five or six years of breeding and the racing and breeding world were also robbed as well. Alydar was undoubtedly a champion sire. Alydar’s influence on the breeding world was and still is greatly missed as he is a Classic Chef-de-race, according to the Roman-Miller dosage system. While his sons didn’t turn out to be good sires, he was an awesome broodmare sire.
Why do I mourn Alydar or a racehorse, for that matter? Well, it is the same concept as why I and many of my fellow rock fans are mourning the loss of guitar great Eddie Van Halen or mourning the loss of drummer Neil Peart. It is why fans of any celebrity or sports star mourn the loss of their favorite when said favorite passes. Well, Alydar grabbed my heart and I just loved how he never gave up against Affirmed. As human celebrities become part of our lives and in many ways parts of our family, so do racehorses to us horse racing fans. To us horse rans, these brave horses are athletes just as much as humans are. We horse fans cheer for them and are happy when they win and are disappointed when they lose, just like our favorite human athletes. We horse racing fans even have debates over horses, just like other sports fans who debate which team or which athlete is better. When a racehorse dies, we fans mourn them, too.
Alydar has meant so much to me. Like Seattle Slew before him, he was one of the first heroes I ever had, before the human ones came along, one being Muhammed Ali and a little rock band called KISS, both of whom I am sure you have heard of. Losing Alydar was like losing a part of my childhood, when I heard the news, back in 1990. Thirty years later, the pain is there, but I realize that I am grateful for the time that Alydar was on this earth and through some of today’s horses, his legacy remains.
Thanks Alydar for everything. I will see you again.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this blog. Feedback is welcomed and encouraged.