Gulch: A True Champion

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One of the problems with loving horses is that they are all mortal. Even the ones whose names will live on forever – like Secretariat and Man O’War – have gone to the great, green fields in Heaven. Another of the greats has just joined them.

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Gulch at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Home – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch was a true champion. He was a tough competitor who raced against the best of his generation (which was one of the best group of horses in history). I was lucky enough to see his gritty win in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Sprint. That was the year he won the Eclipse Award (the highest award given to a horse) as Champion Sprinter. It was also his last year to race before going to stud at Lane’s End Farm (where he would stand his entire career). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

 

Gulch was foaled (born) April 16, 1984. He was the son of perennial, number one sire, Mr. Prospector. His dam (mother) was Jameela.

 

Mr. Prospector is well known for his amazing history for siring top class runners (i.e., Fusaichi Pegasus, Forty Niner, and Seeking the Gold, etc.). His continuing sire line (through sons such as Fappiano, Forty Niner, Kingmambo, Smart Strike, and, of course, Gulch) is one of the most enduring and successful in the history of thoroughbred breeding. His prowess at siring top-notch broodmares is also well documented by being the top broodmare sire for many years.

 

Jameela was, by far the best runner her female family had produced for generations, and was also the best runner her sire ever had. The hard-knocking mare competed for four years and compiled a race record of 58 starts, 27 wins, 15 seconds, and 6 thirds for a whopping earnings of $1,038,714. In today’s racing, $1-million in earnings is still an amazing achievement. Considering that Jameela ran from 1979 through 1982, her total earnings are even more compelling.

 

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Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

Gulch ran from 1986 through 1988. While best known as a classy sprinter, Gulch actually came in second in the 1987 Belmont Stakes. The Belmont is 1-1/2 miles, run on a sandy surface, and is the longest distance of any of the Triple Crown races. Gulch competed successfully at distances from 5 furlongs (a furlong is 1/8 mile) to 12 furlongs. This is exceedingly rare in racing in this day and age. Most horses show an affinity for a certain distance and are run almost exclusively in that distance or very close. Gulch showed great promise right from the start when he won several of the top races for 2-year-olds in 1986 (including the Hopeful Stakes, the Futurity Stakes, and the Saratoga Special Stakes.)

 

As a three-year-old, Gulch continued his winning ways. There were wins in the Wood Memorial, the Metropolitan Handicap (against older horses) and the Bay Shore Stakes. There were other great finishes besides the aforementioned second in the Belmont. He ran against all ages in the Woodward and the Whitney (both top American races) and finished second.

 

At four, he had his final, great year at the track with wins in the Metropolitan Handicap (for the second year), the Potrero Grande Handicap, the Carter Handicap and his tough win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. In addition, he had several seconds and thirds in the top races in the country. His final race record was 32 starts: 13 wins, 8 seconds, and 4 thirds for total earnings of $3,015,521. Again, remember this was the 1980s when purses were much less than they are today. He was appropriately named Champion Sprinter of 1988.

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A Shiny, Clean Gulch at Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

In 1988, we were attending our first Breeders’ at Churchill Downs. Jim and I had recently gotten into the racing business by buying a part interest in a 2-year-old colt in Georgia. Georgia (sadly) does not have legal horse racing (an aside – some very bright lights in the thoroughbred industry are still working on rectifying that). The plan was to race this colt in Alabama and/or Florida. We also had intentions of purchasing our own broodmare to get into breeding our own racehorses. Part of that process took us to Kentucky for a sale and to go to the Breeders’ Cup races. My hero, Alysheba, was competing for the last time of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic; and the amazing, Personal Ensign was running in her final race in the Distaff. In my opinion, that year was the penultimate Breeders’ Cup.

 

 

I knew about Gulch. I had always loved his name considering his sire was Mr. Prospector. He had been trained by two great trainers in Leroy Jolley and D. Wayne Lukas. I loved his gritty determination and was anxious to see him get his due by winning the Sprint. An old favorite, Precisionist, was trying to win his second Breeders’ Cup Sprint, and one of my other favorites, Sunshine Forever was competing in the Breeders’ Cup Turf. Now that I look back on that Breeders’ Cup, I’m struck that all of these favorites ended up at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Farm in Georgetown, Kentucky.

 

My beautiful picture

Me with Alysheba – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989

The next time I saw Gulch was the following May at Lane’s End. Several top runners had been retired to stud at Lane’s End and I was anxious to meet them all. Notable among the group were Alysheba, Bet Twice (the horse who denied Alysheba’s Triple Crown) and Gulch. I knew that all of the stud fees would be far out of our reach. One never knows if lightning will strike, and our first mare (a half-sister to a very good horse who had run third in the Preakness Stakes) had foals that could become stakes winners. If that were the case, the scenario could change. Of course, chances were slim, but one thing for certain in the horse business – if you don’t dream, you don’t belong.

My beautiful picture

Gulch – Lane’s End Farm – May 1989 (Does this look like a Champion?)

 

I had to laugh when they brought Gulch in. Alysheba was shiny and acting much the king of the hill and enjoying all the attention. Gulch, on the other hand, looked for all the world like a sullen little boy who had been pulled away from play. Indeed, he was covered with mud, was completely disheveled, and stood grudgingly in front of us. This definitely did not look like a champion. If you’d have seen him in a group, you’d never have looked twice. But, sure enough, in front of us was the Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner and Eclipse Award winning Sprint Champion. That was the moment I decided I really loved that horse. He became a “real” horse. He just wanted to play in the mud.

 

As a stallion, Gulch was a success. He sired Thunder Gulch who won the Kentucky Derby and who also went on to become a successful sire. Other good offspring include Court Vision, Great Navigator, and fellow Old Friends retiree, Wallenda. He sired more than 70 stakes winners during his long career.

 

Several times in following years we visited Lane’s End. Each time, I’d make certain to look for Gulch. We got to see famous half-brothers A.P. Indy and Summer Squall. Lane’s End has been home to some of the best stallions in the 20th and 21st century. Still, Gulch was a favorite and I never tired of seeing him.

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My favorite photo of Gulch – Old Friends – Photo by Rick Capone

 

When I heard that Gulch had been pensioned to Old Friends in 2009, I was ecstatic. It’s been over 20 years since we were in the horse business, and our visits to stud farms pretty much ended when we left the business. With Gulch going to Old Friends I was happy for several reasons. The first was that I knew he would continue to get the best of care. Second, other fans would get to meet this wonderful horse. The most selfish reason was that I would get to visit him again.

 

The last visit I had to Old Friends was to celebrate a landmark birthday in 2013. We planned our whole trip around making certain that we would be able to be at Old Friends on my birthday. That’s all I wanted for my birthday – to be able to see all the horses that truly were “old friends” of mine.

Gulch

My last photo of Gulch. He’d been in the mud again (his left side was caked). A happy horse

 

When I saw Gulch, I had to laugh. Once again, he’d been in the mud. He was wearing a fly mask as the August weather and lots of rain had made for a bumper crop of biting flies. Gulch was still the same horse I’d come to know. He was friendly, but still I had to feel that he’d rather be back out rolling in the mud. So, somehow, it seems fitting that my final visit with Gulch was similar to the first.

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Rick Capone’s Wonderful Photo of Gulch at Old Friends – Fields of Green

 

Gulch was humanely euthanized on Sunday, January 17, 2016. The gallant, old man lived to the ripe old age of 32 (which is very rare in horses). Old Friends took the step to put him down because cancer was starting to overtake Gulch and he deserved to be pain free and go quietly to sleep.

 

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Gulch – The Look of Pure Joy (How I’d Want His Hereafter to Be) – Photo by Rick Capone

 

One more beloved champion is racing through the never-ending fields of green (and, in Gulch’s case I hope an always-sloppy, mud hole).

 

 

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April 28, 2015

I’m Reblogging this terrific post from Old Friends. It’s time for the Kentucky Derby. Without a doubt, my favorite winner (other than Secretariat – and y’all know how I feel about him) was Silver Charm. He had the same sire as our Untarnished, and he was born and raised on the farm from whom we bought Untarnished’s mom, Permanent Cut. I got to know Bonnie’s Poker (Silver Charm’s mom) while she lived at Old Friends. I can’t wait to go and visit him – and all the other wonderful horses at Old Friends later this spring or early summer.

In the meantime, I’m trying to heal from foot surgery (in case you were wondering why I hadn’t been around for a while). I promise to start blogging again in the very near future.

Old Friends Blog

Hall-of-Famers Bob Baffert and Silver Charm share a playful moment. Hall-of-Famers Silver Charm and his trainer, Bob Baffert, share a playful moment. Photo by Tim W.

…Speaking of wonderful moments shared between our residents and their connections, here’s one that happened today. I wish I could describe the reminiscing shared by 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm and his trainer Bob Baffert when Bob, Jill and Bode Baffert took time out from their busy pre-Derby schedules to visit Old Friends.

A Silver Charm brings good racing luck, they say... Are the two veteran Derby winners exchanging perspectives on how Saturday’s race will play out? Photo by Tim W.

Or the welcome Game On Dude gave them, especially Jill–smart horses like the Dude know who loves them the very best of all.

The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other's company. Photo by Tim W. The best of friends. Jill Baffert, Bode Baffert, Bob Baffert and Game On Dude enjoy each other’s company. Photo by Tim W.

I wish I could describe the memorable time they all had being together again…

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March 17, 2015 – Farewell Ogygian

In less than 2 weeks the world has lost two of the greatest thoroughbreds of our times. I first met Ogygian when he went to stud in Kentucky at Claiborne Farm. It doesn’t seem possible that so much time has passed. He lived to be a few days shy of 32 years old. As I said in my response to Old Friends, “He was made by Damascus and embodied all the strength and beauty of the steel of the same name. Ogygian, you lived up to your name and your birthright. God graced us with your presence for 32 years. His loan was called and we must say farewell. Never good-bye.”

Old Friends Blog

Ogygian. March 17, 1983 - March 14, 2015 Ogygian. March 17, 1983 – March 14, 2015

I can’t do this. Can’t capture such a great spirit in mere words. Or describe the emptiness of his empty paddock. I just want to say that in his last hours he was with people he knew and trusted, on a mild night under a starry sky. He ended his life peacefully. We caught the colic symptoms early, Dr. Waldridge got there soon with pain relief and gave heroically of his efforts and expertise. Everything that could be humanely done to try and save Ogygian was done, and Ogygian was strong and loving through it all. My gratitude to Michael is beyond bounds. He made the right decision not to opt for radical hospital treatment that had little chance of working, to let Ogygian go peacefully in the paddock that had been his kingdom for so many years. To make all the…

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March 4, 2015 – Farewell Creator!

Creator was so amazing. Words cannot express the depth of his character. I am sharing Old Friends’ (bless you, Beth) obituary as the photos, story, and links need to be shared. I have added a few of my own photos of Creator. Run free, beautiful boy! I’m sure that Sunshine was waiting for you to show you to the evergreen pastures.

Creator in August 2013

Creator in August 2013

Creator  Summer 2013

Creator
Summer 2013

The Great Creator Old Friends - August 2013

The Great Creator
Old Friends – August 2013

Old Friends Blog

For three days I’ve waited for the words for a fitting tribute to Creator. They haven’t come. No words can begin to describe him, or the loss of him.

Creator, Feb. 2010, by Laura Battles. Creator, Feb. 2010, by Laura Battles.

Few who saw Creator at Old Friends saw him race, but in the summer of 1990 he was the best horse running in Europe, a superlative athlete worthy of his great lineage: Nasrullah, Never Bend, Mill Reef. He was already a character. Later, one of his grooms in trainer André Fabre’s barn would tell Michael how they called Creator “Houdini” because no matter how meticulously they’d fasten on his blanket, the next time they checked on him they’d find the blanket on the stall floor. Creator’s easy victory over In the Wings in the Prix Ganay was especially celebrated. To this day, Creator is remembered in Great Britain. Here is his obituary in England’s Racing…

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Solid Chrome – Part 3: No Triple This Year

If you’re reading this in email or on Facebook, click on the title! It will take you directly to the blog (an easier viewing page.) If you’re already in my blog, WELCOME! (One more hint: If you click on any of the photos in the blog, they should open up in a browser window so you can get a better look!)

California Chrome Yes, We're ALL Looking at You, Kid!

California Chrome
Yes, We’re ALL Looking at You, Kid!

I had hoped (as had millions and millions of others) that California Chrome was going to be the latest Triple Crown winner. I had all kinds of comparative information all set up to discuss the similarities and differences between California Chrome’s Triple and those of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. I’ve been around for all of those. Only once since Secretariat, though, have I been so emotionally involved. It’s partially because Secretariat was the most amazing horse who ever looked through a bridle. Having been raised on stories of Man O’War (I read everything I could get my hands on about him as a child), I thought Secretariat was the first “Big Red” reincarnate. Perhaps he was. Another part of it could be that there had been the longest (until now) stretch between Triple Crown winners – 25 years.

Tony Leonard's Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Tony Leonard’s Iconic Photo of Secretariat at the Belmont

Seattle Slew (Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Seattle Slew
(Photo from Sports Illustrated)

Affirmed - Our Last Triple Crown Winner (Photo from CNN)

Affirmed – Our Last Triple Crown Winner
(Photo from CNN)

I absolutely want to take nothing away from Seattle Slew or Affirmed. Both were amazing horses who completed the heroic challenge of winning the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes. All bested the best of their generations. I think part of the reason that their accomplishments took something of a back-seat in my mind was that, similar to the multiple Triple Crown winners of the 1940s, several happened in a very short time. Perhaps we got a little spoiled; perhaps a little jaded.

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby (Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

California Chrome Wins 140th Kentucky Derby
(Matthew Stockman /Getty Images)

This year, we had California Chrome. The whole story around this horse was “made for movies.” Actually, had anyone tried to script this, it would have been tossed for being too implausible. No one would ever believe that two complete neophytes to the art/business of breeding thoroughbreds could possible buy an $8,000 failed mare, breed her to a bargain ($2,500) stallion and end up with a horse that would end up 1-¾ lengths from winning the Triple Crown. Who does that? Steve Coburn and Perry Martin did. All of the back stories have been covered intensely, so I’m not going to rehash them. I do want to say that, as a former, very small-time breeder, these two were AND STILL ARE my heroes. I keep looking at them and saying, “That could have been me.” They are living proof that even the smallest of small-time can end up with a “freak” – a horse who doesn’t realize he’s not supposed to be that good – a horse that God gifted with the speed, endurance and personality to captivate and capture the American racing scene.

Steve Coburn with his Champion!

Steve Coburn with his Champion!

I’m not going to go into the human aftermath of the race because I feel it’s been covered ad nauseum. All I’m willing to say is that, while Steve Coburn probably should have just quietly said, “I don’t want to talk now, I want to go look after my horse.”, I completely understand the well of emotions that exploded in him when he watched his champion injured and defeated at the hooves of other horses. That was especially true due to the fact that the first two horses were completely “new shooters.” Only Medal Count in third had competed in any of the other Triple Crown races. It was a bitter pill and the reality blew up in Steve Coburn’s face.

Barbara Livingston's Photo of California Chrome's Foot After the 2014 Belmont Stakes

Barbara Livingston’s Photo of California Chrome’s Foot After the 2014 Belmont Stakes

The heel will heal in a few weeks. The scrape to Chrome’s leg/tendon probably is already gone. What I hope lingers is the magic that enveloped us all for so many weeks. I am also hopeful that this intense campaign hasn’t taken too much out of California Chrome. Huratio Luro, the great horseman and trainer of Northern Dancer, once said it was important to not squeeze the lemon too dry. Winning the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes is an amazing feat. Chrome really doesn’t have anything more to “prove,” but I hope he does come back and get back on the winning track this year. I also would love to see him continue to grow, strengthen, and come back as a four- or even five-year-old. As he gets larger, stronger and even more confident, he could show us an even better Chrome.

Silver Charm Winning 1997 Kentucky Derby

Silver Charm Winning 1997 Kentucky Derby

One last bit of business. Perhaps you caught my allusion earlier, “Only once since Secretariat, though, have I been so emotionally involved.” That “once” was in 1997. Another horse with a “metal” in his name was poised on the brink of winning the Triple Crown. Eerily, this horse won his Kentucky Derby on May 3 (like California Chrome), his Preakness on May 17 (like California Chrome), but lost his Belmont on June 7 (like California Chrome). This horse was Silver Charm. He also was a horse who came from California. However, his ownership and trainer were part of the everyday fabric of American horse racing. Bob and Beverly Lewis were the owners and Bob Baffert was his trainer. The Lewises were always a class act, so for their horse to win the Triple Crown might not have been such a huge surprise.

Untarnished's Jockey Club Registration Photo (1990)

Untarnished’s Jockey Club Registration Photo (1990)

So, why was I so emotionally invested in Silver Charm? That’s an easy one. Silver Charm was bred in Florida on the farm of the Heath family. Bonne Heath and Jack Dudley (the man who sold us our very first broodmare) were partners for years. They are part of the Needles connection. I’d like to think that Silver Buck’s dam (mother), Bonnie’s Poker (who retired, lived and was loved at Old Friends in Kentucky), and my mare might have actually looked through the fence at each other over the years. Even more compelling is the fact that Silver Charm’s sire (father) was Silver Buck. The sire of the baby that Permanent Cut was carrying when we bought her was also Silver Buck. While it’s true that stallions can have over one hundred offspring per year, I always considered Silver Charm as a half-brother of our filly, Untarnished. Untarnished died from colic a couple of years before Silver Charm’s heroics so I always felt like he brought a little of her back to the racing world and to me.

Untarnished as a Baby With Permanent Cut

Untarnished as a Baby With Permanent Cut

Little Untarnished with Me

Little Untarnished with Me

Happy Times Untarnished as a Yearling with Me

Happy Times
Untarnished as a Yearling with Me

Up Next: Back to Normal – Michigan’s Lumberjack Festival

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April 7, 2014

My dear friends at Old Friends had to say good-bye to another of their wonderful residents. Bull Inthe Heather was a great favorite of many. He was a tremendous ambassador for Old Friends. Now he runs in the permanently green grass of Heaven with his father, Ferdinand. A place where grazing, running, playing and sleeping are non-stop and there is no such thing as pain.

Old Friends Blog

BullintheHeather_Equisport_Photos Bull Inthe Heather. Equisport Photos.

Bull Inthe Heather, Ferdinand’s greatest son, was an original in his own right. Readers who visited him recently know that Bully was fighting an infection, besides his tendency to abscesses, which worsened with old age. For years Bull benefitted from the best of long-term foot care from Dr. Bryan Fraley, In his final illness he also had everyday treatment from Dr. Bryan Waldridge and others of our new vet team, along with the knowledgeable, devoted care of the barn staff. During the bad weather he had the best stall in the barn, and plenty of attention and company from staff and volunteers alike. We hoped his strong spirit could prevail as it had in the past. But “old age” are the operative words in why that didn’t happen. Bull Inthe Heather was 24, equivalent to almost 80 years old for a human. Even the strongest…

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Sad News

From Old Friends:  American Derby Winner The Name’s Jimmy
Euthanized at Old Friends

The following is directly from the Press Release from Old Friends. We didn’t get to visit Jimmy when we were there in August. We had been lucky to see him at earlier visits, and he was a wonderful fella! This is such sad news for everyone at Old Friends and for the legion of “The Name’s Jimmy” fans. An additional personal observation: The Name’s Jimmy was born the same year as our first homebred – Untarnished. This hits home, too.

The Name's Jimmy (1989 - 2004)

The Name’s Jimmy
(1989 – 2004)

GEORGETOWN, KY – MARCH 10, 2014

– 1992 American Derby record setter The Name’s Jimmy died March 7 at Old Friends Thoroughbred Retirement Center in Georgetown, Kentucky. The 25 year old son of Encino out of the Grey Dawn mare Dancing at Dawn was undergoing treatment for mobility issues. Due to their increased severity, Dr. Joan Gariboldi of Hagyard Equine Medical Institute and Old Friends president Michael Blowen determined that humane euthanization was in the horse’s best interest. The Name’s Jimmy had resided at Old Friends since 2007.
Bloodstock agent Chuck Calvin recommended the colt, bred in Illinois by Triple D Stable, to Brian and Jan Burns of Mount Joy Stables, Inc. The Burns purchased the two year old in training as their first racing prospect. Brian Burns and his father, Jimmy Burns, had long shared the dream of owning a race horse, but Jimmy Burns did not live to see that dream realized. His son raced The Name’s Jimmy in his memory.
The Name’s Jimmy won the 1992 Will Rogers Handicap (G3) under trainer Charles Stutts. In his American Derby (G2) win he set a stakes record of 1:59.41 for 1 3/16 miles on the Arlington Park turf with Pat Day up. In 1994 the colt nearly succumbed to an infection. “He spiked a fever of 106 degrees,” Burns recalled. “Just as the authorization to euthanize arrived his fever broke. He went on to a second in the Fort Harrod Stakes at Keeneland.” The Name’s Jimmy earned $404,090 during his 1991-1994 racing career.
The multiple graded stakes winner entered stud in 1995 at Pope McLean’s Crestwood Farm in Kentucky. He later stood at Hill ‘N Dale near Barrington, Illinois and Elite Thoroughbreds in Folsom, Louisiana. “When Hurricane Katrina came through, Jimmy was lost. He stayed out in the bayou for two days before Pope McLean, Jr. found him,” Burns said. “It’s a wonder he wasn’t eaten by an alligator or bitten by a snake. After that, Pope and I called him The Survivor.”
The Name’s Jimmy sired four stakes winners and five stakes-placed winners. He sired earners of nearly $6 million. Brian and Jan Burns retired the stallion to Old Friends in July 2007. “If it doesn’t get through to people what Old Friends does for these horses it’s a crying shame,” remarked Burns.
“The Name’s Jimmy was blessed to have owners like Brian and Jan Burns and we were lucky to have Jimmy at Old Friends,” Blowen said. “It’s always difficult to euthanize one of our great retirees but Jimmy made it easy. The look in his eye spoke volumes and we were able to help him in his final hour. We’re very grateful for all he gave us.”
For more information about Old Friends see their website at www.oldfriendsequine.org  or call the farm at (502) 863-1775.
Old Friends is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that cares for more than 125 retired racehorses. It’s Dream Chase Farm, located in Georgetown, KY, is open to tourists daily by appointment. Old Friends also has a satellite facility in Greenfield Center, N.Y., Old Friends at Cabin Creek: The Bobby Frankel Division. For more information on tours or to make a donation, contact the main farm at (502) 863-1775 or see their website at http://www.oldfriendsequine.org.