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Hovdey: Most everyone loves a parade

Friday, June 22nd, 2018

Barbara D. Livingston
Cigar takes a final turn in his farewell at Madison Square Garden in 1996.

One surefire distraction from harsh reality is the sight of a great horse on parade. Strolling majestically in front of fans, free of parimutuel responsibilities, the great horse is allowed to be appreciated in real time, up close and personal.

Santa Anita Park will provide such an experience Saturday, when Justify, the freshly minted Triple Crown winner, ambles over from his studio apartment in the Bob Baffert barn for a turn in the afternoon sun. The San Carlos Stakes also is on the program, but the big red colt is the real draw.

Such displays of affection have occurred often enough that a chapter could be devoted to champions on parade. The most comprehensive display took place at Santa Anita in early 1973, when it dawned on management that five of the eight Eclipse Award champions of 1972 resided in backstretch stalls. Orchestrated by publicity chief Dan Smith, the parade featured Autobiography, Typecast, Susan’s Girl, Chou Croute, and Cougar II, parading nose to tail before a packed house.

Secretariat, the 1972 Horse of the Year, was otherwise occupied in Florida getting ready for what would be his Triple Crown campaign. He would enjoy a farewell parade of his own at Aqueduct on Nov. 6, 1973, nine days after his final, triumphant race in the Canadian International. It was Election Day, a Tuesday, and 33,000 fans turned out to watch Secretariat jog to the quarter pole and back under Ron Turcotte, after which the big guy grabbed a mouthful of Penny Chenery’s bouquet in the winner’s circle.

Zenyatta’s West Coast popularity required farewell appearances at both Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. Evening Attire, that grand old gray, was honored upon the conclusion his 65-race career with a ceremony at Belmont Park. Best Pal, retired winner of the first Pacific Classic, led the post parade for that Del Mar event until his untimely death, while Fourstardave, a Saratoga institution, celebrated his retirement with a visit to Siro’s Restaurant near the track, where he was presented the key to the city – made of yummy alfalfa.

For all their pomp and popularity, the parading of retired Thoroughbred racehorses can present a challenge. Even with diligent preparation and handling, old pros with keen memories can get the wrong signals.

John Henry had been in genteel retirement at the Kentucky Horse Park when he was paraded at Keeneland in April 1986. After the 11-year-old gelding nearly tore down a section of stands, owner Sam Rubin sent him back into training with Ron McAnally in California. McAnally, thinking only of the horse, gave John Henry several months of equine spa treatments before Rubin announced a re-retirement, after which John Henry behaved like a perfect gent during farewell parades on Breeders’ Cup Day at Santa Anita and on a rainy night at Meadowlands.

Fourstardave was not so fortunate. Age 17 and retired to a Florida farm, he was returned to Belmont in October 2002 to be the marquee name atop a day featuring fellow New York-bred runners. The Tuesday before the event, however, trainer Leo O’Brien had to deliver some terrible news.

“He had spent the last 10 days riding out at the farm, so this wouldn’t be so stressful on him,” said O’Brien, who welcomed Fourstardave back to his Belmont barn. “I sent him out for a little jog this morning at 10:30 and he had a heart attack and died. It’s tough on these old horses when you move them around like that.”

Kelso was 26 when he was paraded at Belmont Park on the day of the 1983 Jockey Club Gold Cup, a race he had won five times. The towering Forego, half Kelso’s age, made for the best two-horse parade in racing history, with eight Horse of the Year titles between them. The crowd of 32,000 responded accordingly.

But then, back home in Maryland the following day, Kelso began showing signs of abdominal pain. He died that evening.

“We’ll never really know what killed him or what the effect of the trip to New York was,” Dr. Alan McCarthy told the New York Times. “All sorts of things can cause colic. Stress is one of them and that had to be a stressful trip for him. But he was a very, very old horse.”

Justify is a very young horse, in the full bloom of racing fitness, and as long as Baffert’s people have a good hold the big colt should put on a fine display for those lucky enough to be at Santa Anita. Few horses have been more pleasing to the eye.

It will be a fairly informal ceremony, however, and a far cry from the production values surrounding the farewell appearance of two-time Horse of the Year Cigar during the 1996 National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden, complete with police escort through Manhattan and a tearful, spotlit turn around the arena to the playing of “Auld Lang Syne.”

Then again, as far as parades go, you can’t do much better than the one Breeders’ Cup winner and Eclipse sprint champion Cardmania participated in eight months after his retirement in April 1995, after a career of 77 starts. The parade took place on New Year’s Day of 1996, in Pasadena, Calif. And yes, there were roses.

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Photo Credits:   Vassar Photography (Northern CA)  |  Benoit Photo (Southern CA)  |  Michael J. Marten (Southern CA)


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