by Jon White
May 30, 2019
Showing once again that she truly was a fantastic claim, the equine ATM named Vasilika surged to a one-length victory in the Grade I Gamely Stakes at Santa Anita this past Monday.
Sent off as the 11-10 favorite, Vasilika raced fifth early in the 1 1/8-mile grass affair. When the 5-year-old mare still was fifth with a furlong to go, it appeared she just might not get the job done this time. But when the race was over, there she was, posing for pictures yet again in the winner’s circle after prevailing by one length.
As Vasilika charged to the front in deep stretch, track announcer Frank Mirahmadi hit the nail on the head when he said during his call of the race: “Vasilika, this is her house! Vasilika wins the Gamely!”
Vasilika’s record on the Santa Anita lawn is nothing short of outstanding: 12 starts, 11 wins, 1 second.
The only time Vasilika has lost when racing on Santa Anita’s grass course came when she finished second, a neck behind Causeforcommotion, in an allowance/optional claiming race at 1 1/8 miles on March 4, 2018.
Not only did Vasilika take care of business this past Monday, she gained a measure of revenge. Who finished last among the eight Gamely starters? It was none other than Causeforcommotion.
New York invader Rymska, who at 9-5 certainly was respected by the bettors, finished second in the Gamely. Ahimsa, who led until deep stretch at 29-1, ended up third, a half-length behind Rymska.
Hall of Famer Jerry Hollendorfer owns Vasilika in partnership with All Schlaich Stables, Gatto Racing and George Todaro. They claimed the Kentucky-bred daughter of Skipshot at Santa Anita on Feb. 11, 2018.
Since moving to the Hollendorfer barn after being claimed for $40,000, Vasilika has earned $1,209,528 while winning 12 of 14 starts.
A granddaughter of 1998 Horse of the Year Skip Away, Vasilika did give everyone a hint that some stakes wins and perhaps even some graded stakes victories might be in her future when she packed 129 pounds to a 4 3/4-length triumph in a starter handicap race at one mile on Santa Anita’s turf course last year on June 24.
Since Vasilika’s win in that 2018 starter allowance contest, she has won twice at the Grade I level, four times at the Grade II level and once at the Grade III level.
What a mare. What a claim.
SOI PHET’S LONG CAREER NEARS THE END?
While super-claim Vasilika continues to pile up victories, it looks like the racing career of another claimer-turned-stakes winner might be nearing its conclusion. Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen reported that 11-year-old Soi Phet “is on the verge of being retired.”
Soi Phet won twice last year at the age of 10. Both victories came in stakes races. He won Santa Anita’s Crystal Water at odds of 47-1 and Los Alamitos’ Bertrando at 7-2. Thanks to his performance in the 2018 Crystal Water, the California-bred Tizbud gelding became the oldest stakes winner in the history of Santa Anita.
However, Soi Phet has been unable to finish better than sixth in two starts this year.
Soi Phet kicked off his racing career on Jan. 28, 2012. He finished eighth in a six-furlong maiden special weight race for Cal-breds at Santa Anita.
At Hollywood Park on May 23, 2013, Soi Phet was claimed by his current connections for $16,000. Leonard Powell has trained him ever since. Since Powell has taken over the training duties, Soi Phet has earned $986,486 while racing for The Benowitz Family Trust, Paul Viskovich and Mathilde Powell (the trainer’s wife).
Leonard Powell told Andersen that Soi Phet “may have” one more start, in the $100,000 Bertrando Stakes for California-breds at Los Alamitos, depending on how the Tizbud gelding trains.
If it turns out that Soi Phet does make one more start in the Bertrando before he’s retired, it would be rather apropos. The first stakes win of Soi Phet’s career came in the 2014 edition of the Bertrando.
TURBULATOR SIGN IS NEW AT EMERALD DOWNS
Memories of Pacific Northwest racing legend Turbulator recently were rekindled at Emerald Downs. The track located south of Seattle is the new home for a piece of Turbulator memorabilia.
Emerald’s Quarter Chute Cafe is frequented by trainers, jockeys, owners, breeders, exercise riders, grooms and fans. And now, in the northwest corner of the cafe, there is a sign prominently displayed beneath a row of betting machines that says: THE TURBULATOR ROOM.
The Steiner family has owned and operated the Quarter Chute Cafe ever since Emerald Downs’ grand opening in 1996. The new Turbulator sign that can be seen there “fits in so perfectly,” Sally Steiner said recently to Joe Withee on his radio program The Win Place Show, which can be heard on Seattle’s KJR-AM.
Pete Puhich, one of trainer Mike Puhich’s cousins, gave the Turbulator sign to Sally as a present.
The Turbulator sign originally was displayed at another track near Seattle, Longacres, which ceased racing in 1992. “The Turbulator Room” in the Longacres grandstand was named in honor of one of the best and most popular Thoroughbreds to ever race there.
“Turbulator is the only horse to have a Longacres lounge named after him,” Bob Schwarzmann wrote in the 1986 Seattle Times.
Longacres also had an Eddie Arcaro Room and a John Longden Room, named after two of the sport’s all-time great jockeys. Arcaro and Longden both won the Longacres Mile, the richest race in the Pacific Northwest.
Arcaro guided Two and Twenty home first in the 1950 Longacres Mile. Longden won it in 1962 on Harpie and in 1964 on Viking Spirit.
As a trainer, Mike Puhich also has won the Longacres Mile. He sent out Taylor Said to capture the 2012 renewal. Mike’s father, Nick Puhich, was jockey Larry Pierce’s agent when Turbulator took Longacres by storm in 1970.
“My dad was a trainer and a jockey’s agent for years,” Puhich once told me. “I’ve been around racing my whole life. What really got me hooked was Turbulator. He was my favorite horse when I was growing up. I know Secretariat inspired a lot of people to become involved in racing. For me, it was Turbulator. That horse is the only reason I’m a trainer.”
That’s the kind of impact Turbulator had on people all those years ago.
In 1970, Turbulator and Pierce collaborated for these three record-breaking performances:
--A 3 1/2-length win in the Yakima Mile at Yakima Meadows on May 17. The final time of 1:35 1/5 obliterated the track record for one mile by four-fifths of a second. This track record would stand for 23 years. It finally was broken by Slew of Damascus in 1993. Slew of Damascus went on to win the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup in 1994.
--A half-length win in the Governor’s Handicap at Longacres on Aug. 16. The final time of 1:14 flat lowered the world record for 6 1/2 furlongs by two-fifths.
--A four-length win while carrying 128 pounds in the Washington Championship at Longacres on Sept. 14. The final time of 1:41 flat shaved two-fifths of a second off the longstanding track record for 1 1/16 miles. The previous mark of 1:41 2/5 had been set 16 years earlier.
Turbulator broke another record in 1970 that still stands all these years later. He set the record in a race he didn’t even win. He carried a staggering 138 pounds in the 1970 Playfair Mile at Playfair Race Course in Spokane, Wash. To this day it’s the record for the most weight ever carried in an open stakes race at a Washington track. Burdened with “having to carry the grandstand,” Turbulator finished second. He lost by just a neck while spotting 21 pounds to the victorious Ruler’s Whirl. When’s the last time you saw a horse spot another horse 21 pounds?
Thousands of Thoroughbreds raced at Longacres, Playfair and Yakima Meadows in the 1960s, 1970, 1980s and 1990s. No one else other than Turbulator was ever acclaimed Horse of the Meeting at all three of those Washington tracks in the same year, a feat he achieved during his signature year in 1970.
A head bust of Turbulator can be found these days at the Washington Racing Hall of Fame exhibit located in the Emerald grandstand. It’s the same head bust that for many years greeted horses, horsemen and visitors to the Playfair paddock.
When I found out Marguerite Crawford had plans to donate that head bust to the Spokane Interstate Fair, I lobbied her to instead send it to Emerald Downs.
“Please, Mrs. Crawford,” I pleaded. “Most people who visit the Spokane Interstate Fair won’t have any idea who Turbulator was. His head bust belongs someplace where racing people can see it. That place should be a racetrack. That place should be Emerald Downs.”
Fortunately, Marguerite Crawford agreed.
ANNIVERSARY OF FIRST RACE NEARS
The 50-year anniversary of Turbulator’s first race is coming up soon. It happened on June 7, 1969, at a little track in Northern Idaho by the name of Coeur d’Alene Turf Club. At that time, the races at that track were not covered by the Daily Racing Form. That made it what sometimes is referred to as a “bush track.” Turbulator’s Coeur d’Alene race would not appear on Turbulator’s official record.
I happened to be at Coeur d’Alene with my father the day Turbulator raced for the first time. Little did we know that we were witnessing the beginning of a racing career that would take Northwest fans on such an enjoyable ride.
Turbulator, who would become one of the earliest members of the Washington Racing Hall of Fame when inducted in 2004, was a son of Cold Command and the By Zeus mare Fur Piece.
Two Triple Crown winners appear in Turbulator’s pedigree. He was a grandson of 1937 Triple Crown winner War Admiral and a great-grandson of 1943 Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.
Cold Command, who finished ninth in the 1952 Kentucky Derby, was a son of War Admiral. War Admiral’s sire was the immortal Man o’ War.
Turbulator’s maternal grandsire, By Zeus, won the world’s first $100,000 grass race, the 1954 San Juan Capistrano Handicap at Santa Anita. By Zeus was a son of Count Fleet.
Turbulator did not race as a 2-year-old. He became gravely ill and nearly died that year. He also didn’t race as a 3-year-old after he wrecked a knee when it collided with a sprinkler head on a farm in Montana. Tom Crawford and his wife, Marguerite, bred Turbulator. The Crawfords raced the gelding in partnership with a family friend, J.M. (Marvin) Farnsworth.
“Turbulator was doing really good [in the spring of 1968] at our ranch in Montana,” Marguerite recalled when I interviewed her at her Spokane home in 2011. “Tom was looking forward to putting him back in training. But that’s when Turbulator ran into a buried sprinkler head. Those sprinkler heads were wicked things sticking up, with grass growing up around them. While he was running, he hit his knee on the sprinkler head.”
With a bum knee, it looked like Turbulator would never make it to the races.
Tom Crawford once was the mayor of Hope, Ark., known as the watermelon capital of the world. Later, Hope would become best known as the birthplace of President Bill Clinton.
In addition to breeding, owning and training Thoroughbreds, Crawford did well for many years as a car salesman.
Considering Crawford’s experience in dealing with trade-ins as a car salesman, it really should not be all that surprising that after Turbulator hurt his knee at 3, Crawford thought maybe he could unload the horse in a trade. Crawford offered to swap Turbulator to a Montana neighbor for two cows. Understandably, the neighbor declined to take ownership of a horse with a bad wheel.
In time, Turbulator’s knee healed. Crawford put him into training as a 4-year-old in 1969. Because of Turbulator’s knee injury, though, expectations were very low. Crawford conceded that Turbulator probably would be relegated to competing in cheap claiming races.
When Turbulator started for the very first time at Coeur d’Alene in 1969, even though he was an unraced maiden, he was asked to compete against multiple winners in a 5 1/2-furlong allowance race. Under the circumstances, Turbulator didn’t disgrace himself by finishing third behind a couple of hard-hitting veteran runners in Stout Me and Testify. While the victory that day at Coeur d’Alene by Stout Me would not officially count as far as he was concerned because it occurred at a “bush track,” he was good enough to officially win a total of 39 races during his career, according to Equibase.
Following Turbulator’s defeat at Coeur d’Alene, he ran in a pair of six-furlong maiden claiming races at Portland Meadows during that same month of June. He finished second both times as a 4-5 favorite. Someone could have claimed him for $1,500 on June 16, then for $2,000 on June 23. But there were no takers.
Nobody would ever get the chance to claim Turbulator after that.
Turbulator showed up at Playfair as a 4-year-old maiden in 1969. He won seven straight races at that track. Not only that, he won those seven races in just nine weeks. When do you ever see a horse do that?
The skein started with a victory in a six-furlong sprint and concluded with a three-length triumph under 128 pounds in a two-mile marathon. How many horses have you ever seen win races ranging from six furlongs to two miles?
On top of Turbulator’s racing prowess, he had unmistakable charisma, no doubt stemming to some extent from his humble beginnings. Another reason that Turbulator became such a huge fan favorite was his come-from-way-back, Silky Sullivan-ish, running style.
In 1972, Turbulator even managed to win a race by coming from farther behind at the eighth pole than Silky Sullivan ever did in any of his victories.
Turbulator was eight lengths behind at the eighth pole in the 1972 Washington Championship at Longacres. Grey Papa had a two-length lead at that point. Grey Papa was at the top of his game. He was coming off a win eight days earlier in which he ran six furlongs in a scorching 1:07 1/5 to break the world record for six furlongs, the most commonly run distance in American racing.
Closing with a rush in the final furlong in that 1972 Washington Championship, Turbulator somehow ran down Grey Papa. Turbulator and Pierce prevailed by a half-length.
“He had such an explosive move,” Pierce told me years ago when reminiscing about his old equine friend. “And he had that move whenever you asked for it. You could ask him for it anytime in a race and it’d be there. It’d be there instantly. He’d go full steam. There was no halfway about it. His move was awesome. I just had so much confidence in him. He could make up 10 lengths, easy, in a quarter of a mile. Horses just don’t do that. He’d go by horses so fast, it’d take your breath away.”
Just last month, Turbulator was the subject of a lengthy feature story written by Jim Price (former announcer and publicity director at Playfair) that appeared in a Spokane newspaper, The Spokesman-Review. Heck, they don’t even have a racetrack in Spokane anymore. The final race at Playfair was run on Dec. 17, 2000. The track was torn down in 2004. Yet, in a city where horses have not raced for almost 20 years, the morning newspaper ran a story this year on April 28 about a horse last seen competing in that city in 1973.
When Turbulator was racing in the 1970s, his popularity was immense. There were Turbulator T-shirts, coffee mugs and campaign buttons.
“If there ever was a horse that brought sheer joy and hysteria to a track and thrived on that crowd response it would be Turbulator,” it was written in The Washington Horse magazine in 1973.
Keep in mind that Turbulator managed to accomplish all that he did without racing at ages 2, 3 or 6.
After Turbulator was retired at the age of 9, he made public appearances at Longacres and Playfair for many years. The public saw him for the final time at Playfair on Sept. 30, 1989. As usual, he “thoroughly enjoyed the applause,” it was reported in the Spokesman-Review.
Turbulator died at the age of 24 on Nov. 7, 1989. According to the obituary in the Spokesman-Review, the cause of death was a heart attack.
Yes, coming up on June 7, it will have been half a century since Turbulator raced for the first time at Coeur d’Alene. And if you were one of those who ever saw him unleash that extraordinary burst of speed that produced a total of 21 victories, odds are that you will never, ever forget him.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 332 Bricks and Mortar (27)
2. 260 McKinzie (5)
3. 180 Mitole
4. 175 Midnight Bisou
5. 179 Gift Box
6. 143 World of Trouble
7. 131 Catholic Boy (1)
8. 84 Vino Rosso
9. 71 Monomoy Girl
10 67 Thunder Snow (1)
Here is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top 3-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 322 War of Will (16)
2. 321 Maximum Security (14)
3. 261 Omaha Beach (5)
4. 225 Country House
5. 195 Tacitus
6. 188 Code of Honor
7. 116 Game Winner
8. 71 Serengeti Empress
9. 46 Improbable
9. 46 Owendale