by Jon White
May 13, 2020
In light of the recent announcement that Wise Dan has been elected to the Hall of Fame, this seems a good time to revisit my list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America. Wise Dan is on the list.
My Top 100, which is updated from time to time, was inspired by BloodHorse magazine’s ranking of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century that was announced in 1999. A distinguished group participated in the formulation of the BloodHorse’s list. The panel consisted of racing secretary Howard Battle, racing secretary Lenny Hale, writer Jay Hovdey, writer William Nack, steward Pete Pedersen, writer Jennie Rees and racing secretary Tommy Trotter.
My Top 100 goes beyond the BloodHorse’s list in that I include horses to have raced in this century. Updating my Top 100 has become increasing difficult because of having to make room for horses to have raced in this century, such as Triple Crown winners American Pharoah (No. 15) and Justify (No. 25).
I have Wise Dan ranked No. 83. The Kentucky-bred Wiseman’s Ferry gelding, trained by Charles LoPresti, won 23 of 31 lifetime starts and earned $7,552,920. Wise Dan was voted Horse of the Year in 2012 and 2013. Morton Fink, who died last November, bred and raced Wise Dan.
From time to time, I contemplate tweaking my Top 100. For example, I often think to myself that I have Seattle Slew too low at No. 8. But each time I then take another look at the seven horses ranked higher than him, I realize why my Top 10 is exactly the way that I have it.
I have Dr. Fager ranked at No. 7. One of the reasons I don’t have Seattle Slew higher than No. 8 is, as great as he was, he never ran a race as good as Dr. Fager’s victory in the 1968 Arlington Handicap. You can watch that sensational performance by Dr. Fager on YouTube. Here is the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wVBNbmcaAE
Dr. Fager packed 134 pounds that day. Going into the far turn, he was only about a neck in front. Even though jockey Braulio Baeza had Dr. Fager under wraps during the last portion of the race, they won by 10 lengths. Dr. Fager completed one mile in 1:32 1/5 to chop two-fifths of a second off Buckpasser’s world record.
Popular Arlington track announcer Phil Georgeff called that win by Dr. Fager. If you do watch the YouTube video, after Dr. Fager is galloping out after the finish line, you can hear Georgeff say, in almost a whisper, “Wow…This is a racehorse.”
In 2006, when Baeza was visiting Santa Anita, I asked him what he remembered about Dr. Fager.
“He was a great horse, a very competitive horse,” Baeza said. “He didn’t want to see any horses in front of him. He was a very energetic horse. He was a little bit hard to control. But he could punch a hole in the wind. I don’t know if any horse could ever have beaten him up to a mile. His speed was very deceiving because he had such a smooth stride.”
The highly respected John Nerud trained Dr. Fager, whose 1968 campaign was truly one for the ages. As Charles Hatton wrote in the American Racing Manual, Dr. Fager in 1968 “was appropriately awarded Horse of the Year honors, which is the ultimate accolade, and excelled in more departments” while earning “more titles than any horse since the Daily Racing Form and The Morning Telegraph poll was instituted in 1936. Dr. Fager set and tied records from seven furlongs to 1 1/4 miles, slashing the world mile mark to 1:32 1/5 en route.”
Dr. Fager never carried less than 130 pounds in his eight 1968 starts. I think it’s safe to say that is something we shall never see again. In his final start of the year and his career, Dr. Fager transported a whopping 139 pounds and won Aqueduct’s Vosburgh Handicap by six lengths. Left in his wake was no less a quality sprinter than Kissin’ George.
In 1968, in addition to Dr. Fager’s Horse of the Year title, he was voted champion older male, champion sprinter and champion grass horse.
No, I just can’t put Seattle Slew higher than Dr. Fager on my Top 100. I had a thought the other day. What about moving both Dr. Fager and Seattle Slew up a notch and dropping Native Dancer to No. 8? But when I then refreshed my memory as to Native Dancer’s career, I was immediately reminded as to why I have Native Dancer at No. 6 and ranked higher than Dr. Fager and Seattle Slew.
If not for a narrow defeat when he had a troubled trip in the 1953 Kentucky Derby, Native Dancer would have been a Triple Crown winner and 22 for 22 in his racing career.
No, I am not going to move Native Dancer down from No. 6.
Man o’ War topped BloodHorse’s Top 100. He also is No. 1 on my Top 100.
And it was 100 years ago this week that Man o’ War kicked off his 3-year-old campaign by winning the Preakness Stakes. He had been held out of the Kentucky Derby by Samuel Riddle because the owner felt the 1 1/4-mile race was too long and too early in the year for a 3-year-old. Riddle later changed his mind and won the Triple Crown in 1937 with War Admiral.
I have no doubt whatsoever that Man o’ War would have been a Triple Crown winner if Riddle had allowed him to start in the Kentucky Derby. In addition to his Preakness triumph, Man o’ War won the Belmont Stakes by 20 lengths.
Man o’ War won all 11 of his races as a 3-year-old. These were his record-breaking performances at 3:
--On May 29 in the Withers Stakes, he broke the American record for one mile by two-fifths of a second.
--On June 12 in the Belmont Stakes, he broke the world record for a mile and three-eighths by 2 3/5 seconds. This stood as the fastest 1 3/8 miles run on dirt in America for 71 years.
--On July 10 in the Dwyer Stakes, he broke the world record for 1 1/8 miles by a fifth of a second.
--On Aug. 21 in the Travers Stakes, he tied the track record for 1 1/4 miles.
--On Sept. 4 in the Lawrence Realization Stakes, which he won by 100 lengths, he broke the world record for 1 5/8 miles by 1 3/5 seconds. This stood as the world record for 36 years until Swaps finally broke it.
--On Sept. 11 in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, he broke the American record for 1 1/2 miles by four-fifths of a second.
--On Sept. 18 in the Potomac Handicap, he won despite carrying 138 pounds and broke the track record for 1 1/16 miles by a fifth of a second.
--On Oct. 12, in the final start of his career, he defeated Triple Crown winner Sir Barton in a match race by seven lengths at Kenilworth Park in Canada. Man o’ War broke the track record for 1 1/4 miles by 6 2/5 seconds. No, that’s not a typo. He actually broke a track record by over six seconds or by more than 30 lengths!
Below is my up-to-date list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th and 21st Centuries to have raced in North America (in parentheses, when applicable, is where the horse ranked on The Blood-Horse’s list of the Top 100 Racehorses of the 20th Century):
1. Man o’ War (1)
2. Secretariat* (2)
3. Citation* (3)
4. Kelso (4)
5. Spectacular Bid (10)
6. Native Dancer (7)
7. Dr. Fager (6)
8. Seattle Slew* (9)
9. Count Fleet* (5)
10. Affirmed* (12)
11. Ruffian (35)
12. Swaps (20)
13. Phar Lap (22)
14. Forego (8)
15. American Pharoah*
16. Buckpasser (14)
17. Damascus (16)
18. Round Table (17)
19. Seabiscuit (25)
20. War Admiral* (13)
21. Tom Fool (11)
22. Colin (15)
23. John Henry (23)
26. Regret (71)
27. Exterminator (29)
28. Whirlaway* (26)
29. Cigar (18)
30. Sunday Silence (31)
31. Nashua (24)
32. Alydar (27)
33. Easy Goer (34)
36. Shared Belief
37. California Chrome
38. Gun Runner
39. Bold Ruler (19)
40. Equipoise (21)
41. Gallant Fox* (28)
42. Sysonby (30)
43. Gallant Man (36)
44. Assault* (33)
45. Armed (39)
46. Sir Barton* (49)
47. Omaha* (61)
48. Discovery (37)
49. Northern Dancer (43)
50. Ack Ack (44)
51. Majestic Prince (46)
52. Arts and Letters (67)
53. Alysheba (42)
54. Personal Ensign (48)
55. Pan Zareta
57. Rachel Alexandra
58. Stymie (41)
59. Challedon (38)
60. Busher (40)
61. Gallorette (45)
62. All Along (68)
63. Coaltown (47)
64. Sword Dancer (53)
65. Noor (69)
66. Grey Lag (54)
67. Devil Diver (55)
68. Dahlia (50)
69. Zev (56)
70. Native Diver (60)
71. Twilight Tear (59)
72. Riva Ridge (57)
73. Ta Wee (80)
74. Shuvee (70)
75. Holy Bull (64)
78. Twenty Grand (52)
80. Skip Away (32)
81. Alsab (65)
82. Point Given
83. Wise Dan
85. Lady’s Secret (76)
87. Smarty Jones
88. Susan’s Girl (51)
89. Genuine Risk (91)
90. Rags to Riches
92. Go for Wand (72)
93. Cicada (62)
94. Silver Charm (63)
95. Bald Eagle (74)
96. Slew o’ Gold (58)
97. Hill Prince (75)
99. Johnstown (73)
100. Exceller (96)
*Triple Crown winner
WORTHY HALL OF FAMERS SNUBBED
Wise Dan was the only racehorse and Mark Casse the lone trainer elected to the Hall of Fame this year in the contemporary category. I voted for both.
I also voted for three others who I believe should have been welcomed into the Hall of Fame this year. In my view, it’s just plain wrong that not enough of the other 166 Hall of Fame voters marked their ballots “yes” for Corey Nakatani, Kona Gold and, as I wrote last week, Rags to Riches.
Corey Nakatani, who last Nov. 23 announced he had retired as a jockey, won 10 Breeders’ Cup races during a career spanning almost 30 years.
With 134 stakes wins at Santa Anita, Nakatani ranks eighth on the track’s all-time list. All seven jockeys above Nakatani on the list are in the Hall of Fame (Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay Jr., Chris McCarron, Gary Stevens, Eddie Delahoussaye, Alex Solis and Kent Desormeaux).
Nakatani won more stakes races at Santa Anita than such other Santa Anita regulars and Hall of Fame members as Victor Espinoza, Garrett Gomez, Don Pierce, Mike Smith, John Longden, Sandy Hawley and Darrel McHargue.
McHargue was selected this year for Hall of Fame induction this year by the historic review committee.
Nakatani deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, as does Kona Gold, one of the best sprinters of our era.
Masterfully trained by Bruce Headley, Kona Gold had the sustained excellence to start in five Breeders’ Cup Sprints, winning the 2000 renewal. The Java Gold gelding was voted a 2000 Eclipse Award as champion sprinter. Kona Gold earned $2,293,384, an especially large sum considering purses in stakes races for sprinters generally are considerably smaller than for longer stakes.
Rags to Riches in 2007 became the first filly to win the Belmont Stakes in 102 years when she defeated future Hall of Famer Curlin in an epic renewal of the 1 1/2-mile classic. Rags to Riches is one of only four fillies to have won a Triple Crown race in the last 95 years, along with Hall of Famers Genuine Risk (1980 Kentucky Derby), Winning Colors (1988 Kentucky Derby) and Rachel Alexandra (2009 Preakness).
To Rags to Riches’ credit, even though she raced just seven times, she won more Grade I races (four) than Winning Colors (three) and Genuine Risk (two).
REMEMBERING TRAINER BOB MCMEANS
It was with sadness that I recently read that trainer Bob McMeans, a very successful trainer in the Pacific Northwest, died on April 6. He was 82.
In the 59-year history of Longacres, McMeans ranked third in number of stakes wins with 43. Only Glen Williams (57) and Bud Klokstad (54) had more stakes victories at the beautiful track near Seattle. McMeans managed to pile up all those stakes victories at Longacres despite never being close to having the largest stable.
McMeans trained Firesweeper, one of the finest fillies in Northwest racing history. Inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame in 2011, Firesweeper won 12 stakes races at Longacres, the all-time record there by a distaffer. Captain Condo, a gelding who became a huge local fan favorite, was the only other 12-time stakes winner in the history of Longacres.
At the inaugural running of the Breeders’ Cup at Hollywood Park in 1984, McMeans sent out multiple stakes winner Got You Runnin in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies. A young Gary Stevens rode the filly, who became the first Washington-bred to run in a Breeders’ Cup race.
Got You Runnin’s Breeders’ Cup was over almost as quickly as it began. Shortly after the start of the one-mile race around one turn, Titalating and Angel Cordero Jr. came over in front of Got You Runnin. Got You Runnin stumbled when she appeared to clip the heels of Titalating. Got You Runnin did recover to race in contention for the first half-mile, but then faltered and ended up last in the field of 11 at odds of 31-1.
Fran’s Valentine, off at odds of 74-1 and ridden by Pat Valenzuela, finished first in that inaugural BC Juvenile Fillies. But she was disqualified and placed 10th by stewards Pete Pedersen, Hubert Jones and Albert Shelhamer. The stewards ruled that Fran’s Valentine had interfered with Pirate’s Glow in upper stretch. Outstandingly, who was sent off at 22-1, was elevated to first.
I got to know McMeans well during the 1970s when I was a writer and chart-caller at Northwest tracks for the Daily Racing Form. He trained another multiple stakes winner in Flamme, who became one of my favorites. A 20-time winner during her career, Flamme was inducted into the Washington Racing Hall of Fame in 2016.
Flamme kicked off her 3-year-old campaign in a division of the Seafair Queen Stakes on May 3, 1978. That was the traditional opening-day feature at Longacres in those days.
“Flamme likes Longacres, which proves she is normal,” I wrote in the May 3 Seattle edition of the Daily Racing Form. “The exciting daughter of Drum Fire won three races here last summer, including the Broderick Memorial by eight lengths and the Mercer Girls Handicap by two lengths. Parenthetically, later on in the year at cozy Playfair, she punctuated her 2-year-old campaign by henpecking the boys in the Spokane Futurity, a race her dam, Jolly Pandora, won in 1970.”
One of the reasons I became smitten with Flamme is I was in the crowd at Playfair in 1970 the day Jolly Pandora won the Spokane Futurity.
“Wednesday’s Seafair Queen will mark Flamme’s first appearance under silks in 1978,” I wrote. “She can win this 5 1/2-furlong dash readily enough, if she runs her race. If she loses, we suppose it will be ascribed to her long absence from competition. But her pardonably proud trainer, Bob McMeans, advises that she has trained well for her sophomore debut.
“Railbirds, a flock of them, tell us the same thing. They have been watching the filly’s morning exercises with absorbed interest all spring long. They say she is certain to be ready. They also say she is certain to win. But the only thing certain in horseracing is its uncertainty.
“Flamme did show us some of her zip a couple of weeks ago at Yakima Meadows. Working between races in the afternoon with 143-pound exercise rider Donny Smith in the irons, the Wanapum Stable star stepped five furlongs in a sprightly :59 4/5, then galloped out six furlongs in 1:14 flat. Less than 30 minutes later, the stakes-placed sophomore Lew stopped the watch at :59 3/5 to win the sixth race over allowance company.”
How did Flamme do in her 1978 debut? This was what I wrote in the DRF:
“Flamme gave us another of her very moving exhibitions of poetry in motion last Wednesday when she utterly demolished her rivals in the second half of the Seafair Queen Stakes The 13,336 opening-day fans on hand saw an inspired performance by a wonderful filly. Flamme won at her leisure by nine increasing lengths. It was not a fluke, either. She paid $3.10. Actually, she won more like 1-20.
“The following morning in the backstretch cafe, trainer Bob McMeans reported to us that Flamme ‘came out of the race just fine. She couldn’t wait to get to her feed tub.’
“For the Seafair Queen, the track was fast. So was Flamme. She was timed in 1:03 3/5 for 5 1/2 furlongs to tie the stakes record set by Gold Afloat in 1965.
“Gary Baze rode Flamme. Baze said Thursday morning, ‘She can flat run. There’s not much more you can say. She’s probably the best filly I’ve been on so far. She does everything so easily.”
Donny Smith was Flamme’s regular exercise rider. Smith typically was aboard the filly in her workouts. Smith told me one morning in 1978 that Flamme had “the best acceleration” of any Thoroughbred he had seen in the Northwest since 1970 Washington-bred Horse of the Year Turbulator.
AN OUTSTANDING PERFORMANCE 50 YEARS AGO
Speaking of Turbulator, this Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of his record-breaking victory in the 1970 Yakima Mile.
After Turbulator won seven straight from six furlongs to two miles at Playfair during the late summer and autumn of 1969, I was convinced that he was unbeatable. But when he lost his first two starts of 1970 during the Yakima spring meet, my confidence in him was shaken.
My confidence in Turbulator was restored after he won the 1970 Yakima Mile with ridiculous ease by 3 3/4 lengths in record time. Larry Pierce flew up from Golden Gate Fields to ride Turbulator that day.
Despite being far from all out in the Yakima Mile, Turbulator posted a final time of 1:35 1/5 and shaved four-fifths of a second off the track record. How terrific was his performance? That track record stood for 23 years until it was finally broken by Slew of Damascus. Slew of Damascus would go on to win multiple graded stakes races in California, including the Grade I Hollywood Gold Cup at Hollywood Park in 1994.
Turbulator’s win in the 1970 Yakima Mile served as a harbinger of stakes victories to come. A descendant of the aforementioned Man o’ War and War Admiral, Turbulator won seven stakes races in 1970 while becoming without question the most popular horse to ever race in that part of the country.
“Zoom” is a word often heard these days. Many people have been communicating via a video conferencing service called Zoom. And zoom is exactly what Turbulator did down the stretch on a warm August afternoon in 1970 at Longacres when he came from 12 lengths off the pace to win the Governor’s Handicap by a half-length. He zoomed his way to a world record that day.
MY KENTUCKY DERBY TOP 10
Here is my current Top 10 for the Sept. 5 Kentucky Derby:
3. Tiz the Law
5. Honor A.P.
7. King Guillermo
8. Sole Volente
9. Ete Indien
THIS WEEK’S NTRA POLLS
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 385 Midnight Bisou (29)
2. 313 Mucho Gusto
3. 290 By My Standards (2)
4. 200 Zulu Alpha (1)
5. 187 Ce Ce
6. 144 Tom’s d’Etat (1)
7. 119 Maximum Security (7)
8. 91 Whitmore
9. 85 Mr Freeze
10. 49 Code of Honor
10. 49 Whitmore
Below is the Top 10 for this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 375 Nadal (19)
2. 362 Tiz the Law (18)
3. 327 Charlatan (2)
4. 286 Authentic (1)
5. 187 King Guillermo
6. 152 Honor A.P.
7. 112 Sole Volante
8. 105 Ete Indien
9. 71 Maxfield
10. 58 Basin