Louisville Magazine

APR 2012

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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Te no-heart knock on Alysheba continued when he finished second in Santa Anita's Grade I San Felipe on March 22 in his second start at age three. Again it appeared he would win, but he lugged in nearing the wire and lost his momen- tum. He also lost his jockey, Pat Day, who decided he had a better chance to win his first Derby aboard Demons Begone. Te mystery of Alysheba's lackluster finishes was revealed when Van Berg had him scoped after the San Felipe and a breathing problem was discovered — an entrapped epiglottis. Tat is, the flap of cartilage behind his tongue became swollen when the colt was under stress, cutting off his oxygen supply. No wonder he had not been sustaining his runs. A simple laparoscopic throat operation was performed two days later, and Alysheba was shipped to Keeneland to use the April 23 Blue Grass Stakes as his final Derby prep. With a new jockey, Chris McCarron, who had returned from a badly broken leg just one month previously, Alysheba won, although he was disqualified for impeding a challenger in the stretch and was placed third. But that race cleared up the notion that the horse lacked heart. Nine days later, Alysheba showed the world his heart in the homestretch of the Kentucky Derby. Having passed 11 horses on the far turn, he was second turning for home and gaining on the leader, Bet Twice, with every stride. Suddenly, at the 3/16ths pole, Bet Twice veered out, directly in front of Alysheba, who clipped Bet Twice's heels. Alysheba's right knee buckled, and his nose came within inches of the ground as McCarron was catapulted out of the saddle and onto Alysheba's neck. "I thought I was a goner," the rider later said. Alysheba could have packed it in right there, but he righted himself — "It was all him," McCarron said. "I was just trying to hang on" — and renewed the chase. Inside the eighth pole Bet Twice veered out again, but Alysheba saw it coming this time and swung around, sweeping to a ¾-length victory. "Willard Proctor (a veteran trainer) said [68] LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 4.12 www.helpkosairchildrenshospital.com it best," Van Berg told me. "'Most horses who are going a mile and a quarter want to find a place to lie down at the eighth pole. Alysheba laid down at the eighth pole, then got back up and won the race.'" It was an emotional scene on the victory stand, especially for Van Berg, who had won more races than any trainer in history (almost 5,000), including the most wins at Churchill, but had had just four previous Derby starters, his best finish a fourth in 1984. "I got all choked up," Van Berg admitted after- ward. "I couldn't even talk on TV, and I've never been speechless before." Alysheba, who went on to win the Preakness but failed in his Triple Crown bid when he ran fourth in the Belmont, capped his three-year-old season with one of the great races in modern times. He and 1986 Derby winner Ferdinand hit the wire together in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Hollywood Park — so close that even the jockeys, McCarron and Bill Shoemaker, didn't know who had won. It was Ferdi- nand by a whisker. Van Berg brought Alysheba back at age four with the goal of touring the country with him. It was a tour de force. Campaign- ing from coast to coast, Alysheba won seven of nine races, five of the wins in Grade I stakes, set three track records and became the first horse ever to run 1¼ miles in under two minutes three times in a calendar year. He also beat Ferdinand three times, and he became known as "America's horse." He was a star, and he acted it. Fans would cheer him when he took the track, and he would kick up his heels every time they did so. He capped his career with a scintillating victory in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Clas- sic at Churchill Downs, then was retired with earnings of $6,679,242, the most all- time, although Van Berg badly wanted to campaign him at age five. "He was as sound as he could be," Van Berg said. "He didn't have a pimple on him." Churchill Downs held a retirement cere- mony for Alysheba a week later. Wearing a blanket that said, "Goodbye. I love my fans. Tank you. Alysheba," he paraded up and down the homestretch to the delight of a cheering crowd. He kicked up his heels 16 times. Alysheba's stud career was not a success, and in February 2000 he was sold to King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia for stud duty there. Te king returned him as a gift to the American people in October 2008, and he took up residence at the Kentucky Horse Park. At age 24, he was the oldest living Derby winner. He was put down on March 22, 2009, due to a degenerative spinal condition and is buried at the park, directly across from the grave of John Henry. "He was just a great, great horse," Van Berg said. "We never got to see the best of him." Q

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