by Bob Gates with George Williams photos
The Downs' historic 60th Season of thoroughbred racing winds up this Sunday, September 10 and what a year! I've been doing these blog stories for the past six seasons of live racing and after 100 plus stories from our illustrious past, I wanted to do something special as we say so long to the 2017 season.
After tossing around scads of ideas I chose a memory that goes all the way back to the 58th running of the Gold Cup in 2014. Some history guy eh? With almost 100 years of horse racing under our belt, I travel back in time a whole three years! Wow, you gotta be impressed with that, Not!
Those of us who were lucky enough to be there that Saturday night on September 13, 2014, were treated to race that was a classic. Need a little help remembering the combatants?
Magic D 'Oro and Balooga Bull raced against each other in only one season, but what a season. Their rivalry in 2014 was one for the ages. Magic was a 4-year-old who had beaten perennial fan favourite 5-year-old Balooga Bull twice in June, once in the Free Press Stakes and again in an allowance race. In July and August the Bull turned the tables, beating Magic in the Wheat City Stakes and then again in the Speers.
The 2014 Gold Cup was to be the rubber match. By the slimmest of margins, Magic was the race favourite. In 2016, I spoke with Bull's jockey, Paul Nolan about the Gold Cup race, and well… let's have Paul tell the story of the events as they unfolded that Saturday in September 2014.
"I always knew that when I was on the Bull and another horse tried to set fast fractions, that the Bull could do them and keep going. But could they? Usually not.
"That night I went out to front as per usual, but Magic went by me at the eighth pole as we passed the stands for the first time. I switched off the rail and sat just off Magic. I knew we were rocking, but I respected Magic and didn’t want him to get an easy lead. Just before the three-eighths pole Bull decided he wanted to go. He grabbed the bit and set for home. I didn't want to go, but I didn’t have much choice. The Bull didn't want to get beat.
"I've had good horses before, but my relationship with the him was different because I was also his exercise rider for three years."
The fractions for the 1 1/8-mile stake were suicidal :22 2/5, :46 2/5, 1:10 3/5, 1:36 4/5, 1:51. At the top of the stretch, the Bull had a one length lead on Magic who in turn was 12 lengths ahead of their closest rival. Bull opened up as he passed the 1/8 pole and "held well" to win by 3 1/2-lengths.
It was as fine a race as you were ever going to see at our local oval and goes to show that not every "great" race or significant event happened 40 or 50 years ago.
The Bull never ran at the Downs after the 2014 season. After a lackluster meet in the desert in 2015, he was retired to Ardell Sayler's farm in South Dakota where he is living out his retirement today.
Fate wasn't as kind to Magic. During a race on June 1, 2016 the 1,100 pound giant's heart gave way. His trainer, Tanya Lindsay, took the loss hard, cried for days and at the time lamented "He was my everything, and now he's gone."
It's hard to believe that a heart so big would ever stop beating. R.I.P. Magic…
Paul Nolan was injured while galloping out after a race at Will Rogers Downs this past April. Paul's 100 pound frame was no match for the half-ton of horse that fell on him. Paul's spinal chord was neither severed nor broken, but severe swelling left him paralyzed. Reports indicate that his rehab is going well and recently he has started to walk again.
I'm done for this year, but be sure to check out the Insider each week during the off-season, as we will be running the "Best of Bob" featuring blog stories from the past six years. So, like they say in the cartoons,"That's all folks!"
Thank you so very much for reading and we'll see you next year!