by Bob Gates
Who knew? This year's running of the R. J. Speers on August 17 marks the 50th anniversary of Gary Danelson and Cosmic Tip's win in the Speers in 1966.
There may be a few veterans that recall the name Cosmic Tip, but even they probably aren't familiar with the background of one of the finest stakes horses to ever look through a bridle at Assiniboia Downs.
Danelson's bay stallion was of average height, standing just a hair over 15 hands, but he was well put together and of superior build. The late John Sifton, no stranger to the breeding of racehorses, said Cosmic Tip was "the best thoroughbred ever put on the Downs racing strip."
A grandson of Princequillo, Cosmic Tip was sired by Tipoquill out of the good mare Cosmic Victory. Early in his career "Tip" raced against the best in Ohio and Michigan, and was also considered the top three-year-old in Arkansas. He was a half brother to stakes winner Orbiter, and at three, he beat the famous Gun Bow.
As good as he was Cosmic Tip was a victim of being run too hard, too often, too early. By the age of four he had already made 40 of his 58 lifetime starts.
Following a respectful but not overly flashy 2-year-old season, which saw him win five of 13 starts, Cosmic Tip really found his stride in 1963. He won the Arkansas Derby, albeit by disqualification, when he was fouled by Moral Suasion in the drive for the wire. At three he also won the Illinois Derby Trial, only to finish third in the Derby. And at four he won the July 4th Stakes at Hazel Park.
Early in 1965 Cosmic Tip broke down at Oaklawn Park. Gary's Dad Henry purchased the stallion for $4,200 in a sale at Keeneland. In addition to his classy past, Cosmic Tip brought with him some fragile, war-torn legs. He was bowed in his left foreleg and had suspensory trouble in the other fore.
Most horsemen would have considered these ailments a deal breaker, but not the young Gary Danelson. Battle-scarred, quality thoroughbreds would become his specialty. His secret? Time away from the track, daily rubs with a Danelson potion and patience, plenty of patience.
I'm not sure that Danelson gets enough credit for not rushing a horse back to the races. You know the ones. They have previously suffered under owners who didn't possess the knowledge or desire to care for a runner with leg issues.
Cosmic Tip disappeared from the world of racing for almost two years. You had a better chance of seeing his picture on the side of a milk carton than you did in the Daily Racing Form. His racing debut in Danelson's bright red colours would come in the 1966 Thief River Falls Handicap at the Downs.
There's an old saying that you should never bet against a well-bred horse. When will we ever learn?
Danelson's 6-year-old bay went off as the fourth choice in the betting and won for fun, paying $14.30, $5.90 and $3.50 across the board. Next up in Cosmic Tip's return to the races? The prestigious R. James Speers Memorial Handicap.
In the 8th renewal of the Speers, Cosmic Tip faced F. M. Arthur's Nagnac, Karl Flaman's General Prefect, Captain Stanley Harrison's Elan Vital and Jack Hardy's Mays Relic and a couple of others. Talk about names from the past.
The race was made even more challenging by morning-long rains that created a muddy track. Even with his tender and at times suspect legs, Cosmic Tip had shown an ability to run well on an off track, and run well he did!
Danelson's new and improved Cosmic Tip liked to come from off the pace and the Speers would be no exception. The challenge he faced was carrying 120 pounds including Roger Jensen, as well as another 10 pounds or so of mud that he would no doubt be covered with come the finish line. But race favorite Cosmic Tip prevailed, winning by three-quarters of a length.
That summer, he added another stakes victory, his third in a row, in the Winnipeg Tribune Handicap. He also took a shot at the Downs' hallowed Gold Cup later that summer, but the impost of 127 pounds proved too much and he finished a disappointing fifth.
I've told you all about his ability on the track, but what about his demeanor?
You've all heard about stallions who are well-behaved and gentle as could be, right? That was NOT Cosmic Tip. Danelson said that Tip was a tough as nails, miserable son-of-gun. He was so mean and aggressive that Danelson had to pony him to the gate. As a result, he seldom got a good view of any of his races.
Danelson told the story of how he got trapped between Cosmic Tip and his Appaloosa pony. Tip grabbed the pony by the neck and the pony bit the closest thing he could reach which happened to be Gary's back. Good thing it was cool that day, as the pony only had a hold of Gary's heavy jacket, but what ensued was comical.
The pony picked Danelson up off the ground and twirled him around, with his arms and legs flailing like he was in a washing machine. This "Whiskey, Tango, Fox Trot" moment lasted until someone was finally able to separate Cosmic Tip from the Appaloosa, who in turn dropped Danelson rather unceremoniously on the ground.
The 1967 season didn't work out so well for Danelson and his horse. He was late with his Downs' stall application and once it was received all stalls had already been allocated. Remember those days?
By 1968 Cosmic Tip was starting to show some wear and tear. He won only one of his five starts that year. By 1969 the writing was on the wall for the banged-up, aging veteran, whose best days were now behind him. He eventually found himself running in lower level claiming races and then it happened.
Wayne Gribble took Cosmic Tip for his $1,500 claiming price. Gribble then gave Tip to Robert Magee who used him as a stud. Danelson had tried Tip previously as a stallion and found that he never really sired any offspring that amounted to much.
Magee stood Cosmic Tip for five years before having to put him down in 1980 at 20 years of age.
Flash forward to 2016 and lo and behold Gary has Al Johnson's Derby horse, Power Driven, in this year's Speers. Has he got a shot? Sure he does, and the Speers is a race that Danelson knows how to win. Gary Danelson and Jack Robertson hold the winningest records in the Speers, each having won the race five times.
August is a special month for Danelson. Not only is it the 50th anniversary of Cosmic Tip's win in the Speers, but on August 28 he celebrates his 79th birthday. Happy Birthday Gary!
It's funny that it may be the 57th running of the Speers but not all that much has changed. What's old is new again. Fifty years ago Danelson won his first Speers and this year he's looking for win number six. We'll just have to wait and see if Power Driven has the stuff that made Cosmic Tip a champion.
If the truth be told, I am a hopeless romantic and a lover of fairytale endings. Isn't it nice to think that the grandson of Princequillo is watching from a pasture in the great beyond, his legs now healed and his health renewed…
rooting for his old friend, the man from Scobey, Montana.