It’s tempting this morning, the day of the Dwyer Stakes for three-year-olds at Belmont, to hearken back to the epic 1920 running of the race, in which John P. Grier challenged Man O’ War for the lead, headed him at the eighth pole, and eventually gave way in what the New York Times then called “a smashing race viewed from any angle.” It’s a signature race in New York history, and one that honors Phil and Mike Dwyer, essential elements in the establishment of racing in New York and New Jersey.
But I’m going to jump ahead in the century to look at the 1986 winner of the Dwyer. Ogygian won two of three starts as a two-year-old, including the Belmont Futurity, but began a pattern of injury that would plague him throughout his short career. After winning his first start in June 1985, he was out for three months with bucked shins; he came back to win the Futurity, but re-injured his shins and didn’t race again until the following year.
In 1986, the colt raced regularly, losing his comeback race but going on to win the Riva Ridge and Dwyer Stakes at Belmont that summer. He was then pointed to the Jim Dandy and Travers, but his trainer, John Nerud, scratched him from both because of his belief that the speedy horse couldn’t run his race over a wet track; both the Jim Dandy and the Travers came up wet, and the horse lost training time that summer because of the rain.
By this time, Ogygian had established both a major fan base and a skeptical one. Steven Crist articles from the summer of 1986 present both points of view:
Imagine a small child waiting 10 months for the circus to come to town. The big
day finally arrives, but the lions and tigers have fleas, the star trapeze
artist has a bellyache, and storms are threatening to blow down the big top and
cancel the show. The child breaks into tears. That is how the Ogygian fan club
was feeling yesterday on the eve of the Travers Stakes at Saratoga race track.
All the indecision and broken plans surrounding Ogygian, who has missed
virtually every important race he has been pointed for during his career, have
yielded the popular impression that he is something of a fraud. In fact, he has
yet to do anything wrong and has yet to lose a stakes race. With the possible
exception of the injured Snow Chief, he is clearly the fastest 3-year-old in the
country, and this is the time of year when 3-year-olds can suddenly blossom.
Ogygian’s best races could still be in front of him. (September 12th)
Having missed the Travers, Ogygian won the Jerome on September 2nd at Belmont, but lost the Pegasus Handicap at the Meadowlands less than two weeks later; by the end of the month, it was announced that he’d be out for the year, and when he lost his first race of 1987, in April, he was retired to stud in May.
That story is quite enough; even his short career would have given Ogygian a place, if a wistful one, in racing history. But what happened next brought Ogygian a whole new generation of fans, including this one.
According to Pedigree Query, Ogygian stood at Claiborne in Kentucky until 1995, when he was sent to stud in Japan. Michael Blowen, president of Old Friends, a Kentucky farm for retired Thoroughbreds, says that Ogygian had “fallen out of favor as a stud” (The Blood-Horse), and a July 2005 article in The Blood-Horse reported that Blowen worked with Megumi Iragashi at Narvick International Japan to bring Ogygian back to the United States. According to the article, Blowen said, “I don’t know what farm he was at in Japan, but [Iragashi] informed us to get him off that farm as soon as possible.” Ogygian came back to the United States with Fraise, winner of the 1992 Breeders’ Cup Turf; Fraise’s former owner, Madeline Paulson, donated $65,000 to bring both horses home.
A January 2006 Thoroughbred Times story posted on the Old Friends website tells us that Ogygian arrived at Old Friends missing an eye and with abscesses on all four feet; following medical treatment provided by Old Friends to remove the abscesses and what was left of the eye, Ogygian made a full recovery.
I visited Old Friends last March and wrote about it here. At the ripe old age of 25, the former racing star is now a contented, healthy retiree, with a paddock of his own and a caretaker, in Blowen, devoted to him. He is friendly to strangers and playful, but don’t show up without a treat, or he might walk away dismissively. As Steve Crist pointed out, he attracted and disappointed legions of fans when he was a racehorse; these days, he’s not hearing much applause, but the fans are still there, and no one who visits him is disappointed.
Old Friends operates on donations and there are a number of ways to help, from making a donation to volunteering your time to making purchases at the Old Friends gift and bookshop. I know that this is going to sound horribly sentimental, but the folks at Belmont today, watching the three-year-olds go in the Dwyer, aren’t giving much thought to where these colts will be in twenty-two years. Ogygian reminds us why we should.