A little racing love

In a lovely bit of romantic whimsy, NYRA has scheduled the Dearly Precious for Valentine’s Day this year. Though the bay filly has a pedigree that suggests romance (out of Imsodear), it was her performance on the racetrack that really set hearts racing.

En route to being named champion two year old filly of 1975, Dearly Precious broke her maiden in her second start at Aqueduct and then reeled off seven consecutive stakes victories at five racetracks, including the Grade I Sorority at Monmouth and the Grade I Spinaway at Saratoga.

As a three year old, Dearly Precious resumed her winning ways, taking the Flirtation (how great is that? Dearly Precious won the Flirtation!) at Pimlico by twelve lengths and the Prioress at Belmont by two, stretching her winning streak to ten races, nine of them in stakes. Jockey Braulio Baeza was aboard in the Prioress, the first time that he’d ridden her since her first start. Her nine previous wins had been under Michael Hole, but the week before the Prioress, Hole was found dead in his car, and he was buried the day before the race (“Dearly Precious Wins“) (subscription/payment unfortunately required for both Strauss articles).

Dearly Precious’s winning streak ended with this victory in the Prioress; she lost by half a length and a nose respectively in her next two starts, the Comely (won by Allen Jerkens’s Tell It All—yet another upset by the Chief) and the Black-Eyed Susan. A week after the latter defeat, Dearly Precious returned to the winner’s circle in the Grade 1 Acorn, accompanied by yet another tale of jockey intrigue.

Dearly Precious’ victory was unavoidably interwoven with a strange thing that happened—or didn’t happen—at Belmont Park that day. Braulio Baeza, the second leading money-winner of all time ($35 million in purses) and Optimistic Gal’s regular jockey, failed to arrive for work. During a remarkable 15-year riding career, the Panamanian had forged a reputation for reliability and decorum, silence and politeness. He was so proper and prompt that people around racetracks swore they could set their watches by him. But Baeza neither showed up for the Acorn nor sent excuses: as strange an occurrence as Pete Rose missing the seventh game of a World Series. (Leggett—free!)

Jorge Velasquez had ridden Dearly Precious in the Black-Eyed Susan and retained the mount in the Acorn, while Baeza was scheduled to ride Optimistic Gal, who had lost only twice in her life, when she was second to Dearly Precious in the Sorority and the Spinaway the previous year. In the face of Baeza’s defection, which Leggett discusses in the context of the jockey’s recent weight problems and injury, Optimistic Gal’s trainer LeRoy Jolly turned to Pat Day, described as “a decent enough young rider…totally unfamiliar with the filly” (Leggett).

Leggett also pointed out that Optimistic Gal was expected to exact a little revenge on her rival that day; as Dearly Precious had never won beyond six furlongs, it was thought that the Acorn’s distance of a mile would be beyond her prodigious talents. Dearly Precious, however, was having none of it:

But last Saturday, with a lot of people paying attention, the analysis proved wrong. The outcome was the same. Dearly Precious beat Optimistic Gal by 2 ¼ lengths, coming through the stretch in her distinctive fashion, her legs swinging out like a swimmer’s arms reaching for water ahead and her demeanor that of a woman who knows she looks good but wants someone to tell her so. (Leggett)

Poor Leggett—as if the talented and accomplished Dearly Precious gave a damn about what others thought of her!

After getting beaten by twenty-two lengths in the Mother Goose two weeks after the Acorn, Dearly Precious made her final start in July in the Dark Mirage. She won by two and a half but was pulled up, having suffered a bowed tendon in the running of the race. Her final record was twelve wins and two seconds from sixteen starts.

Though vets suggested after the race that Dearly Precious might make it back to the racetrack, her owner had other ideas:

[Owner R.E.] Bailey, an advertising man from Colt’s Neck, N.J., was so shaken up by the incident that he left the winner’s circle weeping after accepting the trophy from Telly Savalas, the television star.

“This filly has been a great one and I’ve held her in great affection,” Bailey said. “As far as I’m concerned—right now I’ll never let her race again. I don’t like to see her hurt.” (“Star Filly Is Injured”)

On Valentine’s Day—or any other—who wouldn’t want that kind of love?

Thanks to NYRA for producing this terrific video about Dearly Precious with Richard Migliore.

Leggett, William. “Little Man Wasn’t There.” Sports Illustrated Vault. 31 May 1976. 12 Feb 2009.

Strauss, Michael. “Dearly Precious Wins 10th in Row.” New York Times. 27 April 1976. 12 Feb 2009.

Strauss, Michael. “Star Filly Is Injured at Aqueduct.New York Times. 12 July 1976. 12 Feb 2009.

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