This blasted flu that has kept me home from work all week is also, in all likelihood, going to keep me away from the Big A and the Gotham today. I’m hoping for some sort of miracle rally, but reports of the first big New York race of 2009 are probably, maddeningly, going to come second-hand. So in an attempt to rise above the flu-induced melancholy, here’s a quick look back at the 1989 Gotham, with first-hand accounts from those who were there.
The race took place over Aqueduct’s main track on April 8th, much later than it currently does, reflecting a more rigorous race schedule than this year’s Derby contenders will experience. The Wood was run two weeks later, on the 22nd, and the Derby two weeks after that. Easy Goer ran in all three, followed by the Preakness and the Belmont: five tough races in two months.
Demmi Stathopolos for Sports Illustrated described Easy Goer before the race:
The hot favorite for the Kentucky Derby looked every inch the star as he was led into the paddock at Aqueduct racetrack last weekend just before the 37th running of the Gotham Stakes. Easy Goer kicked his heels in the air a couple of times, rolled his eyes and danced down the ramp leading to the saddling enclosure. It was show time, and the son of Alydar was on the muscle, ready to dazzle the tough New York audience.
A few minutes later, this equine showman had set a new stakes record (1:32 2/5), breaking the mark set by Secretariat, and coming within a fifth of a second of the world record.
On the same day, across the country, another three-year-old began his collision course with New York’s favorite Derby prospect; Sunday Silence beat D. Wayne Lukas’s favored Houston (“The only colt who had appeared to be in [Easy Goer’s] league this season,” according to Steve Crist in the New York Times. Sunday who?), who came back to be unsaddled amid a chorus of boos.
Such an unappreciative audience, however, is nothing new to Sunday Silence, a colt once so ugly that nobody wanted him. As a yearling, this son of Halo had some notable defects in conformation: He was knock-kneed and “weedy”—horse lingo for scrawny. Twice he was taken to public auction, but there was so little interest in him that his principal owner, Arthur Hancock, bought back the horse both times. On the way home from the second auction, the driver of the colt’s van had a fatal heart attack while on the road. The van overturned, and a shaken Sunday Silence had to spend two weeks recovering at a clinic in Oklahoma. But when he finally got to the races last October, the ugly horse started to look darn good. (Stathopolos)
Even with Sunday Silence’s victory in California, Easy Goer was the unchallenged star of the day; in discussing the California race, Crist mentions only Houston’s loss—he never mentions Sunday Silence’s name.
In the Blood-Horse, Bill Finley wrote
In an effort so brilliant and stunning it will never be forgotten by anyone fortunate enough to witness it, Easy Goer went beyond mere brilliance, winning Aqueduct’s Gotham Stakes (gr. II) in 1:32 2/5, only one-fifth of a second slower than Dr. Fager’s world record for a mile and a full second faster than Triple Crown winner Secretariat’s stakes record…Easy Goer did it so effortlessly that he appeared capable of running far faster, a startling thought considering he is a 3-year-old and well away from his prime.
You can watch Easy Goer’s Gotham here:
Within a month, Sunday Silence would rise from relative obscurity to break the hearts of New York racing fans, but Easy Goer, whose distance limitations had been a question since his loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, came back to deny the California invader the Triple Crown in the 1989 Belmont.
Twenty years later, Shug McGaughey ships a colt from Florida to take the New York road to Kentucky. The support for Imperial Council hasn’t quite reached the near-fanatic status of that for Easy Goer, but a win today might change all that.
Crist, Steven. “Horse Racing; Easy Goer Romps.” New York Times. 9 April 1989. 6 March 2009.
“Easy Goer — 1989 Gotham Stakes.” 8 April 1989. Online video clip. YouTube. Accessed on 6 March 2009.
Finley, Bill. “On This Day.” The Blood-Horse. 8 April 2004. Originally published 8 April 1989. 6 March 2009.
Stathopolos, Demmi. “Auditions for the Derby.” Sports Illustrated Vault. 17 April 1989. 6 March 2009.