“The late, great Easy Goer”

For many New York racing fans who came of age too late for Secretariat in 1973, Easy Goer’s victory in the 1989 Belmont Stakes was the sweetest moment ever spent at a racetrack.

I came across these words a few weeks ago in Joe Drape’s To the Swift: Classic Triple Crown Horses and Their Race for Glory. Steven Crist wrote them in “Last Bouquet for Easy Goer,” published when the 1989 Belmont winner died in 1994 at Claiborne Farm.

Since I first read Crist’s encomium a few weeks ago, I have returned to it more than a dozen times, so simply and beautifully and eloquently does it express what Easy Goer meant to him, and to the legions of fans who followed Easy Goer along the Triple Crown trail, from bitter disappointment in the Derby and Preakness to dominant vindication in the Belmont. [I had intended to link to the article, but, curiously, I can’t find it in the New York Times archive. Hm. This will merit further investigation.]

For a Belmont Stakes post I wrote recently about Easy Goer, I asked my brother to talk to me about what it was like to be at Easy Goer’s Belmont. After reading Crist’s piece, I brazenly asked him to tell me what made Easy Goer so special to him, and he kindly obliged:

I don’t think any of Easy Goer’s fans find him more likeable or endearing because of the defeats to Sunday Silence — those are still haunting, nightmarish stretch runs that 20 years later I can barely bring myself to watch.

(And before any of you Sunday Silence fans out there start reaching for the keyboard to tout your favorite’s greatness, just hold on as we get this out of the way: Crist also wrote: “Easy Goer was a great horse and so was Sunday Silence. I still think Easy Goer had more pure, raw talent, but Sunday Silence often had a strategic advantage due to his tactical speed and the way he ran on turns.” So, consider Sunday Silence’s greatness acknowledged as we return to our regularly-scheduled Easy Goer programming.)

Easy Goer’s Belmont resonated so strongly with his fans for a confluence of reasons. The anti-Easy Goer sentiment had turned ugly by then, and he was being routinely referred to as a “fraud” and a “creation of the parochial New York media.” Even neutral people were mad at Easy Goer. USA Today did their usual
sportswriter poll the day before the race, and I think all 12 people except me picked Sunday Silence. My colleague at the Washington Post said Sunday Silence would win by 8 lengths.

Also, the successive Derby victories by Ferdinand, Alysheba, Winning Colors and Sunday Silence had led to a simplistic conclusion from the once-a-year drop-in general sportswriters that California had overtaken New York.

Then there was the Alydar factor. A lot of Easy Goer fans had been Alydar’s fans, and we’d lost five in a row — three to Affirmed and now two to Sunday Silence. So there was that extra grace note of revenge when Easy Goer won and
everything came together in that glorious stretch runaway: Easy Goer, New York, and Alydar all avenged and restored in one mighty swoop.

Another noted and published New York racing fan, Ernie Munick, responded similarly in a comment on the Belmont Stakes site:

I am a New Yorker, and it took me at least ten years before I could admit that Sunday Silence was the better horse (he also had the better rider). Sunday Silence was a tremendous athlete, a fine champion, NO DOUBT; Easy Goer had a few great moments and one spectacular, historic day…Easy Goer gave New Yorkers humongous hope, so that one day, the day he beat “the better horse,” is held special in our hearts—especially since he did it here in New York.

We’re not supposed to fall in love with racehorses; it’s against all the rules, and unless you happened to fall in love with Personal Ensign, at some point, one of them is going to break your heart. Crist used exactly that language as he closed his eulogy, looking ahead to Easy Goer’s offspring and the other two-year-olds of 1994:

I will be…hoping for that one brilliant colt who just might be the next Secretariat—or at least let me think that he is for a while. He doesn’t have to win the Triple Crown and it’s 3-5 he will break my heart along the way. If he gives me just one day at the races like the 1989 Belmont, though, I will be forever in his debt, as I am to the late, great Easy Goer.

15 thoughts on ““The late, great Easy Goer”

  1. Easy Goer, my favorite horse of all time. He also gave us My Flag, Storm Flag Flying, Will’s Way, and others I am sure I am forgetting.I’ll never forget watching the 1989Preakness simulcast at Rockingham Park in Salem, NH with my Dad. After that stretch run, my Dad turned to me and said that it was the greatest race he had ever seen in his life. It still gives me goosebumps when I think of it, and gets me misty when I watch it on You Tube.

  2. Sunday Silence’s three wins over Easy Goer were aberrations. This is an example of small sample size distorting results. Easy Goer was clearly the better the racehorse. I know I was there for almost all of his races at the Big-A and Belmont in 88-89. Easy Goer had an extraordinary campaign as a three year old.

  3. Ah, in 1989 I was 10 but I remember him vividly. I grew up in RI, and trips to Suffolk, Rockingham and Saratoga were among the highlights of my life.My dad and I Easy Goer, my mom, Sunday Silence. I remember seeing him in person at the Travers, I asked my dad to place $5 to win on him which was a big bet for a 10 year old. I also fell in love with Personal Ensign (see name!) and follow all of their offspring. My Flag….Easy Goer out of Personal Ensign. To me, it does not get any better than that! I saw his grave at Claiborne last year. Gone too soon…brilliant and beautiful..Easy Goer!

  4. and I changed my pic to one of the few I have of him from my 89 trip to the "August place to be." (or now I guess July and August). ❤

  5. I’m not a pretty pony poster,so I suppose it means much more when I state that Easy Goer was one sexy looking race horse.And boy did he run to his good looks!

  6. Thanks, everybody, for checking in with your thoughts on Easy Goer. It’s great hearing about your memories of him, and what he meant to you. Makes me even more regretful that I wasn’t paying much attention to racing then…

  7. Missed this post yesterday…Like you I wasn’t paying too much attention to racing then, which I now regret.Steve’s eulogy was lovely.

  8. The amazing thing to me was the way easy toyed with Sunday in the Preakness. He was waiting for him and began to toy with him. Even looking head coked into Sundays Eyes. As if to say..you goin no place pal..Easy thought he won that race. He had no idea he would lose. The Belmont, The Test Of Champions was the consumate example of just that. The wideness of Belmont and the crushing distance….one final note. Both easy Goer and his pop Alydar had inferior riders. If you switch Cauthen, put him on Alydar and Alydar is the Triple Crown winner. Same with Pat “wait all” Day. Only the Belmont oval let Easy overcome Day. And Easys lifetime record at Belmont proves that.

  9. I was 12 when I saw Easy Goer run in my first Travers, and I still remember the whole day like it was yesterday. I stood on the rail for hours on end to get a prime spot on the fence to see the race, right near the eighth pole. Of all of the hundreds of horse races I have witnessed since then, that one still might be my favorite.

  10. I just saw this blog about EasyGoer.I would like to know how personalensign79 was able to visit Easy Goer's grave at Claiborne farms, as posted in his May 28th post.I called them and was told that Easy Goer was buried in an area not open to visitors.I would love to visit his grave. I loved this horse also.Please post how you arranged it.thanks.

  11. Pat Day was the weak link, he cost him the Preakness and the BC, Sunday won the Derby because Easy didn’t like the mud at Churchill, 0 for 2 in the slop at that track. Wish Shug would have given him a rider!

  12. It is too long to describe what that Belmont ment, I was 10 at the time and was hooked to him by his 2nd race!! This horse was a Machine. His legend will only grow as time goes by. His record is remarkable, 7+120 beyer speed figures, close to breaking 7 track records.The fastest mile on Dirt run by 3year old ever!! Only ran Third once and lost by 2 1/2 lengths thats his worst showing…ESPN and the Science should analyze his race to race performance and no horse would probably compare. When he turned at the Belmont, I new it was a matter of how far!!! After all is said an done, we will all say Easy Goer was the closest thing to Secretariat!!

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