Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Caracas Cannonball

At about this time in 1971, no one in North America had really ever heard of a horse named Canonero II. He was still in South America and only his owner and trainer had a glimpse of what was to come. The owner, Pedro Baptista, had nominated the horse to run in the Triple Crown races and he eventually would ship the horse to North America to run.

However, the trip was anything but simple. The horse was stuck in quarantine for an inordinate amount of time before being allowed to be vanned up to Kentucky for the first leg of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. Canonero II was placed in the mutuel field for wagering on Derby Day. Had that not happened, it is likely he would have been sent off at odds exceeding Donerail's 91-1 of 1913. As it was, Canonero II had put in only one sluggish workout the week of the Derby for trainer Juan Arias. Apparently, Arias knew exactly what he was doing with the horse (although it came out later that he sent Canonero II to the track on Derby morning and the horse turned in a blistering three furlongs). Canonero II overcame all the adversity that had been heaped upon him since leaving South America and even in the race itself, coming from 18th place in a field of twenty to win the Run For The Roses by nearly four lengths.

Just in case you think the Cinderella story was over, think again. Canonero II went to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes and not only won the race, but set the stakes record in doing so. Everything was now set up for Canonero II to become a Triple Crown winner. Unfortunately, the many indignities and obstacles that faced Canonero II and his team caught up with them at the Belmont Stakes. The horse was nowhere near fit enough to win the Test Of Champions, and while he led for a good chunk of the race, he ended up finishing fourth in front of his growing legion of fans, who set a track record for attendance at Belmont Park that day.

Canonero II would only show one more tremendous flash of his greatness after the 1971 Triple Crown trail. He would triumph over 1972 Derby and Belmont winner, Riva Ridge, in the 1972 Stymie Handicap, setting a track record once again. Canonero II was named the Champion Three-Year-Old Colt of 1971. If you would like to watch his epic victory in the 1971 Kentucky Derby, here is the link:

Tune in tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!

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