For everyone who is already jumping on the Eskendereya bandwagon (and there are clearly a lot of you), you might take heed in the story of Damascus. Damascus was the absolute hammer-lock choice to win the 1967 Kentucky Derby. There was no one else in the field of fourteen that even deserved to be on the same racetrack with him the thinking went. He was sent off as the prohibitive favorite that day and finished third, behind Proud Clarion (pictured) and even behind the pacesetting Barbs Delight, whom he could not pass in the stretch. It was said the humidity that day in Louisville did him in.
However, let us not take away from the performance of Proud Clarion. Owned by John Galbreath's Darby Dan Farm (Galbreath also owned the Pittsburgh Pirates) and trained by Loyd Gentry, Proud Clarion would win the 93rd Kentucky Derby by a length in the then third-fastest time ever recorded in the Kentucky Derby of 2:00.3. Proud Clarion was sent off at odds of 30-1 on Derby Day and returned $62.20 to win. It was something short of a miracle that Proud Clarion won given that he had earned all of $805 as a two-year-old. Today, with the Graded Stakes earnings rule, it is likely that Proud Clarion might have been vanned off the property on Derby Day, much less be in the gate for the big race. Even rider Bobby Ussery's presence in the saddle was a confluence of events, since the regular rider for Darby Dan Farm until that time chose to ride another horse in that Derby.
In the aftermath, Proud Clarion would win six races in his 25-race career, all as a three-year-old. He did run third in the Preakness, but ran up the track in the Belmont Stakes. As for Damascus, he would become a latter-day Native Dancer and a precursor of Point Given. He was brilliant as a two-year-old, won the Preakness and Belmont, and was also brilliant after the Triple Crown series. Damascus won the "Race Of The Century" in the 1967 Woodward Stakes over the great Dr. Fager and Buckpasser. However, like Native Dancer and Point Given, on the one day he needed to be most brilliant, he was not.
Tune in Friday for a look at the Lexington Stakes. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
Photo courtesy of barbaralivingston.com