Thursday, February 17, 2011

Winning Colors

This weekend is the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds in New Orleans. It honors one of the finest horses ever to come out of the Bayou, Risen Star, who like so many other Triple Crown candidates won two of the three Classic events. However, unlike so many others, he is similar to Point Given in that he failed at the first hurdle, The Kentucky Derby, as opposed to the last hurdle, The Belmont Stakes. Risen Star suffered a horrendous trip around the Churchill Downs oval on the First Saturday In May, 1988. It was actually a testament to his greatness that he finished third, behind Winning Colors (pictured) and Forty Niner.

Winning Colors became just the third filly in history to win the Kentucky Derby. She still stands as the last filly to wear the Roses. She joined the very exclusive club of Regret, the 1915 winner, and Genuine Risk, the 1980 winner. Regret is considered by many racing historians to be the horse that saved the Kentucky Derby. The Derby was on hard times in the early years of this century with small fields and dwindling interest, especially from the racing hierarchy in the east. Regret changed all that with her victory. It restored the importance of the Derby and it also fixed the attitudes of the eastern racing establishment, since the winning owner, Harry Payne Whitney, spoke mightily of how crucial it was for his filly to win the Derby. Genuine Risk came along 65 years later and was probably the best three-year-old in the nation that year, male or female. She blew past Jaklin Klugman at the top of the stretch (although you gotta admit, it would have been awesome for everyone if owner Jack Klugman would have won the Derby) and held off the late charge of Rumbo to become the second filly to turn the trick at Churchill Downs, winning in the colors of owner Diana Firestone. Oddly enough, neither Regret nor Genuine Risk ever missed the money in any of their races.

The same cannot be said for Winning Colors, although her record of eight wins, three seconds, and one third from nineteen starts is nothing to sneeze at. Winning Colors was the first Kentucky Derby winner for both trainer D. Wayne Lukas and jockey Gary Stevens. Lukas, amazingly, played a role in Genuine Risk's Triple Crown record since he trained Codex, who won the 1980 Preakness after surviving an objection that he impeded the progress of Genuine Risk at the top of the stretch. Lukas would win the Derby thrice more in his Hall Of Fame career. As for Stevens, he would get to the exclusive Kentucky Derby Winner's Circle at Churchill Downs twice more after Winning Colors win. Winning Colors went right to the lead on Derby Day and quite honestly, never looked back. She was in front all the way around the racetrack and still had plenty left to hold off a belated charge from Forty Niner to win by a neck.

Remarkably, if Winning Colors is remembered for any race beside her Derby win, it is an epic loss that lives in racing history. She returned to Churchill Downs for the Breeders' Cup Distaff in 1988. Again, she attempted to steal the race on the lead and came ever so close to doing exactly that. Only a determined finish by the brilliant, undefeated Personal Ensign denied Winning Colors a Breeders' Cup victory that day. Winning Colors was voted Champion Three-Year-Old Filly in 1988 and was inducted into the United States Racing Hall Of Fame in 2000. She passed away in February 2008 after a bout with colic.

Here is the link if you would like to watch Winning Colors' triumph in the 1988 Kentucky Derby: Tune in again tomorrow for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!
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