Thursday, December 29, 2011

Chief's Crown

Since we are at the end of the calendar year, it is natural for everyone to start thinking about next spring and those pesky Triple Crown races that will be taking up much of everyone's concentration for a while. One of the usual thoughts on the first leg of the Crown, the Kentucky Derby, is that the horse that won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile the year before is not going to win the Derby the following spring. It has happened only once in the history of the two events being run, in the 2006 Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Street Sense won and he followed it up with a Derby win in 2007. This year, the focus will be on Hansen as the BC Juvenile winner, although Union Rags, the runner-up, is still the winter favorite for the Roses. Of course, last year, Uncle Mo dominated the Juvenile and then was scratched before the Derby. All of this has given me reason to look back to the first Breeders' Cup Juvenile (in fact, it is the first-ever Breeders' Cup race), when Chief's Crown (pictured) was the winner.

Chief's Crown was a prohibitive favorite for the inaugural Breeders' Cup Juvenile in 1984, following wins in the Grade 2 Saratoga Special, the Grade 1 Hopeful, the Grade 1 Cowdin, and the Grade 1 Norfolk. He also threw a runner-up finish in the Grade 1 Futurity over a sloppy track for good measure. He went to the gate at Hollywood Park as a less than even-money choice to win that Juvenile and he did not disappoint. Chief's Crown sat in mid-pack for much of the early race and then began a steady advance that allowed him to take the lead over a game challenger in Tank's Prospect and also right there at the finish was a horse named Spend A Buck. Chief's Crown won the Juvenile by 3/4 of a length and established himself as the 1985 Derby favorite.

He seemed to relish that role as he paraded through the early months of the year, winning the ungraded Swale Stakes, finishing first in the Grade 1 Flamingo (although he was DQ'd and eventually that ruling was overturned), and completing his Derby prep work with a dominant win in the Grade 1 Blue Grass at Keeneland. Of course, we all know what happened on Derby Day. Angel Cordero Jr. sent Spend A Buck out to the front, built up a huge lead and never looked back, winning the Derby by over five lengths, while Chief's Crown ran third. Chief's Crown came back two weeks later in the Preakness, which Spend A Buck skipped, was sent off as the choice again, and finished second to Tank's Prospect. Finally, the gallant Chief's Crown tried again in the Belmont, only to be overrun by Woody Stephens and Creme Fraiche, part of his remarkable streak of five straight Belmont winners. Chief's Crown again finished third.

After the Triple Crown disappointments, (although hitting the board in all three legs of the series certainly is nothing to sneeze at) Chief's Crown went on the win the "Mid-Summer Derby" at Saratoga, the Grade 1 Travers, and defeated older horses in the Grade 1 Marlboro Cup in September. He would finish fourth in the Breeders' Cup Classic behind Proud Truth. While Chief's Crown had been voted Champion 2-Year-Old Male following his 1984 Breeders' Cup Juvenile win, he didn't win any of the honors in 1985. Spend A Buck was voted Horse Of The Year after his wins in the Derby, the Grade 3 Jersey Derby, and the Grade 1 Monmouth Handicap.

Chief's Crown still had a remarkable career with 21 starts, 12 wins, 3 seconds, and 3 thirds, earning a total of $2,191,168 in purse money. It is worth noting at this point that Chief's Crown was regally-bred with Northern Dancer on the Sire side and Secretariat on the Dam side of the lineage. Among his progeny is 1997 Breeders' Cup Turf winner, Chief Bearhart. Chief's Crown passed away in 1997 at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky. Here is the link to watch his victory in the 1984 Breeders' Cup Juvenile at Hollywood Park:

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

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