GATO DEL SOL
Please click here to read a wonderful recent article from the COURIER JOURNAL about Gato del Sol.
Although known as the "most exciting two minutes in sports," the Kentucky Derby-G1 can take a lifetime to win, or in Arthur B. Hancock III's case, four lifetimes, as he is a fourth-generation horseman but the first in his family to capture the elusive prize. In 1982, Gato Del Sol, a flashy gray homebred, brought Derby glory to Hancock's Stone Farm.
The colt, born in 1979, was bred in partnership by Hancock and Leone Peters, a longtime client of Stone Farm's. Hancock and Peters had bought his dam, Peacefully, as a yearling at Saratoga and campaigned her to a stakes win. After she was retired to Stone Farm as a broodmare, she was bred to Stone Farm stallion and Eclipse Award winner Cougar II for two consecutive years. Her second mating to the stallion produced Gato Del Sol.
As a juvenile, Gato Del Sol's potential was evident when he captured the Del Mar Futurity-G2 in September of 1981. Although it would be his last victory until the Run for the Roses, the gray colt was runner-up in the prestigious Blue Grass S.-G1 as his last prep race for the Derby and also had placed in the Norfolk S.-G1, San Felipe H.-G2, and Hollywood Prevue S. No race carries quite the impact as the Derby, however, and Gato Del Sol, rallying from last in the field of 19, crossed the wire first in the most coveted race in North America.
Immediately following the Derby, trainer Eddie Gregson announced plans to skip the Preakness S.-G1 and focus on the Belmont S.-G1, a race better suited to Gato Del Sol's abilities. It would be the first time in 23 years that the Derby winner opted to pass the Preakness and a chance at Triple Crown splendor. Unfortunately, Gato Del Sol's Belmont bid fell just short, as he finished second to eventual Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo, who also won the Metropolitan H.-G1 just five days earlier.
Gato Del Sol raced until the age of six for Hancock and Peters, eventually switching to the turf. Before his racing career concluded, he won or placed in 17 stakes events and earned $1,340,107. When he retired in 1985, Gato Del Sol had tallied seven of 39 starts and a place in history as the 1982 Kentucky Derby winner.
Standing at Stone Farm, Gato Del Sol never lived up to expectations at stud, although he did sire some useful horses. He was sold to stand in Germany beginning in 1993, as it was hoped that European breeding would nicely compliment the strong turf and distance aspects of his pedigree. Six years later, after hearing the disturbing news of Exceller's untimely death in a Swedish slaughterhouse, the Hancocks bought Gato Del Sol back and immediately pensioned him. The Derby winner now enjoys his days in retirement, spending his time in a paddock at his birthplace and enjoying the attention of visiting fans.
By C. RAY HALL
PARIS, Ky. — Gato Del Sol's hair has turned white. This probably can be laid more to his age — 25 — than to, say, worry.
But it was worry that brought the 1982 Kentucky Derby winner home to Stone Farm after a decade in Europe.
Gato Del Sol, who was gray in his youth, went off at 21-1 odds and won the Derby in shocking style. On the track he never again approached such eminence, retiring at age 6. His second career, as a stud, was uninspiring, to put it kindly.
"A failure," as his owner, Arthur Hancock III, put it on a rainy afternoon last week.
Hancock sold Gato Del Sol to a German breeder, hoping he would turn out distance runners fit for European grass courses. But Gato became a flop on two continents.
When Exceller, a prime racer and a disappointing stud, ended up in a Swedish slaughterhouse, Arthur's wife, Staci, began to worry. She fretted that Gato Del Sol might meet the same fate.
"The shock of that ... really moved me and gave it some sense of urgency," she said. "It was Exceller that prompted me thinking, `I want to keep an eye on him (Gato), and I want to know where he is at all times.'"
Her worries were not misplaced, her husband said.
"He was a failure as a stallion over there, same as Exceller," Arthur Hancock said. "It certainly could have happened.... It happened to Exceller, who was a great horse. It happened to Ferdinand and probably has happened to a lot of horses ... that don't have the stature."
The Hancocks found that Gato Del Sol had been sold to a farm in Germany. They plunked down about $5,500 to buy him back — and another $12,500 or so to ship him back to Kentucky. He's one of about 200 horses on their 2,000-acre farm.
When he arrived on an August afternoon in 1999, the Hancocks were in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., for the Haskell. Soon as they got back home, they headed to the barn to check on their new old horse.
When she saw him for the first time in a decade, Staci was surprised to find he had gone white.
"He still had that great look in his eye," she said. "It's some kind of knowing look, I think. It's a wise look."
Her husband added: "He seems sort of nostalgic. Maybe that's the right word for the look in his eye."
Gato Del Sol has plenty to be nostalgic about.
As a yearling he didn't particularly impress his owner.
"He was a nice-looking yearling, but actually I didn't see anything special about him," Hancock said.
But the assistant yearling manager, Sam Ransom, did.
"Sam was a great horseman," Hancock said. "When he was a boy he had ridden Count Fleet."
Ransom also was a pretty good prophet when it came to Gato Del Sol.
"Sam would say, `That's a Derby hoss right there,'" Hancock recalled. "He just kept saying it over and over. So one day Sam kept saying, `That hoss is a Derby hoss.' I said, `Sam, if that horse wins the Derby, I'll get you a brand new car.'"
Eddie Gregson trained Gato Del Sol, and Eddie Delahoussaye rode him. In the Derby their horse went off as a long shot from a seemingly impossible post position — 19 — and won by 2½ lengths over Laser Light.
"It was the only time I've ever had an out-of-body experience," Hancock recalled last week. "I really felt like I could walk on air when they presented the trophy. ... You feel like you could float right up in the air, just hover. It's a strange feeling."
Seven years later the Hancocks won the Derby with Sunday Silence. But without levitation.
"Gato was like a fairy tale," Hancock said. "It was like seeing a vision."
Gato's victory meant it was time to reward Ransom. The boss had a Chevy in mind. Once again, Hancock and Ransom were not on the same page.
"Sam looked at me — and he had these eyes, the most expressive eyes — and he said, `You know, Boss, all my life I've wanted to get a Cadillac or a Lincoln,'" Hancock said.
Ransom got his Lincoln.
The Hancocks brought Gato Del Sol home five years ago, and some people still are talking about it.
"It turned out people thought it was just really something wonderful," Arthur said. "Somebody about a week ago said, `I think y'all bringing him back was the most wonderful thing.' And I said, `Well, Staci deserves the credit.'
"At Staci's insistence, we got him back, and now he's got a good home for the rest of his life....
"There's a saying in Bourbon County amongst us farmers. I heard it from older farmers. `If you take care of the land, the land will take care of you.' And I think with horses, it's the same. If you take care of your horses, your horses will take care of you."
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Although a stallion's success at stud is usually defined by statistics, his true legacy carries far deeper than mere numbers. Halo, one of only 18 stallions in history to sire more than one Derby winner, certainly has impressive statistics, but to Stone Farm, Halo represents more than sheer numbers. Halo meant the world to Stone Farm, partly because he gave Stone Farm 1989 Horse of the Year Sunday Silence.
A high-class racehorse and G1 winner, Halo also had a strong female family and pedigree. His dam, Cosmah, produced four stakes winners, including Champion Tosmah, and was named Broodmare of the Year in 1974. Halo's half-sister Queen Sucree produced 1974 Kentucky Derby winner Cannonade, and his second dam, Almahmoud, was also the second dam of legendary sire Northern Dancer. Halo's sire, Hail to Reason, was the Champion 2-year-old Colt of 1960, but was even better in the breeding shed than on the racetrack. He sired four classic winners, including Kentucky Derby winner Proud Clarion and Epsom Derby winner Roberto. His influence is still widely felt in pedigrees today.
Born in 1969, bred by John Gaines, and raced by Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard, Halo was switched from dirt to grass late in his sophomore season and discovered his niche. He notched nine wins from 31 starts and earned over a quarter of a million dollars, with his most important win coming in the 1974 United Nations H.-G1. Halo nearly went to stud in England but, fortunately for this country, was discovered to be a cribber and was rejected.
Although most of his stallion career was spent at Stone Farm, Halo originally entered stud in 1975 at Windfields in Maryland where his first crop yielded Glorious Song, the Canadian Horse of the Year. Subsequent champions included Devil's Bag (full brother to Glorious Song), Sunny's Halo (winner of the 1983 Kentucky Derby-G1), and of course, Sunday Silence (Derby, Preakness S.-G1, and Breeders' Cup Classic-G1 winner), who was conceived during Halo's second breeding season at Stone Farm. In all, Halo sired seven champions, 62 stakes winners, and led the leading sire list twice in the 1980s. Standout runners sired by Halo included Goodbye Halo, who counted the Kentucky Oaks among her seven G1 victories, Strodes Creek, who was second in the 1994 Kentucky Derby and third in the Belmont S.-G1, and millionaire Lively One, whose long list of accomplishments included the Swaps S.-G1. Halo's progeny earned over $44 million on the racetrack and have netted far more in the breeding shed.
In 1984, Texas oilman Tom Tatham purchased 25 of the 40 shares in Halo's syndicate and moved the stallion to Kentucky to stand at Stone Farm. While at Stone Farm, Halo sired Sunday Silence, the defining horse who will carry on his legacy. Sunday Silence is known as the "Northern Dancer of Japan" and has become the top sire in history in that country.
Today, other sons of Halo, including Saint Ballado and Southern Halo, are commanding prestige in the breeding sheds as well. As a broodmare sire, Halo is equally sensational, with daughters or granddaughters producing champions Victory Gallop, Machiavellian, Singspiel, and Coup de Genie; classic winners Fusaichi Pegasus and Pine Bluff; and sires such as Rahy and Silver Ghost.
Pensioned from stud duty in 1997, Halo passed away at the age of 31 late in 2000. "You have to rejoice that Halo lived to be almost 32," Arthur B. Hancock III, owner of Stone Farm, told The Blood-Horse at the time. "We were so grateful to have had him."
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Once in a long while, a horse comes along who is truly great. A horse who possesses the fire of greatness touches all associated with him and rekindles the sport with such passion that even outsiders can feel it. Sunday Silence is such a horse, a horse worthy of being called great.
It was at Arthur B. Hancock III's Stone Farm near Paris, Ky., that Sunday Silence was born, a product of Stone Farm's top stallion Halo and the Understanding mare Wishing Well. Oak Cliff Thoroughbreds bred the nearly-black colt and Oak Cliff's managing partner, Tom Tatham, also had selected Halo as a foundation stallion for his operation and moved the sire from Windfields Farm in Maryland to Stone Farm.
Foaled on March 25, 1986, Sunday Silence became known as the horse who beat the odds to become great. He first flirted with the odds as a weanling when he nearly died around Thanksgiving time from a freak virus, and then again narrowly escaped death in a van accident as a 2-year-old. Twice he passed through the sales ring, as a yearling and as a 2-year-old, and each time he returned home to Stone Farm unsold.
When he made it to the racetrack as a juvenile on October 30, 1988, Sunday Silence was a gangly colt who finished second by a neck in a Santa Anita maiden special weight event. It was in his second start, on November 13 of that year at Hollywood Park, that Sunday Silence began to shine. He trounced a maiden field by a remarkable 10 lengths, getting the six furlongs in a flashy 1:09 2/5.
Stepping up to allowance company, the son of Halo was second by a head in his final start as a juvenile in December, then ran away from an allowance field by 4 ½ in his sophomore debut in March. It would be the last time Sunday Silence would start in anything other than a graded stakes race.
On March 19, 1989, Sunday Silence made both his stakes and two-turn debut in the San Felipe H.-G2 at Santa Anita. The now 3-year-old colt passed both tests with flying colors, capturing the 1 1/16 mile event in 1:42 3/5 and establishing himself as a legitimate contender for the Triple Crown trail.
Prepping for the Kentucky Derby-G1, the revered and sacred grail, Sunday Silence faced his most difficult challenge yet in the G1 Santa Anita Derby. No one need to have worried. Sunday Silence simply dominated the field, leaving his nearest competitor 11 lengths behind and getting the nine furlongs in a very respectable 1:47 3/5. Hancock's colt had stamped his ticket to the Derby.
Derby day dawned on May 6, 1989, with a muddy Churchill Downs track and an East-Coast powerhouse named Easy Goer whom nearly everyone had already christened the next coming of Secretariat. Sunday Silence was almost an afterthought with the public, who made the entry of Easy Goer and his stablemate the overwhelming favorite. And, there was no doubt Easy Goer deserved his reputation as he was a three-time G1 winner and the Eclipse Champion 2-year-old. His Derby prep races included a 13-length victory in the Gotham with a mile in 1:32 2/5, only a fifth off the world record and the second-fastest mile run in history. To make matters even more interesting, Easy Goer had been raised on Claiborne, the legendary family farm that Hancock had left to establish his own farm.
Great horses are often defined by their rivals. Affirmed can hardly be mentioned without including Alydar in the same breath. Swaps and Nashua go hand-in-hand, as do Damascus and Dr. Fager, War Admiral and Seabiscuit, and a host of other pairs. Although no one knew it going to post, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer were starting a spectacular rivalry that will not soon be forgotten.
When it was all over, Sunday Silence wore the Derby roses with Easy Goer placing second. Hancock had his second Derby in seven years, having won in 1982 with Gato Del Sol. Horse racing is the sport of dreams, and there is no higher dream, no more colossal wish, no more powerful hope, than to be standing in the Kentucky Derby winner's circle on the first Saturday in May. It has reduced grown men to tears. Hancock had his second Derby and Sunday Silence was the star, but still neither Hancock nor the world could possibly anticipate the greatness that was Sunday Silence.
In spite of an injury to his right front suffered prior to the race, Sunday Silence again overcame tribulation and was able to make the Preakness S.-G1, the second jewel of the Triple Crown. Once again, Easy Goer was the prohibitive favorite and once again, in a pulsating, dramatic, stretch-long battle where the two colts matched each other stride-for-stride, Sunday Silence prevailed - but only by an electrifying nose. It is a performance that uncounted numbers still call the best race they've ever seen.
Easy Goer got his revenge in the Belmont S.-G1 on his home track, beating Sunday Silence and denying him the Triple Crown. However, the score remained: Sunday Silence, two, Easy Goer, one. And, the two archrivals were not through yet.
The two colts separated for five months, with Easy Goer taking four straight G1 events in the East and Sunday Silence going back West and making only two starts. He was upset in the Swaps S.-G2, then took two months off before capturing the Super Derby-G1.
When Sunday Silence met Easy Goer again for the Breeders' Cup Classic-G1, the stage was set for a showdown. Each camp had reasons to believe their colt was the better and far more was at stake than the $3,000,000 purse - the winner would likely earn the coveted Horse of the Year and Champion 3-year-old Colt titles. Once again, Easy Goer was the prohibitive favorite with the public, and once again, Sunday Silence struck a dagger into his heart, calling upon his superior athleticism to get the jump on his rival and power to the finish, reaching the wire a neck in front of Easy Goer. After four rounds, the score was undeniable: Sunday Silence, three, Easy Goer, one.
Victory was Sunday Silence's yet again when he was named Horse of the Year and Champion 3-year-old. In addition, he had established a record for the most money earned in a single season with his 1989 earnings of $4,578,454.
It was hoped the two rivals might clash again the following year as both were scheduled to race as 4-year-olds, and tracks offered huge purses in an attempt to lure the two to the same races, but it was not meant to be. Sunday Silence had undergone surgery late in 1989 to remove a bone chip and didn't make it back to the races until July 3, 1990, the day before what would be Easy Goer's last career start. Sunday Silence would win the Californian S.-G1 and finish second by a head in the Hollywood Gold Cup-G1 before a tear in a ligament in his left front was discovered in early August. Rather than risk further injury, the decision was made to retire the nearly-black colt.
Sunday Silence was shipped to Stone Farm and intentions were for him to enter stud there for a fee of $50,000 in 1991. However, syndication of the champion didn't go smoothly as only tepid interest was shown by American breeders. In September, 1990, it was announced that Zenya Yoshida had purchased the colt for approximately $10 million and he would instead begin his stud career at Yoshida's Shadai Farm in Japan.
The rest is legendary. Sunday Silence's first foals were born in 1992 and first raced as juveniles in 1994. His first starter was also his first winner and his first stakes winner emerged about a month later. He was easily Japan's leading juvenile sire his first year at stud, but it was just the beginning. In 1995, Sunday Silence's first foals were 3-year-olds, and he ruled over the leading sire list that year and every year since. He has literally dominated the Japanese leading sire race, towering over his rivals year after year. To give an idea of the dominance of Sunday Silence, one only needs peer at the numbers. In 2000, for instance, Sunday Silence's progeny earned $53,672,791, or an average of over $1 million a week, with the stallion in the runner-up spot not even cracking the $20 million mark. The influence of Sunday Silence undoubtedly will be felt for years to come.
Although his progeny will continue to grace racetracks and breeding sheds for many years, in a tragic and devastating turn the world lost Sunday Silence on August 19, 2002. The great champion and Hall of Fame member had contracted a leg infection three months earlier. Three surgeries and around-the-clock care failed to stop the onset of laminitis. Showing the heart of a champion which had emerged so many times before, 16-year-old Sunday Silence gallantly fought the battle for his life long after lesser beings would have succumbed.
"They say he fought to the end, which is really no surprise," said Jay
Hovdey in the Daily Racing Form. "He deserved a better fate, filled with green pastures and pampered retirement. But that was not in his nature, and that is why his name will last."
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