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Gato Del Sol's Connections Passed on 1982 Preakness

Gato Del Sol in the paddock for the 1982 Belmont Stakes

Dell Hanock

Gato Del Sol’s Connections Passed on 1982 Preakness
Derby winner skipped trip to Baltimore to prepare for Belmont Stakes (G1).
Couretsy of the BloodHorse
By Evan Hammonds

The May 18 Preakness Stakes (G1) will be missing the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner for the first time since 1996 when Grindstone was retired because of injury after he won the Run for the Roses. There was a little more controversy and trash talking back in 1982 when the connections of the Derby winner, Gato Del Sol, decided to skip the trip to Baltimore and await the Belmont Stakes (G1).

After his surprise 21-1 score in the Derby for breeders/owners Arthur Hancock III and Leone J. Peters, the late trainer Eddie Gregson thought running the son of Cougar II back on short rest wasn’t the right thing to do.

“He just didn’t want to run him,” Hancock remembered. “I was just so euphoric from winning the Derby, I thought it was OK. The trainer always knows the horse, so I left it up to him. The trainer is with the horse 24/7. In my early days I’d seen too many people telling their trainer what to do and it usually ended up in disaster.”

The big gray, out of the Jacinto mare Peacefully, had made three starts at Santa Anita Park early in his 3-year-old year, finishing fourth in the April 8 Santa Anita Derby (G1). Shipped to Kentucky, Gato Del Sol ran second to Linkage in the April 22 Blue Grass Stakes (G1). The Derby was just nine days later.

Gregson thought the Blue Grass and the last-to-first Derby effort were enough at the time.

“The way I prepared the horse for the Derby, using the Blue Grass Stakes as a prep, dictates that we don’t go on to the Preakness,” Gregson told The Blood-Horse. “We knew going into the Derby—win, lose, or draw—that we wanted the Belmont to be his next major goal. There’s no reason to change that now.”

The colt shipped to New York the Saturday after the Derby.

As for Hancock, the party didn’t stop.

“We were on Cloud 9,” he said. “We were partying hard all that spring. We’d go down to Settler’s Cabin, Linville Puckett’s marina and beer depot down on the (Kentucky) river near every night.”

Outside of Hancock’s insular world of his Stone Farm and Setter’s Cabin, however, sportswriters had plenty to say about skipping out on the second leg of the Triple Crown.

“It was huge,” Hancock said of passing the Preakness. “Some people accused us of cowardice, but I didn’t care. I’d won the Derby, which was my life’s dream.

“Chick Lang, down at Pimlico, he raised holy hell. He wrote some things … he more or less insulted us. He ran Pimlico and wanted us there.”

The songwriting Hancock penned his own retort, a poem he called “Hang Lang.”

There once was a man, Chick Lang Whose tongue was as sharp as a fang He probed at our weakness
For skipping the Preakness And criticized all of our gang.

To do what is best for one’s horse Was the way that we charted our course We all had a vision
And made our decision The Preakness could not be endorsed.

We did what we all thought was best But Lang would not let us rest He first tried to blame
Eddie “what’s his name” But Gregson withstood his behest.

Then Mr. Lang launched on me And said my father would be Upset in his grave For the way I behave “Not trying to make history.”

So here to that man made of greed Who mocked and demeaned our grey steed I shall never go
To old Pimlico With a horse that this Hancock might breed.

The Preakness of 1982 was an interesting one. The filly Cupecoy’s Joy, who set blazing fractions of :23 and :46 1/5 in the Derby, was scratched the morning of the race because the owner couldn’t secure enough seating for his guests.

Kentucky-bred but Maryland-owned Linkage, the Blue Grass winner who had skipped the Derby, was the 1-2 favorite in the field of seven and was ridden by the legendary Bill Shoemaker. However it was Nathan Scherr’s Aloma’s Ruler, with 16-year-old “Cowboy” Jack Kaenel up, who won the Black-Eyed Susans by a half-length.

Hancock, Peters, Gregson, and Gato Del Sol waited for the Belmont. On a sloppy track in New York the Derby winner chased Conquistador Cielo home, who won the 1 1/2-mile “Test of the Champion” by 14 lengths for Henryk deKwiatkowski. Conquistador Cielo was sharp, having won the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (G1) on the Monday before the Belmont.

Gato Del Sol raced until he was 6, and ran in the inaugural Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1T) at Hollywood Park in 1984 and closed out his career with a victory in the 1985 Caballero Handicap at Hollywood. He stood at stud in Kentucky, and then Germany, and was returned to Stone Farm in 1999. He died in 2007 at age 28.

“Gato is buried in our backyard,” Hancock said with pride. “Somebody said, ‘You know you’re a redneck when you bury your Derby winner in the backyard.’ “​