August 14, 2009

You are Not Going to Race??? 1953 Revisited

Are you like many of us who are disappointed that Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta are likely not to race each other this year? Two great horses, one a 3-year-old filly and the other a 5-year-old mare. Why can’t something be done to get them on the track together and further prove just how great they really are? How unsatisfying! Well if you were around in 1953 you might have had the same unsatisfied feeling, maybe even more so.

Native Dancer and Tom Fool arguably the two greatest horses of the 1950s, were at their best in 1953. Native Dancer was coming off an undefeated 2-year-old season in which he won all nine of his races and was named Horse of the Year. In 1953, the gray ghost started his year with a victory in the Gotham and finished it with a nine length score in the Arlington Classic. All he did in between was win the Wood Memorial, Withers, Preakness, Belmont, Dwyer, American Derby, and Travers. His only loss came in the Kentucky Derby as Dark Star held him off by a desperate nose. He finished the year one fleeting nose away from being ten for ten and an undefeated triple crown winner. The following year, despite being hampered by nagging injuries Native Dancer was named Horse of the Year for a second time.

Only an incredible season could deny Native Dancer Horse of the Year bragging rights in 1953, and that year was turned in by Tom Fool. The Greentree colt was a top notch horse at two and three. He was the champion two-year-old of 1951 and narrowly missed a championship again at three. But it was as a four-year-old in 1953 that Tom Fool rose to another level. In one of the greatest handicap seasons ever seen in racing, he won all of his ten races ranging in distances from five-and-a-half furlongs to a mile-and-a-quarter. He carried staggering weights up to 136, routinely giving rivals more than twenty pounds. He was so dominant in the top handicap races that many times betting was not allowed. Tom Fool was a deserving Horse of the Year in 1953.

Race fans everywhere clamored for a meeting between the two great horses, but it was not to be. A possible match-up in the Sysonby Mile was won by Tom Fool without Native Dancer as the 3-year-old was having hoof problems. So, in 1953 the race that could have been, never was. Race fans were left to debate and imagine what might have been had Native Dancer and Tom Fool ever raced each other. Fast forward 56 years to present day…imagine what a race with Rachel Alexandra and Zenyatta might be.