October 26, 2009

Remembering ... Paradise Creek

Who was the best American turf horse of the 1990s? A tough selection to be sure, but I know whom I would pick…Paradise Creek. A model of consistency, the Creek ran 24 times on the lawn spanning four marvelous seasons. Keeping the very best company, he won 14 times and finished 2nd in seven others. There was only one occasion, in these 24 turf races, where Paradise Creek did not prove a major factor. It is always a joy to root for a horse that you know will fire every time, and Paradise Creek was one of those rare horses. He was never afraid to hop on a plane and bring his A game, starting his career in upstate New York and finishing it in the Land of the Rising Sun. In between, the Creek would win stakes at eight different tracks all over the country. There was an antagonist in his story, the brilliant miler, Lure, who would get the best of my hero on more than one occasion. In the end though, Paradise Creek persevered and was never better then his final season. At 5-years-old, he was deservingly named the champion grass horse of 1994. From the beginning, I followed his career closely and I have wonderful memories of this terrific grass horse.

It all began in the Summer of 1991, when I was fortunate enough to be in the stands for the start of his career. It looked like Paradise Creek was an older horse running against babies as he demolished a full field of well bred juveniles at Saratoga. The 11 length beating was so thorough, that from this Maiden Special Weight on the turf, Bill Mott placed him next in the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. The Hopeful would be Paradise Creek’s only lifetime race on the dirt and he finished 4th in the field of nine. That would be it for his juvenile season, but that one magnificent turf race made a lasting impression on me. From that race, I would be a fan of his for life.

After a lengthy layoff, the Bertram Firestone owned and bred colt returned in the Summer to dominate three consecutive turf races in New York. I kept an eye on him from a distance and I jumped at the chance to see him once again as he shipped in to Chicago for the Grade 1 Secretariat. Disappointment, as the Creek was held off a slow place, had brief traffic issues and then gallantly gained to no avail against the talented frontrunner, Ghazi. I went home that day knowing that Paradise Creek was the best horse, but it would be the first of many tough defeats for the son of Irish River; good thing he would go on to win so many. He continued his 3-year-old campaign with two more seconds, first in a turf stake at the Meadowlands and then in the Breeders’ Cup Mile. His 2nd place finish in the Mile was validation for my belief in him, as he rallied to beat every horse in the stellar field except for his new nemesis, Lure. Paradise Creek was dismissed at 30-1 odds that day, it was a mistake that bettors would not make again.

After gamely winning the Hollywood Derby to end his three-year old campaign, Paradise Creek was slowed by setbacks in his four-year-old season and he would win only one of five races. In three consecutive races that year, he would taste defeat at the hands of that pesky middle distance star. Lure was one of the finest milers ever to run on American grass, but to me he was a thorn in the side, because he was to Paradise Creek.

Finally completely healthy at five, the Creek would get off to an early start, winning three turf stakes at Gulfstream to begin the year. In his Ft. Lauderdale score he stopped the teletimer of the 1 1/16 race in 1:39 and 1. Revenge proved a dish best served in Kentucky, as it was there that he first spanked his rival Lure in winning by four lengths at Churchill Downs. He would go on to beat him again in the Dixie, and then rattle off wins in the Manhattan, Arlington Million, and DC International. Eight major stakes wins already that year and he was doing it so impressively. In the Manhattan at Belmont, he won off by 6 ¾ lengths and his final time was an unbelievable 1:57 and 3 for the 10 furlongs. It remains one of the fastest races I have ever seen. All my time watching and rooting for this lord of the grass was paying off in a big way. This amazing year brought him to the Breeders’ Cup Turf as a prohibitive 4-5 favorite in a 14 horse field full of talent. There was one problem though, Paradise Creek had never in his career been farther than 1 ¼ miles. This would be one of the toughest fields of his life and he would need to run one quarter mile farther than he had ever gone before. I was there in the crowded Churchill Downs grandstand as this beautiful dark brown champion made a big, powerful early move to take command on the far turn. For a second I thought the Creek was home free as Pat Day guided him to a clear lead in the stretch. My heart sank though, as he began to shorten strides and the European monsters, Tikkanen and Hatoof gobbled him up. Paradise Creek finished a winded, but gallant 3rd. It would be his final race for me to see him and in the United States.

Looking back, my favorite race out of all of Paradise Creek’s excellent career had to be the afternoon of August 28, 1994. Having spent much of my life in Chicago, the Arlington Million is a race close to my heart. This would be Paradise Creek’s only attempt in the Million and I wanted badly to see him win. There was not much money to be made…he was a 9-5 favorite and it certainly was not his most impressive win…he won by ¾ of a length, but it was my horse winning the Million. He had done it, I can still see him crossing the wire in front. It was a day of joy and a day of satisfaction as the horse I had followed and admired for so long, won the race I wanted to see him win.

Paradise Creek would go on to end his career in the Japan Cup, which at the time was the world’s richest race. His new Japanese owner wanted a chance to see him compete one time in his homeland before sending him off to a successful stud career in Japan. In a race that no American has won in the past 18 years, Paradise Creek would run huge one last time. Just three short weeks after his demanding run in the BC Turf and with a trip across the world under his belt, Paradise Creek ran like a champion. Sticking his nose in front only yards before the wire of the 12 furlong marathon, but it was not to be. He lost the scantest of photos in a head-bobbing finish. To this day I still believe he won the race, but the Japanese stewards awarded the photo to a Japanese horse, and once again, the Creek would have to swallow a tough defeat. A great turf champion, Paradise Creek fell short of absolute superstardom with his losses to Lure, his 2nd place finishes in the Breeders’ Cup and his whisker of a defeat in his final race, but you must appreciate this horse who performed so well in 23 out of his 24 lifetime turf races. I know I appreciate him…I remember you Paradise Creek.


LDP said...

I know turf is an afterthough here in the US, but I love the finishes it produces and feel it is one of the safest if not the safest surface. Your remembering series are so vividly beautiful and this one had me smiling at the end, it was fantastic. Nicely done.

Luvbarbaro said...

You definitely do have a great memory Zipse. It's been a long day for me, so I'm posting very late. I'm honestly not a huge turf fan, although I feel it's a much safer surface. I do watch the turf races, but personally I don't feel they are as exciting as dirt races. Just my opinion.

Great article, as always! : )

Anonymous said...

Paradise Creek's main probelem was that he was a classic 10f horse. Most of the best opportunities for him (save for the Arlington Million) were at 8f or 12f. Imagine if he had been running today, with a 9f race in Dubai, and 10f races in Hong Kong & Singapore.

Brian Zipse said...

Agreed Anonymous...Paradise Creek was best at 1 1/4 miles, evidenced by his three smashing wins at that distance: the Million, Manhattan, and DC International.