November 16, 2009

Remembering ... Sunday Silence

Tom Durkin‘s words still freshly echo between my ears whenever the thought of Sunday Silence or Easy Goer comes to mind. “Easy Goer with one final acceleration and Sunday Silence holds on!!!” Everything was on the line and the two magnificent horses, forever joined in history, responded with a racing epic that day at Gulfstream Park. Beating a great horse like Easy Goer for the third time in four tries was not easy, but from a very young age things were not easy for the champion.

After surviving a life threatening virus as a weanling at Stone Farm in Paris, Kentucky, Sunday Silence grew into a long-legged, narrow frame. Cow-hocked, he impressed no one with his conformation. Sunday Silence was well bred, by Halo out of Wishing Well. Halo had already produced champions Devil’s Bag and Glorious Song and a Derby winner in Sunny’s Halo. Wishing Well was a multiple stakes winning daughter of Understanding. The solid breeding was overshadowed though by the looks of the gangly youngster. Twice offered for sale at auction, he attracted no buyers even with very modest reserve prices, leaving owner and breeder Arthur Hancock III no choice but to retain the colt to race. Adding to the adversity of his childhood, Sunday Silence was involved in an awful accident. As a 2-year-old, Sunday Silence was being transported by van when the driver had a heart attack. The van overturned and nearly ended the young colt’s life. Sunday Silence would endure.

Veteran trainer Charlie Whittingham, liked what he saw once the colt began his training. He did not rush the leggy colt and brought the horse to the races for the first time late in his juvenile season. After a narrow defeat in his opening race, Sunday Silence rebounded with a ten length score in his second race. He continued to develop and things all came together in the Spring. He demolished the field in the Santa Anita Derby in April and went to the Kentucky Derby as a clear second choice. On May 6, 1989 Sunday Silence shocked the racing world as he galloped home 2 ½ lengths in front of the most highly regarded Derby favorite in ten years. It was not a straight course down the stretch of the Churchill Downs mud, but it was a triumphant one for the horse no one wanted. Baltimore would soon host Sunday Silence vs. Easy Goer II

The Preakness was one of the greatest races ever run on an American racetrack. It brought together Sunday Silence fresh off his Kentucky Derby win and his blueblood rival, Easy Goer who had finished second in the Derby as a heavy favorite. Before Louisville, it was well established that the powerful chestnut son of Alydar was a special horse, but with his win in the Derby, Sunday Silence had emerged as a second superstar from the 1986 foal crop. The Preakness would be a showdown between the East Coast establishment and the West Coast upstart. The world was watching. Easy Goer was once again made the favorite, but this time the odds were much closer. Odds make little difference to the horses and the race was on.

Pat Day, careful not to give Sunday Silence too much room for comfort, made a big move on the turn to go by his rival. The black horse was squeezed and was suddenly two lengths behind. Pat Valenzuela swung his charge to the outside and then something magical happened. Sunday Silence, using perhaps his greatest racing asset, an electrifying burst of speed, pounced like a cat on a mouse and was abreast of Easy Goer like a shot. The race was on. The entire Pimlico stretch became a racing battleground for two horses that were too good to lose. The only other time I have ever witnessed such an intense display was in the Affirmed - Alydar Belmont Stakes of 1978. The horses turned their heads slightly so that they could look at each other eyeball to eyeball as their riders vigorously urged their talented runners on. Sunday Silence on the outside Easy Goer on the inside. Neither horse had one iota of give up, it was racing perfection incapsulated within a quarter of a mile. Easy Goer fought on gamely from the rail and gained a nose advantage in the stretch, but in the end, Sunday Silence edged in front by a whisker. Watching this race, was proof that horse racing is the purest form of athletic competition. On to New York they would go.

The Triple Crown was not to be, as the powerful Easy Goer relished the 1 ½ mile distance, the sandy surface, and the sweeping turns of Belmont Park. His great rival had his day in the sun with an easy victory over my hero in the Belmont Stakes. The nation would again have no Triple Crown winner, but the rivalry between Sunday Silence and Easy Goer was flourishing.

The 1989 Breeders’ Cup Classic would bring these racing titans together for a final time. Since the Triple Crown, Easy Goer was a dominating force in the New York racing scene. Sunday Silence was lightly raced, but was coming off a rousing win in Louisiana. With a win, either horse would win the three-year-old championship and the Horse of the Year title. Both horses were treated as superstars by their throngs of fans in South Florida. The greatest match-up in Breeders‘ Cup history lived up to the expectations. Sunday Silence took his familiar stalking position with Easy Goer a little farther back. Pat Day made the first move, rushing up to join his rival on the backstretch. It was Sunday‘s Silence‘s turn to respond and respond he did. Displaying the incredible acceleration that he was blessed with, Sunday Silence spurted away from the Phipps runner and carried himself to a clear lead in late stretch. Then it was one last run by his great rival… I will let Tom Durkin say it one more time “Easy Goer with one final acceleration and Sunday Silence holds on!!!”

Sunday Silence was the 1989 Horse of the Year. In all he won nine times out of fourteen races and never finished worse than second. Besides his three classic wins over Easy Goer, Sunday Silence won the Super Derby by six lengths and the Santa Anita Derby by eleven lengths. He earned just a shade under five million dollars and was quickly ushered into Racing’s Hall of Fame at first opportunity. For all his racing accomplishments, Sunday Silence would still meet doubters when it was time for syndication.

For a final time, American breeders did not believe in Sunday Silence, and he was sent to stud in Japan. Zenya Yoshida saw the opportunity through the indifference in the United States and stood Sunday Silence his entire stud career. It can not be overstated what Sunday Silence meant to the Thoroughbred breeding industry in Japan since he began his stud career there in 1991. His complete dominance as a sire in Japan is best described by the words of my friend living in Japan and noted Thoroughbred photographer, Kate Hunter “Sunday Silence did for the Japanese thoroughbred what Eclipse did for English Thoroughbreds. Every horse will eventually find itself crossed with Sunday Silence in Japan. He took Japanese Thoroughbreds to a new level, where they now can compete successfully with the rest of the world.” To this day and despite his relatively short career at stud, Sunday Silence’s progeny have earned more money worldwide than those of any other sire in history.

On Sunday, August 19, 2002 Sunday Silence passed away at Shadai Stallion Station in Japan's Hokkaido. The great horse died of heart failure after a long battle with debilitating laminitis. Infection had spread to his leg causing laminitis and only the heart and the will of a true champion allowed him to survive and fight for life for more than three months. In the end the infirmity got the best of the black stallion. His many caretakers at the breeding farm said he found some relief from his pain near the end. Sunday Silence now rests in peace at Shadai Stallion Station. News of his failing health and finally his death at the young age of 16 years touched horse fans throughout the world. I know it touched me, I loved Sunday Silence. It still touches me, for now I am just trying to get down the words through all of these tears. I remember you … Sunday Silence.

14 comments:

tjreyn01 said...

That was very moving Brian. He faced so much adversity in his life. Nothing was ever given to him, it was all earned. He is the reason I became a fan of horse racing. His Derby victory was so inspiring. Add to the mix his black coat and that awesome white blaze and I was hooked. I only wish he would have had the opportunity to have had such a great influence as a stallion in the US and also that he is buried there. But I find comfort knowing that since he did go to Japan, he will always be remembered as the american horse who kickstarted it all.

Candice said...

What an amazing story! I loved every word and feel somehow connected to the horse. Thank you!

joani said...

Beautifully written. A lovely essay from the heart. Thanks.

LDP said...

I love watching this horse in his replays. I can't believe he had such an impact at stud. The one colt of his I really remeber was Deep Impact. What a great colt he was.

Luvbarbaro said...

That was very heart felt about Sunday Silence. Both were great horses, but I also feel that Sunday Silence was beyond phenomenal.

Celeste said...

Beautiful tribute, Brian. Thank you. Reading your blog makes me wish all the more that I had been paying attention to racing then, but I was a busy mom, raising kids, running a business, suppressing my lifelong love of horses. Kids grew up, sold my store and rediscovered my passion for horses and fell in love with those I missed out on like the beautiful Sunday Silence. Thanks for letting me get to know more about him through your memories!

Kate Hunter said...

At almost every stud farm in Japan is a Sunday Silence sire. He will live on for eternity.

Jennifer Cook said...

Going to watch that Derby right now! Thanks.

Marti said...

To remember Sunday' is to remember Charlie...the greatest horse trainer to ever grace American racing...then, and now. Sunday Silence is one of his greatest stories, thank you for re-telling it.

~Marti

Jennifer Cook said...

I ended up staying up late watching all of the Sunday Slience races they had. Fun! That Preakness is amazing! No wonder the horse really got to you.

Brian Zipse said...

Thank you to all, for your kind words. Yes, Sunday Silence was incredible every step of the way. I am happy that I was able to help many of you (re)discover him.

Anonymous said...

Japan has many mares that are his daughters and a load of stallions by him that sire big winner after winner. Nick Werk has an excellent article on his blog on how they may help us out in this economy by doing a little US stallion shopping to fit Sunday's mares. Azeri and Deep Impact maybe.

A bright chestnut, with a perfect blaze, son of Sunday Silence just went to South Africa. I can't remember his name, maybe Admire Main . . . at Summerhill Stud.

As much as I would have liked for Sunday Silence to stay here, he got to King of a whole country by going to Japan. What a star.

Anonymous said...

I am a long-time horse racing fan, and have seen many great race horses, including Affirmed, Spectacular Bid, John Henry and others. However, I loved Sunday Silence more than any other horse. Seeing that jet-black beauty with the incredible acceleration, unbelievable heart, and the amazing will to win.....he was awesome!
Brian, thanks for a great essay. Sunday Silence will always be my favorite horse!

Anonymous said...

Sunday Silence was my favorite race horse. He was a beautiful jet-black horse with incredible speed, stamina and heart. No horse showed more determination and grit in the stretch.....a fantastic colt....RIP.