September 2, 2010

Remembering … Dehere

Sitting in the passenger seat, as my wife drives the family truckster, I find myself admiring her driving skills. Temporarily boxed in because of a slow driver who is clearly oblivious to the stay left except when passing rule, my wife is forced to decelerate until she can swing out to the right. She finds her opening and does not hesitate. Because of the forced slow down, it takes a second for the Mazda to accelerate, but then it does, and we are gone. I can feel the pure acceleration deep inside my body, as we move to speeds that leave the offending car behind in a flash. The move sends my memory hurtling back in time to when a juvenile colt named Dehere ruled the Saratoga Summer like I had never seen before.

“You have to see this.” I exclaimed to my father and brother, as I pulled them over to the replay televisions at Saratoga. We hadn’t been at Saratoga long, but I had to see the two-year-old who had left the racing world buzzing days before. The year was 1993 and race replays were not nearly as readily available as they are now. So when I arrived at the Spa, I knew reviewing the race at the track would need to be one of my first tasks. I had just watched the replay and now I needed to show my track partners. The race in question was the Saratoga Special, and back then it was the first in Saratoga’s prestigious three-race series for the youngsters. What I saw on the monitor was stunning. My expectations were high going in and they were only exceeded. Performances like the one that three of us watched is what racing is all about for me. Lightning in a bottle, it was the stuff of legends…

The Special had been the son of Deputy Minister out of Sister Dot’s second lifetime start after an easy maiden win at Monmouth, and I was hooked. Juveniles do not do what I had seen Dehere do, at least they hadn‘t since his broodmare sire Secretariat had come to Saratoga 22 years before. Having been raised in New Jersey, there was a natural attraction for me to Dehere. He was named after the star Seton Hall basketball player Terry Dehere and he was owned and bred by one of the top stables in the Garden State, in Robert Brennan’s Due Process Stable. My sudden infatuation with the bay colt prompted a day trip up to Saratoga for his next race, the Sanford Stakes. I would not be disappointed. Amazingly, more than halfway through the race, new jockey Chris McCarron was getting the heavily favored horse into a eerily similar predicament as he had dealt with in the Saratoga Special. This time he would extricate himself sooner, and the result was poetry to my eyes.

Next it would be on to the final leg of Saratoga’s series for juveniles, the Grade 1 Hopeful Stakes. If Dehere could win, he would become the first horse in 76 years to sweep the three stakes. The final leg was the biggest, as many a champion had won the Hopeful, and Dehere would add his name to the impressive list. Trainer Reynaldo Nobles had seen enough of the boxed in on the rail performances, and he, along with rider Chris McCarron, would institute new tactics for their star. They knew they had the best horse so they decided to let him roll early. This tactic led to Dehere being in between horse in a strong speed battle. The new style and the heavy pressure on the front end made no difference to this super youngster as he would roll home once again.

After four lifetime races, and three stakes wins at Saratoga, Dehere was becoming a bit of a legend. His odds had plummeted to almost unheard of lows in big races after the Saratoga Special. So when his next start would come around, in the sloppy Futurity, it would be no surprise that Dehere would go once again go off at 2-5. The Futurity would not be a one horse show though. In the field would be another undefeated colt with New Jersey connections, and he was fast. I was in the stands at Belmont that day to see the horse I thought to be a potential legend, but much to my dismay, the speed horse got out there on the slop, and despite a valiant rally by Dehere, splashed home a half length winner. His name was Holy Bull and he would be named an overwhelming Horse of the Year one year later.

The defeat may have broken the aura of invincibility surrounding Dehere, but in truth he had run a huge race on a track that favored the front runners. He would return to Belmont for the biggest race for East Coast juveniles, the Champagne, the following month. Holy Bull had shipped to Florida, so once again the Due Process star was an overwhelming favorite. He easily defeated his overmatched rivals by four lengths in preperation for a trip west. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile of 1993 turned out to be a mess for Dehere. Despite the depth of the field, he was made the 7-10 favorite, but staggered home an uninterested 8th. I am not sure if it was the long trip, first try at two-turns, or the Santa Anita surface that bothered him, but Dehere had come up empty. Even after this failure in the Breeders’ Cup, Dehere would take home the Eclipse Award as the outstanding juvenile of 1993.

Dehere would run only two more times. Both races were at Gulfstream Park in the Winter of 1994. Second in his sophomore debut, Dehere would rebound to win the Fountain of Youth and regain his spot as the early Kentucky Derby favorite. In the process he defeated Holy Bull and the soon to be Kentucky Derby winner, Go For Gin. But for Dehere, there would be no opportunity for Triple Crown glory. A fracture of his right hind cannon bone during training would cut his racing career short. In the end, Dehere retired with 6 wins and 2 seconds in only nine starts, and earned just under three quarters of a million dollars. Since his retirement he has been a relatively successful sire all over the world, standing in Japan, America, and Australia. Today at age 19, he is a shuttle sire for Coolmore Stud. The sire of graded stakes winners in all three nations, Dehere is best known in America as the sire of Graeme Hall and Take Charge Lady.

In sweeping the Saratoga Special, Sanford and Hopeful, I honestly believe that I had never been more impressed by any juvenile through that point of the season. His acceleration in those races was simply unforgettable. While his career may never have reached greater heights after that Summer, it was in that one calandar month in 1993 that had been more than enough for this fan. In that month, I saw Dehere and I saw greatness. I remember you Dehere.


Anonymous said...

I was there that day for the Saratoga Special. To this day it remains one of the races that I will never ever forget. Thanks for the memories Brian. This is my first time commenting but I have been enjoying your writing for a long time. Keep up the great work.


Brian Zipse said...

Thanks for the kind words, John. I wish I had been there in person like you, but the replay alone is quite memorable for me.

william said...

those replays are phenomenal to see him racing like that....he was the talk of the town but.....thanks for bringing him back brian