September 28, 2010

Remembering ... Real Quiet

With every heart pounding stride it was becoming painfully evident that the quest for racing’s holy grail was in jeopardy. Only seconds before, Mike Pegram’s Real Quiet had seemed home free, as he and Rider Kent Desormeaux had stormed to a commanding lead early in the stretch. He was on the verge of becoming the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed had outfought his great rival Alydar to the Belmont Stakes wire twenty years earlier. While Affirmed had to best the great Alydar in three straight classic races, Real Quiet’s foil was Victory Gallop. The late developing son of Cryptoclearance had finished second to Real Quiet in both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, and was back to challenge for a third time. The two proud colts were now in the midst of thrilling the second largest crowd to see the race in the rich history of the Belmont Stakes. The thrilling duel, down the Belmont stretch, brought the crowd first to a fever pitch, and then to an eerie silence on a gorgeous June afternoon in New York.

Immortality would slip away from Real Quiet on that day, as Victory Gallop methodically reeled him in during the final few strides of the Belmont Stakes. In the end, Real Quiet had been beaten a scant nose, and in that tiny margin, the hopes of millions of race fans, desperately seeking a new hero, were dashed. Adding to the drama of the closest Belmont since the Affirmed/Alydar epic, was the announcement after the race that stewards might have disqualified him if he had won the race, due to bumping Victory Gallop twice nearing the finish. It marked the second year in a row that Real Quiet’s trainer Bob Baffert was denied after coming agonizingly close to completing a Triple Crown. He had been turned away the year before when Silver Charm was passed by Touch Gold late in the race. This near miss was closer though, much closer. I could not help but feel for Real Quiet and his connections. I was not alone in my disappointment.

Real Quiet was bred by Little Hill Farm in Kentucky, and born on March 7, 1995. The bay colt was by sired Quiet American, out of the Believe It mare, Really Blue. His narrow frame and crooked knees did not attract much attention from prospective buyers, and so the young colt was snatched up at auction by trainer Bob Baffert, to be owned by his friend Mike Pegram, for a mere $17,000 as a yearling. The bargain purchase would set the stage for Real Quiet joining Seattle Slew as a quintessential rags to riches racing story.

The first time I saw Real Quiet in person was a very memorable day for me. It happened to be my first ever visit to Santa Anita Park, and I had decided my money would be on the bargain basement colt. The loser of his first six races, including two at the Downs of Santa Fe in New Mexico, Real Quiet had blossomed when stretched out in the Fall of his juvenile year. He broke his maiden impressively at Santa Anita and culminated his two-year-old season by winning the Hollywood Futurity. My first experience at Santa Anita and seeing Real Quiet came in the 1998 Santa Anita Derby. I bet on The Fish, so nicknamed by Baffert because of his skinny appearance from head on, as he faced off against California’s other top sophomores in Artax, and Baffert’s new star, Indian Charlie. My selection ran a solid race that day as he made a strong rally and split horses early in the stretch to finish second to his favored stablemate. Indian Charlie was too good for him that time, and at that distance, but Real Quiet had the look of a colt who would thrive at the longer distances to come. Things would soon be different.

The 1998 Kentucky Derby seemed like it was ripe for the taking. Ligthly raced Indian Charlie was the favorite despite questions about his ability to get the Derby distance. Real Quiet and Victory Gallop were two of many of the horses thought to have a real chance to pull the upset. Pull the upset he did. Sent off at 8-1, Real Quiet stormed to the lead on the far turn and had enough to hold off the strong late rally of Victory Gallop, with Indian Charlie checking in third. It was no surprise to winning trainer, Bob Baffert, who knew the colt was peaking at the right time. Two weeks later further demonstrated how good Real Quiet was becoming, as he clinched the first two legs of the Triple Crown with an easy 2 ¼ length score in the Preakness Stakes. Victory Gallop again rallied for second, but this time he could not come close to The Fish. The Belmont, three weeks later, may have been opportunity lost, but it completed an awesome stretch of racing in a five-week period for Real Quiet.

Despite being sidelined after his sensational Triple Crown chase, his accomplishments in the first half of 1998 earned him the Eclipse Award as Champion three-year-old male. Real Quiet would further demonstrate his class when returning the following Spring as an older horse. After a couple of narrow defeats, off the layoff, in graded stakes in the South, Real Quiet would be reacquainted with a classic distance in the historic Pimlico Special. I must admit I did not bet The Fish that day, because he was up against one of my all-time favorites in Free House. Real Quiet would prove that last year’s Triple Crown was no fluke by earning a hard fought neck victory over his accomplished foe. Interestingly, Gary Stevens was the winning rider that day, yes the same Gary Stevens who had ridden Victory Gallop on that fateful day at Belmont Park. By winning the Grade 1 Pimlico Special, he became only one of five horses ever to win both the Preakness and the Pimlico Special, joining four Triple Crown winners, Assualt, Citation, War Admiral, and Whirlaway to win both races.

After the big win at Pimlico, Real Quiet was upset by the hard hitting Behrens in the Mass Cap, before heading back to Southern California for a date in the Hollywood God Cup. Proving once again that he was a terror at classic distances, The Fish won the ten furlong Gold Cup by a half length. It marked his fifth race at a 1 3/16 or farther, with only the nose loss in the Belmont blemishing his perfect record. The Gold Cup would send Real Quiet out as a winner, as shortly after the Gold Cup in June, Real Quiet suffered a fractured bone in his right front leg and never raced again. All told he won 6 of his 20 starts, finishing in the money 17 times, and earned $3,271,802. Real Quiet was a horse who was not afraid to rise to the occasion, as five of those six wins came in grade 1 races.

After retirement, the bay stallion entered stud at Vinery in 2000 and later moved to Taylor Made Farm before being relocated to Pennsylvania. As a sire, he produced Midnight Lute and two other Grade 1 winners, Pussycat Doll, and Wonder Lady Anne L. Midnight Lute would of course win back to back Breeder’s Cup Sprints and was named the Champion Sprinter of 2007. It is with great sadness that I report that Real Quiet’s stallion career has come to a tragic end.

The fifteen-year-old stallion passed away suddenly after a freak accident in his paddock yesterday afternoon at Penn Ridge Farms, near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Frankly, it was not my plan to write about the 1998 champion, Real Quiet today, but when I had heard that he had died, my duty was clear. It is always tough to lose a popular horse, and in Real Quiet, racing lost a real champion yesterday. No horse has ever come so close without winning the Triple Crown. He will always be remembered for his heartbreaking loss, but as he proved on many occasions since that afternoon at Belmont Park, The Fish was far more than the horse who narrowly missed out on becoming the 12th ever winner of America‘s Triple Crown. I remember you Real Quiet.


Jennifer said...

Great article, Brian. Thanks for remembering Real Quiet today. ;)

Brian Zipse said...

It is a sad day for me, but thank you Jennifer.

ja.raymond said...

Having worked for Elliott Walden, I started out rooting for Victory Gallop. But after the Preakness, I was so excited about a new TC winner, I went for Quiet.
He was so close that day, I still kinda consider him a TC winner.
A brave little horse with a great heart!
God bless you, Quiet, and rest in peace - you deserve it! We'll miss you!
Thanx for the tribute, Brian :)

Celeste said...

Thank you, Brian, for a wonderful tribute to a beautiful horse.

Tony Bada Bing said...


I was at the Belmont Stakes that cool and windy day in 1998. The roar from the crowd as Real Quiet took off at the top the stretch is something I will never forget. Watching him get nailed at the line was a bummer (did Kent move to soon?), but at least I had the tri

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks Jane, Celeste. Crazy change in atmosphere, eh Tony? Glad you hit the tri, but I still wish The Fish had carried it to the wire. I don't blame Desormeaux, but...