December 9, 2010

Remembering ... Waquoit

No wonder he was tough, his first 13 races came on the mean streets of Boston. Or at least eleven of them at Suffolk, and two more at nearby Rockingham Park. Waquoit was a warrior, and more than twenty years ago, I had the pleasure of seeing him run in person several times. Whether it was in person or on television, I always looked forward to seeing the rags to riches New Englander mix it up with a great group of handicap stars of the late eighties. I watched him develop from a nice allowance race in the minor leagues of Boston racing, into one of the best horses in the world. He had blazing speed and could carry it as far as you asked him. He was strong on fast tracks, but if the track came up sloppy, he was unbeatable.

Bred in Kentucky by Frank Mackle Jr., Waquoit was a grey son of Relaunch and Grey Parlo, and was a $15,000 bargain purchase by owner Joseph Federico at the 1984 Keeneland September yearling sale. Waquoit would become a family affair for New England based horsemen, as Federico would turn over his purchase to trainer Guido Federico, the owner’s cousin.

He made his debut in August of 1985. It took the juvenile three races to break his maiden, but when he did, he sprinted home by eight lengths. Staying in New England, not many people noticed as he finished his initial year of racing with three minor stakes wins in his final four races of the season. As a sophomore, Waquoit displayed more flashes of talent, but still looked like a local type well into the Summer of 1986. But he got better, and tougher. After an especially impressive allowance win at Suffolk, the decision was made to give him a shot against the big boys. The opportunity would come in the Jamaica Handicap at Belmont Park in October. It was a crucial race in the horse’s career, as an ugly defeat may have dissuaded his connections from trying the big time again. Waquoit did not disappoint. After a three length victory over the highly regarded Mogambo, it was clear that the inexpensive colt from Boston had real class.

After developing into a very good three-year-old, Waquoit would take things to a whole new level at the age of four. Making his seasonal debut in late May, he would begin a five race winning streak with an easy win at his home track of Suffolk. Displaying the versatility of a champion, Waquoit would then win a six furlong race at Suffolk in 1:09.4 in June, and then the 1 ½ mile Brooklyn Handicap giving away oodles of weight at Belmont in July. A strong accomplishment in its own right, but when you consider that he won the Mass Cap, and the Michigan Mile and One-Eighth by more than seven lengths in between, you can begin to see why I held this tenacious gray in such high regard. In fact, it was that win in the 1987 Mass Cap where I first fell in love with him. It was vintage Waquoit.

His perfect season of 1987 would come to a screeching halt at Monmouth in the Iselin Stakes. Finishing fourth that day, Waquoit came out of the race with an injury and would be put away until the Spring of his five-year-old season. If 1987 was his unfulfilled break-out season, 1988 would be the year that Waquoit would show the racing world exactly what he could do. After the long layoff, he came back with a romping win in a minor stakes at Suffolk, before two consecutive second place finishes against top handicap horses, Lost Code and Personal Flag. At this point it was not clear if Waquoit had come back from his injury as good as he had been in his previous season. Those concerns would not last long.

A repeat win against a strong field in the Brooklyn Handicap would get Waquoit back in the winner’s circle. It also earned him a brief rest before the big races of the Fall. His next race would be the Woodward Stakes, and to this day, I still consider it one of the finest handicap races I have ever seen. Eight horses would line up in the Belmont starting gate and every one of them was of grade one quality. My money would be on the speedy gray. I was a fan of his yes, but I could not believe that such a classy horse as Waquoit was being let go at 16-1, loaded field or not. I would not cash my ticket that day, but he certainly gave me plenty to cheer for. The great Alysheba would need to summon all of his class to narrowly defeat Forty Niner and Waquoit in the Woodward, shattering the track record in the process. It was one of those races that you never forget.

Clearly in the best form of his impressive career, Waquoit would get in two more starts in the 1988 season. With Alysheba out of town, he would be made a heavy favorite in the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup. At his favorite distance of 1 ½ miles, and on a wet track that he loved, Waquoit proved unbeatable, destroying the field by 15 lengths. He was then made the second choice in one of the strongest Breeders’ Cup Classic fields in history. Pressured in the early stages by the speedy Slew City Slew, he would weaken down the lane to finish third to Alysheba and Seeking the Gold under the twin spires of Churchill Downs. The fact that he even ran in the Classic was pretty amazing when you consider his owners had to supplement him for the big race to the tune of $360,000. They believed in their horse, and got back most of the fee in finishing third.

The Classic would be the last time we would see Waquoit slugging it out on the track. He was retired and sent to stud for the 1989 breeding season. Syndicated for $3 million, Waquoit took residence at the Northview Stallion Station which had previously been part of legendary Windfields Farm of Maryland. The most notable of his many sons and daughters was the millionaire, grade 1 winner Halo America who inherited much of her father’s looks, speed, and tenacity. Waquoit, a New England racing legend and a fine Maryland sire, was euthanized on June 14, 2007 at the age of 24. Still at Northview, he had succumbed to the infirmities of old age.

As a son of Relaunch, out of broodmare sire Grey Dawn II, I always looked forward to the day that Waquoit would take his immense class, talent and heart to the green stuff. Alas, his grass debut would never come. With his speed, breeding, and ability to thrive at twelve furlongs, I can only imagine how good Waquoit would have been on turf. Looking back though I must say with 19 wins and more than $2.2 million earned, he did just fine on the dirt. Just fine indeed. I remember you Waquoit.


Rachel said...

I was a huge fan of a Waquoit foal named Jet Run who ran at Delaware a few times. I never got to see him in person, but his big brother Water Cannon ran in the 2004 Preakness.

Brian Zipse said...

Nice Rachel, I do not remember Jet Run, but of course I remember Water Cannon. Much like on the track, I was a fan of Waquoit as a sire.

BombsawayBob said...

Waquoit was a moneymaker for New England horseplayers that KNEW he'd get no respect out of town at the Windows, especially earlier in his career. i too was Lucky enough to watch him run in person, at Rockingham Park.
Excellent story, thanks.

djjarmulowicz said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
DylanTWM said...

While Waquoit was before my time, his win in the 1987 MassCap is by far my favorite. It's amazing to look up in the grandstand at Suffolk Downs and see Waquoit along with Seabiscuit and Whirlaway as former winners of the Massachusetts Handicap. A true local legend.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks for the Boston perspectives Bob & Dylan ... in Waquoit, you guys have every right to be proud. He was a star no matter where he came from.

G. Calabrese said...

He was before my time but I think I would have been a big fan of Waqouit if I was following horses in the late 80's. I liked to follow his offspring when they ran in New York. Like dad they excelled over the mud and didn't get much respect at the windows.

Sorry to go off on a tangent but I love the caller in the Mass handicap race posted here. Teh highlight for me is the strong Boston accent. It reminds me of my first trip to Boston in 1981. I love how the caller says Waquit on the Wood! That is so unique and priceless. These provincial accents give the race a local flavor; something lost with the late twentieth century effeminate TV accent so often heard today in America.

Brian Zipse said...

G., Love your take on the Suffolk announcer. Local color is much better than national vanilla in my book as well.

Anonymous said...

i only got my wife to go to the races one time, that time waquoit was running on the grass at suffolk downs he did not like the grass and did not make the board. the whole ride from n.h. i was telling her how great this horse would be one day, however this was not the day.the day waquoit beat broad brush we saw it on tv. i was lucky to have seen about half of the great horses races in person and the others on tv. rick

Anonymous said...

the only time i ever got my wife to go to the track with me was because i told her that we would see a horse that some day would be great. the race was on the tuft that day.waquoit did not make the board. i was lucky to see all of his races mostly in person a few on t.v what a race it was with broad brush. i will never forget this horse. rick

Never Ben Better said...

I saw Waquoit win the MassCap in 1987! I was there, screaming like a madwoman down along the rail near the finish line, as he blew away Broad Brush -- a race that lifted you off your feet with excitement.

And just this afternoon, rummaging through the front hall closet, what did I find but a dusty old cardboard tube with my Waquoit poster from Suffolk Downs inside. How cool is that?