September 28, 2009

Remembering ... Summer Squall

I will never forget the afternoon when Summer Squall and Unbridled first met. It was April 14, 1990 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky. I had been to Keeneland in the past but always with my father and older brother, never before on my own. A few months shy of my 21st birthday, it was a special day for me to travel to the most beautiful racetrack in America as an adult. It was made all the more memorable because there I would see the horse I was touting all my college friends on for the Derby, Unbridled, in the Blue Grass Stakes. This would be the big, handsome son of Fappiano’s last race before the Run for the Roses and my first chance to see him in person. I had been very impressed with his last two races in the Fountain of Youth and Florida Derby and even more impressed with his looks. Going in, I knew the Blue Grass was not an easy race for Unbridled. Standing in his way was a small but tough Dogwood runner named Summer Squall. In my mind Summer Squall, a regally bred son of Storm Bird, had been the best two-year-old in the country, and despite a late start to his 3-year-old season, had done nothing to lessen my respect for him. Unfortunately, it rained on and off most of Blue Grass day and the already speed favoring Keeneland track was now even more so in its' wet condition. To no ones surprise, Summer Squall looked like he was out for a Sunday stroll as he galloped around the muddy track to an effortless victory. The late running Unbridled could make up little ground and finished third. I was disappointed, but I knew the race set-up would be completely different on Derby day.

Three weeks later the sun was shining, the track was good and I was once again part of the crowd. The large field created a fast pace, as it often does, and combined with the classic distance, the 1990 Kentucky Derby set up perfectly for Unbridled. The strapping bay colt rallied on the outside and powerfully strode to a 3 ½ length victory at generous odds of 10-1. It had been the most impressive Derby win in several years and if not for one horse, he would have won by ten lengths. Of course that horse was his new rival, Summer Squall. Summer Squall suffered only his second defeat in the Derby but in the process had gained even more respect as he truly ran a winning race. A race that would have won many years, was simply second best to a powerhouse on this day. The Neil Howard trained bay ridden by Unbridled’s former rider, Pat Day, would head to Baltimore in search of revenge.

Preakness Day was a day for turning the tables. First the bettors flip-flopped and made Unbridled the favorite and then in the race, it was Summer Squall who would be the horse sprinting powerfully away from his rival. In one of the fastest Preakness Stakes ever, Summer Squall scooted through on the rail and defeated his adversary Unbridled by 2 ¼ lengths. One thing did remain constant though, as the rest of the horses were left far behind. Summer Squall finished more than eleven lengths in front of 3rd place finisher Mister Frisky. There was no doubt as to who were the best two 3-year-olds of 1990, the question was, who was the best? The Belmont would not provide the answer as both rivals ran with an anti-bleeder medication, and at that time, New York did not allow Lasix. Summer Squall would not run leaving Unbridled to collect a $1 million dollar bonus for best performance throughout the Triple Crown despite turning in a dismal performance, finishing a well beaten fourth. Despite the million dollar carrot dangling in front of them, Summer Squall's handlers opted to do what was best for the horse.

After his excellent performances in the Derby and the Preakness, Summer Squall deserved a vacation. Managing partner of Dogwood Stable, Cot Campbell and trainer Neil Howard wanted to give their colt a little breather before a big Fall campaign that would surely culminate with a well deserved championship for Summer Squall. Campbell, a charming Southern gentleman had put together the syndicate that would own Summer Squall under the name of Dogwood. Within this syndicate, Summer Squall actually had 28 different owners. All these owners were more than ready for Summer Squall to return to the races and he did not disappoint when he returned in September to easily win the Pennsylvania Derby. Talk about consistency! The win brought Summer Squall’s record to 9 wins in 11 starts, with the only losses being his 2nd in the Derby and a 2nd in his first race of the year, in a sprint to the best sprinter of the era, Housebuster.

It was on to Louisiana for the Super Derby and a match up with Unbridled that would surely crown a 3-year-old champion. But alas, the meeting never happened as Summer Squall came down with a virus just days before the big race and did not run. Unbridled ran 2nd in the Super Derby but later won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. For the second year in a row Summer Squall would narrowly miss out on an eclipse award as the outstanding horse of his generation. After the virus, a quarter crack, and general wear and tear to the small horse, Summer Squall was never quite the same. He was a successful 4-year-old, but just not quite the horse he had been. He did manage to beat Unbridled in two out of their three meetings as older hoses which brought his final tally to 4 wins from 6 starts against his outstanding rival.

At stud Summer Squall was a success. Siring such notables as: champions Charismatic and Storm Song and a favorite of mine, Summer Colony. Currently he is a very popular broodmare sire with Summer Bird being one of his many successful grandsons. As a big fan of Unbridled, I often was rooting against Summer Squall, but I always had great respect for him. Years removed from their rivalry, I found great appreciation for what a magnificent runner Summer Squall truly was, his Hopeful win in which he bulled through a hole the size of a toothpick is still one of the bravest performance I have seen by a 2-year-old. When I learned of his passing last Tuesday, I felt a wave of pure sadness. He was 22 years old. I remember you Summer Squall.


NetworkEmpowerment said...

This was probably one of the last real times when rivals actually met and did battle over many races. Kind of weird that only ten years later we are so into money, that owners forget about the fans most of the time and pure sportsmanship. Summer Squall and Unbridled are both amazing and deserve the recognition you've given then. Fantastic blog Brian.

Celeste said...

Wonderful blog, Brian! It's the details that remain in memories that are so much more important than just looking up the statistics of who won which race when. Thank you!