October 28, 2010

Remembering ... Bayakoa

My memories of Bayakoa encapsulate the best and the worst of thoroughbred racing. She was a mare whom I have as much respect for as just about any horse I have seen run in forty years of following the sport. In 1989 and 1990, she was simply the best. A horse who would always make her way to the early lead, and on most days, would be impossible to pass. Unfortunately, I can not possibly reflect on her career without flashing back to that fateful afternoon at Belmont Park. On that day Bayakoa would enter a battle with one of the most beautiful creatures that I ever had the pleasure of laying my eyes on, but this is a piece dedicated to the great Bayakoa, so I need to tell you about her first. Bayakoa was a global hero. Native to Argentina, she became a true American star.

Bred in South America, her breeding was full of North American influence. The Argentine-bred champion was a daughter of Consultant’s Bid by Bold Bidder out of the Argentine mare Arlucea, by the Nashua stallion Good Manners. Bayakoa made her first start in Argentina on February 15, 1987. As would become her forte, the bay filly would grab the lead quickly, but unlike so many of her future races, she would tire to finish second. Bayakoa came back to score next time out for fun. From there, she would begin her group one stakes odyssey in only her third lifetime start. She did not win, but it marked the beginning of one of the most impressive group/grade one careers that I have ever seen. In her eighth and final race in Argentina, Bayakoa rolled to a twelve length victory in the prestigious Group 1 Grand Prix Palermo Stakes on a muddy dirt surface. That would be the only race needed for top American trainer Ron McAnally to act.

McAnally brought her to California where he needed to keep the surroundings as peaceful and tranquil as possible for his new star, now owned by Frank and Janis Whitham. Serene surroundings were a necessity because Bayakoa was a bit of a headcase. Nervous and high-strung, she could rarely relax, and reportedly put herself in danger on more than one occasion. This hot-blooded behavior is detrimental to most horses, but Bayakoa made it work on the racetrack. She ran mostly on turf in her first season in America, flashing impressive speed but not consistent results. A combination of the master McAnally working with her and a switch to becoming strictly a dirt horse would work wonders for the five-year-old mare the following year in 1989.

With speed to burn and the courage to stay in front, Bayakoa began to dominate the older female stakes in Southern California. She reeled off five straight graded stakes victories in California and one in Arkansas from February through July and was now considered the top mare in the nation. After a hiccup at Del Mar, Bayakoa took her show on the road again with overpowering wins in prestigious stakes east of the Mississippi in New York’s Ruffian, and Kentucky’s Spinster Stakes. In the Spinster, she waltzed home by 11 ½ lengths over the classy Goodbye Halo. By the time the Breeders’ Cup rolled around there could be no doubt as to who was the best female runner in the nation. At Gulfstream Park‘s BC Distaff, she showed her class by stalking the early pacesetter before taking command. By the time the field had run six furlongs she was in complete control and cruised home under her regular rider, Laffit Pincay, 1 1/2 lengths of her closest competitor, Gorgeous.

Bayakoa picked up right where she left off the next year and her grade one wins continued to mount. Easy wins in the Santa Maria, Santa Margarita, Milady, and Spinster gave her 11 grade one victories over the past two seasons in the States and overshadowed a disappointing performance as the favorite against the boys in the Santa Anita Handicap. Counting her group one win in Argentina, Bayakoa was now in search of her 13th win in the most highly graded races in two continents. Reaching that total would not be easy though. The great Bayakoa, now six-years-old, would meet an outstanding young rival in three-year-old Go For Wand, who was also on the verge of being named a repeat champion.

Her second consecutive marvelous season would culminate with the win in the Breeders’ Cup Distaff. On paper, the final result read as a nearly seven length win for Bayakoa, but it came in a race that will forever have a black cloud hanging above. That would be her final race at six, and age would finally catch up with the iron Argentinean the following year.  Bayakoa would go winless in three starts as a seven-year-old. The hickory mare was soon retired as a two-time champion and a rare repeat winner of the Breeders’ Cup. Her final resume include 21 victories in 39 lifetime starts and $2,861,701 in earnings. As a broodmare, she produced four well bred foals who could not come close to their mom’s racing success.  Her life came to a premature end at the age of 13 when she succumbed to the disease laminitis. Bayakoa was ultimately honored when inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame the year after her passing in 1998.

As for the tragic ending to the 1990 Breeders' Cup Distaff, seeing the victorious Hall of Fame trainer McAnally cry in sadness after the race tells the story. It was two of the greatest horses in American racing history hooked up in an epic battle. The filly nor the mare would give in. Neither had the disposition to give an inch, let alone give up. It was a contest that could have gone down as the greatest in Breeders’ Cup history … it was not to be. Bayakoa crossed the wire, Go For Wand did not.

To this day it was the most horrible thing I have ever seen in racing. I wish that I could remember Bayakoa without thinking of that race, but I can not. It is a shame, because she deserves so much more. Despite her hot temperament, she proved as sound as could be, with the speed and courage to be truly considered as an all-time great. I remember you Bayakoa.


Santa Anita Sue said...

Wonderful piece on a sensational horse. Thank you so much Brian!

NetworkEmpowerment said...

I too always think of the Distaff when thinking of Bayakoa too. It was horrible what happened that day. If a person can watch that and not cry then they do not have emotions.

LetItRideMike said...

She was amazing. Until they put Pincay on her, she ran off with every rider. He was the only jock strong enough to get her to slow down a little early. She had a bad parrot mouth, too, pretty bucktoothed. She ran once at Del Mar when it was over 100 degrees due to a Santa Ana wind, and just blazed around the track, I think it was a mile and she went 1:35 flat, and everyone was just not believing what they were seeing. She was incredible.

Brian Zipse said...

...and just think Mike...that was only a workout!

Tracy said...

Argentina has really good horses. the thing is that land there is especially prepared for them to grow. Once I travelled to the country and I was staying in one of those Buenos Aires apartments which was great, because thanks to that, I got to meet this guy who took me to the countryside and there I was able to see the horses in the wilderness. I loved Argentina, but mainly I loved the beautiful animals they have!