Neil Drysdale at the racetrack. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
By Tom Pedulla, America’s Best Racing
When Neil Drysdale reflects on those who influenced his Hall of Fame training career, Charlie Whittingham is the one figure who towers above the rest.
Drysdale assisted Whittingham from 1970-74. Every morning at the barn and every afternoon at the races served as a tutorial that continues to serve the former assistant well.
“He was a very patient man and he planned very well,” Drysdale said of Whittingham. “He gave quite a lot of attention to detail. He was a very good mentor and also an articulate man who explained things very well. He treated me very well.”
Not surprisingly, Drysdale is known for extreme patience and his ability to see through a plan that gets a horse to a specific race in a sport in which the best-laid plans often end up in a smoldering heap.
Drysdale suffered that fate at the worst possible time when heavily-favored A.P. Indy had to be scratched the morning of the 1992 Kentucky Derby with a foot bruise. “It’s quite obvious if he had run, he would have won,” the trainer said. “He was a super-talented horse.”
It must have been a brutal disappointment for everyone associated with A.P. Indy. And yet Drysdale, when asked his emotions upon announcing the scratch, said he never allowed himself to dwell on the awful timing of the injury or how much hard work had gone for naught. Instead, he focused on getting the horse well as quickly as possible and salvaging the season.
Although A.P. Indy could not make the Preakness, he won the Belmont and showed his superiority against older horses by taking the Breeders’ Cup Classic to be crowned Horse of the Year. That Classic is one of six Breeders’ Cup victories for Drysdale, a testament to his ability to keep top-shelf horses in peak form for an extended period.
Drysdale also reached the Breeders’ Cup winner’s circle with Princess Rooney (Distaff, 1984), Tasso (Juvenile, 1985), Prized (Turf, 1989), Hollywood Wildcat (Distaff, 1993) and War Chant (Mile, 2000).
Fusao Sekiguchi, a venture capitalist from Japan, did well when he purchased Fusaichi Pegasus as a $4 million yearling and entrusted his development to Drysdale. The colt, despite a particularly high-strung, temperamental and downright quirky disposition, justified his price tag by winning the Kentucky Derby. Although he was viewed as a horse capable of sweeping the Triple Crown, he was upset by Red Bullet in the Preakness Stakes and was not entered in the Belmont.
Drysdale, 67, did not dwell on his Derby triumph then. He is not one to reflect on it now. “Once you’ve done it, of course you think you should do it again,” he said.
Drysdale noted the fast-moving nature of the racing industry and the constant pressure on a trainer to produce. “I don’t think anybody in this business dwells on what he accomplished,” he said.
DAVID FLORES, BOBBY FLAY AND DRYSDALE
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
As an aging trainer, he focuses on replenishing his barn with quality stock since a number of significant owners he worked for died. He believes he is as driven now as he was when he went out on his own in 1975.
“Very few people these days work seven days a week,” he said. “You have to be passionate about it.”
There is no sign that Drysdale is ready to retire. “I’m enjoying it too much,” he said. “I suppose the day might come when I might start to lose interest. As of yet, I have not lost any interest whatsoever. I very much enjoy it and want to continue.”
Racing is all the richer for his presence.