Retired Touch Gold visits with Old Friends' Michael Blowen at Old Friends Farm near Georgetown, Ky. (All photos courtesy of Melissa Bauer-Herzog)
When Touch Gold entered the 1997 Belmont Stakes, he was out for revenge after stumbling in the Preakness three weeks earlier and registering his first ever off-the-board finish.
In the Belmont, Chris McCarron and Touch Gold went straight to the lead out of the gate and led the race for the first half-mile before conceding the lead to Wild Rush and settling in the fourth position of a tightly packed group. Midway on the far turn, Triple Crown hopeful Silver Charm took the lead and battled with Free House on his outside with Touch Gold behind them. While Silver Charm was able to put Free House away, that rival played the perfect shield for Touch Gold who was able to sneak by on his outside and pass Silver Charm almost before the horse realized it.
Touch Gold won by three-quarters of a length to give jockey Chris McCarron his sixth United States classic victory and first since the 1994 Kentucky Derby on Go For Gin. The win also marked trainer David Hofmans' first and only in an American classic to date.
1997 BELMONT STAKES
Video courtesy of New York Racing Association
After a two-month break from the races, Touch Gold lined up in the gate for the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. With McCarron aboard, the pair was anywhere from two to three and a half lengths behind the leader at all the calls except for the one that mattered, winning by 1 ½ lengths. The victory marked the third time since 1976 a Belmont Stakes winner had also won the Haskell.
From there, Touch Gold headed to the Pegasus Handicap and Breeders’ Cup Classic but he wasn’t able to make an impact in either race, finishing at least 16 lengths behind the winner in each.
When Touch Gold returned to the races as a 4-year-old, it was with a new jockey and new trainer in Pat Day and Pat Byrne, respectively.
Returning off a nearly eight-month layoff, Touch Gold entered a Churchill Downs allowance in late June. No farther back than a head at any call, he took over in the stretch and rolled to an easy 2 ¾-length victory with Day. It would be the last win of his career but not for lack of trying.
TOUCH GOLD IN RETIREMENT
Two starts later, Touch Gold returned to Keeneland where he had won the Lexington Stakes the previous year by 8 ½ lengths. Running in a short four-horse field, he and Grade 1 winner Arch went head-to-head for most of the race. In the end, only a neck separated them with Arch coming out ahead and the other two horses at least nine lengths back.
After an eighth-place finish in the Breeders’ Cup Classic where a fellow Stronach Stable horse won, Touch Gold was retired to Frank Stronach’s Adena Springs.
As a sire, Touch Gold produced 29 stakes winners including 11 graded stakes winners as of April 6, 2016. Of those, four won Grade 1 races including two-time Grade 1 winner Composure and 2006 Stephen Foster winner Seek Gold, with two other sons winning back-to-back runnings of the Grade 1 Forego Stakes at Saratoga: Midas Eyes in 2004 and Mass Media in 2005.
As a damsire, his daughters have produced 35 stakes winners and 16 graded stakes winners including four-time Grade 1 winner Emollient and three champions.
TOUCH GOLD GALLOPING THROUGH HIS PASTURE
After breeding 13 mares in 2015, Touch Gold was retired from breeding duties and sent to Old Friends in December. With his son Seek Gold only a few paddocks away, Touch Gold was also reunited with an old rival in Silver Charm who retired there in 2014. The pair lives kitty-corner to each other with Silver Charm’s paddock located behind Old Friends' founder Michael Blowen’s house and Touch Gold’s next to the house.
“I love Touch Gold, he’s the fastest horse on the farm,” Blowen said. “First he wouldn’t really come to anybody. We were told when he came here that he was difficult but (these horses) are so valuable they couldn’t call the shots for a long time … When they come here, they’re totally in charge, they train us, the shoe is completely on the other foot. They train us. So once they get to be a horse again and just be out, their personalities all change.”
While some horses take a while to settle into the new routine at Old Friends, especially since the horses spend nearly all of their time outside, Blowen said that Touch Gold only took about half an hour to relax into his new life. His spot next to the house also allows him to demand carrots whenever Blowen is outside, a routine that has gotten him even more carrots than his trick of racing Blowen down the fence line does (a race Touch Gold always wins).
BLOWEN RACING TOUCH GOLD
Blowen says that whenever jockeys Chris McCarron and Gary Stevens stop by the farm, they debate that Belmont Stakes as if it was yesterday. With the horses living so close to each other, it’s hard not to believe they don’t have the same discussions every now and again with Silver Charm hoping for a rematch one day.
For those who want to visit Touch Gold and Old Friends’ other equine residents, you can find more information about how to schedule a tour on http://www.oldfriendsequine.org.