From Dirt to Turf: How Lure Became a Legend

Legends
Lure wins the 1992 Breeders' Cup Mile. (Blood-Horse photo)

Editor’s note: Two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner and Hall of Famer Lure died on Nov. 15 due to infirmities of old age.

There’s a common phrase in horse racing that says “horses aren’t machines,” and the truth behind this phrase is rarely more apparent than when a talented horse isn’t quite running to expectations. Such was the case with a talented colt named Lure, who began his career in 1991 by breaking a track record for five furlongs at Belmont Park only to lose four of his next six races.

Bred by historic Claiborne Farm and William Haggin Perry’s The Gamely Corp. and raced by the same connections, Lure had the pedigree to be a successful racehorse; his sire was Danzig, a son of the legendary Northern Dancer, and Lure’s dam was Endear, a daughter of the Hall of Fame racehorse Alydar. Trained by Claude “Shug” McGaughey and racing in the silks of Claiborne Farm, Lure only ran three times in 1991 and lost his final two starts, but began to deliver on the promise of his sensational debut by winning his first two starts of 1992. These victories included a memorable dead heat with Devil His Due in the one-mile Gotham Stakes, in which the two colts were never more than a neck apart at any point in the race.

But after the Gotham, Lure’s fortune took a wrong turn. He was narrowly beaten in the Lexington Stakes over a muddy track at Keeneland, and after skipping the iconic Triple Crown races, he was beaten again when finishing sixth of seven in the Riva Ridge Stakes at Belmont, one year after he had lit up the world with his impressive debut race.

Then the fateful decision was made to try running Lure on grass instead of dirt.

"His very first race, he set a track record up at Belmont and we were all really excited,” Dell Hancock of Claiborne Farm in an interview with Blood-Horse. “We thought, here's a horse that has speed and could go on to be a classic type! He was good on the dirt and won the Gotham, but when Shug switched him to the grass he developed into the horse we thought he might be.”

To put it simply, Lure became a different horse. On Sept. 14, he made his turf debut in a 1 1/16-mile allowance race on the turf course at Belmont, and he ran his rivals off their feet to win by 10 ¼ lengths. Back against stakes horses, Lure finished second in the Kelso Handicap over a rain-softened turf course, which wound up being a perfect prep for the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Mile at Gulfstream Park. Facing 13 other top-class horses including three that were shipping in from Europe, Lure grabbed the lead right out of the starting gate and never relinquished his advantage, cruising to the finish line three lengths in front in the course-record time of 1:32.90.

1992 Breeders' Cup Mile

The following year, Lure was even better. He opened 1993 with three straight wins, including the Early Times Turf Classic Stakes and Early Times Dixie Handicap, with his Turf Classic win being achieved in the still-standing course-record time of 1:46.34. However, a sweep of what was then known as the “Early Times Triple Turf Series” proved elusive, as Lure found the 1 ¼ miles of the Early Times Manhattan Stakes to be a little too far, and he was beaten less than a length by Star of Cozzene.

Lure’s distance limitations also came into play in the 1 3/16-mile Caesars International Handicap, in which he finished second again behind Star of Cozzene, but Lure ended the year with three straight wins in his preferred distance range. The Daryl’s Joy Stakes at Saratoga and the Kelso Handicap at Belmont resulted in easy victories for Lure, setting him up for a defense of his Breeders’ Cup Mile title.

"In the second Breeders' Cup Mile, when he drew outside, there were a lot of naysayers who said he couldn't do it from there, but everything fell into place for him,” said Hancock to Blood-Horse. “He was just brilliant when he was right.”

And brilliant he was in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup Mile, seizing the lead early on and cruising to an uncontested 2 ¼-length victory over 12 rivals, becoming just the third horse to win multiple Breeders’ Cup races.

1993 Breeders' Cup Mile

Although Lure wasn’t quite as successful in 1994, he still won the Eklhorn Stakes, Caesars International, and Bernard Baruch Handicap, in addition to running second in the Turf Classic, Dixie Handicap, and Kelso Handicap. He was heavily favored to win a third Breeders’ Cup Mile on Nov. 5 at Churchill Downs, but failed to show his dominant early speed and finished ninth in what was the final race of his career.

Retired to stud at Claiborne Farm, Lure proved to have fertility issues, and over the course of a decade he stood at Coolmore in Ireland and Ashford Stud in Kentucky as efforts were made to prolong his career as a stallion. He did sire more than a hundred foals before being pensioned and sent back to Claiborne Farm. Lure died on Nov. 15 due to infirmities of old age.


Fun Facts

  • Lure was favored to win 22 of his 25 races, and never went off at odds higher than 5.40-1.
  • Lure was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • Lure retired with a record of 14 wins and 8 seconds from 25 starts, with earnings of $2,515,289.
  • Despite his remarkable success on turf, Lure never won an Eclipse Award as champion turf male; he lost to Sky Classic in 1992, Kotashaan in 1993, and Paradise Creek in 1994.
  • Devil His Due, the horse that finished in a dead heat with Lure in the 1992 Gotham Stakes, would go on to become a star runner in his own right, winning five Grade 1 races during a career that lasted through 1995.

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