What’s in a (Race) Name? The Versatility of Precisionist

Precisionist wins the 1984 Californian Stakes. (BloodHorse Library)

When a racetrack decides to name a race in honor of a great horse, they typically choose a race with conditions that the horse in question might have relished. Indeed, in many cases the horse’s name is placed on a significant race that the great horse won during its racing career.

In the case of Precisionist, one of the stars of the mid-1980s, just about any race could have been named in his honor. After all, Precisionist—despite his name—cared little about excelling at any exact distance. Consider the following:

  • He was a Grade 1 winner on dirt.
  • He was a stakes winner and a Grade 2 runner-up on turf.
  • He won the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Sprint going three-quarters of a mile.
  • He won the Grade 1 Charles H. Strub Stakes going 1 ¼ miles.

There might be no better example of Precisionist’s versatility than the simple fact that he competed in two renewals of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, winning in 1985, and also ran in two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Classic, finishing a strong third in 1986 while running a full half-mile farther than in the Sprint. Talk about versatility!

During his lengthy career, Precisionist also traveled the country, competing in California, Louisiana, New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, and Florida while winning major races from coast to coast. His Breeders’ Cup Sprint victory—which led to an Eclipse Award as Champion Sprinter of 1985—might have been the highlight of his career, but he was just as successful in 1986, winning five stakes races including the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park.

Even an injury and temporary retirement couldn’t stop Precisionist. After missing all of the 1987 season, Precisionist returned to the races in 1988 and won three more races, including the Grade 3 Cabrillo Handicap at Del Mar.

Precisionist lived out his retirement days at Old Friends Farm in Kentucky, and in 2014, Santa Anita Park renamed the 1 1/16 miles Grade 3 Mervyn LeRoy Handicap in Precisionist's honor. Fittingly, it was a race that Precisionist won by four lengths in 1985, back when it was held at a flat mile—right in the middle of Precisionist’s impressive distance capabilities.

Let’s step back in time and remember a few other racing stars that have upcoming races named for them …

Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita

A single paragraph of text can hardly begin to brush the surface of Affirmed’s legendary accomplishments. Suffice to say that the 1978 Triple Crown winner was a two-time Horse of the Year, a three-time divisional champion, and a winner of 22 of his 29 starts during three seasons of racing. Known for his determination and his long-lasting rivalry with Alydar, Affirmed defeated Alydar in all three Triple Crown races, though his margins of victory were just a neck in the Preakness and a head in the Belmont Stakes. But despite these close finishes, in retrospect there shouldn’t have been any doubt that Affirmed would prevail—during his lengthy career, he never lost a photo finish.

Edward Evans Stakes at Laurel Park

As the owner of Spring Hill Farm in Virginia, Edward P. “Ned” Evans was one of racing’s greatest breeders. During more than four decades of involvement with the sport, Evans bred more than 100 stakes winners, many of which he raced under his own name. Among the best horses that he campaigned was the multiple Grade 1-winner Quality Road, who is now a prominent stallion; Evans also bred 2005 Horse of the Year Saint Liam, though that runner did not race in Evans’ colors.

Jameela Stakes at Laurel Park

The Maryland-bred mare Jameela barely knew what it was like to finish out of the trifecta, because it happened to her so infrequently that she could hardly become accustomed to it. A tough-as-nails veteran that raced as many as 20 times in a single year, Jameela won 27 of her 58 starts (finishing in the top three 48 times) while winning such prestigious events as the 1981 Ladies Handicap, 1981 Maskette Stakes, and the 1982 Delaware Handicap, all Grade 1 races. Her victory in the Delaware Handicap pushed her career earnings past the $1 million mark, making her just the fifth mare in history to win more than a million dollars.

Wild Applause Stakes at Belmont Park

Wild Applause was bred to be a success—after all, her sire was the great Northern Dancer and her dam was the graded stakes winner Glowing Tribute. Wild Applause lived up to expectations on the track, where she won five of her 10 starts, including the Grade 2 Diana Handicap at Saratoga. But her greatest success would come as a broodmare, for Wild Applause became the dam of nine winners, including the graded stakes winners Blare of Trumpets, Eastern Echo, Roar, and Yell, with Eastern Echo being an undefeated colt that won the Grade 1 Futurity Stakes.

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