A Classy Champion, 1989 Belmont Stakes Winner Easy Goer
Everyone loves a longshot, and most people in horse racing have a colorful story about a memorable winner at a huge price. Owner and breeder Arthur Hancock III shared the following with Jeff Lowe:
As a native Kentuckian and fourth-generation horseman, Arthur Hancock looks back in awe at what he can only describe as an out-of-body experience watching his homebred Gato Del Sol erupt for a late-running victory in the 1982 Kentucky Derby at odds of 21.20-1.
“It was a very strange feeling, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before or since,” said Hancock, who bred and raced Gato Del Sol with partner Leone Peters. “It was just hard to believe that it was really happening. This was the race my family had been trying to win for many, many years.”
Gato Del Sol had been winless in seven starts since capturing the Grade 2 Del Mar Futurity the previous September in his graded stakes debut for trainer Eddie Gregson, but the gray colt came into the Derby off a creditable second-place finish in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes, which at the time was positioned just nine days before the run for the roses. On Derby day, Gato Del Sol got an ideal setup, as the filly Cupecoy’s Joy bounded to the lead and set a strong pace that collapsed turning for home and left the favorite Air Forbes One and second choice El Baba reeling along with her.
With Eddie Delahoussaye patient in the irons, Gato Del Sol was last early in the field of 19 but made his way up to a striking position on the outside just behind the leaders at the top of the stretch. He had a head in front going past the eighth pole and drew away late to win comfortably by 2 1/2 lengths.
Hancock and his wife, Staci, had to take a break from their euphoria to try to convince an extremely skeptical member of the National Guard providing security out on the track that they belonged in the winner’s circle.
For Hancock, the victory took a long while to fully sink in. Providing an assist on that front was Sam Ransom, who worked on Hancock’s Stone Farm and had been boisterous about the colt’s potential when he was still a yearling.
“I actually didn’t think that much of [Gato Del Sol] as a young horse,” Hancock said. “There was nothing wrong with him, he just wasn’t a standout. But Sam kept saying, ‘That’s my Derby horse right there.’ Sam was a very good horseman — he galloped Count Fleet when he was a kid — but he kept saying that [about Gato Del Sol] and finally one day I said, ‘Sam, if that horse wins the Derby, I’ll buy you a brand new car.’ ”
Fast forward a couple of years, when Ransom came into the Stone Farm office a few days after the Derby, Hancock immediately knew the nature of the visit and suggested that Ransom pick himself out a nice Chevrolet.
“Sam had these really expressive eyes and he looked at me and said, ‘You know, Boss, all my life I’ve wanted to have a Cadillac or a Lincoln,’” Hancock said.
In the wake of such a fulfilling triumph, Hancock could hardly say no. A Lincoln it was for Mr. Ransom.
Hancock won the Derby again in 1989 with Sunday Silence but said the circumstances were much different, as he was battling to save his Stone Farm amid a financial crunch from major declines in the Thoroughbred bloodstock market and land around Central Kentucky.
“It was a relief more than anything,” Hancock said of Sunday Silence, who would go on to prevail in the Preakness and Breeders’ Cup Classic and was sold to Japan’s Shadai Farm as a stallion. “Sunday Silence saved the farm.”