If you’re a fan of horse racing, you have at least one favorite horse that affected you in a personal way but may not be that widely known. Sure, everyone has their favorite champions, Kentucky Derby winners, and Breeders’ Cup winners, but devoted fans of the sport know that a lot of the joy in following racing comes from the less-heralded horses that one encounters while following their favorite racing circuit, through an early connection with an owner and/or breeder, or just through chance.
Among the team at America’s Best Racing, those types of unsung competitors are definitely not in short supply. Enjoy our remembrances of favorite racehorses you’ve never heard of, and chime in on our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages with your own memories.
The majesty of horses is what drew me to racing, and as a lifelong horse lover I often find myself marveling at the Thoroughbred's athleticism and personality. One racehorse who stands out to me and whose name will probably not ring a bell for most fans is Sense of a Woman.
In the summer of 2012 I had the pleasure of interning "where the turf meets the surf" at Del Mar in California, spending time in many different departments in all areas of the track and backside. Doug O'Neill's barn was the first one you come to when you set off for the far side of the track, so I naturally spent some time getting to know his horses (with permission, of course). Many of them were friendly, but Sense of a Woman was one of the sweetest fillies I've met.
At the time, Sense of a Woman was an unraced 2-year-old and she made her debut in an $80,000 maiden claiming race while I was at Del Mar that summer. She didn't turn out to be a significant racehorse, but I nevertheless followed her throughout her career. In the fall of 2013 she turned up at Keeneland in the barn of Mike Maker, and I paid her a visit as a Keeneland intern. She was still just as kind.
A daughter of Street Sense, Sense of a Woman changed hands several times during her racing days before a final claim in May 2014. She was subsequently sold (twice) at Tattersalls in England that year. I think of her sometimes along with other memories of a summer by the sea. I hope she has a green pasture to frolic and raise foals in. –Christina Moore
A Florida-bred Hoist the Silver gelding born in 1985, Chapala raced 150 times from 1987 through 1996, winning at least two races in every season from his 3-year-old campaign through his 11-year-old season. He amassed 32 wins and ran in the top three in more than half (76) of his starts. Chapala was a claimer who occasionally competed in starter-allowance races and handicaps, but his closing running style, career peak, and home track paired perfectly with me.
You see, when my friends and I started getting our driver’s licenses in 1990, our first priority was making the 15-minute ride down I-95 to our home track, Delaware Park, as often as possible. And during these high school years (1990-1992) with transportation, Chapala raced 29 times at Delaware Park with nine wins, seven seconds, and five thirds. (In 1994, he ripped off five wins, a second, and a third at Delaware Park during a terrific seven-race stretch from July through November and was only favored twice.)
The pre-slots racing at DelPark was not great. Sometimes, a loaded claiming race might be one of the featured races on the card. Every morning, I’d wake up and grab the News Journal sports section and look at Rick Smyth’s graded entries. Very often, I’d find Chapala’s name accompanied by the coveted Smyth analysis “In fine fettle” and know I had to make it to the track that day. –Mike Curry
My favorite racehorse that you probably have never heard of was a stunning gray gelding named Left n' Right. Trained by the late, great Allen Jerkens, Left n' Right competed in eight races from October 1999 to December 2000, finishing first once ... and that's about it. Before that, he was born on my family's farm in Florida, and I fell in love with the little nearly-black foal the second he hit the ground. When he was retired, his owner Jerry Shields asked if I wanted the gelding, and let me tell you: I've never said yes so quickly in my life.
I gave him a few months off to live in a field and get used to farm life, and then we were off on adventures. Lefty was my heart horse, the Thoroughbred who would give me everything I asked of him, the horse who I could climb on bridleless and bareback in the field and trust him completely.
Lefty passed away earlier this year, but his impact on my life will never fade. To me, he's the horse who embodies the Thoroughbred spirit: brave, bold, generous, athletic, and kind. You may have never heard of Left n' Right, but if you love horses, I hope you get to know a Thoroughbred just like him. –Penelope Miller
On June 18, 2010, I went to Churchill Downs for night racing. ‘The Downs’ had started night racing a year before to great success, and I met a friend there on a nice Friday evening. My father died on June 5 and it was the first time I had been out for any leisure-related activity since before that. He had been a longtime patron of Churchill Downs as well as Keeneland and I felt it was time to enjoy the setting in his memory.
Back then, Churchill had several promotions as part of Downs After Dark, and one of the most popular ones offered a randomly selected fan the chance to make a $1,000 win bet on a horse in a specific race (or take $100 in cash, which no one did). Wouldn’t you know it – I filled out my info before the deadline, dropped it in the box, and sometime around 8 p.m. I got a call on my cell phone and was requested to come down to the paddock and make a pick on race 8.
My friend and I studied the Daily Racing Form to find my horse. It was a maiden special weight (a race for horses who have not yet won) held on the turf at one mile for fillies and mares age 3 and older. One 4-year-old filly stood out as the obvious favorite, named Catnandu. She was making her seventh start, but had shown much improvement in her most recent effort, a runner-up finish on turf at Churchill earlier in the meet.
We spent a couple of minutes trying to justify picking a longshot, but fortunately I did not take the contrarian’s plunge. I made my bet on the chalk at the designated window and went down with my friend to the winner’s circle to watch the race. It turned out to be the easiest $2,600 I ever made as Catnandu won by 8 ½ lengths at 8-5 odds with Jamie Theriot in the irons.
It was a bittersweet evening, no doubt about it. Driving home, I vowed to keep tabs on the Lion Heart filly as she continued to race. Catnandu (not to be confused with Kathmanblu, a graded stakes-winning filly who also raced during 2010-'12) won one more start, at Fair Grounds that December, and retired in 2011. She’s now a broodmare that’s produced two winners so far and foaled a colt by Khozan this year per The Jockey Club statistics. I am allergic to cats, and will almost certainly never visit Kathmandu (although I enjoy the Bob Seger and Cat Stevens travelogue tunes), but I’ll always remember this filly. –Patrick Reed
I fell in love with racing in the late 1980s, but the truth is that as a teenager in the 90s, I was more interested in baseball and girls. So, I kind of drifted away from racing until I was in college and surrounded by a bunch of dudes who loved gambling. By 2001, I was fully immersed in the sport again and I have very vivid memories of gambling from my college dorm room, in class and taking trips with the guys to Vernon Downs (the closest place to Syracuse University where we could find live racing and simulcast action).
Right around that time, a horse named Milky Bar caught my eye. I noticed him at first because of the letters CHI in parenthesis printed next to his name in the program. That meant he was bred in Chile. Interestingly – and I didn’t realize this until much later – before he appeared in New York in 2001, he’d run 35 races in Panama (including two wins in his first two starts and a couple of attempts in stakes company).
After a rough U.S. debut at Saratoga, I bet on him in his second start at Aqueduct. He went off at odds of nearly 9-1 and dug in for an exciting wire-to-wire win under jockey Edgar Prado (who was just about my favorite rider at the time). Milky Bar went on to lose his next seven starts but there was just something about him that kept me coming back and betting on him, race after race. I was finally rewarded the next summer when he won three out of four races at Belmont Park and Saratoga. I was absolutely in love with that horse and would often refer to him as “my horse” even though I clearly didn’t own him.
All told, Milky Bar won 21 races from 86 starts and earned nearly $200,000. He was last seen on the track in 2005. By then, I was working as a TV reporter in Joplin, Mo. Much has changed since then, and I never imagined at the time that my life would eventually fully revolve around racing. I’ve gotta give credit to Milky Bar for helping fuel my passion for the sport. –Dan Tordjman