all in Legends

The upper echelon of horse racing purses has come a long way in 100 years, but the entrepreneurial spirit and promotional creativity of those tasked with putting on the sport’s biggest races burns as brightly now as it did when the racetrack boom of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries brought many of today’s most popular venues into existence.

If a modern-day horse racing fan were transported back in time 160 years, they might hardly recognize the sport. Thoroughbreds weren’t as fast back then, but they ran longer distances and could do so multiple times per day. The six-furlong sprints of today were nowhere to be found; instead, the biggest races were usually held over four miles with multiple “heats” in a single day. In other words, the winner was usually the first to win two heats, which required them to run at least eight miles a day.

Anyone who doubts Frank Stronach’s ability to think big needs only to gaze at the 473-ton steel and bronze statue of Pegasus, the winged stallion of Greek mythology, that captivates visitors as they enter Gulfstream Park and Casino in Hallandale Beach, Fla.

Last week I wrote about the 50th anniversary of Damascus and my introduction to Thoroughbred racing. While on the subject of anniversaries, I feel it is only appropriate to write about the 40th anniversary of one of the most emotional and memorable races I’ve ever seen. It has been established that Damascus’ feats of total domination, durability, toughness, explosiveness, and weight carrying ability stand among the greatest achievements in racing history, as under-appreciated as it may be.

Sunday Silence spent a lifetime in search of respect, on the track and in the breeding shed. In the end, he earned it.

“He was very good,” said Shug McGaughey, a Hall of Fame trainer who handled arch-rival Easy Goer. “I ran against him four times and he beat us three times. And I ran a pretty good horse at him.”

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