Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A moment of silence for Real Quiet

The news came as a shock this morning, as it usually does for me when a stallion dies before the age of 20 or so.

Real Quiet -- who in 1998 came closer to a Triple Crown than any horse since Affirmed last did it in 1978 -- died peacefully in his stall this week at Penn Ridge Farm near Harrisburg, Pa. He was only 15.

To me, Real Quiet was always a source of inspiration that the little guy, be he equine or human, could succeed in this game.

Real Quiet was conceived on a recommendation by the late Jack Werk. Eduardo Gaviria, a breeder from Bogota, Colombia, and director of that country's stud book, who also owned a farm in Ocala, Fla., approached Werk Thoroughbred Consultants in 1994 for advice on breeding his mare, Really Blue (Believe It-Meadow Blue, by Raise a Native). Gaviria wanted to spend $10,000 or less on the stud fee, breed in Kentucky, and sell the resulting foal.

Werk found that at the time, there were six stakes winners by Fappiano out of In Reality mares. Really Blue was by a son of In Reality. Fappiano had died four years earlier (a brilliant stud career cut short at age 13 by founder), so Werk recommended a son, Quiet American, for Gaviria's mare.

The resulting foal of this somewhat "bargain" breeding didn't sell for much at auction, either. The bay colt turned out on the right front. And he was so narrow in the chest when viewed head-on that J.B. McKathan, who along with brother Kevin had combed the 1996 Keeneland September Yearling Sale for trainer Bob Baffert, became the first to describe him as "The Fish," a nickname that stuck once the horse was in Baffert's barn. Mike Pegram, a Baffert client, shelled out all of $17,000 for the Quiet American colt at that sale.

"When he was a yearling, he was just a frame," J.B. McKathan said later. "He didn't have any muscle on him. To buy 'The Fish' you had to have imagination. And you had to put up with the fact that he's incorrect ... which never bothered us. He moved like an athlete, and that's what we were looking for."

It didn't take too long for the incorrect, inexpensive, unassuming Real Quiet to start making a little bit of noise.

He raced nine times as a 2-year-old. ... How many do that anymore? ... And while he won just twice, one of those victories was the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity. He was also third five times, twice in stakes.

As a 3-year-old, Real Quiet didn't win a race until that first Saturday in May, at Churchill. He was second in the San Felipe S.-G2 to Artax and then in the Santa Anita Derby-G1 to Indian Charlie while prepping for the big day.

But in the Derby, it was Mike Pegram's and Bob Baffert's $17,000 yearling -- crooked, narrow and cheap -- who desperately held off Victory Gallop in deep stretch to win the 124th running of the Run for the Roses.

Real Quiet went on to win the Preakness by more than two lengths over Victory Gallop. But Victory Gallop got the better of him in June, in New York, wearing the Derby winner down, chipping away at the Triple Crown hopeful's four-length lead in the stretch, and winning the Belmont Stakes by just a nose to rob Real Quiet of a little piece of immortality.

Though he wouldn't race again that year, Real Quiet was named champion 3-year-old colt. And he did come back at age 4. ... Again, how many Derby winners do that anymore? ... In his 1999 season, Real Quiet, as he did at 2 and 3, was a Grade 1 winner, annexing both the Hollywood Gold Cup and the Pimlico Special. He retired with six wins and 11 other placings from 20 starts, for $3,271,802.

Sent to stud, Real Quiet eventually filtered his way to Pennsylvania, where he stood this year for $6,000. But while the imperfect Derby winner couldn't become a star stud in Kentucky, his breeding career hasn't been a complete bust. Among his 15 stakes winners are champion sprinter Midnight Lute and fellow Grade 1 winners Pussycat Doll and Wonder Lady Anne L. Not including this year's 2-year-olds, Real Quiet has gotten 76.5 percent starters and 50.4 percent winners from all foals. From an earnings standpoint, their average ($49,918) and median ($13,515) aren't bank-breakers, but he was presented a broodmare band with a comparable index of 1.27 and managed to produce his own progeny average earnings index of 1.21. (For those who aren't up to speed on such figures, that means Real Quiet had about the same success with his mares as did other sires with whom they were mated.)

You got those results from a fairly reasonable stud fee. If you weren't the breeder, you could buy his weanlings and yearlings at auction for an average price of less than $10,000; his 2-year-olds for an average of under $20,000. And you had a 50/50 shot of breeding or owning a winner, which in this business isn't all that bad.

Not just from the day he was born, nor from the day he was conceived, but from the day his very conception was conceived, Real Quiet was about spending a little in hopes of maybe getting a whole lot. It's the dream of every non-millionaire would-be racehorse owner or breeder; of every $2 bettor at the window. Stories like his are a big part of why I'm here.

So it's with a heavy heart that I say, "Goodbye, Fish."

Rest in peace. And Quiet.


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