1987 Kentucky Derby winner Alysheba euthanized

  • Associated Press
  • Saturday, March 28, 2009 10:14pm
  • SportsSports

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Alysheba, winner of the 1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and chosen 1988 Horse of the Year, has died. The champion stallion was 25.

The charismatic star, dubbed “America’s Horse” by racing fans, Alysheba was euthanized Friday night following a fall in his stall at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions, where he was buried Saturday.

The son of racing legend Alydar became a sensation for trainer Jack Van Berg and owners Dorothy and Pamela Scharbauer during a brilliant career that included a win in the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic. He retired as horse racing’s all-time money winner with more than $6.6 million in earnings from 11 victories in 26 lifetime starts.

Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron, who piloted Alysheba to victory in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, called him “the most talented horse I ever rode.”

The talent became evident during Alysheba’s stirring Derby win over Bet Twice. He stumbled in the stretch before catching himself to run down his rival in the final yards.

Only upon replay did McCarron realize how close his trip had come to disaster.

“Falling didn’t even go through my mind,” McCarron said. “I kept thinking there’s only one horse left in front of us that was going to prevent us from getting the roses. He just did an incredible job of righting himself. I was focused on keeping my balance and trying to stay on his back.”

Van Berg wasn’t surprised. Alysheba had a sense of balance and athleticism rarely found on the track.

“He just had unbelievable ability,” Van Berg said. “He got a little gust of wind or whatever and got knocked down and he stepped up before Chris knew what hit him. He was remarkable.”

Alysheba backed up the Derby win by taking the Preakness. His bid for a Triple Crown ended with a disappointing fourth-place finish in the Belmont, a rare dull performance from a horse who won fans over with his consistency and durability.

Being a bit of a showoff helped. Van Berg said he would get a kick out of seeing Alysheba hop around the paddock before races, preening for the audience.

“He was hard to handle sometimes, but the adrenaline would get flowing and he knew it was time to go,” Van Berg said. “He could do things you wouldn’t believe.”

Namely, bring it every time.

“He always ran his race,” McCarron said. “You could count on him giving his best effort, even if he got in trouble or the track condition wasn’t to his liking.”

One of his greatest performances may have come in defeat. Alysheba lost to 1986 Derby winner Ferdinand in a photo finish at the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic, a setback that likely cost him Horse of the Year honors.

McCarron said the loss may have been a blessing. Rather than retire to the breeding shed, Alysheba returned to the track as a 4-year-old in 1988, winning six stakes races and getting a measure of revenge in the ‘88 Classic, beating Seeking the Gold in the early evening gloaming at Churchill Downs.

McCarron remembers seeing signs in the winner’s circle proclaiming: “Alysheba for President.” The horse certainly seemed to feel like one, carrying himself with the pride of a winner.

“He looked majestic on the track,” McCarron said. “He’d stop and let people take photographs. I believe he loved it.”

Alysheba retired to stud in Kentucky in 1989 before being sold and sent to Saudi Arabia. He arrived at the Horse Park last fall, joining Cigar — who broke Alysheba’s career earnings record — in the Hall of Champions.

“He had an aura about him,” park spokeswoman Lisa Jackson said.

McCarron said he saw Alysheba two weeks ago and offered his old friend mints while standing out in his paddock.

“He looked fantastic,” McCarron said.

The stallion fell in his stall, injuring his right hind femur, and was euthanized Friday night at a medical center in Lexington.

Kathy Hopkins, director of equine operations at the horse park, said Alysheba fell due to a chronic degenerative spinal condition.

“Complicated by his advanced age, this trauma resulted in severe pain,” Hopkins said. “The resulting pain and suffering, and the inability to stand unaided, led to a joint decision for euthanasia.”

Alysheba is the second champion horse to be euthanized in the past two weeks. Lil E. Tee, who upset heavily favored Arazi to win the 1992 Kentucky Derby, was put down at Old Frankfort Stud in Lexington on March 18 at age 20.

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