Each year we like to recognize some noteworthy performers in the wonderful world of Thoroughbred racing. As a native and resident of the Volunteer state, we like to put a little Tennessee twist on the greatest sport in the world. The end goal of any game is all about smiling. With that in mind, the envelope, please….
THE THANKSGIVING DAY BUCK- HOT ROD CHARLIE
Since before the days of Daniel Boone, hunting has been a way of life for Tennessee folk. Used to be, it was about survival. Being from way more challenging times than me, my great Uncle Onzie always told me, “never waste a shell and be patient with your diligence. Keep your eyes on the prize and when things are right, get’em in the crosshairs and lower the boom. Only way you win is get in the woods, but the bottom line is meat on the table.” Being fortunate enough that we didn’t have to hunt to survive, I usually went to the woods about one day a year after getting further into my adult life. Chasing a Thanksgiving day buck was my goal, but the wise words of Onzie always rang through. For many years I came up empty, never firing a shot as opportunity did not present itself. I questioned why I continued to brave the elements and compete—faith and spirit were the answers. And then it happened while precariously perched high above the frigid forest—that sought-after trip to the winner’s circle was before my eyes. The buck of a lifetime presented an opportunity. Remaining focused as I was coached many years before and using a refuse-to-lose mentality, it was as if supper depended upon me. Using just one silver-tipped .30 06 shell, the prize was mine, and the naysayers were silenced.
Hot Rod Charlie has been one of the most courageous runners of recent years. A real racehorse, this son of Oxbow has never been afraid to climb into the tree stand. Having run his last thirteen races in graded stakes company, Chuck had been where the big bucks roam, but he had just three wins in the span. Eight other finishes in the money (5 seconds, 3 thirds) told us he loves to compete; he just hadn’t been blessed with enough clear shots at some horns.
The grade 2 Lukas Classic on October 1 was another opportunity to get in the woods. A solid but not overwhelming field meant Hot Rod would have a shot at some fur, but could he get it in the crosshairs? Breaking alertly and expertly prepared by trainer Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod settled just off the early pace of Art Collector through solid early fractions. Turning for home, Chuck battled for the lead with the fist-fighter’s mentality that has made him a fan favorite. As he made the lead with the 10-pointer in the sights, a fencerow in the form of Rich Strike came into play. As the upset Kentucky Derby winner put a nose in front with a furlong to go, it looked as if Chuck’s buck might be slipping out of range. With the determination of a hungry hunter, Hot Rod Charlie fought back and just got up at the wire. Squeezing the trigger in the final strides—opportunity was not lost, and diligence was rewarded…just like a hunter searching for a Thanksgiving Day Buck.
THE WARREN COUNTY TWIST TOBACCO- FLIGHTLINE
Chewing tobacco was one of those things a country boy did. Whether you were playing ball or sitting on the back porch watching the sunset, having a chaw was natural. Being just a little fellow at the time, I asked my daddy for some. He obliged and let me have a little taste of his Beechnut. Never mind it tasted bad; I had a pooched cheek and got to spit a whole bunch. One day I asked for a chew, and he told me all he had in his pocket was his Warren County twist. That was a man’s tobacco, and he cautioned me about its strength. I said, “give me a shot of it, Pap. It can’t be that strong. Whup out your Uncle Henry and slice me off a chunk.” A short time later, after turning green and throwing up my toenails, I figured out something. Warren County is that strong.
Flightline came into the Pacific Classic as the next proclaimed super-horse. Yes, he had won all four of his career starts by a combined 43 ½ lengths, but he had never been around two turns, and heaven knows he couldn’t be THAT strong. Facing a salty crew of graded stakes winners, this strapping son of Tapit was going to be put to the test. As a lightly-raced runner, I just wasn’t sure of his stoutness.
The gates at Del Mar opened on September 3, and I certainly got my answer. Flightline faced an immediate challenge as Extra Hope bolted to the lead. Engaged in an early duel, a swift second quarter mile (22.64) saw this John Sadler trainee get stronger as the race leader began to fade. Assuming the lead three-quarters of a mile in, Flightline prepared for takeoff. Turning for home a good 13 lengths ahead, the ease with which he had achieved this type of lead was quite incredible. As the impeccable power pulsed through his veins, the lead continued to grow. Crossing the finish line a jaw-dropping 19 ¼ lengths ahead and stopping the mile and a quarter clock at 1:59.28, my blank was filled in. A few weeks later, at the Breeders’ Cup, a similar scenario set up. A friend and fellow journalist who had not seen Flightline in person expressed doubts about his strength. Smiling inside, I knew this guy was about to get a poofy cheek. After another tour de force 8 ¼ length masterpiece, he, too, knew what I had already learned. Flightline is that strong…kinda like that Warren County twist.
THE SHINE RUNNER- GOLDEN PAL
The key to delivering a load of moonshine back in the day was a fast mode of transportation. When hauling some of that Tennessee Mountain Dew, getting from still to store as quickly as possible was the goal. Because it was important to keep the revenuers off balance, a quick start was key. Cousin Cleetus left the hollow with the gas pedal to the floor in that old ’68 Chevelle with the 454 wide open. Getting the jump meant he could be halfway home before Johnny Law ever realized the corn was coming off Ole Rocky Top.
For those that have never seen him, Golden Pal is a specimen of a Thoroughbred. A big booty and the ability to carry speed made him one of the best turf sprinters the game has seen in quite some time. Some had said one of the best things about this son of Uncle Mo had always been the break. This year’s Shakertown Stakes at Keeneland told Forrest and all the rest of us what we needed to know about that.
On April 9, Golden Pal paraded to the starting gates off a four-month layoff. Having won the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint in his last start, the question was, could he still deliver the goods in the same manner?
Facing nine other accomplished runners, this Wesley Ward-trained runner carried confidence into those Keeneland starting gates. Now, what happened next certainly had Cousin Cleetus jumping for joy. As if he had ESPN2 and sensed the starter’s intuition, Golden Pal broke like a shot, almost beating the bell. Having gotten into stride while the others were just getting started, this Pal was Golden out of the gate. Using a hammer-down approach, jockey Irad Ortiz Jr kept the pedal to the floor through an eye-popping opening quarter (20.94) and a solid half-mile (43.58). Staying to task, Golden Pal continued to carry the load and finished a good 4 ¾ lengths ahead of the rest.
The grade 2 Shakertown Stakes was a classic example of the greatness of Golden Pal. If speed and horsepower are your strengths, that’s what you use to deliver the goods…kind of like that Shine Runner.
THE BUTTERMILK PIE- DALIKA
Always and forever a sweets lover, I was introduced to some real deliciousness as a teenager. Fortunate enough to attend a big family dinner at a good buddy, John’s house, I perused the dessert table and saw this marvelous-looking pie. Golden brown and very inviting, I asked John boy what it was. He told me it was a buttermilk pie made by his Gran. My immediate thought was how in tarnation could a buttermilk pie be good. I mean, for real, buttermilk pie?
After sneaking us a snort or two off the moonshine jug and creating an even more ferocious appetite, we dug into all the main course vittles. Having ingested enough liquid courage, I decided to sample that marvelous-looking pie. Come to find out, this slice of heaven had me howling like a Blue Tick hound hot on a coon’s trail. Barking out praise for this newfound delight, from then on, the buttermilk pie was a must-have.
Dalika is a German-bred mare that has a wonderful look about her. A nicely marked gray daughter of Pastorious, this six-year-old beauty came into the Beverly D Stakes at Churchill Downs on August 13 under the radar. Yes, she was a magnificent-looking runner, but she had never won a grade 1 race and had not been to the winner’s circle in her last five attempts. Yes, she had run six previous times over the Churchill grass but only won twice, with neither victory coming in stakes company.
The Beverly D had drawn only a five-horse field, but due to the quality of the entrants, Dalika went to post as the longest shot in the field. Man, she looked like a hundred-dollar bill with her gray glistening in the Kentucky sun. Were her looks deceiving?
When the gates opened, Dalika immediately broke to the lead and guided the field past the stands for the first time. Stretching those shapely legs, this Al Stall-trained female cruised through solid opening fractions (23.14 opening 46.44 half mile) under jockey Brian Hernandez. Turning for home still on the lead, we had to wonder, was she going to be as good as she looked?
Inside the final furlong, it looked as if her party might get spoiled. Princess Grace put a head in front, but in typical racehorse fashion, Dalika battled back and reclaimed the lead in the race’s final yards. Completing her sweet trip in this mile and an eighth race in track record time (1:46.31), Dalika was simply delightful.
Just to make sure we all understood what kind of tasty treat she is, Dalika completed her 2022 campaign with Stakes wins at Kentucky Downs (Ladies Turf) and back at Churchill (Cardinal). At first glance, we might think a German-bred runner on a five race losing streak might not sound that great. But once she ran her race, it was easy to figure out she is, in fact, quite delightful…kinda like that buttermilk pie!