Q-Racing Blog: Trouble, Then Greatness

I've seen a few cases of greatness.

There are similarities between Arrogate and world champion First Down Dash.

The $10-million Dubai World Cup this past weekend reminded us that trouble at the start of a major race can reveal greatness when that horse goes on to win.

Arrogate had a remarkable run into Thoroughbred history with his last-to-first run. So, what is the American Quarter Horse equivalent? It was First Down Dash in the 1987 Hollywood Park Invitational.

In the 1 ¼-mile Dubai World Cup, Juddmonte Farm’s Arrogate totally missed the start. When he broke under jockey Mike Smith, he was bumped on each side and was dead last in the 14-horse field of the finest international Grade/Group 1 stakes horses.

First Down Dash overcame trouble to win the 1987
Hollwyood Park Invitational.

“My horse just didn't realize he had to break. But you know what? Things happen for a reason,” Smith said. The jockey was born in Roswell, New Mexico and rode a number of Quarter Horses “in the bushes” as a youngster before going on to a Hall of Fame career on Thoroughbreds.

Smith immediately went into “Zenyatta mode.” He rode the great mare, and her style was to come from far off the pace. Arrogate could see every other horse in the race. Smith let Arrogate relax and had him far outside of the pack heading down the backstretch. His cause still looked hopeless against that stellar field with a 10-length deficit.

On the final turn the American-based Gun Runner took the lead, and Arrogate started passing horses with each of his long strides. At the top of the stretch, Arrogate was in the race. If he had managed to cross the finish line among the top three finishers, it would have been remarkable.

Arrogate passed Mubtaahji and then took aim at two fellow American runners – leaders Neolithic and Gun Runner. Smith gave Arrogate a couple of reminding taps with the stick, and he was right on the leader Gun Runner. It was just a hand ride to a 2 1/4-length win into horse racing lore.

It was much the same with the Vessels Stallion Farm’s First Down Dash in the 440-yard, $100,000 Hollywood Park Invitational on September 12, 1987. The son of Dash For Cash was trained by Blane Schvaneveldt and ridden by James Lackey. Schvaneveldt is in virtually every hall of fame, while Lackey is the jockey entering the Ruidoso Downs’ Racehorse Hall of Fame on June 23.

It was a race for the ages. The premier older horses in training showed up to face the three-year-old First Down Dash with Kipscash coming off setting a Hollywood Park 350-yard track record.

First Down Dash was the deserving 4-5 favorite and all eyes were on him.

Lackey had the best view.

“He reared in the gate and stumbled and I was completely off looking at his knees and thinking my career had come to an end at that time because if Schvaneveldt didn’t kill me, I’d never ride another horse,” Lackey said. “He was dead last by at least a couple of lengths. Somehow, mercifully, I pulled myself up on there and he’s barely in a gallop. But, as soon as he feels my right foot go into the stirrup, he just instantly rebreaks. It was just unbelievable, unbelievable and he wins by a head (the chart shows a nose).

“Kipscash, the greatest horses of that time, he beats them and you’re just thinking wow. And I go to the barn after the race and I’m all happy, and I get the biggest chewing out I’ve ever gotten in my life. Blane was telling me that I and the gate guy are going to ruin that horse.

“Anyway, I went to quit the next morning at his house and he said, ‘Get your helmet on and get your ass to the barn and galloping.’ The next time he went to the gate, Blane schooled him himself.”

I was covering the race for QuarterWeek magazine and standing in the winner’s circle with my camera mounted with a long lens, thinking I would get a cover shot of First Down Dash in front by two lengths running towards me.

I looked through the camera at First Down Dash a quarter mile away. The gates opened and I could see at least one foot of air between Lackey and First Down Dash. I was stunned. Kipscash, down on the rail, was gone. It became his race to lose. He was the winner until the only yard that counts, the final yard.

Until Arrogate, I’d never seen a horse start like that in a major stakes race with that type of competition go on to win the race. I recall First Down Dash’s start, Kipscash out there winging on the lead and First Down Dash’s unprecedented run to the wire like it was yesterday.

Arrogate and First Down Dash. Racehorses from two different breeds, but each alike.

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