Jul 2nd 2009 11:00 pm |
How many horses can match the career of Dr. Fager? He won races from seven furlongs to a mile and a quarter – breaking track, stakes, and world records along the way. Of his 18 career wins, Steve Haskin wrote it was his only race on turf, in the 1968 United Nations, that “may have been Dr. Fager’s greatest performance.”
Image: John Nerud and Dr. Fager in an advertisement from the Thoroughbred Record, January 13, 1968
According to Haskin, trainer John Nerud entered Dr. Fager in the U.N. to drum up publicity for the race but had no intention of actually running. On August 24th, Dr. Fager broke the world record mark for a mile at Arlington Park, eighteen days later, Nerud decided to run him in the prestigious turf race at Atlantic City. Nerud said later, “I thought ‘Hell, I’ll send him down there and show them he could do anything.”
Even with his lack of turf experience, the track handicapper assigned him high weight of 134 pounds. He would be spotting the field anywhere from 12 to 22 pounds. Add to that, his competition included Australian champion Tobin Bronze; Flit-to, the 1967 winner of the U.N.; multiple grass stakes winner More Scents; Irish Rebellion, winner of the Pan American Handicap; and the the 1967 D.C. International winner and turf champ Fort Marcy.
But, with all that talent in the race, it was the 30 to 1 Advocator (carrying only 112 pounds) who gave Dr. Fager one the toughest races of his career. Advocator had won multiple stakes on the dirt and finished second in the 1966 Kentucky Derby. While untested on the turf, Advocator had the blood to run well on the weeds, his sire – Round Table – was (and is) considered one of the best grass horses in American racing history.
Watch Dr. Fager refuse to lose the 1968 U.N. at Atlantic City:
Here is how Harry Hoffman from the Atlantic City Press, described Dr. Fager’s victory:
Dr Fager earned his PhD in courage at the Atlantic City Race Course Wednesday.
“Hooked from start to finish by lightweight Advocator for the mile and three-sixteenths of the $100,000 United Nations Handicap, this super horse called on all of his courage in the final yards to best his determined foe by a neck at the wire.
“It was a brilliant performance by a brilliant horse, and his trainer John Nerud called it ‘Dr. Fager’s toughest race,’ as he toasted his champion an hour after the important victory.
“‘I believe that Dr. Fager proved that he is the Horse of the Year, the horse of any year, out there today,’ commented the happy trainer. ‘It was his first trip on the grass and last night’s rain certainly didn’t help him. I would have liked it much more if it had not rained and the footing had stayed a bit firmer. But Dr. Levy [Chairman of the Board, Atlantic City Racing Association] was counting on us to go. There had been a lot of publicity throughout the country on Dr. Fager’s appearance, and we couldn’t pull out just because of the rain’
“Dr. Fager was sent off at 4 to 5 by the 16,557 fans, and the odds would been a lot less if it were not his first test over the infield course.
“Dr. Fager was carrying 134 pounds, conceding 16 pounds to grass champions Fort Marcy and Tobin Bronze. As it turned out Advocator, with a feathery burden of 112, was the chief rival for the Tartan Stable speedball
“Two Panamanian riders Braulio Baeza aboard Dr. Fager and Laffitt Pincay Jr. astride Advocator, sent their steeds out of the starting gate together.
Image: Clip from the Atlantic City Press listing the writers covering the 1968 U.N.
Advocator had the hedge and Pincay made good use of that advantage to save every inch of grass, while Baeza had Dr. Fager away from the hedge. In most of his races, except when he is opposed by the ‘rabbit’ Hedevar, Dr. Fager is able to steal away from his foes early and go winging along on his own pace, until Baeza asks him for something extra to ward off any challenges by the late runners.
“But Pincay and Advocator did not allow that to happen in the spectacular UN. Pincay kept Advocator right alongside Dr. Fager down the backstretch, applying pressure every step of the way. Leaving the backstretch, Pincay applied extra pressure on his own horse and took almost a length lead.
“However, Dr. Fager responded to that challenge by letting out another notch himself to regain a slight advantage entering the stretch. But still Ada L. Rice’s Advocator refused to fold before the Horse of the Year. Back he came along the inside to shove his determined head in front again with about and eighth of a mile to go.
“Now it was Dr. Fager’s turn to show the enthralled racing fans why he deserves his many accolades. Even though the softened grass and the 134 pounds and the 22 pounds he was conceding his rival were working against his making the lead again, make it he did.
“Baeza applied some extra hand pressure and pushed his neck back in front seconds before the duelers flashed across the finish line…
“…Dr. Fager went the distance in 1:55 1/5, one-fifth seconds off the track record set last year by Fit-to while carrying only 110 pounds over a firm course…
“…Trainer Nerud hedged a bit when asked about future plans for his great thoroughbred, ‘Right now I want to enjoy this victory champagne and let Dr. Fager relax for a while. Then we’ll see what we’ll do with him. This was a very tough race. He was hooked every step of the way. He certainly earned a rest after that performance.’
“Jockey Baeza never considered using a whip to ask Dr. Fager for something extra in the stirring stretch duel, ‘This horse goes on his own courage. He would sulk, if I hit him. I just use my hands to urge him. He came back strong at the end. I was never certain we had it won until I saw the finish line. The other horse ran a strong race, and Dr. Fager had to be the best to win it.’
“Dr. Leon Levy, chairman of the board at Atlantic City Race Course, called Dr. Fager’s victory, ‘My greatest thrill in racing. It was a stirring performance by a great horse. We have never had a better horse race or a better horse run over the track. It was a very moving as those two battled to the wire and Dr. Fager stuck his neck out to victory. I certainly would not have liked to see him lose here. He’s a great champion.
After his grueling win in Atlantic City, Nerud gave Dr, Fager nearly two months off before entering him in the Vosburgh at Aqueduct. On November 2, 1968, in the final start of his career, Dr. Fager finished first under an astounding 139 pounds. He completed the 7 furlongs in 1:20 1/5 – breaking the track record and missing the world record by only a fifth of a second.
UPDATE: Ron Micetic was kind enough to scan and send along the program cover and page from the 1968 United Nations (below). Ron shared a copy of the program from War Admiral’s maiden win a few months ago. Thanks Ron!
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“Dr. Fager Assigned 134 for U.N. ‘Cap,” Atlantic City Press, September 10, 1968
“Dr. Fager Favored in Debut on Grass,” Atlantic City Press, September 11, 1968
“Dr. Fager Wins U.N. ‘Cap by Neck,” Atlantic City Press, September 12, 1968
Steve Haskin, Dr. Fager: Racing’s Top Record Setter (Eclipse Press: 2007)
Needless to say, I was thrilled to find video of the ’68 U.N. at YouTube. Thanks to YouTube user cf1970. S/he has compiled a great collection of classic races, check it out: http://www.youtube.com/user/cf1970
UPDATE (7/3/09): Read Charles Hatton on Dr. Fager’s ’68 campaign from Dan Illman’s FormBlog
Check out more history of the United Nations and Round Table in a post from last year.
I will be in the house for this year’s running of the United Nations at Monmouth on Saturday — very much looking forward to it.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!