Champion Easy Goer launched his 3yo campaign in the 1989 Gotham Stakes. He won by 13 lengths in the time of 1:32 2/5, setting a stakes record
One July day in 1988, Arthur B. Hancock III was dinning at a restaurant in Kentucky when he spotted his brother, Seth, the longtime President of Claiborne Farms.
Arthur approached his brother and told him that he had been receiving promising reports about one of his 2-year-olds, a colt named Sunday Silence.
What he heard from his brother left Arthur feeling deflated.
As Arthur recalls it, “[Seth] says, ‘Well, that’s too bad. Mr. Phipps has the best horse he’s ever had.’”
That horse owned by Ogden Phipps was Easy Goer, who lived up to this potential and became the year’s champion 2-year-old male.
A year later, ironically enough, as 3-year-olds Easy Goer and Sunday Silence engaged in one of the greatest Triple Crown rivalries. Sunday Silence, trained by Charlie Whittingham, won the 1989 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, while Easy Goer cruised to a lopsided victory for trainer Shug McGaughey in the Belmont Stakes.
Later that year, Sunday Silence registered a third win over Easy Goer when he captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic in their final meeting to clinch 1989 Horse of the Year laurels.
It was a disappointing turn of events for Easy Goer’s connections, but those defeats at the hands of Sunday Silence did little to dispel the notion that Easy Goer was one of the best and most respected stars of his era.
His record of 14 wins in 20 starts attests to that and his brilliance was best illustrated by two performances worthy of only a highly special racehorse.
The most famous of those came in the 1989 Belmont Stakes when Easy Goer ended Sunday Silence’s Triple Crown hopes with an eight-length victory under jockey Pat Day in the most decisive triumph in the horses’ four meetings. His winning time of 2:26 for the mile and a half still shares the mark as the race’s second fastest clocking, trailing only Secretariat’s 2:24.
The other took place before Easy Goer and Sunday Silence began their fierce East vs. West rivalry. In the 1989 Gotham Stakes – which will be contested for the 65th time on Saturday at Aqueduct – Easy Goer turned in as electrifying of a performance in a Kentucky Derby prep as any horse has authored in recent memory.
“I can’t dispute that the Belmont Stakes and Gotham were his best races. He loved Belmont Park with those big turns and that one-turn mile at Aqueduct was perfect for him,” McGaughey said. “He was a New York-type of a horse.”
In winning the Gotham by 13 lengths, he crossed the wire in an astonishing 1:32 2/5, setting not only a track and stakes record but coming within .20 seconds of Dr. Fager’s revered 1968 world record of 1:32 1/5. To put that time in perspective, the legendary Secretariat won the 1973 Gotham in a time a full second slower, 1:33 2/5.
“I was nothing short of amazed when I got back and Shug said ‘Look at the time!’ I looked at the board and saw 1:32 2/5. I was blown away because he did it so effortlessly,” Day said. “I knew if I squeezed him at any point, he would have eclipsed the world record. It was just phenomenal. On that day and distance no one was beating him.”
The 1989 Gotham was contested on April 8, four weeks before the Kentucky Derby – a spot on the calendar that now belongs to the Wood Memorial. For Easy Goer, it came after a sensational 3-year-old debut when he captured the seven-furlong Swale by 8 ¾ lengths at Gulfstream Park and reinforced the notion that he was an odds-on favorite to win the Kentucky Derby.
“He had run in the Swale and ran really good, then he went north and he caught a track he really liked. It had some bounce in it,” McGaughey said. “He was just a super horse that day.”
Only four rivals faced Easy Goer in the Gotham and his odds dropped to the minimum 1-20 at post time. He broke well and it wasn’t long before he made his massive presence felt.
“About a quarter of a mile into the race, somebody in front of me ducked out a little bit and when he did, Easy Goer jumped into the bridle and want after him,” Day said. “He almost got to the lead within an eighth of a mile and then he settled back and fell into a long, sweeping stride.”
After a half-mile in 44 2/5 seconds, Easy Goer was tracking comfortably in second, a length and a half behind the pace-setting Diamond Donnie.
On the turn, the Phipps star kicked into high gear and collared Diamond Donnie as they covered six furlongs in an astonishing 1:08 3/5. He accelerated past him and opened a 2 1/2 -length lead at the eighth pole and then, with no urging from Day, turned the margin into double digits with consummate ease.
“I wasn’t restraining him, but I wasn’t asking for anything, either. I was just along for the ride,” Day said.
After the Gotham, Easy Goer returned to Aqueduct two weeks later and captured the Wood Memorial by three lengths.
He then squared off with Santa Anita Derby winner Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby and finished second by a 2 ½ lengths on a muddy track. The rivals engaged in an epic duel in the Preakness when Sunday Silence battled back to prevail by a nose, setting the stage for a showdown in the Belmont on one of those days when Easy Goer was at his absolute best.
Just like the Gotham.
“I got to ride some of the who’s who’s of racing in my career,” said Day, a 1991 Hall of Fame inductee, “and he’s the best of the bunch in my opinion, due in no small part to that performance in the Gotham.”
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