Real Quiet, winner of 1998 Kentucky Derby, Preakness, dies at 15; missed Triple Crown by nose

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

1998 Derby, Preakness winner Real Quiet dies at 15

Real Quiet came to Bob Baffert’s barn as an afterthought.

The slightly built colt wasn’t supposed to be a star. That role was reserved for stablemate Indian Charlie. Real Quiet was too thin, too small to chase history.

He caught it anyway, winning the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness and coming within a nose of the Triple Crown.

The plucky bay nicknamed “the Fish” because of his narrow profile died on Monday following a fall in his paddock, said Penn Ridge Farms owner Mike Jester. He was 15.

“I’ve been looking for another one like him,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone from California. “They’re hard to find.”

Are they ever.

Real Quiet nearly ended a two-decade Triple Crown drought during an electrifying spring a dozen years ago, squaring off in three heated battles with Victory Gallop that rank among the greatest in racing history.

“He was a great champion and is a great champion,” Jester said. “It’s a pretty big blow for us.”

Jester said Real Quiet was found motionless in his paddock Monday. An autopsy determined he broke his neck when his left shoulder hit the ground.

Trained by Baffert, owned by Mike Pegram and ridden by Kent Desormeaux, Real Quiet validated Baffert’s spot as one of the top trainers in the sport. He also provided Pegram, a longtime owner who helped get Baffert started, the garland of roses Pegram coveted.

“He gave us a lot of thrills and excitement,” Baffert said. “Just winning the Kentucky Derby for Mike Pegram was pretty amazing. … I like to think it was meant to be.”

Baffert spent just $17,000 when he purchased Real Quiet for Pegram at the Keeneland September Yearling sale. When Baffert told Pegram about the buy, Pegram looked at the horse’s pedigree and wondered how Baffert was able to swing such a bargain.

As athletic as Real Quiet looked pacing around the sales ring, Baffert said there wasn’t much to look at when he faced forward. The trainer likened Real Quiet to a tropical fish: breathtaking in silhouette, a little puny when trying to look eye-to-eye. The nickname stuck.

“It’s a good thing he was already named because that’s what we probably would have named him,” Baffert said with a laugh. “But he was a beautiful horse, just a beautiful specimen.”

And a pretty decent runner, too, though it took Real Quiet awhile to find his bearings. He struggled at shorter distances and ended up needing eight races to break his maiden, finally doing so at Hollywood Park. He went on to win the Hollywood Futurity as a 2-year-old though he remained an afterthought in Baffert’s barn.

Baffert figured stablemate Indian Charlie, not Real Quiet, was his best chance to win the Derby. Indian Charlie captured the Santa Anita Derby and went off as the favorite in the Run for the Roses. Baffert, however, wasn’t so sure the smart money was in the right place.

“The last work before the Derby was an incredible work,” Baffert said. “I knew right then he had a chance to win the Derby.”

Real Quiet proved his boss right, surging past Indian Charlie at the top of the stretch then holding off a late bid from Victory Gallop while Indian Charlie faded to third.

Real Quiet was even better in the Preakness, roaring to the front at the turn to pull away from Victory Gallop by 2½ lengths to stoke hope for the sport’s first Triple Crown in 20 years.

Baffert, who had just missed a Triple Crown in 1997 with Silver Charm, thought for sure his “tough little horse” had the stuff of which legends were made.

“Going into the Belmont, I felt really confident,” Baffert said.

His confidence grew as Real Quiet took command in the stretch, opening a sizable gap. Yet Baffert could see his horse start to relax, almost a little too much, as Victory Gallop closed in.

By the time they hit the wire, it was too close to call. The photo showed Victory Gallop by a nostril. It’s an image that sticks with Baffert more than a decade later.

“He just got out there by himself and if he had to do it all over again, he needed to wait on Victory Gallop,” Baffert said.

Baffert wouldn’t trade the outcome, however.

“I think winning the Kentucky Derby was more important,” said Baffert, who teamed with Pegram to win this year’s Preakness with Lookin At Lucky. “The Triple Crown is a great honor. I won (the Preakness and Belmont) with Point Given, and it wasn’t the same. I’d rather win the first and give the other two up.”

Real Quiet won the Hollywood Gold Cup and Pimlico Special at age 4 before being retired to stud. He spent time at Taylor Made Farm in Nicholasville, Ky., before being moved to Pennsylvania.

Jester created Penn Ridge Farm to give the champion a place to roam and provide the foundation for Jester’s stud business. Real Quiet was moderately successful as a stallion, producing two-time Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Midnight Lute.

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