Of all the horses to compete for the Triple Crown and fall short, Sunday Silence may be the one racing fans remember the most. Whether this was due to his famed rivalry with Easy Goer or his controversial importation to Japan after he retired is uncertain. What is known is that Sunday Silence gave racing some of its most memorable moments in the late 1980’s.
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On March 25, 1986, Oak Cliff Thoroughbreds welcomed a new foal. As a young horse, Sunday Silence faced two crises that should have killed him. The first was when he was just a weanling. Sunday Silence contracted a deadly virus but somehow survived. When the horse was two the driver of a trailer that he was riding in had a heart attack behind the wheel. Again, Sunday Silence survived. There are certainly those that would claim the horse was destined for a great purpose and career.
When racing legend Arthur B. Hancock III bought Sunday Silence as a “buy-back” after breeding the colt the plan was to ship him back to Kentucky. In a strange twist of events the van that was designated to carry him to Kentucky forgot him in California. The Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham took notice of the colt and purchased a half share of him before selling that share to Dr. Ernest Galliard.
Sunday Silence was a late bloomer. He showed amazing talent but did not make his racing debut until very late in his two-year-old season. When he finally raced the results were moderate; the horse was only able to manage a second-place finish in his first start against modest competition. In his third outing he won an allowance race for maidens before finishing second once again in his third try. To that point his career was not shaping up like that of a future champion.
To begin his three-year-old campaign Sunday Silence dazzled onlookers in an allowance victory before proceeding to capture the San Felipe Stakes and Santa Anita Derby in California. These wins gave Sunday Silence enough earnings to be considered for the Kentucky Derby and the Triple Crown series. At the same time that Sunday Silence was making his ascent, another California colt named Easy Goer was also on the rise. The two horses would partake in what many consider to be the greatest rivalry in the history of horseracing.
In the Kentucky Derby, Sunday Silence and Easy Goer squared off in the first race of the Triple Crown series. Sunday Silence won by 2 ½ lengths on a sloppy track. His finish time was one of the slowest in Kentucky Derby history. Many racing pundits were quick to proclaim Easy Goer the better of the two and blamed his loss on the rain-soaked Churchill Downs surface.
It was uncertain whether Sunday Silence would even make it to the Preakness Stakes two weeks later because of a hoof ailment that required a special set of shoes. He did race and once again beat Easy Goer. This time his margin of victory was only a nose and once again the racing media offered up all kinds of excuses for Easy Goer’s performance. They blamed his jockey Pat Day for a bad ride. They also blamed Easy Goer’s failure to break sharply.
All was set for the Belmont Stakes and Sunday Silence’s run to complete the Triple Crown. The horse did not seem to be himself on the day before the race and was on edge. He unseated his exercise rider and kicked trainer Whittingham in the side of the head. The blow was very nearly fatal. No one knows if the lingering hoof issues contributed to the horse’s unease but he was defeated by Easy Goer in the Belmont Stakes and denied the Triple Crown. The final race in the rivalry was the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A rested and healed Sunday Silence was able to run down his great rival Easy Goer and finally settle the consideration of which horse was superior.
After his retirement Sunday Silence was imported to Japan to stand as a stud. For an inexplicable reason he had been ignored by American breeders. Sunday Silence would become the leading sire in Japan and produce many major stakes winners. He died in 2002 from laminitis, a disease of the hoof that has killed many thoroughbred horses.
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