The 1987 Kentucky Derby was famous for a nearly devastating finish. A fast-closing Alysheba drifted in during the stretch run and clipped heels with the leader Bet Twice, stumbling badly.
Had it not been for an acrobatic ride by Hall of Fame jockey Chris McCarron and the balance of Alysheba, a couple of outcomes might have transpired. McCarron could have fallen off in the path of much of the field; or both Alysheba and McCarron could have gone down. In either case, the result likely would have been horrible. (Click here for an isolated view of Alysheba in the race.)
Not only did Alysheba not go down, but he quickly recovered and went into full pursuit of Bet Twice, passing him late in the race to win.
McCarron commented: “Falling didn’t even go through my mind. I kept thinking there’s only one horse left in front of us that was going to prevent us from getting the roses. He just did an incredible job of righting himself. I was focused on keeping my balance and trying to stay on his back.”
Alysheba was bred by Preston Madden, grandson of John Madden of the famous Thoroughbred and Standardbred nursery Hamburg Place. The colt was by the star-crossed Calumet Farm stallion Alydar and out of Bel Sheba by Lt. Stevens.
Texans Dorothy Scharbauer and her daughter Pam Scharbauer owned Alysheba. Dorothy was not a newcomer to the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs, nor to thrilling stretch runs in the Kentucky Derby. Dorothy’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred Turner Jr., won the 1959 Kentucky Derby with Tomy lee, who prevailed in a classic battle to the wire with Sword Dancer.
Alysheba’s trainer, Jack Van Berg, had a terrific winning record on the racetrack, though he had never trained much at the upper echelon of horse racing.
Alysheba went on to win the Preakness but finished a soundly beaten fourth in the Belmont behind Bet Twice, Cryptoclearance and Gulch. In the 1987 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Hollywood Park, Alysheba lost by a nose to the 1986 Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand. He was named champion 3-year-old.
A year later, in his last race, Alysheba won the 1988 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs by a half-length over Seeking the Gold on a muddy track. He was named Horse of the Year for 1988 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.
Alysheba’s lifetime record was 26 starts, with 11 wins, 8 seconds, and 2 thirds. He won $6,679,242, which is equivalent to approximately $13.4 million in 2012. The Blood-Horse lists Alysheba as the 42nd best racehorse of the 20th century.
Alysheba stood at stud in Kentucky and Saudi Arabia, before being sent to the Kentucky Horse Park in 2008. He was euthanized in March 2009 after incurring a serious injury from a fall in his stall.
The storied career of Alysheba was made possible by the favorable twist of fate–and the athleticism of a horse and the skill of a jockey–in deep stretch at Churchill Downs on the first Saturday in May 1987.
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