Beloved Stallion Alysheba Buried as Champion

Originally published on Sunday, March 29, 2009

Flowers marked the stall of Alysheba, 1987 Derby and Preakness winner. The stallion was euthanized Friday night. Photo by David Stephenson | Staff

Flowers marked the stall of Alysheba, 1987 Derby and Preakness winner. The stallion was euthanized Friday night. Photo by David Stephenson | Staff

By Steve Lannen

Alysheba, a Kentucky Derby winner once known as “America’s Horse,” was laid to rest Saturday morning at the Kentucky Horse Park after a “sudden and nasty” fall the day before.

Alysheba had lived at the Horse Park’s Hall of Champions since returning to Kentucky in late October from Saudi Arabia.

After spending years in the desert, Alysheba let out a contented sigh as he got off at Blue Grass Airport and saw green trees and grass, said Kathy Hopkins, the horse park’s director of equine operations.

“He knew he was home,” she said.

But his time back home ended too soon.

A little before noon Friday, he fell in his stall and collapsed, sustaining a serious injury to his right hind leg that left him unable to stand, Horse Park executive director John Nicholson said. Because of bruising and swelling, it was unclear whether the leg was broken.

Alysheba was taken by ambulance to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute across from the Horse Park, but staff there were unable to assuage his pain, Nicholson said. After several consultations, Alysheba was put down at 11:13 p.m. Friday.

The 25-year-old horse suffered from chronic spinal degeneration and cervical arthritis, and that probably contributed to the fall, said Hopkins.

“It’s very much like an older person when they go down from a fall,” she said. “He just took a bad step, got his legs crossed and, unfortunately, fell hard.”

Jockey Chris McCarron and Horse Park equine operations director Kathy Hopkins stood outside Alysheba's stall Saturday. Photo by Steve Lannen | Staff

Jockey Chris McCarron and Horse Park equine operations director Kathy Hopkins stood outside Alysheba's stall Saturday. Photo by Steve Lannen | Staff

The son of racing legend Alydar, Alysheba was bred by Lexington horseman Preston Madden, who sold him as a yearling for $500,000.

He became a sensation for trainer Jack Van Berg and owners Dorothy and Pamela Scharbauer during a brilliant career that included 11 victories in 26 lifetime starts.

As a 3-year-old in 1987, he won the Derby and the Preakness and placed second to Ferdinand in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He finished fourth in the Belmont Stakes.

Despite his showing as a 3-year-old, the horse cemented his place in history the following year, winning six Grade I stakes races and avenging his loss in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was 1988 Horse of the Year and set two track records for 1¼ miles - at Belmont and at the Meadowlands.

Although later eclipsed by Cigar, Alysheba finished his career with then-record earnings of $6,679,242.

The stallion would have been even better as a 5-year-old, but became too valuable to race, said Hall of Fame Jockey Chris McCarron, who rode Alysheba.

He recalled how Alysheba came from behind to win the Derby after clicking heels with another horse and stumbling badly.

“Falling didn’t even go through my mind,” McCarron said. “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.”

Van Berg wasn’t surprised. Alysheba had a sense of balance and athleticism rarely found on the track.

“He just had unbelievable ability,” Van Berg said. “He got a little gust of wind or whatever and got knocked down and he stepped up before Chris knew what hit him. He was remarkable.”

“He was a tremendous boost to my career and a real friend,” said McCarron, who stood Saturday in front of Alysheba’s stall. Twenty-five red roses, one for each year of Alysheba’s life, were near his feet.

Mulch covered the grave of Alysheba at the Horse Park. He was buried Saturday morning at the Hall of Champions. Photo by Steve Lannen | Staff

Mulch covered the grave of Alysheba at the Horse Park. He was buried Saturday morning at the Hall of Champions. Photo by Steve Lannen | Staff

“He really elevated the sport in 1988. People from all over the country came to the track to watch him run,” said McCarron. “He was dependable. People knew he would go out and run his best race. He wouldn’t always win, but he always tried incredibly hard. He was a very determined athlete.”

After leaving the track, Aly sheba stood at stud at Lane’s End Farm in Versailles. In 2000, he went to Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah’s royal stables.

The horse was given back to the United States last year as a diplomatic token after President George W. Bush gave King Abdullah an ornate western saddle during a diplomatic visit.

Even though his stay was short, the horse will be mourned as if he had been there 25 years, Nicholson said. “You could tell he really enjoyed being here. He liked the people. He liked the attention.”

When someone pointed a camera in his direction, McCarron said, he would pause and give a regal pose, McCarron said.

“He knew he was great,” he said.

Jockey Chris McCarron and Alysheba headed to the winner's circle after the 113th Kentucky Derby in 1987. File photo by Ron Garrison | Staff

Jockey Chris McCarron and Alysheba headed to the winner's circle after the 113th Kentucky Derby in 1987. File photo by Ron Garrison | Staff

ABOUT ALYSHEBA
Bay colt foaled in 1984
By Alydar, out of Bel Sheba, by Lt. Stevens
Breeder: Preston Madden
Owners: Dorothy and Pamela Scharbauer
Trainer: Jack Van

Race record
(Year Starts-1-2-3 Earnings)
1986 7-1-4-1 $359,486
1987 10-3-3-1 $2,511,156
1988 9-7-1-0 $3,808,600
TOT 26-11-8-2 $6,679,242

Career highlights
1987 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner
Won six Grade I races as a 4-year-old
Won two Eclipse Awards
Inducted into Hall of Fame in 1993

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