By MARK HOFFMAN
Some thoroughbreds just love Saratoga Race course and some do not.
Through the years, runners like Fourstardave, Quick Call, Dehere and Thunder Rumble excelled when they raced over this historic strip.
Since 1986, I've seen those horses win race after race in stakes company and always gave a top effort here. I've talked about those races in the past.
But there was another great thoroughbred who had a magical year in 1989. He was the next big thing in a time where horse racing needed a star. He also captured my heart also, just when I began the follow the sport. He was dubbed "Lil' Red," by many. But he was better known as New York's Easy Goer, and 25 years ago this summer, he ruled.
Born March 21, 1986 about the time I began getting interested in this glorious game, this son of Alydar out of the mare Relaxing broke his maiden here in his second career start and was the 2-year-old champion of 1988. But, it was his three-year-old season where he shined and two of his biggest victories were right here at Saratoga. As the favorite entry in the Kentucky Derby that year, he rallied on an off track to run second behind Sunday Silence. Two weeks later, he just missed in a exciting renewal of the Preakness Stakes. Down 0-2 to his rival, he bounced back in the Belmont Stakes to destroy Sunday Silence by eight lengths and began a winning streak.
Easy Goer, trained by Shug McGaughey, was the best thoroughbred on the East Coast and going into Saratoga in the summer of 1989 was ready to stamp himself as the best in the nation. While Sunday Silence was losing on the West Coast after beating Easy Goer twice on the Triple Crown trail, our NYRA standard bearer was heading to the "August place to be" and taking a unique route to the Midsummer Derby. Instead of facing his own age group in the tradition prep race for the Travers. the Jim Dandy Stakes, he took on older foes in the Whitney Handicap. It had been a while since a three year old had taken this route versus top older horses in Grade I competition. I was on hand that early August afternoon and saw the horse the mesmerized. The red chestnut entered the paddock and stood tall over his five older opponents. He won easily as the 1-5 favorite and two weeks later, crushed his own class by winning the 1989 Travers Stakes and the legend of New York's own wonder horse was born.
He won 14 races in 20 career starts, never finishing worse than third. Thirteen of those victories were at Aqueduct, Belmont or Saratoga. The only thing that stood in the way of winning Horse of the Yea" in 1989 was his nemesis Sunday Silence. Because he defeated Easy Goer in the first two legs of the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup Classic that fall, the favorite of New York horse players just fell short. But, still in my mind is the fact that Easy Goer excelled every time he ran in front of his hometown crowd and faced the same level of competition here that Sunday Silence did out west. Unfortunately, his breeding career was cut short as he past away in 1994 at the young age of eight. He was one of the finest thoroughbreds I've ever seen in person and still today, I remember that Whitney victory.
The summer of '89 was quite magical for me and to see this horse made it even more magical.