July 30, 1978, Belmont Park. The feature race on the card that day was the historic Brooklyn Handicap. As usual a stellar field had been assembled for the then grade one event. There that day was three time winner Forego, but the champion was not in the field. He was there to be honoured by Belmont and the fans on this day.
The eight year old gelding had run his last race sixteen days earlier and came out of the race with another of his many leg injuries. Leg injuries plagued him throughout his career. Forego’s owner/breeder Mrs. Martha Gerry and his trainer Frank Whiteley had made the announcement that the great champion was there to say goodbye to his legion of fans. The Belmont faithful, some 40,000 plus, came to send this remarkable Thoroughbred off to a happy retirement. Little did they know that they were also saying goodbye to an era.
Forego was the last of the big weight carriers. During his career which spanned fifty-seven races over six years, the big bay ran with 130 lbs or more on his back twenty-four times. He ran a further fourteen races with 126 to 129 lbs. Forego did this in races ranging in distance from six furlongs to two miles, against the best horses in training at the time, on a set of the most chronically unsound legs one could possibly imagine.
When looking back at the racing career of Forego, many adjectives come to mind. The foremost of which is “heart”, because “The Mighty Forego” was the epitome of this often used word in describing his racing career.
Forego came onto the world on April 30, 1970 at Claiborne Farm where his breeder Mrs. Martha Gerry boarded his dam Lady Golconda. Lady Golconda was a stakes winning daughter of Hasty Road, champion two year old in 1953. Hasty Road was by Roman, a son of the important sire Sir Gallahad III, out of the Discovery mare Traffic Court. Discovery was one of the great weight carrying champions of the twentieth century.
The sire of Forego was Argentinian Horse of the Year Forli, who stood a very successful career at stud at Claiborne. A grandson of Hyperion, Forli was imported by “Bull” Hancock following his undefeated racing career in his native Argentina. He made two starts in America, setting a track record in his first race and then finishing second on a broken cannon bone in his final race. Forli sired sixty stakes winners and carried on the Hyperion tail male line with distinction.
The bay son of Lady Golconda was a big colt for his age. He had strong hind quarters and very pronounced muscle development to his shoulders. Even though his legs were straight, the colt had suspect ankles which would plague him throughout his life. He was big and gangly as a yearling with a very strong and forceful personality. Mrs. Gerry and Forego’s first trainer Sherrill Ward decided to bring Forego to the races slowly and cautiously.
The decision to geld Forego came about when he was two. Forego would become very agitated when he saw a filly, and started kicking, biting and hollering. It was becoming impossible to handle him. The change in his equipment was dramatic. Oh he could still have his moments when he had an aggressive posture and lash out, but not as frequent and certainly not as alarming.
Ward later said of Forego, “When he was younger he would be walking near a filly and hollering and acting like a fool. He would bite and not let go. He kicked pretty badly too. He still kicks a little. Before when you went up to him he would pin his ears, now he’ll prick his ears and slowly come toward you”.
Forego did not start as a two year old. “He was pretty good as a two year old”, said Mrs. Gerry, “But we decided to not run him then and let him grow some more and wait”.
Grow some more he did. Forego would eventually grow to 17.1 hands with a girth of seventy-seven inches. His withers to his point of shoulder was thirty-one inches, while from point of shoulder to buttocks was seventy-four inches. In race fitness Forego weighed 1,225 lbs. Yes he was a big one, imposing in fact. Forego was once described as a locomotive on bicycle wheels, meaning he had a huge body on thin legs.
Sherrill Ward had Forego ready to make his race début on January 17, 1973 in a seven furlong maiden allowance at Hialeah. After a rough trip in which the neophyte racer was off slowly, Forego crossed the finish line in fourth with a good closing quarter mile. Twelve days later he broke his maiden in a six furlong race by eight lengths. Two weeks later he won an allowance at six furlongs by two and one-half lengths. In his two victories, Forego was made the favourite by the bettors at Hialeah.
Ward recruited veteran jockey Pete Anderson to pilot Forego, who had seen the big raw prospect in training. Anderson had approached Ward about the mount. Later Pete Anderson would recall how he came to become Forego’s first regular rider.
“I was at Hialeah one morning working a horse for Sherrill when I first saw Forego. I said to Sherrill ‘you have a great big horse out there galloping all over the place. He’s in, he’s out, he’s in’. He said to me ‘Pete would you do me a favour and get on him for the next few days’. I can remember like it was yesterday. After I rode him a few times I came home and said to my wife ‘I found me another real good one’.”
Anderson had already steered Forego in his first three races when Ward entered the promising gelding in the seven furlong Hutcheson Stakes at Gulfsteam Park. The big guy got off to a slow start but made up considerable ground to finish second to future sprint champion Shecky Greene. He followed this with a solid win in a seven furlong allowance race at the same track and then entered into the Florida Derby.
Among the entrants for the important grade one race on the Kentucky Derby trail was the highly regarded Royal And Regal, who won the Florida Derby by three lengths over Forego. Ward said following the race,” Forego is as good as any horse I’ve ever had but he still has to show his quality. He is big, but not awkward. He’s balanced and everyone who has seen him says he is light on his feet. If he wasn’t, if he landed hard like some big horses, he probably would not stand up to training”.
Forego continued to train very well in his morning workouts leading up to the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He was the betting favourite in the race but ran a lacklustre fifth to My Gallant. The confidence in the three year old had not diminished by his connections that entered him in the 1973 Kentucky Derby for his next race. He finished fourth to the great Secretariat, who went on to immortality. Forego had a rough trip at Churchill Downs in the Derby, but Mrs. Gerry did not use this as an excuse. “We were not going to beat the big red that day, but we could have moved up a couple of places had he not been pinned and slammed into on the far turn” said Forego’s owner.
Sherrill Ward continued to work with Forego. The gelding finished third in the Withers Stakes and then Ward ran him in five consecutive allowance races, in which Forego won four and finished third in the other. The Jerome Handicap saw Forego return to stakes competition with a solid second by a diminishing head margin to Step Nicely. Then in an uncharacteristic performance, he was third in another allowance race at Aqueduct.
Staying at Aqueduct, Forego won the final two races of the year, both stakes events. His wins came in the grade two Roamer and the grade three Discovery Handicaps. Finishing second in both races was My Gallant. Forego had now learned to put it all together in his afternoon runs and was poised to become a force in racing. And what a force he would be!
By this time Pete Anderson had hung up his tack and became a trainer. Forego’s new partner was Heliodoro Gustines, who had taken over from Anderson during Forego’s five allowance race stint. Also during the later part of Forego’s three year old season, Sherrill Ward had to undergo heart surgery, but was back at the helm of his stable in early 1974. Eddie Hayward trained Forego while Ward recovered and did “a wonderful job” according to Ward and Mrs. Gerry.
Forego began his four year old campaign in the nine furlong Donn Handicap, nailing True Knight by a nose at the wire. Next up was the Gulfstream Park Handicap which was a furlong longer and he again beat True Knight, this time by half a length. In the grade one Widener Handicap at Hialeah, he made it three straight graded stakes wins with his one length victory. True Knight was again the closest purser.
The weight Forego carried in the Widener was 129 lbs, a substantial impost for a then non grade one winner. Eight weeks later, and back in New York, he carried the same 129 lbs in winning the seven furlong grade one Carter Handicap at Belmont. Nine days after this victory, Forego entered the starting gate with 134 lbs on his back for the grade one Metropolitan Handicap. Arbees Boy, carrying twenty-two pounds less, got the better of Forego in the stretch to win by two lengths.
A month later at Aqueduct, Forego toted 132 lbs to finished second to Timeless Moment in the Nassau County Handicap, giving the winner a twenty pound weight advantage. In the Brooklyn Handicap on July 4, the emerging star carried 129 lbs to win the grade one race by three quarters of a length over Billy Come Lately, with Arbees Boy in third some two lengths further back. Forego spotted these two fifteen and thirteen pounds respectively.
In the Suburban, Forego left his drive a bit too late and finished third to True Knight, and then failed to fire in his next two races with a fourth and third to Big Spruce, the winner in both events. However, in the weight for age twelve furlong grade one Woodward Stakes, Forego recaptured his winning form and beat Arbees Boy, and thus began a six race winning streak that continued on into the following year.
Forego, carrying 131 lbs, cut back to seven furlongs to win the Vosburgh Handicap by three and one half lengths over Stop The Music. Next up was the marathon two mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. This weight for age race had been won by many of the greats in the past and Forego would add his name to the illustrious list, with his dominating two and one half length victory. With the sweep of these three races, Forego demonstrated not only his immense talent, but also his immense versatility. He won these three major grade one races at twelve, seven and sixteen furlongs in succession.
Forego’s 1974 season tallies were: thirteen starts, eight wins, two times placed, two times third with earnings of $ 545,086. Substantial coin in those days.
When the Eclipse Awards for 1974 were handed out, Mrs. Gerry’s big gelding swept three more victories. He was named as the champion Sprinter, champion Handicap Horse and the ultimate award as Horse of the Year. The legend of Forego was now in full operation. He was just getting started and would add significantly to his impressive resume.
The 1975 season for Forego began on February 1 at Hialeah with a three quarter length win in the Seminole Handicap. He followed this with a dominating one and three quarter lengths win in the grade one Widener two weeks later. The big gelding carried 131 lbs in the ten furlong Widener. One month later, the popular champion was back at Aqueduct to win the seven furlong Carter Handicap toting 134 lbs. This win gave him six in a row.
In the Met Mile nine days later the race handicapper piled 136 lbs onto the back of the champ, but Mrs. Gerry and Sherrill Ward accepted the challenge and entered their star handicapper. Forego rallied valiantly but in the end was one length behind the winner Gold And Myrrh and second placed Stop The Music, conceding fifteen and twelve pound respectively.
Next up for “The Mighty Forego” as was his now nickname, was the July 4 Brooklyn Handicap. Assigned 132 lbs for the ten furlong race, Forego defended his Brooklyn title with a thorough display of power and class, crossing the line in a time of 1:59 4/5. He followed this with another page to add to his illustrious resume with his driving win in the twelve furlong grade one Suburban Handicap. The favourite of New York’s racing fans carried 134 lbs in this race, spotting sixteen and twenty pounds the runner up Arbees Boy and third placed Loud.
Forego’s streak of nine consecutive on the board finishes, which included seven wins, came to a halt with his fourth place finish in the nine furlong Governor Handicap. In this race he carried an assigned 134 lbs and faced some new foes in Wajima (115 lbs), Foolish Pleasure (125 lbs) and Ancient Title (130lbs), all very worthy horses in their own right. Twelve days later Forego exacted some revenge in finishing second by a head to Wajima in the ten furlong grade one Marlboro Cup. He gave ten pounds to the winner and three pounds to the third placed Ancient Title.
Back two weeks later to defend his Woodward Stakes title, Forego proved that at weight for age he had no equal. Helio Gustines guided his mount to a dominating one and three quarters length win over the three year old Wajima, who was still getting a seven pound break in the weights. This was the final race for the season for our hero. Year end totals: nine starts, six wins, once second and once third, for earnings of $ 429,521.
Changes were to come in the following year, but “The Mighty Forego” kept on winning and gaining the admiration of all who saw him perform. The Eclipse Award voters named him the champion Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year for the second consecutive year. So no change here.
The first change came in the barn when Sherrill Ward retired from training. The announcement came as a complete shock to the racing press, but not to Martha Gerry. She had learned from Ward that he was to enter a Manhattan hospital for treatment of his arthritic condition which had been plaguing him for several years. He told Forego’s owner “I feel because of my illness, which I have found to be incurable, I cannot do justice to myself or this great horse”. Ward and his wife headed for Florida.
Sherrill Ward had won the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top trainer in 1974, and was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1978. He passed away on February 23, 1984 in Florida, his birth state. His replacement to train Forego would be another future Hall of Fame trainer, Frank Whiteley.
There was a concern however for the well being of Forego’s chronic leg troubles. It had been intended that he would run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup, but one of the last training decisions Sherrill Ward made was to not enter the champion because of heat in his left front ankle and filling around the suspensor ligaments in his right hind leg. Frank Whiteley was not only inheriting a champion, but possibly a broken down champion. He had his work cut out for him.
There can be no greater pressure for a racing trainer than to be given the duties of keeping a beloved champion sound and in racing. Frank Whiteley was not going to start Forego in a race until he knew with a high degree of certainty that the horse was sound enough for the punishment. When he took over Forego, he was only five months removed from losing the great Ruffian in the most tragic manner possible.
Whiteley was no fool. He was a savvy and gifted horseman. One of the tricks of the trade to help horses with chronic ankle worries was to have them stand in buckets of cold water for extended periods of time. When Whiteley tried this, the head strong Forego took exception and so this method of relief was abandoned before the horse did serious damage. Whiteley then struck upon an idea to run cold water from a hose into Forego’s legs, for up to two hours at a time. Forego was not very receptive of this treatment at first either, but Whiteley persevered and eventually Forego learned to enjoy his “hosing” on a daily basis. The resulting puddles of water in and outside of the barn would be referred to as “Lake Whiteley”.
The treatments and the time off the track seemed to work. By early February, some four months after his last race, Forego was under tack walking and jogging lightly for a few furlongs. The distances would increase slowly. While Forego recovered, Whiteley kept the crippled champion at Ward’s farm adjacent to Keeneland race track. In late February, he had his first gallop, which came on the Keeneland training tack. He seemed to be happy getting back to work, so Whiteley had him shipped to Marion Du Pont Scott’s training centre in South Carolina where he wintered his stable.
By mid spring, the Whiteley trainees were in New York, and on April 24 Forego had his first breeze. Two weeks later Helio Gustines worked him three furlongs in 35 1/5 on the main track. All was coming along nicely and Whiteley was becoming optimistic about returning the now six year old champion to the races. After entering him in the Roseben Handicap, Whiteley decided to scratch Forego when the weights were published. He was assigned 131 lbs, which Whiteley felt was too much to ask of Forego in his return. He then found a seven furlong allowance race at scale to enter his new champion in.
The return of Forego to racing came on May 20 at Belmont. The reigning champion won easily. Eleven days later he returned to stakes competition in the Metropolitan Mile and won the grade one race, which had eluded him in two previous runnings. Two weeks later Jacinto Vasquez substituted for Gustines and steered the big champion to win the Nassau County Handicap. Forego was back, and full of run.
However, Foolish Pleasure would just hold off Forego in the Suburban when getting a nine pound weight advantage. The big gelding carried 134 lbs in the race and for his next start in the Brooklyn Handicap, he carried the same impost. Forego won his third consecutive Brooklyn trophy beating Lord Rebeau and Foolish Pleasure. As it turned out, this was the last time Gustines rode the great gelding in a race. Just as his first regular rider Pete Anderson was to hang up his tack for a training career, Heliodoro Gustines would do likewise.
Vasquez climbed aboard Forego for the Al Haskell Handicap at Monmouth Park. Shouldering 134 lbs, he was forced wide into the home stretch and could not gain on the winner Hatchet Man (112 lbs) nor the second placed Intrepid Hero (119 lbs). Whiteley was forced to search for a new regular partner for Forego as Vasquez was not always readily available due to his other commitments. His search would uncover the availability of another legend.
Bill Shoemaker was approached and he jumped at the chance to be Forego’s regular pilot. Their first race was in the Woodward, now a handicap and not a weight for age race. Shoemaker had to stuff a lot of lead into his saddle bags to bring the weight up to 135 lbs, but “The Mighty Forego” came down the home lane with a breathtaking run to win by a commanding one and a quarter lengths over Dance Spell (115 lbs) and Honest Pleasure (121 lbs) who had dead heated for second.
The final race of Forego’s six year old campaign came over a sloppy Belmont track in the Marlboro Cup in which he carried 137 lbs to victory over Honest Pleasure (119 lbs) and Father Hogan (110 lbs). In the opinion of many Thoroughbred expert observers, Forego’s six year old campaign may have been his best year. He made eight starts, won six, finish second and third once each, and banked $ 491,701. He repeated as the champion Handicap Horse and as the Horse of the Year. All this after it was thought that he may never race again. He has now won seven Eclipse Awards to this point, and he is coming back as a seven year old.
Frank Whiteley worked on the legs of Forego, a process that never stopped, throughout the off season. He gave him plenty of down time to recharge his batteries and prepare for another campaign of carrying big weight against the top horses in training.
Forego began his seven year old season around the same time in May as he did the previous year, in an allowance race at scale weights. Shoemaker guided his mount to an easy victory in the seven furlong race, setting him up for the Metropolitan Mile one week later. Forego was assigned 133 lbs for the race but, no worries here as the champion came from fourteen lengths behind after a sluggish start to win by two lengths. Two weeks later Forego made it two race title defences in a row when he carted 136 lbs to win the Nassau County Handicap. The win moved Forego into second place in all time earnings.
The Belmont handicapper Tommy Trotter assigned Forego 138 lbs for the ten furlong Suburban Handicap. Whiteley and Mrs. Gerry were reluctant to run him with such a huge weight but after his strong work out days before the race, and with the fact that their champion horse was the darling of New York race fans, Mrs. Gerry grudgingly let her champion compete. And compete he did, although he did not win.
Forego was some seven lengths back at the far turn when he kicked into overdrive and launched his assault. Forego charged down the home stretch gaining with every stride but just missed by a neck to Quiet Little Table. The winner was getting a twenty-four pound weight advantage from Forego and still was almost beaten by the big champion. In the next race Forego shed only one pound and was again second as Great Contractor carried twenty-five less pounds to win the Brooklyn Handicap over twelve furlongs.
The next two races Forego ran were over sloppy tracks. He wound up eighteen lengths back in the Whitney Handicap, as he thoroughly disliked the sloppy Saratoga course, and then defended his title in the Woodward Handicap carrying 133 lbs to a one and one-half length victory. Third in this latter race was Great Contractor who only got an eighteen pound weight advantage.
That was it for the year of 1977. Frank Whiteley had brought Forego through another campaign safe and sound, well sort of sound. The big gelding’s chronic ankles kept flaring up repeatedly throughout the year and it seemed a miracle to all close observers of Forego that he made it through. The Eclipse Award voters bestowed him his eighth trophy when Forego won his fourth Handicap Horse title.
The recovery time Forego needed was becoming longer and with far more work involved. Martha Gerry and Frank Whiteley were not sure if the big champion had any more races left in him. One problem was that Forego himself was happiest when he was in training. He seemed to be coming along in the spring of 1978 so they aimed Forego to return in June at Belmont, and perhaps another campaign in the tough summer handicaps in New York.
Forego made two starts, winning the allowance race opener and then finished fourteen lengths behind Upper Nile in the Suburban. Upper Nile carried 113 lbs, second placed Nearly On Time carried 109 lbs and third placed Great Contractor carried 114 lbs. Forego carried 132 lbs. He came out of the race with calcium chips around the pasterns and sesamoids. X-rays also revealed a partial dislocated pastern joint. The Mighty Forego had run his last race.
Following his bitter-sweet retirement celebration at Belmont where Helio Gustines came to ride him in front of his adoring public, Forego went to Sherrill Ward’s farm in Lexington. “Kentucky was where Forego was bred, and this is where he will retire to. He is going home”, so said Mrs. Gerry.
During his retirement time at Ward’s farm, he could hear the start of the races at Keeneland and would start running around in his paddock. He missed the excitement and the challenges of racing. He could see the field along the backstretch and he would stop and watch. His faraway look in his eyes told the whole story. Forego loved the races, and he missed the action terribly. When he heard the crowd yelling as the horses come down the home stretch, the old competitor would tense up. After the noise died down, the great champion then relaxed and return to his grazing.
After three years Sherrill Ward was in ill health and sold his farm. Mrs. Gerry moved Forego to the Kentucky Horse Park. Here he could be accessible to the thousands of racing fans that would turn out every year to see him. Forego mellowed with age, became the star of the Kentucky Horse Park, and he got a steady supply of his favourite treat bananas.
Forego was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1979. He won eight Eclipse Awards including three Horse of the Year trophies. He ran in fifty-seven races and won thirty-four, was second nine times and third seven times. He was the betting favourite in fifty-two races. He conceded more than 3,000 pounds to his opposition cumulative in his career. Forego was a Thoroughbred wonder.
On August 27, 1997 Forego broke his right hind pastern while frolicking in his paddock. “He was too old to go through surgery” said Martha Gerry. “I couldn’t stand to see him suffer” Forego was humanly euthanized and is buried in the Hall Of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park.
I have nothing but complete admiration for the great Forego and the people who guided him through his remarkable career. Look up the word courage and don’t be surprised to see a picture of Forego. In my opinion, he was the bravest, most honest competitor in my lifetime.
(Photo courtesy of the Kentucky Horse Park)