Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 32 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 32 Days to Go!

Alysheba, the 6th Kentucky Derby winner to be foaled at Hamburg Place, was bred by Preston Madden. Out of the Lt. Stevens mare, Bel Sheba, the colt was produced by her mating with Triple Crown runner-up, Alydar. He was purchased by Texan Clarence Scharbauer for $500,000 at the Keeneland 1985 July Summer Select Yearling Sale on the recommendation of trainer Jack Van Berg, along with his bloodstock agent. After the sale, Van Berg would ship the bay colt to his training center near Goshen, Kentucky where Alysheba would get his early instruction.

Alysheba was actually a 6th choice name for the youngster, though it seems a perfect fit. The other names considered were Alyman, Belringer, and Pennacle, these three being turned down due to their sounding to close to previously registered names. The remaining two were Finetuned and Head Honcho, names that were already taken. He would be registered as Alysheba and race under Scharbauer’s wife and daughter’s name, Dorothy and Pamela.

Alysheba’s first start would take place on July 21, with a 5th place in a 5 ½-furlong maiden. Trying another maiden, this time at eight furlongs a month later, he came up just a head short of a win. The bay’s only victory prior to the Kentucky Derby came in September, an 8½-furlong maiden on the dirt at Turfway Park.  As the post time favorite, he ran away to an 8-length win. Running again at Turfway, this time in the In Memoriam, Alysheba would again place 2nd, a half-length behind the winner. Entered into the Breeders’ Futurity at Keeneland, another second place finish would be the best that he could do; however it was enough for his connections to give him a chance in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. Sent off at 33-1, Alysheba would close in a rush with his ground-eating stride, finishing third, only 2½ lengths behind Capote. Closing out his freshman campaign with a start in the Hollywood Futurity, the colt managed to gain the lead, then eased up. As he was challenged, he tried to rally, falling just short as he didn’t have the momentum. After the race, it was decided to let the colt have some time off for the winter.

Returning to the races on March 8th, Alysheba finished 4th in an uninspired effort in an 8½-furlong allowance. Two weeks later, after hanging in the stretch after driving, he was 2nd in the San Felipe. Fearing something was wrong, an exam found a trapped epiglottis was the issue, with surgery being performed to fix the problem. Missing the Santa Anita Derby, another path was chosen. Heading to Keeneland, Van Berg planned to start Alysheba in an allowance to prep for the Blue Grass, although a fever caused him to miss it as well. Going into the Blue Grass strictly off of works, Chris McCarron would be given the mount making his return to riding after a severely broken leg that had required a three-hour surgery, 11 screws, a prosthetic plate, and many months of rehabilitation. Alysheba would never have another rider.  In the Blue Grass, the duo ran a race that showed a marked improvement for the hard-trying colt, passing under the wire in first. Unfortunately, the result wouldn’t stand. While putting in a rousing stretch run, Alysheba jumped sideways when he saw the tracks in the dirt from the starting gate, impeding the path of Leo Castelli. The move caused him to be disqualified to 3rd for interference.

The Kentucky Derby saw Alysheba go off at odds of 8.40-1, despite still being eligible for races open to non-winners of two races, as he had only finished in front in one race that counted. The favorite in the field of 17 was the Arkansas Derby winner, Demons Begone. The race would prove to be an athletic feat for Alysheba and McCarron, with the 113th edition becoming known as the “Roller Derby” due to all the bumping and crowding that occurred. Cryptoclearance who broke from the 1 hole, was shut out, cutting his shoulder when being crowded into the rail. The only horses that avoided some of the melee were those who were traveling towards the front. Alysheba with McCarron having the piloting duties, were bumped at the start, causing them to run toward the back half of the field. As they entered the final turn, the leaders were tiring and coming back. Alysheba as well as Bet Twice were making their moves on the pacesetter. At the top of the stretch with only Bet Twice in front of them, the tandem was getting ready to roll by, yet Bet Twice ducked out in front of them, causing Alysheba to clip heels, nearly going down and unseating McCarron. Alysheba regained his feet with McCarron staying aboard, only to have Bet Twice start to drift out towards them again. This time they avoided contact, surging past to win by ¾ lengths in a time of 2:03 2/5, giving Van Berg his first victory in 5 attempts.

The Preakness proved to be more of the same, with another memorable finish between Alysheba and Bet Twice, although minus the bump and run. In front of a record crowd of 87,945, Alysheba was on his toes and more aggressive, again following Bet Twice into the stretch. McCarron had Alysheba in a good place, with the colt powering away to win by a widening ½ length. The Belmont would not see a Triple Crown winner though, as Bet Twice would have his revenge, winning by 14 lengths with Alysheba finishing fourth. After finishing second by a neck in the Haskell in addition to a 6th place finish in the Travers, Alysheba turned his losing streak around with a half-length victory in the Super Derby before heading to the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The Classic pitted Alysheba against Ferdinand, the previous year’s Derby winner. It was the first time two Derby winners faced each other since the 1979 Jockey Club Gold Cup where Spectacular Bid and Affirmed dueled in a memorable stretch run. The Classic would be memorable in its own right, as Ferdinand and Alysheba battled down the stretch, ending in a photo finish that showed Ferdinand’s nose just in front. Ferdinand would get Horse of the Year over Alysheba with the victory, however Alysheba would receive 3YO Champion Male.

At 4 Alysheba would win seven of his nine starts, six of them Grade I Stakes. He also became the first horse to run the mile and quarter in under 2 minutes in three races in the same year, two of them being track records. Victorious in the Strub by three lengths, carrying 126 pounds as the high weight, Alysheba would next take on Ferdinand in the Santa Anita Handicap, besting him by a half-length. With both then entered in the San Bernardino, Alysheba would have the lead going into the stretch, although Ferdinand rallied to put his head in front. Alysheba wasn’t finished, driving forward to pass under the wire a nose in front. Heading East for the Pimlico Special, Alysheba again finished behind Bet Twice, placing fourth. Returning to California for the Hollywood Gold Cup, Alysheba and Ferdinand again crossed paths, though they both finished 6 1/2 lengths behind Cutlass Reality, carrying ten pounds less then the two Derby victors, with Alysheba in second and Ferdinand in third. Given a 2-month rest, Alysheba returned to the track winning four in a row, starting with a victory over Bet Twice in the Iselin. Following that up with victories in the Woodward and Meadowlands Cup, he covered the mile and a quarter races while setting track records in the process. His Woodward time was 1:59 2/5, while his Meadowlands victory was timed in 1:58 4/5. His season ended with a victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs, where he was dubbed, “America’s Horse”. Showing his patented stretch run, Alysheba finished a half-length in front of Seeking The Gold, becoming the all-time leading money winner in the process with earnings of $6,679,242, surpassing the great John Henry, whom McCarron also rode. His season ended with him receiving Champion Older Horse and Horse of the Year honors.

Alysheba started his stud career at Lane’s End, later being moved to Saudi Arabia. He sired 11 stakes winners, including Alywow, the Canadian Horse of the Year. He would be sent back to the states where he lived out his days at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he is also buried.

(Gravesite photo personal collection)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum