The Genuine article

Horse racing: Despite a controversial Preakness loss 20 years ago and a failed career as a broodmare, Genuine Risk holds a special place in racing history.

May 15, 2000|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

Angel Cordero Jr. glanced over his shoulder and saw her coming. He recognized the filly by her face.

Genuine Risk had made that face famous by becoming the second filly to win the Kentucky Derby. Ringed in white, her piercing eyes were set higher than most thoroughbreds', and a distinctive white blaze - as wide as a house painter's widest brush - streaked from the top of her forehead down her long face, spilling onto her nostrils.

That flash of white is what Cordero saw 20 years ago when he took the lead with the colt Codex around the far turn in the 105th Preakness. Over his right shoulder, he saw the filly flying wide as she had in the Derby. And Cordero was waiting.

When Genuine Risk and her jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, approached the right flank of Codex, Cordero executed what would become one of the most controversial maneuvers in the history of horse racing. He kept Codex wide around the turn, pushing Genuine Risk even wider.

A record crowd of 83,455 at Pimlico and millions more on television watched in astonishment May 17, 1980, as Codex suddenly cut back inside, leaving the filly in his wake for a 4 3/4 -length victory.

Despite replays on ABC that appeared to show Codex bumping Genuine Risk and Cordero even perhaps striking the filly in the face with his whip, the Pimlico stewards refused to disqualify Codex. Their decision prompted a vicious backlash by racing fans.

But it did nothing to diminish Genuine Risk.

Three weeks later in the Belmont, she became the first filly to run in each Triple Crown race. She easily defeated Codex, who finished seventh. But after claiming a brief lead in mid-stretch, Genuine Risk could not repel the late charge of Temperence Hill. Still, she assured her rank in history with her third straight remarkable performance: first in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Preakness, second in the Belmont.

The next year, 1981, Genuine Risk was retired by her owners, Diana and Bert Firestone. The filly had raced 15 times, never finishing worse than third. She recorded 10 wins, three seconds and two thirds.

Her breeding career was greatly anticipated by an adoring public. It had fallen head over heels for the filly who finished races with her ears pinned back, nostrils flaring, completely spent. Genuine Risk would rather die than lose.

The Firestones selected a historic mating for her maiden voyage into motherhood: Secretariat, winner of the Triple Crown in 1973 and one of the greatest runners in history. The breeding of these two chestnuts represented the first ever of two Kentucky Derby winners.

But anticipation turned to sorrow when the next year, 1983, Genuine Risk delivered a dead foal. That was the beginning of a heartbreaking run of ill fortune for the filly and the racing world. For 10 consecutive years, Genuine Risk, one of racing's potentially great broodmares, failed to become pregnant, lost the fetus during pregnancy or aborted the foal.

Finally, at age 16, on May 15, 1993, she gave birth to a chestnut colt by the stallion Rahy at Three Chimneys Farm in Kentucky. A team of veterinarians had induced labor after ultrasound monitors showed the foal's slow, irregular heartbeat. The delivery made the network evening news.

Eventually named Genuine Reward, he never made it to the races and now stands at stud in Virginia for a modest fee of $1,500.

Genuine Risk persevered through two more failed pregnancies before delivering her second and final foal on Feb. 21, 1996, another chestnut colt, this one by Chief Honcho. Appropriately named Count Our Blessing, the 4-year-old has not raced, but remains in training with Jimmy Murphy at Laurel Park.

After four more failed pregnancies, the Firestones pensioned the 23-year-old Genuine Risk this year to their Newstead Farm in Upperville, Va."Some racehorses make great broodmares," says Bert Firestone, speaking by phone from Newstead. "She, unfortunately, didn't. But she was a great race mare."

A fast start

Diana and Bert Firestone's son, Matthew, 14, picked out Genuine Risk at the 1978 Fasig-Tipton yearling sale at Keeneland. His parents bought the well-bred daughter of Exclusive Native (sire of Affirmed, Triple Crown winner in 1978) and the Gallant Man mare Virtuous for $32,000. That fall, they sent her to their trainer in Florida, Leroy Jolley, later elected to the Hall of Fame.

She won her first six races, all against fillies.

"If you looked at her, you would not dream that she was as tough as she was," says Jolley, sitting at his barn at Belmont Park, where he continues training horses. "She was fairly tall, slightly built, a little on the delicate side. But she had a huge desire to run."

In the spring of her 3-year-old season, Jolley and the Firestones decided to test her against males in the Wood Memorial Stakes, hoping she would earn a berth in the Kentucky Derby. She ran credibly, but lost for the first time, finishing third.

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