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Lunchtime Lecture Series: Lenny Shulman
The Kentucky Horse Park, in Lexington, Kentucky, started the New Year with a series of Lunchtime Lectures at the International Museum of the Horse, beginning with Lenny Shulman.
Shulman has been Features Editor of Bloodhorse magazine for 20 years, covering the Thoroughbred industry, and just retiring from full time work the first of this year. He is the author of these books: Justify: 111 Days to Triple Crown Glory and Ride of Their Lives, which examined the troubled lives of Thoroughbred jockeys. He also won an Emmy Award as a television writer, and for 8-9 years was writer/producer of the children’s show “Kids Incorporated.”
Following his graduation from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications, Shulman started his career as a sports reporter on the Oneida (New York) Daily Dispatch. He later founded the Tuscon Times weekly newspaper.
Shulman’s topic for the first Lunchtime Lecture was his personal remembrance about a very special day twenty years ago at the Kentucky Horse Park, which became a major turning point in his life. It was the day when he and a friend from his time in Los Angeles, who had since moved to New York, met at the Kentucky Horse Park and spent the entire day with Forego.
Forego had had an outstanding racing career, winning 34 of his 57 races, and had been retired to the Kentucky Horse Park, residing in the Hall of Champions from 1981 until he died in 1997.
Forego was born at Claiborne Farm in Paris, Kentucky in 1970, which was also home to the legendary Secretariat. The 17-hand Forego was trained by Sherrill Ward and Frank Whiteley. Over his career, Forego received many accolades and awards: he was Champion Sprinter in 1974; Horse of the Year 1974 - 1976; inducted into Racing’s Hall of Fame in 1979; received 8 Eclipse Awards, more than any other horse; and was voted 8th best racehorse of the 20th century. He accumulated lifetime earnings of $1,993,957.
Shulman recalled the day: “My friend Johnny and I arrived at the Horse Park in October 1996. Johnny had seen Forego run in New York many times and knew that he liked bananas, so we arrived with a bag full of bananas and proceeded to feed Forego over his stall gate when nobody was looking.
“We watched as he was paraded during the presentation for visitors, and some of his best races were shown on video screens. Following that, we stayed around and Cathy Roby, who was in charge of the Hall of Champions, showed mercy on us and brought Forego outside so we could love on him, pose with him, feed him some more, and hold him. We were thrilled!
“She cut off a piece of his mane and gave it to Johnny. Later, Forego was turned out in his paddock and the day shift of workers was leaving. Cathy said it would be OK if we stuck around and spent a little more time with him. At age 26, he decided to put on a show for us. As if to tell us he still had it, he began running laps around the paddock, giving us a small peek at what once was.
“We were thrilled, and both of us left there knowing it was one of the most memorable days of our lives. That day helped inspire me to enter the horse world, which I did about three years later.”
Joseph Durso, of The New York Times, wrote of Forego in August 1997, the sad time when he fractured the long pastern bone in the right hind leg and had to be put down.
“Forego was one of the hardiest champions. In 1973, at age 3, he ran fourth behind Secretariat in the Kentucky Derby.
“He was so big in stature that people worried that he might not be able to move quickly. He was so afflicted with chronic sesamoiditis that they worried he might break down. But he kept racing and carrying extreme weight loads, and he kept winning. He won at every distance from six furlongs to two miles…”
In spite of his sesamoid problems that plagued him throughout his career, folks credit Frank Whitley’s daily cold hosing of Forego’s legs for enabling the horse to continue racing.
Durso wrote about the memorable moment in 1976 in the Marlboro Cup when Forego, in the homestretch, with Bill Shoemaker riding, “generated his famous late rush and overtook Honest Pleasure in a fierce duel by a head.”
Steve Haskin remembered Forego’s exciting performance in the Carter Handicap in a 2009 article in Bloodhorse. Forego was up against Mr. Prospector, whom some had deemed “the fastest horse in the country.” In this race, “Mr. Prospector, as expected, shot to the lead… Forego was back in last, nine lengths off the pace… Then he began making up ground steadily under Heliodoro Gustines, closing in on the leaders. At this moment I first came to the realization that we were looking at something special.
“…here was Forego in an out-and-out gallop, with his ears up and Gustines sitting motionless in the saddle, his hands tucked up near his chest. Without the slightest bit of encouragement, Forego blew by Mr. Prospector with more than a quarter of a mile still to run. He opened up by 1½ lengths at the eighth pole and was still under wraps as he coasted to the wire 2¼ lengths ahead of Mr. Prospector in 1:22 1/5.
“This to me was the beginning of the Forego dynasty, when we first realized this was no ordinary horse.” Haskin also recalled the memorable 1977 Woodward as “one of the most emotional and satisfying races I’ve ever experienced.”
Haskin related a time that he and his wife visited Forego shortly after his retirement, when he was residing at John Ward’s farm overlooking Keeneland Racetack. “John told us he still loved the cheers and would start running around his paddock whenever he’d hear the roar of the crowd.” When they saw Forego in the middle of his paddock grazing, “paying little attention to us,” Haskin decided to start clapping to see if the horse would respond so they could get a good photo of him. “Sure enough, ol’ Forego picked his head up and began running around his paddock, ultimately stopping by the fence where we were able to get great head shots and a few pats on the forehead.”
Haskin concludes: “For all the heart-pounding thrills he provided, he was as unique a Thoroughbred as ever set foot on a racetrack. That uniqueness, combined with his extraordinary talent, made him in my opinion one of the truly great horses of all time.”
This day at the Horse Park visiting with Forego reenergized Shulman to get more involved and to seek a career with horses and horseracing. “It motivated me to get out of California and into another world,” Shulman said. It was this special day with a very special horse that led to a 20-year career writing about racehorses in Bloodhorse, as well authoring as two books about horse racing. Shulman said he’s very proud of his latest book, Justify. “The feedback is good,” he said, and he has another couple of books in the offing.
I asked Shulman about his perspective on the current publicity about Thoroughbred racing that has focused on the injuries and deaths of racehorses at tracks in California. He thinks we should “concentrate on the fact that we have turned a corner, where safety is now paramount at tracks. Those in California, Kentucky, and New York are leading the way with more medical inspections, X-rays, locating small problems before they become major injuries, and dealing with the medication issue.” In the future, he thinks less medication will be given to racehorses. He thinks there are good steps to be taken with the Horseracing Integrity Act, especially in terms of uniformity on medication rules and an independent organization to monitor it. In the future, he envisions Thoroughbred racing as drug free, on the up-and-up, and with every safety precaution being taken.
For a sampling of Shulman’s articles at Bloodhorse, visit https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/author/lenny-shulman
Forego. Kentucky Horse Park. https://kyhorsepark.com/equine-theme-park/park-memorials-statues/memorials-walk-of-champions/forego/
Forego. Claiborne Farm. https://claibornefarm.com/history/hof/forego/
Durso, Joseph. 1997. “Forego, Injured, Is Put Down at 27.” The New York Times. Aug. 29. https://www.nytimes.com/1997/08/29/sports/forego-injured-is-put-down-at-27.html
Haskin, Steve. 2009. “The Mighty Forego.” Bloodhorse. June 21. http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2009/06/21/the-mighty-forego.aspx
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