Da Hoss Thoroughbred Bay Gelding Foaled January 18, 1992 in Ky Owner: Prestonwood Farm, Inc and Wall Street Racing Inc. Breeder: Fares Farm (Ky) Trainer: Michael W Dickinson
Accomplishments One of only six horses to win two Breeder's Cup Races Only gelding to win two Breeder's Cup Races Only horse to win two Breeder's Cup Races in non-consecutive years Won: Breeder's Cup Mile (G1) twice, Jersey Derby (G2), Del Mar Invitational Derby (G2), Fourstar Dave Stakes (G3), Best Turn Stakes(G3), Pennsylvania Governor's Cup, ATBA Stakes
Da Hoss' Career Record Totals This table charts the career record totals of Da Hoss by year and gives the number of starts, place finished and total money earned.
Breeders' Cup Focus: Da Hoss
Legacy of Da Hoss lives on ten years later by Mike Curry (2008)
Ten years ago, Da Hoss etched his name forever in Breeders' Cup history, winning the 1998 Breeders' Cup Mile (G1) with only one race in two years in what track announcer Tom Durkin called 'the greatest comeback since Lazarus.'
On November 7 at Churchill Downs, trainer Michael Dickinson and his crew completed one of the greatest accomplishments in the rich history of Thoroughbred racing.
With only one start since his victory in the '96 Breeders' Cup Mile, Da Hoss, who was plagued by injuries throughout his career, showed his courage as he battled back when overtaken by runner-up Hawksley Hill (Ire) to prevail by a head in a thrilling finish that sent shivers down the spines of those in attendance.
"I'm just really always forever grateful to him; we know who did all the work and it was him," Dickinson said of Da Hoss. "We are forever grateful to him. Even before that, we always loved him; he was always our boy. Even if he hadn't have won that day, we would have loved him just the same."
Da Hoss did win that day with a performance that was both legendary and almost unbelievable. With one final determined surge, the Gone West gelding cemented his place in Breeders' Cup history.
"Hawksley Hill did run by us, but I switched my whip to the left hand and he responded," winning jockey John Velazquez recalled. "It was very impressive for a horse to get passed at the eighth pole and then come back at the sixteenth pole. That is very hard to do, and he was very courageous to do that.
"In a second you thought you were getting beat, and then in the next second you come back and win the race. That in itself was just an unbelievable memory, and it was my first Breeders' Cup, so that is one of those things that just sticks in your mind. It was very special."
Da Hoss's victory also reaffirmed his trainer's brilliance.
Dickinson, a champion steeplechase trainer in England who once won 12 races on one day and trained the first five finishers of the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup, said without hesitation that Da Hoss's second Breeders' Cup victory was his greatest accomplishment as a trainer.
"A lot of people would disagree, because a lot of people will go out and win Breeders' Cups again, and it is unlikely that anyone will have the first five in the Gold Cup, but I just felt that the crew did a really good job," Dickinson said.
Injuries were always part of the equation with Da Hoss, and Dickinson credited his crew with the careful handling of the horse, attributing much of his success to Joan Wakefield, his partner of 27 years; exercise rider John "John-Boy" Ferriday; and groom Miguel Piedra.
"First of all, he was bit crooked and he was back at the knee, two things on the whole horsemen obviously don't like," Dickinson said. "But he was such a marvelous mover, I don't think it really mattered."
As a yearling, Da Hoss had an infection that led to the removal of part of the coffin bone and developed bone spurs in both hocks. The coffin bone was always a source of concern and by the time he got to five, each hock had become arthritic.
The feet and the hocks were Da Hoss's main problems, but after his '96 Breeders' Cup victory, Dickinson encountered a minor injury to a tendon in February '07. In June, Da Hoss had a problem with his fetlock, and in September he went lame behind for about three weeks for the first time in his career, causing Dickinson and his team to back off.
Dickinson got Da Hoss within two breezes of a race in May 1998, but he came out of the workout very stiff and Dickinson's team was forced to stop again.
"One of the hardest things about him was that he used to love to train. If he was a human, we would have said, 'If you don't feel too good today, if you are a bit stiff, just go easy,'" Dickinson said. "But he loved to train. He loved to go out and tackle the other horses in a workout. So you couldn't say to him, 'Take it easy.' Even if he had his aches and pain, he would try to forget them. And that's what made it difficult for me, because he didn't look out for himself. That was the difficult part."
After a month of walking and a month of jogging, he came back. Da Hoss was very stiff at first, but eventually gave Dickinson hope he could regain his top form.
"He warmed out of the stiffness, and ever since he's been training great," Dickinson said at the time.
Dickinson searched for a prep race for Da Hoss leading up to the '98 Breeders' Cup, but remained confident he could train him up to the race and have him ready, if necessary.
He found a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Colonial Downs on October 11 and Da Hoss won by three-quarters of a length under Carlos Marquez Jr.
"His race was very easy, Carlos Marquez gave him a brilliant ride, he was absolutely motionless on him," Dickinson said. "It was a very easy race for him."
Dickinson had to campaign to Breeders' Cup officials to try to secure a spot for Da Hoss in the Breeders' Cup Mile, and told anyone who would listen that Da Hoss had never been better in his life. Da Hoss was the first alternate among 26 pre-entries and drew into the race when the connections of Gentleman (Arg) opted for the Breeder's Cup Classic (G1).
"It started at ten in the morning when I went to see [jockey] Johnny Velasquez, and it was [emotional] for me," Dickinson said of race day. "I went to Johnny and I said, 'I don't know what you've got for other rides today, but this horse is going to win for you.? I told him with tears in my eyes because I knew our crew had done a marvelous job.
"We just felt he was going to win, even when the other horse passed him, I still thought he was going to win. He never let us down. When we had him right, he always won for us. He never let us down once. Of course he got beaten. But he got beaten because we didn't have him right or various things, but he never got beat."
As his trainer expected, Da Hoss did not let the crew down and turned in perhaps the most amazing performance in the 24-year history of the Breeders' Cup.
"I never thought of how big this thing was; I just couldn't believe we actually won," Velazquez said.
Da Hoss spends his days at the Hall of Champions at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, where he lives a life of leisure and entertains legions of adoring fans. Now 16, Da Hoss has become a gentle horse with an affinity for peppermints.
The mellow fellow at the Horse Park is not the Da Hoss Dickinson recalls.
"He used to bite John-Boy every day; he would treat John-Boy like one of those rubber toys you have. You've seen some [horses] have rubber toys, and John-Boy used to let him do that. He was tough and aggressive.
"He was tough and he was difficult to ride at home. If you weren't careful he would drop you. You had to sit tight on him, if not there'd be a loose horse. John-Boy was very good with him and read him and knew him. I tell you if you didn't know him, he'd drop you. All in fun, you know, none of it was malice. He was the boss."
Voters in a poll by the British racing publication Racing Post selected Dickinson's feat in the 1983 Cheltenham Gold Cup as the top training accomplishment ever by any English or Irish trainer.
Dickinson no longer trains horses. He decided in November 2007 to focus on his Tapeta Footings synthetic surface, which serves as the main track at Golden Gate Fields and Presque Isle Downs. Dickinson's Tapeta surface has been installed in six countries and will be the surface for the training track at the new Meydan complex in Dubai.
Dickinson said he has no regrets about giving up training, but he always makes time for Da Hoss.
"I am very happy as I am," he said. "I go and see [Da Hoss] when I'm in Lexington. They look after him really well at the [Horse Park].
"I like to go on my own. When John-Boy and Joan and Miguel [Piedra], the head man who looked after him when they go, it is just a matter of who is going to cry first. I cry, but only when I'm by myself."
Mike Curry is a Thoroughbred Times TODAY editor