Ack Ack, 1971

Charles Hatton on 1971 Horse of the Year Ack Ack from the 1972 American Racing Manual.


The Academie Francaise, whose exalted membership is restricted to what the envious call “The Forty Immortals,” generalize that there are two kinds of mortality, categorizing these as the Hedgehogs and the Foxes. The former tend to develop a skill in one pursuit, essentially that of survival. The latter cultivate all the interests and tastes their time and intellects afford, seeking like the Renaissance Man to enlarge their lives in the pursuit of happiness.

The World of Racing has the seductive appeal of lending itself to the pursuits of those of both persuasions, the materialists and those who seek its magic as an escape from crass reality. On the turf one can have it both ways.

Racing Must Be Attraction

It is sometimes complained the hedgehogs battened on the businesslike sport of racing with the introduction of the tote some 30 years ago. But the foxes, who take their reading neat, “pour le sport,” are secure in the comfortable knowledge they cannot lose. For in the end racing can succeed commercially only in ratio to its allure as a sport.

There are endless diversions which are oriented to gaming. The late William Woodward Sr. said shrewdly that racing’s appeal is to the eye, while perceptive P. A. B. Widener considered it an art form.

Artists have long known that art does not duplicate life, bur rather that the best of life imitates art to the best of life’s ability.

“La vie turf” is the good life. One ventures that nobody could agree more than owner Buddy Fogelson of Ack Ack. His luck conditioned him to despair almost to the point of turning in his badge a few years ago. Then he acquired Ack Ack for a reported $500,000 in January, 1971 (following the horse’s first two starts of the year with $40,150 earnings at Santa Anita Park) and derived the pleasure of owning the Horse of the Year, who earned $353,150 for him plus a retroactive cash flow from that virile animal’s future at stud.

Strive as one will to align the odds in his behalf, luck is the magistrate of all turf followers’ fortunes in the final analysis. Between the chicken and the feathers, it has its moments. Fogelson’s big moment came when he was presented three bronze statuettes of Eclipse, the Oscars of the sport, in recognition of Ack Ack’s achievements at the first Winner’s Circle Awards Dinner in New York in January.

It was all too marvelous really, and edifying for any who cannot see the horses for the tote. The disciples of Herod, Matchem and Eclipse have the conceit to feel sorry for them, and that they are not getting their money’s worth out of the sport. In the vernacular, the track is where it’s at, and the horse is what it’s about.

Awards Dinner Attracts Sport’s Best

Any vestigial doubt of this must have been dispelled with the glittering and cosmopolitan attendance at the Winner’s Circle Awards Dinner, to pay homage to the 1971 season’s champions—Ack Ack, Canonero II, Riva Ridge, Numbered Account, Turkish Trousers, Shuvee, Run the Gantlet and Shadow Brook. Many of the distinguished gathering had come to New York for the historic occasion from the British Isles, France, California and Canada.

This was the most magnificent tribute to the thoroughbred horse since the inception of the sport outside the Roman wall of Chester, England, in the 16th century. It was sponsored by the Daily Racing Form and The Morning Telegraph and the Thoroughbred Racing Associations, who combined their annual polls on the championships in an inspired new arrangement, with the entire body of the National Turf Writers Association also participating in the balloting.

It was a demonstration of a sort all too rare. It was artful in its conception, and art can make even the commonplace enhance the soul.

Ack Ack, a bay horse enameled with praise, had won $636,641 and many thrilling victories in the subtly checkered course of his career, but this was his finest hour.

Was a Season of Champions

Those who savor the romance as well as the excitements and drama of the turf cannot fail to note Ack Ack is the most accomplished of a season of champions whose petite histories are straight out of one of Gerald Beaumont’s taller tales. If Canonero II was banished to Venezuela like good riddance to bad rubbish only to return and avenge himself at the expense of our best three-year-olds, and if the champion filly Turkish Trousers was another gift horse, while Ack Ack cost what is commonly if imprecisely known as a pretty penny, he nevertheless was a subject for the Sunday supplements.

He may be the finest horse ever bred by the international turfman, art collector, publisher and philanthropist Capt. Harry Guggenheim. In failing health, this dear and civilized sportsman disposed of scores of horses with the single exception of Ack Ack before his death January 22, 1971.

Ironically, he passed on before the colt developed his maximum powers, much as Federico Tesio had before Ribot burst on the racing world with such eclat, and as Count Batthany did before the invincible St. Simon whom he bred came to the races. Fate plays cruel tricks, such as these, and the unspeakable luck which found Harry Payne Whitney racing hundreds of horses, but culling Cudgel, whom handicapper Vosburgh rated the best performers seen between the eras of Sysonby in 1904 and 1905 and Man o’ War in 1919 and 1920.

Guggenheim Solicitous Horseman

One regrets to note many present day owners have the most indelicate disregard for their horses’ health and feelings, but Guggenheim was a turfman of the old school, a bit of an anachronism in his solicitous handling of his horse, sometimes affording them years to reach their most effective form.

Ack Ack sported his breeder’s blue and white standard only three times at two, winning a little race before being unwound on the premise he was too valuable a property to chance compromising his future in his adolescence. At three, he made up for lost time, if you endure rather a tepid pun, and won the Bahamas, Derby Trial, Arlington Classic and Withers.

It was conjectured he could conceivably win the Derby after his smashing success in the Trial. You can guess the railbird’s astonishment when the good Captain ordered Ack Ack shipped to New York the morning after the Derby prelude. Needlessly, he explained he was disinclined to race Ack Ack beyond eight furlongs at that particular phase of his meticulously arranged career. Instead, he was prepared for the Withers, which he dutifully won.

Nobody ever implied Ack Ack would not stay respectable distances, and yet he did not run long until turning five, fully matured and racing for Fogelson. He accrued a new dimension of importance when he carried 130 pounds 1 1/4 miles in front of his distinguished stable companion Cougar II in the Santa Anita Handicap.

Going from strength to strength under trainer Charlie Whittingham, Ack Ack carried 130 pounds and won the 10-furlong Hollywood Gold Cup Handicap in the stylish time of 1:59 4/5. This was one of seven coveted stakes he won during the ’71 campaign, all at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park, beginning in January and terminating in July. In the course of his meteoric rise to fame, he stepped out of character for 1:47 1/5, which was the time he required to win the 9-furlong American Handicap on the turf.

Unraced Last Half of Season

It had been hoped he would throw down the gauge to the best horses in the east, having clearly established his dominion over those in the west, but we are afraid he disappoints provincials on that score. He became terribly ill, with what was originally diagnosed as colic, and did not race the last half of the season.

In the spectacular course of his career, Ack Ack had proved a Protean performer, who in his travels had won in Florida, Kentucky and New York [and Illinois], as well as in California, sprinting and staying, and with his weight up.

Fogelson, who has a ranch in New Mexico and Texas real estate fenced with oil wells, acquired Ack Ack opportunistically from the Guugenheim estate after his one ’71 loss and mined the best from him when he won under 134.

Retired to Claiborne Farm

Ack Ack was rising six and patently would be obliged to carry staggering imposts if continued in competition. Sufficiently recovered from his illness, he was dispatched to Bull Hancock’s Claiborne, where he first saw the light of day, to enter the stud in ’72. Fogelson’s supreme, unshakable confidence in Ack Ack’s potentialities are implicit in his decision not to syndicate him but to hold him as a private stallion.

As an entertainer, Ack Ack had great verve and was very dashing. For pedigree purposes he will doubtless be interpreted as a “brilliant” influence. He reminded one vaguely of Tom Fool, the fast and aggressive champion of a few years back.

Speed is the first requisite of the race horse, willingness the second, and usually Ack Ack was to be found leading the field. Winning at every pole is winning the hard way, and it is estimated a horse must be five pounds the best to achieve this.

Ack Ack was indeed a terror, terribly fast and terribly competitive. He could be rated, but Shoemaker has light hands and it would be unthinkable to fight him needlessly, and chance doing strange things to his psyche. Usually the little rider “let ‘im roll.” When he was presented with a target, he came with a rattle . . . so fast that he sometimes neglected to change his legs, but he ran straight and was the last to tire. He neither wore nor needed blinkers, and riding him must have been a pleasure, involving only tying on securely.

“Determination,” as Fogelson said, is his salient characteristic.

Many of the species refuse to try, especially aging entire horses. They sulk, or are timid running on the inside, duck from the whip or clods, and go out looking for a gap. The majority are thoroughbreds in name only, utterly wanting the consuming passion to be race horses. Horsemen universally hope constantly and profanely to avoid that sort.

Age of $5,000,000 Stud Prospects

Ack Ack’s bloodlines are of secondary concern in view of his established class and virtuosity. This is the age of $5,000,000 stud prospects, but good bloodstock still is where one finds it. Eolus was rescued from the shafts of a buckboard wagon in Maryland, Virgil from the shafts of a buggy, Joe Hooker was found hitched to the back of a gypsy cart, while Catesby’s dam rebelliously broke three wagon tongues and tore up two sets of harness before submitting to farm work, finally being traded for a team of oxen.

Pedigrees are a mystery, always being explained. Anyone who cares to amuse himself debunking the “science” of breeding might wonder whatever became of Yankee, who was by Hanover out of Domino’s flying sister Correction and himself won a Futurity. Or Owas, who was out of Maggie B B, a veritable Mme. Bovary of a mare who had produced Iroquois, Harold and Panique to various mates.

At one time, Artful, who beat Sysonby in the Futurity, the only Regret, and Tanya, who had won the Hopeful and Belmont, roamed the Whitney Stud, depressing the market for “class in the dam.” But we’ve no wish to fatigue you, and the policy of breeding the best to the best still is the soundest advice, excess one does well to add “and hope for the best.”

For every horrible example such as those just cited, there is at least one Wanda, from whom descended the Epsom Derby hero Durbar II and the three Kentucky Derby winners, Clyde Van Dusen, Swaps and Iron Liege.

The frustrating thing is that frequently there are hidden faults and occasionally virtues in horses, problems to be solved and ability to be developed by their handlers. Several years ago the Queen’s Aureole turned us off when he turned it up disgracefully in a St. Leger. At the time he looked an overbred, cowardly neurotic.

Ordered Therapy for Aureole

The Queen was disenchanted but not defeated. Instead of ordering him castrated she employed a noted London psychiatrist to administer Aureole a course of therapy designed to change his impulses. Next season, Aureole was Horse of the Year, resolutely refusing to be denied in several desperate finishes, and he has since become the leading distributor of Hyperion blood.

In the old days, Leamington was a leading sire, despite some notoriety among his familiars for having a mad streak. His son Sensation, handled with kid gloves, was an unbeaten two-year-old. That horse’s brother Onondaga, conversely, became so intractable he was blinded, and Sensations’ grandson Jean Beraud turned savage.

The point is, obviously, that many a horse is more sinned against than sinning. Intelligent handling can color a horse true blue, the reverse discolor his reputation.

A vivid recollection of the sires in Ack Ack’s male line back to the unbeaten Colin inclines one to regard this aspect of his pedigree as something rather more reassuring than fatalistic. Certainly Alsab was a great race horse, tried and proven in the most testing crucible, venturing from his division to meet Whirlaway, whom he debited with defeat in two of three encounters.

Alsab considered it a matter of the utmost importance he was a cheap yearling with an incipient bog by the marked down stallion Good Goods out of a $90 mare. If anybody erred, it was the dictators of fashion, not him.

Colin went to the post 15 times and won the Belmont while trying to pull himself up on a bow. He carried the famed Keene white, blue spots; never sackcloth. But he was considered a shocking failure at stud, a treacherous element in any pedigree. A few years ago analysts discovered that actually he achieved a higher stud rating than the leading sire Star Shoot, with 65 per cent winners and 14 per cent stakes winners to the other’s 59 per cent and 12 per cent.

Ack Ack May Revive Colin Line

Colin’s male line seemed doomed as that of Hanover through Wise Counsellor when Alsab was banished to Florida, but perhaps Ack Ack will revive it. He can claim a place in the turf sun by right of succession from Alsab, Colin, Commando, Domino and Himyar. Baron d’Osten remarked, “It is wonderful how nature preserves the good strains, to be brought out in time of need.”

Considering now Ack Ack’s distaff credentials, one finds several chic stakes fillies among them. His immediate dam Fast Turn, by the noted Turn-to, did not race and is known here only vaguely. However, the next dam was Cherokee Rose, a sister to How who took this relationship seriously. Both won the CCA Oaks by way of amplifying their claims to classicism.

How was infinitely the better racemare, but at stud she proved, like one of improbably chaste, and despairingly loved by brave young blades.

Ack Ack’s next dam was a deep-bodied, breedy-necked Sickle mare with lovely straight hind legs called The Squaw II, whom J. E. Widener brought over from France. She had been a winner in Germany. The next dam, Minnewaska, is recalled as a larger mare than most Blandfords and yet one of exquisite finish. Usually, his daughters came mousey brown and with Gothic architecture. She ran unplaced but gave hostages to fortune at Elmendorf, where she earned a pension.

Ack Ack’s conformation is that of the middle distance performer par excellence. He is a bay, something less than 16 hands, with two good ends and . . . there is an air about him of “no surrender.” He is constructed on homogenous, curvaceous lines, with well sprung ribs and muscular quarters, rather than on straight lines and plain surfaces.

Our subject is perhaps a trifle longer than tall, with the pelvis accounting for a commendable proportion of his top line, while he is almost as large around the coupling as at the girth. He has good, flat bone of the sort our ancient advisers C. E. “Boots” Durnell and Billy Walker recommended so highly, and he could easily pass for a Ben Brush except one might wish he were a trifle straighter through the hock.

Deep Scapula at Correct Angle

He has a deep scapula at the correct angle, so that naturally enough the associated humerus is relatively short and less upright than some consider ideal. The forearms and gaskins, like the stifle and elbows, are articulated with gladiatorial muscular investiture. The pasterns are a trifle low and the walls of the hooves afford good frog pressure.

The head is plain and he has no conspicuous markings. His neck is of fair length and heavy, masculine and thick at the throatlatch. The whole torso suggests prodigious strength, and he seems to favor his maternal grandsire Turn-to, though in his instance nature wasted nothing on quality at the expense of utility. The tout ensemble is a concentration of tremendous speed.

Would Have Been Good Any Year

He sustained this commodity well, and he looked the part he so readily appropriated. The handicap division of 1971 were a mixed bag, but Ack Ack gave a distinct impression he would have made his mark in any generation.

As you might guess, Ack Ack’s action is collected, well coordinated and he is uncommonly clever. His whole demeanor at the races is businesslike. He moves with conscious pride, sometimes a jaunty little swagger.

Whittingham races him high in flesh, which he carries well through a series of races most of his species would have found too taxing and severe.

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