Precisionist Enjoying Retirement With Old Friends

Post Time USA, Volume 33 Number 3. March 2006
by Bill Mooney

At age of 25, Precisionist has been given a new and permanent home. In early June, the Hall of Famer was transported from Siobhan Ellison’s farm in Fairfield, Florida, to Scott County, Kentucky, where he now resides at the new locale for Old Friends, the retirement facility for thoroughbreds founded by Michael Blowen.

For the past several years, Old Friends had been situated at Hurstland Farm just outside of Midway. But this spring Blowen obtained the financing to purchase Clay Neel’s 52-acre Dream Chase Farm near Georgetown, and relocate the Old Friends operation there. Old Friends was already the stomping territory for such illustrious retirees as Sunshine Forever, Ruhlmann, Taylor’s Special and Ogygian. Precisionist, though, is the first Hall of Fame member to be among the group.

At Old Friends, Precisionist has his own paddock that’s slightly larger than two acres. Other than being a touch swayback, he looks exceptionally fit. “He doesn’t walk, he dances,” said Blowen. “I was at Aqueduct in 1985 when Precisionist won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Despite all the wind and wetness and the cold, he looked beautiful that day. He still does.”

“He’s one of the cleanest-legged horses I’ve ever seen,” said Neel, a veteran Kentucky hardboot, who sold the Dream Chase property because he’s building a new farm along Elkhorn Creek.

“Precisionist’s suspensories – no problems there,” Neel said. “And his ankles are in such good shape you might never know he raced. It’s really too bad Precisionist couldn’t breed, because he really could have made a contribution to thoroughbred bloodlines.”

Therein lies the mystery of Precisionist. He couldn’t breed, although he is, himself, very decently bred, by Crozier out of the Forli mare, Excellently. And on the racetrack, Precisionist was terrific. He made 46 career starts, won 20 of them, came in second ten times and third on four occasions, and earned $3,485,398.

Bred and campaigned by Fred Hooper, Precisionist is certainly one of the top ten racehorses ever produced in Florida. Six times, he was a Grade 1 winner. Precisionist’s six-furlong Breeders’ Cup victory gained him an Eclipse Award as North America’s champion sprinter in ’85, but that season he also won the 1 1/8-mile San Fernando Stakes and the 1 ¼-mile Charles H. Strub Stakes, both of which were run at Santa Anita, and both of which were Grade 1 events as well.

Precisionist had speed, and would stretch it out. His Breeders’ Cup Sprint win was clocked in 1:08 2/5, and when he won the 1986 Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park his time for the 1 1/8-mile distance was 1:46. Back in ‘84, he had won the 1 ¼-mile Swaps Stakes at Hollywood in a time of 1:59 4/5, annihilating his rivals by ten lengths.

It also must be noted that when Precisionist won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, it was his first start in nearly 4 ½ months. His preparation for that event included a six-furlong work in 1:10, a five-furlong work in :57 4/5 and another six-furlong work (a week before the race) in 1:11 2/5. He never shirked a challenge.

Following his initial retirement from racing in early 1987, Precisionist went to do stud duty at Hooper Farm in Ocala, Florida. In the 1988 “Blood-Horse Stallion Register,” his fee was listed as private. But Precisionist’s first foal died shortly after birth, and he got a grand total of four mares pregnant.

Hooper sent Precisionist to undergo tests at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center. Hooper also sent along eight mares, to serve as testing partners. At New Bolton, it was learned that the sperm in Precisionist’s semen was alive, but for some reason wasn’t making contact with the mares’ eggs. The mares were transported back to Florida, as was Precisionist, and he was put back in training.

It really was one of these situations of, “Who would have ever predicted it?” From the time he began racing, Precisionist seemed such a powerful colt. At age two, on July 23, 1983, he broke his maiden at first asking by 7 ½ lengths at Hollywood Park. Two starts later, Precisionist was a 4 ½-length winner in allowance company at Santa Anita, and in his next effort he won a division of the Hoist the Flag Stakes on Hollywood’s turf course.

Chris McCarron was aboard Precisionist for the vast majority of his career efforts, including his ten-length score in the 1984 Swaps Stakes at Hollywood. But Bill Shoemaker had the mount on Precisionist in that year’s Super Derby at Louisiana Downs, a situation that has some interesting side stories.

In early September of ‘84, with McCarron in the irons, Precisionist had been a wire-to-wire winner against older horses in the Del Mar Invitational Handicap, clocking a time of 1:56 4/5 for the distance of slightly less that 1 ¼ miles. Then, eight days prior to the Super Derby, during a morning workout at Del Mar, Precisionist ran off with Shoemaker (there’s no other way of describing it), clocking a mile and one-eighth in 1:48 1/5.

Going into the 1 ¼-mile Super Derby, Shoemaker knew would have an exceptionally sharp and headstrong colt. And Precisionist, the second choice at 8-5 in the field of eight, behaved to form, and was leading by three lengths at the eighth-pole.

But, looming on the outside, guided by the powerful hands of Laffit Pincay, Jr. – here came the 11-10 favorite, Gate Dancer. A colt who could easily be distracted (or spooked), Gate Dancer was outfitted in a hood, white blinkers, white ear muffs and a purple-and yellow shadow roll. He looked like he was on his way to a jousting tournament. But Gate Dancer could close powerfully when he minded business, as he had done when he won the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course.

And, in the Super Derby, Gate Dancer was closing on Precisionist now, cutting the margin to two lengths inside the furlong grounds, to a length at the sixteenth-pole and a half-length with the wire approaching.

At that point, Shoemaker looked to his right, saw that Gate Dancer was about to draw even with Precisionist and proceeded to hit Gate Dancer three times in the chest with his whip. Shoemaker’s strokes were hard, deliberate and on the mark – it was, indeed, a marvelously obvious attempt to cheat. No matter. Gate Dancer prevailed by a head. Precisionist finished second, 11 lengths in front of the third-place horse.

Shoemaker stated later, “I wasn’t aware I had misused my whip.” The Louisiana Downs stewards disagreed and gave him a seven-day suspension. Not surprisingly, “The Shoe” never rode Precisionist again.

Leland Ross Fenstermaker trained Precisionist during his initial four racing campaigns, which culminated with a third-place finish in the 1986 Breeders Cup’ Classic at Santa Anita. Hooper had intended to race Precisionist in ‘87, but the horse suffered a condylar fracture to the left cannon bone just above the left ankle joint while in training.

In the wake of his almost entirely futile efforts in the breeding shed, Precisionist returned to racing in late June of 1988, with John W. Russell handling training chores. In Precisionist’s first outing, a one-mile allowance at Hollywood, he unseated McCarron as they exited the starting gate.

On August 1 of that year, however, Precisionist was victorious in allowance company. Towards the end of that month, he was a 3 ½-length winner of the Cabrillo Handicap at Del Mar and in September of that year he won Del Mar’s Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap.

Precisionist made five more starts that season, and although he never won again, he was third in the NYRA Mile at Aqueduct, and second (missing by just a neck and a head) in the Citation and Native Diver Handicaps at Hollywood. That ’88 season was his last at the racetrack, and thereafter Precisionist was in essence a pensioner at Hooper’s farm, and subsequently at Ellison’s farm.

Ellison is a veterinarian, and tried for a long time to solve Precisionist’s breeding problem. But this couldn’t be done, so the decision was made to send him to Old Friends. When Precisionist arrived there, some of Neel’s mares were still at the farm in an adjacent paddock. One could see them take an interest in Precisionist, as he did in them. But that sort of thing had happened many times before, with no results.

In 2003, Precisionist was inducted into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. The new location for Old Friends is only five miles from the Kentucky Horse Park, so vanloads and even busloads of tourists will likely visit Precisionist this summer and fall. They will learn of his racing exploits, and see how splendid he looks today. It’s a twilight that befits a grand Hall of Famer.

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