(February 28, 1992 – February 14, 2023)
photo by Laura Battles
Two days ago our grand old man Afternoon Deelites was euthanized due to inoperable colic. He passed just days after his racing owner and breeder, Burt Bacharach.
Soon after his arrival at Old Friends in 2011 (photo Rick Capone)
Losing Afternoon Deelites is different from our other losses this winter, in that his going did not shock or take us by surprise. He achieved a remarkable 31 years old and in the last couple of years has really aged. Yet, we keep hoping one of the horses will break the record age 32 achieved by six of our late retirees, and Afternoon Deelites fought his body’s slowing down with a spirit that never flagged. He was always so here, so present, that it’s almost impossible to believe he’s gone.
He was a magnificent stallion, big and muscular in the mold of his great-grandsire Damascus. He awed his visitors. He bit some of them. He bit all of us. But never in meanness. He loved the whole world so much he just had to grab it. He was 100% stallion, yet he was the most affectionate horse on the farm.
He was also a great-grandson of Secretariat. Bred and owned by Burt Bacharach, with a dad named Private Terms and mom named Intimate Girl, what else could he have been named but Afternoon Deelites? His name suited him well, but since it’s a mouthful to say, he went by nicknames. I don’t know what he was called on the track, but Brereton Jones told me that at Airdrie Stud he was called Dee. At Old Friends he answered to AD.
As a juvenile he went into training with Richard Mandella and teamed up with Kent Desormeaux who became his only jockey and continued to visit him during his retirement. More than once he’s told us, “This is the fastest horse I ever rode.” In the 1994 Hollywood Prevue win he set a record 1:20.4. In the Hollywood Futurity he beat future Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch by open distance. In 1995 he won the San Vicente, San Felipe, and the Malibu Stakes. At four he won the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland and finished second in the Met Mile. He stood at Airdrie Stud in Kentucky, then Clear Creek Stud in Louisiana which on retirement donated him to Old Friends in May 2011.
From the beginning we found AD to be powerful, friendly, a show off, and more than a little bit of a playful goof. As we got to know him better and deeper over the years, we learned he possessed courage and stoicism next to none, exceptional intelligence, and a constantly high spirited mood. Every day he was curious, on top of things, in your face, and happy. He was a dominent, competitive stallion, and with some of those you don’t want to mess with their dignity, but AD loved to tease and joke with his friends. He played so many games with different ones of us that I’m sure I have no idea of half of them. He played slow motion boxing with some of us. With me he’d flirt with his tongue, teasing me into trying to grab hold of it, but usually he was way too fast. Some of us would sneak up on him when he was snoozing with his back turned to his stall door and scratch his butt. At first he’d whip his head around, “What’s that?” but after awhile he’d just open one eye, “Yeah, right.” He adored getting that big, muscular back end scratched. And all along his back. And his neck.
If you met him on a tour, it may have been in his stall. During the last several years of his life, he spent his days indoors and his nights turned out in his paddock. He had more sensitivity than most horses to the sugar in green grass so we had to limit how much spring and summer grass he ate and make sure his hay wasn’t overly rich. With careful management of his sugar intake and—when the technology became available—spiffy shoes that provided great cushioning without the bulk of old style glue-ons, AD stayed in exuberant health. At 28 he was more energetic than many Throughbreds half his age.
(photo by Laura Battles)
He was a good friend to us all, the greatest of company. Dependably, always. He loved tours not just for the carrots, or even just for the attention and praise. I think he looked at each tour that came his way as a chance to have fun joking around. He’d get that gleam in his eye and we’d have to watch that he didn’t grab, but he never intended any hurt. He was just interacting. And to see if he could. As AD’s good friend, former Old Friends staff John put it, “What a grand old stallion. His playful nature when we cleaned his stall, and when we would bring him in every morning and he knew breakfast was waiting for him. It was like trying to walk a D9 bulldozer into the barn. He provided us all with many smiles and a million laughs with his playful nature and stallion attitude.”
There was also another side to him. If you were upset or sad, he could be so gentle he’d rest his head in your arms. We’ve had greater champions on the farm, but we’ve had the honor of few greater presences than Afternoon Deelites. More than anyone else I’ve ever known, he understood how to enjoy life. He gloried in every minute of it, and he reminded us to do the same.
Remembering Afternoon Deelites
Watch Afternoon Deelites win the 1994 Hollywood Prevue Stakes
He’s easy to spot. He’s the big guy.
And the 1994 Hollywood Futurity