Kiri’s Clown was a healthy, strong 25. His going was nothing short of a rending shock. When he colicked on Monday, he got the best possible surgery from Dr. Scott Hopper at Rood and Riddle, and it seemed he would recover. We hoped to have him with us for a long time. But Kiri succumbed to complications following the surgery.
Bred in Florida by Gardner F. Landon & Mary A. Sullivan, Kiri’s Clown was raced as a homebred by Cobble View Stable and Sulimar, trained by the legendary P. G. Johnson and ridden by Mike Luzzi, Jean Cruget and others. His wins earning more than a million dollars, and the multiple speed records he set, are recounted in the news release on our web site.
Of all his achievements, it’s his record-setting 1995 Sword Dancer Stakes that race fans remember best. In that mile and a half Grade 1 stakes on the grass, Kiri’s Clown beat a field that included Awad, Kissin Kris and other formidable contenders. It was Kiri’s kind of race. He grabbed the lead eagerly and early, and held it so firmly that it might have gone uncontested, had not Awad come powering like a rocket in one of the most incredibly fast moves ever seen on any track. Kiri saw him, dug deeper and put on more speed, then yet more to finish in the fastest time in which that prestigious race had ever been run. Here it is, the 1995 Sword Dancer Stakes:
Kiri’s Clown was consistently good through his entire racing career. In the breeding shed he made his mark too, as the damsire of three-times G1 winner Get Stormy, who now stands at Crestwood Farm in Kentucky.
The public achievements of Kiri’s Clown are indisputable, but they may not be what his visitors in retirement will remember best. Kiri arrived at Old Friends in August 2006, a month after I began volunteering on the farm. Some horses settle in at once, others take longer to get into the pleasures of retired life. At first, Kiri didn’t really want to step down. One of the first things he did was manage to get his paddock gate off its hinges, and for the next week or two he kept hoping he could do it again. That first month, he spent a lot of time just staring into the distance. “What does Kiri’s Clown want?” Michael asked Jean Cruget, who’d ridden him as a youngster. Jean shook his head. “Speed, speed and more speed,” he said. Doing Saturday tours, I’d try to get him interacting with his visitors. “Earth to Kiri!” I’d say, but he’d just accept the carrots and look into the faraway.
Then, in September, everything changed. Awad came! Kiri took one look at his old racing rival, and leapt eagerly into the here and now. From 2006 through 2010, those two were engaged in the friendship neither of them would admit was a friendship at all, but it was one of the most intense on the farm. You can’t tell me they didn’t remember each other. Horses have better memories than humans in some ways, and the Sword Dancer wasn’t the only time Kiri’s Clown and Awad squared off against each other. On June 10, 1995 in the Manhattan Handicap at Belmont, Kiri set a blistering pace only to be passed at the end by two horses, one the winner Awad. On July 29, Kiri held off Awad’s shark-quick run in the Sword Dancer. Both shipped (together? I wonder) to Chicago for the Arlington Million, where Awad won. Whatever Kiri remembered when Awad appeared, it gave retirement a purpose for him. One upping Awad could take many forms. He could impress his old rival with his stallionly fierceness, he could vie with him for carrots, and whether the two wanted to admit it or not, they spent a whole lot of time just hanging out together, right across the fence from each other. When Awad died, Kiri went in his run-in shed and didn’t come out much for three days.
But Kiri was a trooper. Life went on, and the interest and pleasure in retirement that he’d gained never left him. His name was probably inspired by a combination of his parents’ names, Kiri and Foolish Pleasure, but he rarely seemed a clown. I was always impressed by a particular innate dignity that he had, almost an aloofness, though he also had a definite graciousness. Something about him was refined, too, as if he were really, beneath the daily trivia, made of wind. The pure joy of a speeding wind.