Isn’t Sun King handsome?
Old Friends and Sun King’s racing owner, Tracy Farmer, had been talking for months about retiring this best son of Charismatic to our Georgetown farm. After several years at stud, Sun King’s fertility declined. When treatment at Auburn University’s equine fertility clinic couldn’t return Sun King to stud, he came to live with us as arranged. Old Friends extends grateful thanks to Mr. Farmer for facilitating Sun King’s retirement.
In a way, it was hard hanging around the barn waiting Sun King to arrive, just as we’d done so short a time ago for his sire, and yes Sun King’s color is different, semi-sweet chocolate, but there’s a strong resemblance. But in another way the timing couldn’t have been better. Sun King arrived home already someone special, to people who already love him.
Some of you knew him as a race horse. He was among the best of his time. But his debut actually came much earlier, when the colt yet to be named Sun King appeared in the Blood-Horse‘s “Foal Watch,” a photo gallery of Thoroughbred baby pix guarenteed to bring smiles. Then he was just “Charismatic – Clever But Costly” (his parents’ names). He sure was one good looking kid, but what are any foal’s chances of becoming a graded stakes winner and running in the Kentucky Derby?
If you’re an aspiring race horse, it helps a lot if you’re in Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito’s barn. Sun King had talent and Mr. Zito quickly helped him develop it. Sun King went from his maiden special weight win straight into the Champagne Stakes at Belmont, a confident move that proved justified when the colt scored a nice third. As a fan with an eye on him, I hoped he’d win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. He came close (third). At three, he was hot on the Derby Trail with a Tampa Bay Derby win and a good race in the Blue Grass Stakes. But Derby day wasn’t his day. It was Giacomo’s. But hey, Sun King’s a Derby winner – the Tampa Bay Derby and the Pennsylvania Derby!
Some people remember Sun King as the horse who ran to more impressive second place finishes in top races than any of his generation – the Haskell, the Met Mile, the Whitney – this horse hardly ever finished worse than third in the best races in America. But I’ll always remember his Commonwealth Stakes. The race was 7 furlongs on the old Keeneland dirt track, and the competition was strong. Instead of rushing toward the front as he’d usually done, Sun King ran farther back in the field. Was it just that he’d gotten off to a slow start? I didn’t think so at the time, and I still don’t. I think some of that Zito genius was at work. I saw a horse who could work with what he was given, who trusted Corey Nakatani to get him there and when asked on the turn, roared to the front like a Damascus or an Awad, winning with beautiful confidence. And this was the old Keeneland dirt at a meet where nothing was moving up but speed. And Sun King.
I guess every racing fan’s got some two dozen races they’ll never forget, and Sun King’s Commonwealth is one of mine.
So, now that we’re getting to know him, what is he like? One thing’s obvious. This horse is smart. He’ll be in quarantine for a couple of weeks yet, a routine precaution for all newcomers to Old Friends, just to make sure they don’t introduce any viruses or bugs into our population, but even though visitors aren’t feeding him carrots yet, he’s got his eye on everything that happens, and it took him no time at all to figure out what was going on. If he’s in his paddock and sees a tour coming, he often calls us over. He knows what’s in that bucket. Now that he’s settling in, he’s showing us friendliness too, often coming over to the side of his paddock nearest where people are, showing us curiosity and good will. I think Sun King is already a great Old Friends resident. He’s got the knack. I hope you’ll come visit him soon!
photos by Laura, who took most of them yesterday and stayed
up last night editing and uploading them – she’s our hero!