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Thursday, April 19, 2001
Preakness Classic: Sunday Silence beats Easy Goer in 1989
By Alex Laracy
ABC Sports Online
The 1989 Preakness was not unlike a motion picture featuring a pair of budding young actors, one seeking stardom at the expense of the other.
Sunday Silence and Easy Goer already shared the marquee as the best 3-year-old colts in the sport. It was Easy Goer, however, who was generally considered the most talented horse in the field despite his narrow loss to Sunday Silence in the Kentucky Derby.
"It was somewhat frustrating for us," says Sunday Silence's principal owner, Arthur Hancock III. "We weren't getting any respect despite winning the Derby. A lot of people thought it was kind of a fluke."
But even Hancock concedes that Easy Goer was an exceptional horse worthy of being the heavy favorite for the Preakness.
"Even though we were coming off the win at the Derby, I still wasn't that confident about Sunday Silence's chances," admits Hancock. "Easy Goer was a magnificent horse, and something like 97 out of 100 sportswriters predicted that he was going to win. That didn't do much for my confidence level."
Easy Goer was the son of famous Triple Crown runner-up Alydar. On the other hand, Sunday Silence, trained by the legendary Charlie Whittingham, was far from a blue chip prospect from birth.
Once upon a time, no one was willing to bank on the gawky colt being capable of an afternoon romp in a field. Hancock tried twice to auction off the colt, but bought him back each time -- for $17,000 in 1987 and for $32,000 in 1988 -- after bidders didn't meet his minimum price.
"He was the perfect example of an ugly duckling that turns into a swan with age," describes Hancock. "Like the skinny teenager that develops into a big strong athlete, some horses are just a little late in maturing."
Indeed, Sunday Silence overcame great odds in winning the Derby and entered the Preakness Stakes with yet another obstacle to conquer. Six days before the race, swelling was found in his right front foot.
"The hoof was a concern," recalls Hancock. "He had to miss a couple days of training because of it. You never know how a horse is going to respond to an injury like that."
Veterinarian Alex Harthill declared Sunday Silence cured, however, questions filled the air. Would he lose his edge?
It certainly appeared that way for a moment or two during the race, as Easy Goer flashed his brilliance in stalking -- and passing -- the frontrunners with such momentum that a stretch confrontation did not appear likely.
At that point, Hancock feared the worst. Dropping his binoculars as Sunday Silence was briefly checked, he turned to his wife with an agonizing gaze of defeat on his face.
"Normally when you see a horse sweep past another like the way Easy Goer did to Sunday Silence, it's all over," says Hancock. "So when I looked up five seconds later and saw Sunday Silence right back up with Easy Goer coming down the stretch, I was totally stunned. Sunday Silence was an amazing horse."
Sunday Silence and Easy Goer fought nose to nose through the final furlongs before Hancock's horse prevailed by a nose in his final stride.
Afterwards, Day claimed foul against Sunday Silence and his rider, Pat Valenzuela, but the track stewards disallowed the claim after reviewing the video tape.
"If you look at the tape, the truth of the matter is Pat Day and Easy Goer swooped around and kind of cut off Sunday Silence," insists Hancock. "To this day, I really don't know what Pat Day was talking about."
Hancock desperately wanted respect for Sunday Silence, who was disregarded by bettors even as the Preakness starting gates opened. He was delighted when truth emerged in the Preakness stretch run because, he said, it crushed "the myth that Sunday Silence didn't deserve to be thought of seriously.
"Easy Goer was the darling of the eastern press," Hancock explains. "Sunday Silence came from out west and had to prove everything to everybody, and that he did."
When East met West on a warm, breezy afternoon in May 21, 1989, speculation finally yielded to the talent and will of two worthy adversaries. In the end, Sunday Silence became the 23rd Derby winner since 1919 to complete the Derby-Preakness double.
Sunday Silence and Easy Goer brought their rivalry to New York three weeks later for the Belmont Stakes. This time, it was Easy Goer who edged his peer, and denied Hancock the 12th Triple Crown.