Edward A. Neloy
Buckpasser was a champion bay thoroughbred racehorse foaled in 1963. Bred and owned by Ogden Phipps, New York racing official Dr. Manual Gilman said of him, "Generally, every horse has about a hundred faults of conformation. I would defy anybody to pick a flaw in Buckpasser." Renowned horse painter Richard Stone Reeves said, "Buckpasser was the most perfectly proportioned Thoroughbred I have ever seen." Only two horses, Secretariat and Affirmed, have since been "in a class with Buckpasser".
The son of the legendary handicap champion Tom Fool, he was foaled at Claiborne Farms in Paris, Kentucky with a pedigree that could hardly miss...if pedigrees ran races. Out of the stakes-winning mare Busanda, his sire was 1953 Handicap Triple Crown winner and Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year winner Tom Fool. Busanda represented the female family of the Blue Hen broodmare La Troienne (FR). It also represented the 1929 Belmont Stakes winner and Horse of the Year Blue Larkspur, not to mention the great Man o' War. But perhaps the most influential aspect of his pedigree was the inclusion of Equipoise. Equipoise was four generations back, yet many of the qualities of this two-time Horse of the Year were Buckpasser's, which unfortunately included foot trouble.
The only "flaw" in Buckpasser was his attitude toward racing. He would race, and he certainly did race when a horse passed him, but once on the lead, he would slow down...as if just doing enough was enough. Because of this, he provided many a fright for his trainer, not to mention the bettors. It almost seemed part of his manners, seldom to defeat a rival so badly it might break his or her heart.
Buckpasser had two trainers, both since elected to the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. Bill Winfrey began his training, and when he retired Eddie Neloy took over and prepared Buckpasser for his three-year-old season.
Buckpasser's maiden race on May 13, 1965, in which he ran a poor fourth, was the only time he was out of the money. Indeed, Buckpasser's record was so impressive, betting windows were closed when he ran in the Flamingo Stakes, forever after called the "Chicken" Flamingo.
After a brilliant two-year-old season and spring, in which Buckpasser proved he could win from up front, rate, or close from behind, he developed a quarter crack that kept him out of the 1966 Kentucky Derby, as well as the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. With another talented colt, Graustark, out as well with a broken foot (and retirement), Kauai King won that year's Derby.
In Chicago's Arlington Classic Kauai King, running against the strenuous protests of his trainer, broke down and was retired. Buckpasser won the race, setting a new world record for a mile with a time of 1:32 3/5. Buckpasser's record stood for two years until the great Dr. Fager broke it in 1968, running 1:32 1/5, then in 1989 when Buckpasser's grandson, Hall of Fame Champion Easy Goer ran a mile in 1:32 2/5.
After that, Buckpasser went on a 15-race winning streak that included the American Derby (he broke the track record), the Chicago Stakes, the Brooklyn Derby, the Woodward Stakes, the Travers Stakes, the Malibu Stakes, the Brooklyn Handicap, the Lawrence Realization Stakes, and finally, the grueling two mile long Jockey Club Gold Cup. On June 17, 1967, Buckpasser's winning streak ended with his first and only attempt at racing on grass. He finished a surprising third to stablemate Poker in the Bowling Green Handicap at Aqueduct Racetrack. Assagai, the 1966 turf-course champion, came in second. As happens more than once (see Aristides, first winner of the Kentucky Derby), a horse sent out to set the pace, namely Poker, a "rabbit" in horse racing parlance, did more than set the pace. As The Blood-Horse magazine said in their July 24, 1967 issue: "Never had so many people had so many immunization shots in order to stay home and watch the Suburban Handicap on Independence Day." There were three reasons advanced for his defeat: turf, shoes, and weight. It was also true that that day "Buck" held his head in an uncommon way, slightly sideways. No one has ever understood why.
Buckpasser was the first horse to earn more than a million dollars before the age of four. He was voted the 1966 Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year.
When he retired, Buckpasser was syndicated for $4,800,000, breaking a then-record $150,000 a share. He stood at stud at the farm where he was born. In eleven years, Buckpasser sired 313 foals: 35 went on to win stakes races. Among his get were the Hall of Fame filly La Prevoyante (Sovereign Award for Horse of the Year in Canada, Eclipse Award Champion 2yo Filly in the US, Champion Older Female in Canada), Relaxing (Champion Older Female, Broodmare of the Year), Numbered Account (Champion 2yo Filly), and Toll Booth (Broodmare of the Year).
Even though he has had three tail-male Kentucky Derby (G1) winners (Spend a Buck-1985, Lil E. Tee-1992 and Silver Charm-1997), his record as a damsire stands out.
"Buck" died at 15 in 1978, and was a world-leading broodmare sire in 1983, 1984, and 1989. His daughters have produced Champions and Classic Winners: They are led by Hall of Famers Easy Goer and Slew O'Gold, Belmont Stakes winners Coastal and Touch Gold, and With Approval, as well as El Gran Senor amongst a number of other influential stallions such as Seeking The Gold, Miswaki and Woodman.
In the Blood-Horse magazine ranking of the top 100 U.S. thoroughbred champions of the 20th Century, Buckpasser is #14.
Buckpasser is buried at Claiborne Farm.