Buckpasser always had that lean and hungry look. He often devoured the competition. Just as often he looked the part of a dark brown assassin, inexorably stalking timid pacesetters before powerfully moving past them to another stakes victory.
[cleeng_content id="381375229" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Wearing the black silks of owner Ogden Phipps, the sinewy colt would use his muscular length to unleash a ground-eating stride that once led him and jockeys Bill Shoemaker and Braulio Baeza to 15 straight wins.
Buckpasser finished his brilliant career at the same time fellow Hall of Fame competitors Dr. Fager and Damascus were flourishing against the world.
He was sired by stakes-winning scion Tom Fool. His grandsire was the highly successful tempest War Admiral and great grandsire was once-beaten Man o’ War, the only thoroughbred with any license to be compared with Secretariat.
Versatility marked Buckpasser’s immense career.
He could carry Baeza through a short six-furlong sprint. Or he could tote him along on a two-mile win like he did in the 1966 Jockey Club Gold Cup.
It seemed his 15-race winning streak began innocently enough in Florida in the winter of 1966.
Jockey Bill Shoemaker and Buckpasser ground up the competition in the Everglades Stakes at 1 1/8-miles to begin what eventually became a much-watched chase for near-immortality.
Still in Florida in March of 1966, Buckpasser made another 1 1/8-miles tour de force in winning the Flamingo Stakes.
Shoemaker was still the rider in the successful Flamingo Stakes.
But trainer Eddie Neloy gave the gentle giant with a sometimes wandering mind only a little rest before coming back in June in an easy allowance race. Baeza was the rider when Buckpasser returned in June. He would be aboard in the next 12 races, all wins.
The chocolate-colored colt would race two more times in June of 1966.
The modest winning streak went to four straight . . . and then five in a row . . . with wins in the 1 1/8-miles Leonard Richards and the one-mile Arlington Classic in Illinois. Buckpasser seemed especially interested in his duties on the afternoon of the Arlington Classic where he set a world record in winning.
Neloy decided on two more races in July.
The first was a victory in the 1 1/8-miles Chicagoan at Arlington Park. And the second was still another success in the 1 1/4-miles Brooklyn Handicap back in New York state.
There had been seven straight wins by that time.
The fading summer of 1966 found Buckpasser dispatching fields in both the 1 1/8-miles American Derby and the 1 1/4-miles Travers Stakes at laid-back Saratoga Race Course in a posh setting in upstate New York.
No races were attempted in September, but October held three stakes or handicaps that trainer Neloy believed Buckpasser could handle.
Neloy was right.
The 1 1/4-miles Woodward Stakes was not a streak-breaker. Neither was the lengthy 1 5/8-miles Lawrence Realization.
Attempting 1 5/8-miles could have been reason enough for a month away if the right race could have then been found.
When no handicap or ivy-covered stakes races were fitted onto a potential schedule, Neloy had Buckpasser ready for the potential grind of the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup in late October.
Only front-running Nearchos was much to worry about in the two-mile race, and he was distanced in an eighth-of-a-mile of the Aqueduct stretch.
A dozen wins had quickly passed under the bridges in 1966.
Taken to California at the end of the year, Buckpasser was given a glorified sprint of seven furlongs to close the year. It was the Malibu Stakes and the Neloy strategy was successful as the black silks and cherry-colored helmet worn by jockey Baeza came home leading the field.
That was victory number 13 for the year.
Not only was Buckpasser the Three-Year-Old Horse of the Year, he was the Horse of the Year in the annual balloting for such honors.
Still training in California, the San Fernando Stakes at 1 1/8-miles would be a possible 14th consecutive win.
Indeed, that race, at 1 1/8-miles, turned out to be a streak-preserving win.
In May of 1967, it was off to the East Coast and the famed Metropolitan Mile in New York. The Aqueduct-based mile stretched Buckpasser’s winning streak to 15 straight.
And there it would end.
In mid-June, the 1 5/8-miles Bowling Green Handicap on a turf course brought down the curtain in heavy fashion because he was third.
There was no pall surrounding the Phipps/Neloy/Baeza/Buckpasser camp. The formidable bay was still healthy. And he was still only four years old.
Next came the July 4 Suburban Handicap. It was back on the dirt at the familiar 1 1/4-miles. And Buckpasser won it.
Nearly three weeks later came the 1 1/4-miles Brooklyn Handicap. No new winning streak was going to be celebrated.
A second-place finish was a disappointment because plans called for a late-September meeting in the Woodward Stakes in New York with Damascus and the stellar Dr. Fager. Both Damascus and Dr. Fager would wind up their careers in the U.S. Racing Hall of Fame. Buckpasser would join them there.
In the Woodward Stakes it would be Dr. Fager and a sacrificial “rabbit” named Hedevar on the lead with Damascus a close-up third and Buckpasser on the heels of Damascus.
Hedevar’s “rabbit” tactics stung Dr. Fager. Damascus easily surged past those two. He ran off to win by 10 lengths with Buckpasser finally getting up for second.
Those two runner-up finishes in the Brooklyn and Woodward were the last races of Buckpasser’s career.
He raced for two years. The 15-race winning streak was easily remembered. And so was the way he could handle six furlongs or two miles with the same power-laden stride.
His often nonchalant way of keeping other thoroughbreds in his races bothered his contingent of handlers, but their frayed nerves and puzzled stares didn’t keep them from joining Buckpasser in the many winner’s circles.