By Ray Paulick
Of the 299 American Graded Stakes run so far in 2010, I doubt any one of them had a more emotional outcome than last Saturday's Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes at Arlington Park, won by the 4-year-old German-bred filly Éclair de Lune.
But this wasn't about the horse. It was about the owner, Richard Duchossois, the longtime owner of Arlington Park, and the filly's trainer, Ron McAnally, the Hall of Famer who has been off the radar in recent years when the best races in America have been run. They are the 21st Century Sunshine Boys of racing.
Duchossois is a sprightly 88 years old and McAnally is 78. They've known each other since Duchossois was a silent partner in the Arlington Park ownership group and McAnally brought the great John Henry to the first Arlington Million in 1981. That was a day to remember: the first million-dollar Thoroughbred race in American history, broadcast live on network television, and featuring a heart-stopping finish between John Henry and The Bart. John Henry won by a head-bobbing nose in a finish that is immortalized by a bronze statue overlooking Arlington Park's paddock.
But this year's Arlington Million was upstaged by what happened 30 minutes earlier in the Beverly D. When Éclair de Lune crossed the finish line in front, it set off a floodgate of emotions for many in the crowd of 30,000.
The Beverly D. is named after Beverly Duchossois, who died from cancer in 1980, one year before that first Arlington Million. Dick Duchossois credits his late wife for helping instill in him a love of horse racing, and he wanted her to be remembered by naming a race in her honor. Over the years it became one of the top prizes on the American racing calendar for fillies and mares on the turf, and it became a race that Duchossois has wanted to win more than any other—even more than the Kentucky Derby, he said.
McAnally has searched for years for a filly he thought was good enough to capture this Grade 1 prize for his longtime friend, but even the eternally optimistic trainer admitted that time was running short for both of them. Fortunately, time hadn't quite run out yet.
Éclair de Lune's victory prompted something I don't recall seeing before: a standing ovation for an owner. As Duchossois made his way from the box seats down toward the winner's circle, everyone along the way stood and cheered, many of them with tears rolling down their cheeks. Perhaps they were acknowledging the everlasting commitment Duchossois made to Chicagoland racing when he rebuilt Arlington Park following the devastating fire of 1985, the tireless hospitality and graciousness he had demonstrated over the last three decades, or maybe it was because they knew just how much Mr. D. wanted to win this horserace.
He has long since remarried, and Judi Duchossois was by his side to share this emotional victory, but the memory of Beverly Duchossois goes well beyond a race. The Duchossois family has contributed tens of millions of dollars to cancer research in her name, and the Duchossois Center for Advanced Medicine at the University of Chicago would not have been possible without the Duchossois family's generosity. Their relationship with the University of Chicago Hospital developed as a result of the care Beverly Duchossois received during her battle against cancer.
If Éclair de Lune never wins another race, she will have done enough to add some sunshine to two great gentlemen of the turf. As Ron McAnally said, “This is the icing on the cake.”
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