Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down
Of all the favorite horses I have been blessed to know in my life, I can only pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with a few of them. Sunday Silence is one of these.
The moment is as clear as a bell. We were watching the Santa Anita Derby with some friends and I turned to one of them and said, “You know, I could really get to love this horse.” A little surprised, as she knew my propensity for great pedigrees, she responded, “But he’s ill-bred.”
So I had to tell her the whole story — of Cinna and how George Pope took old family lines and blended them over and over to get the best horses, horses like Wishing Well, the dam of Sunday Silence. Then when Wishing Well met the fiery Halo, a kind of nuclear combustion came about in the form of their panther-like son.
There were a lot of people who didn’t think Sunday Silence was a pretty horse. But I always thought he was beautiful. It’s the Royal Heroine thing — give a horse 20 points for that coal-black color and an arrogant demeanor and damn the beautiful head.
Sunday was nothing if not arrogant. He was the type of horse that no one ever really controlled; there was no question he was the boss. I honestly believe that if anyone had tried to force him, he’d have killed them, and yet I would never have classified him as mean or crazy.
When I saw Sunday up close at Del Mar after the Triple Crown, I learned all I really needed to know by watching him (from a safe distance, since he did not know me) for an hour. This was a horse who thought things out and it was crystal clear that he was a planner. And the intelligence in those eyes? It almost seemed he was looking right through me.
Remember those hoop-around-a-barrel runs of his around home turns? Typical of a planner. Get ’em on the turn, tear away first, and most of the time nobody can catch you. The only time it backfired was in the big Belmont turns, and it cost him a Triple Crown.
There were a lot of Easy Goer fans who just plain detested the sight of Sunday. But if you put the two side by side, all I could see was a big, red lumbering oaf next to a coal-black gazelle. No comparison, no choice.
But most of all was that burning will that would have made him a control freak if he’d been human. I’d felt it before — in Round Table, in Slew, in Dahlia in a more feminine way, in Moccasin. The good ones follow the Sinatra rule (“I Did It My Way”) and the humans who want to be loved had better learn that.
As much as I loved Sunday after the Santa Anita Derby, what this glorious beast was really all about he showed best in the Preakness. Nobody was going to pass him that day even if he had to die proving himself. Thank God nothing happened, but more than one vision of Ruffian appeared as I watched that race.
While we were healing over the Belmont and waiting for his journey to Louisiana for the Super Derby, we had that wonderful time to see him at Del Mar. But even after the Super Derby, we were just plain scared heading into the Breeders’ Cup. Easy Goer had won everything in sight; he had beaten Sunday last time out.
It happened in the post parade, of course. There was no comparison in the two horses’ posturing and attitude. Sunday owned that post parade, then he went out and owned the race and the rivalry. I could almost see him bare his teeth and say “Mine!”. I was sitting on the couch, and when he crossed the finish line my legs flew up in the air and I almost fell off in sheer celebration.
The whole four-year-old thing was rather sad. Not enough time to prove it all, as happens so often these days — and I did so want to see him win with his weight up. But I never doubted his greatness, and greatness is not a word thrown about lightly within these walls.
When Arthur Hancock sold him to Japan my heart sank right down to my shoes. It was a move that told me no matter what was coming out of the man’s mouth, and no matter how the establishment chose to defend him, his actions proved that he did not love this special horse. That he was throwing him away.
The revenge was sweet, though it didn’t last nearly long enough. But Sunday got even and then some. There are a whole bunch of nearly black Thoroughbreds with Devil’s eyes out there thanks to him. Some were even almost as good as he was.
There are always people who do not know a horse, or a situation, that are willing to criticize, and when Sunday held on and on through his surgeries and laminitis, there was a great outcry that he was being kept alive unnecessarily. I offer the following thought for anyone who really thinks that: You did not look into his eyes.
Sunday Silence had to fight all his life for everything good that ever happened to him and he was going to fight until he was done fighting to live. It would have been disrespectful to not allow him to try. When he was done fighting, his own Thoroughbred spirit knew it better than any ten specialists from any ten clinics in any ten countries.
Oh, yes, I remember the moment when I first loved this horse. I remember the moment he earned greatness in my book. And I recognized that as we waited for him to make the choice to live or die that it was the humans who were thinking of their own suffering more than they were of Sunday and his. Suffering was his stock in trade. He thrived on it. Challenges were what he was all about.
The world will be a far different place without him, and the Japanese Thoroughbred will likely never be the same. But I am so very grateful to have known him, to have spent time with him, to have watched his in-your-face comeback to the Americans who rejected him.
One might be tempted to say “Rest well, Sunday”. But Sunday is not a horse who rests well or otherwise. In fact, we would not be the least surprised if the first thing he did, once he arrived in those greener pastures where the great ones live, was to challenge his sire to a 12 furlong match race. (And we bet he won, too).
But oh, how we’ll miss him. For as Kris Kristofferson said, “(And) there’s nothin’ short of dyin’ half as lonesome as the sound, as a sleepin’ city sidewalk and Sunday mornin’ comin’ down.”
Author’s Notes: Today, 14 years after his untimely death, Sunday Silence lives on. With sire record from earnings to number of graded winners to leading sire sons, the black stallion of Japan lived on.
Among his greatest sons is Deep Impact, Special Week, Dance in the Dark, and Heart’s Cry to mention only a few. In America, the lovely Hat Trick and in Canada Silent Name bring him back to us after a fashion.
As of mid-2016, he has 25 sons listed on the Blood Horse on-line stallion register. They stand mostly in Japan, but are also represented in France, Chile, South Africa, Australia and of course our two North Americans mentioned above.
There are 13 more out of his daughters. In America, we have the wonderful Karakontie (JPN), winner of the Breeders’ Cup Mile and Tale of Ekati, who is off to a solid start with good results at the races and at sales. The other 11 are in Japan and include Admire Moon who won the Japan Cup and Dubai Duty Free stands for Godolphin.
We once visited Hat Trick when he still stood at Walmac Farm (he is now at Gainesway). For a long while we stood and spoke to him, watching his ears twitch back and forth as if in understanding. “You are a prince,” we told him, “For your sire was a king.” And he seemed to know. One of the farm’s employees said to me, “Look at him! He is listening to you.”
But I already knew that. Sunday Silence in no longer with us in person, but his spirit burns on as hot as ever.