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Tragedy of Lets Don't Fight

Essays

Ron & Ellen Parker

A Couple Has Words About Lets Don’t Fight

"A Couple Has Words About Lets Don’t Fight" originally appeared in The Horsemen’s Journal in the May 1982 issue.
Thirty-five years later, not much has changed…


It streaked across the heavens, an incandescent glow with an unknown destiny.  And then, as suddenly as it appeared, it was gone, its life source extinguished as one would snuff out a candle, and the sky was once again dark.

It had been created by man, controlled by man and, because of this, it was fated to be destroyed by man.

In life it was a thoroughbred race horse, misappropriately named Lets Don’t Fight.  Misappropriate because nature had created it to fight and the whims of man had led it to the battlefield.

Which is where destiny decreed that he should die.

When future historians scrutinize the chart of the 108th Kentucky Derby, none of them will perceive the absence of Lets Don’t Fight.  They will talk about the winner.  They will probably babble incessantly about the horse that should have won, which will be the one they bet on.  But they won’t say a word about Lets Don’t Fight.

Because, on that first Saturday in May, he was dead.

Oh, he could have been there.  He probably should have been there.  Only he wasn’t.  

He was perhaps blasphemously bred by a race that considered speed tantamount to victory.  Because of it, he would win more than $400,000.  Also, because of it, his destiny was death.

As he was the light in the heavens, his brevity was foreordained.  His sire, Drone, won four races out of four starts.  Then he broke down.

His dam, Quarrell, was a daughter of Raise a Native, who won four races out of four starts.  And then he, too, broke down.  Quarrel’s pedigree includes stakes winner Crème Dela Crème.  Who broke down.

And Lets Don’t Fight?  Well, he managed to win five races, one more than his sire or maternal grandsire, before he took what they like to call “a bad step” on a Florida training track.

Is it truly in the blood of the animal, this apparent penchant for disaster?

Or is it merely coincidence?

Lets Don’t Fight attained some fame.  But genuine glory is now a distant memory of what might have been.  Still, it’s hard to discard the nagging thought than neither Drone nor Raise a Native put much bone into their youngsters.

To cross Turn-to (Drone’s sire) to Raise a Native seems, upon reflection, to be almost a death wish.

Outcrosses to stronger male lines—Herbager, Le Fabuleux and Prince John, for example—might seem to be a partial solution.  And it might explain the stud success of Raise a Native and Turn-to lines in general.  Stoutness and soundness must come from somewhere, but it won’t be found by nicking speed upon speed, by creating stars that may burn brilliantly on the thoroughbred horizon for a few races, only to evolve into disaster, much as a super nova is destined to burn itself out from its own brightness.

Would Lets Don’t Fight have won the 1982 Kentucky Derby?

Speculative, certainly, but when he won the Arlington-Washington Futurity at Arlington Park last August he captured the imagination of two California writers who were fortunate enough to be on hand for John Henry’s heroics the next day in the Arlington Million.

The Futurity had seen its share of outstanding prospects in the past, champions like Buckpasser, Vitriolic, Silent Screen and Honest Pleasure.  And promising young sire Sauce Boat.

But 1981 offered a particularly interesting challenge in the form of international competition since two European youngsters, Telephone Man and My Dad Tom, shipped in with a group of the Million contenders.

Nor was it dimmed by the defection of the then-undefeated two-year-old champion Deputy Minister because of a fever.  Horses like Tropic Ruler, an Arizona-bred who ended the year with over $300,000 in the bank, made for a fascinating group of 15 two-year-olds who went to the post.

It was undoubtedly the richest “international” confrontation for the age group ever staged, and at the sixteenth pole, what we both assumed to be a race horse covered with enough mud to cover the state of Illinois came charging between horses.

“Who was that?”

It was a question that was answered when the announcer informed that the glob of mud in the winner’s circle was jockey John Lively and, somewhere underneath him, a horse named Lets Don’t Fight.

Maybe it’s because our California provincialism makes it difficult for either of us to appreciate a Midwestern juvenile and, consequently, we tend to dismiss “Chicago racing.”

But in spite of this prejudice, we knew we had seen something special that day, perhaps a bright hope for 1982.

It was hope that was shattered as surely as the colt’s ankle during a Hialeah workout.  An owner’s dream.  A trainer’s dream.  Possibly a jockey’s dream and certainly a groom’s dream.  And, of course, our dream.

Why did we fall in love with such dangerous breeding we asked ourselves upon reflection?  And we answered ourselves just as readily: because he looked like a horse who could run.

We were as proud of him in that moment in the sun as if we had bred him.

And then, before we even had the chance to reflect on his accomplishments of the future, it was all gone.  The horse was dead.

We wondered why.

But of course we knew why
.
The speed sire is perhaps the most important foundation in American racing, but he cannot exist alone.

Needed to steady the luminous talent of these quick runners is the solid, in-depth-of-bone mares who impart to their offspring a kindness of spirit along with the physical density of material needed to take the pounding required of young thoroughbreds.

Such a cross might not provide four wins in four starts at the age of two, but it might produce more victories at three and four and perhaps cause racing secretaries to think twice before scheduling entire series of Juvenile Breakdown Races with astronomical purses that are designed to lure the unwary and tempt fate.

The strength of the breed lies in solid, middle-distance sires.

The rewards of precociousness are brief and, in the long run, far more painful.  

At least two observers were cognizant of that on the first Saturday of May, as they cheered their selections down the stretch, yet looked sadly at one another and knew that something was missing.

We didn’t hear an announcer, excitement in his voice, scream “Here comes Lets Don’t Fight between horses in the middle of the track!”

We didn’t hear 100,000 fans cheering for what could have been.

What we thought about is a common hippie expression from the 1960’s:  “Speed kills.”

And we thought about a potential child of destiny who was doomed by his own heritage: created, as he was destroyed, by man.

The hippies weren’t wrong, you know.

Speed does kill.

And that light in the sky could have been a star.


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