I’ve always been a fan of a come-from-behind horse. Zenyatta is the first to come to mind, as she would settle way back behind the field and mow them all down after looking hopelessly beaten. Racing’s”Queen” lost just one race, and with a short head, following 19 straight victories.
The new generation of horseplayers is probably not as familiar with Silky Sullivan. From the late 1950s, this household name was synonymous with winning a losing battle. Silky Sullivan was, by far, the best come-from-behind horse of all time.
Silky, often ridden by the great Bill Shoemaker, was nicknamed Mr. Heart Attack, also for good reason. This horse didn’t just come from the clouds, he arrived from another world! I have heard lots of tales of old timers that tore their gambling tickets while watching the horse left behind, only to go through the garbage and try to tape together their winning slips.
Back in 1957, Silly won the Golden Gate Futurity, easily making up 27 spans on the field. In a race at Santa Anita in 1958, Silky took back several 41 lengths off the leaders and handed them to win by open lengths in a 6-1/2-furlong sprint! What’s even more astonishing is he conducted the last quarter-mile of that race in 22 minutes. Later on in his career, he would come from 32 lengths from it to score handily in The California Breeders’ Champion Stakes.Silky Sullivan was a legend and a folk hero. He had his own train to travel, received Christmas and birthday cards and had his own secretary to start and respond to his own email.
He was also a gentleman. He would let kids walk underneath himsit on his back and stroke the white star on his brow. As soon as an adult would try out any of this, Silky would quietly but firmly remove them in the region.
Silky Sullivan was foaled on St. Patrick’s Day in 1955 and raced during his four-year-old season. Beginning in 1965, he had been paraded at Golden Gate Fields every year on his birthday. He was also shown at the Santa Anita Derby every year. At the mature age of 20, he was being exhibited at racetracks across the country, and he loved every minute of it.
While his two- and age-old seasons were decent, he did not fire in large races such as the Kentucky Derby or Preakness. His career ended with a record of 12 wins from 27 starts, with one second place finish and five thirds. Silky earned $157,700 in his lifetime.
Silky died in his sleep, in Pleasanton, California, on November 18, 1977, at the age of 22. He had been buried in the infield at Golden Gate Park, just to the left of this tote board. Only one other horse — Lost In The Fog — is buried at that track.
What Silky Sullivan gave a production was priceless. He supplied chills and thrills and pure excitement. He took people’s problems away for a few minutes each time that he raced and showed us no matter how bad things are, there is still always expect. His title is still used today in sports and politics — when a individual or staff is so far behind they can’t possibly win and yet they still do, it is called a Silky Sullivan Finish.
We could all use a bit of Silky Sullivan in our lives.