Monday, August 23, 2010

Thrill of a Lifetime


     Richard Duchossois got the thrill of his 88-year-old life Saturday when Eclair de Lune carried Duchossois' blue and yellow silks to victory in the 21st running of the Beverly D Stakes, the race named in honor of Mr. D's late wife, who passed away in 1980.
     "When the filly broke loose [drawing away in the stretch], I stopped thinking," Duchossois said. "When we won, I didn't know what to think. Then someone hit me on the back and said we won."
     After Eclair de Lune and jockey Junior Alvarado crossed the finish line a length and a half in front of runner-up Hot Cha Cha, fans sitting near Duchossois gathered around to congratulate him while those in adjacent sections applauded. As Duchossois started to make his way toward the winner's circle, fans throughout the grandstand joined in.
     By the time Duchossois was met in the winner's circle by Alvarado and trainer Ron McAnally, the warm applause had become a loud and sustained ovation from the entire crowd of 30,304. Alvarado had tears streaming down his face, and McAnally was overcome with emotion as he tried to explain how happy he was for his longtime friend.
     "This was for this man right here," McAnally said, with his arm around Duchossois. "He deserves it so much. He is a first-class man, and I know how much he wanted to win this race for his late wife."
     "We've had others in the Beverly D [1991, 1992, and 2006] that we thought might be good enough," Duchossois said. "But they never cut the buck." Eclair de Lune, a four-year-old German-bred filly that McAnally found in France, was specifically acquired to end that losing streak--and she did.
     Duchossois was a giant in the racing game long before his filly's stirring victory in the Beverly D. If racing ultimately fails to survive in Illinois, it will be no fault of his, for he has done more than anyone (and more than anyone could have expected) to prop up that struggling sport.
  • In 1981, Duchossois helped to create the world's first million-dollar race, the Arlington Million (its inaugural winner, John Henry, was trained by McAnally).
  • In 1985, Duchossois was instrumental in staging the "Miracle Million" using tents and temporary bleachers on Arlington's infield, just 23 days after the grandstand and clubhouse were completely destroyed by fire.
  • In 1989, Duchossois opened the rebuilt Arlington facility, which was far more magnificent than purely economic considerations would have dictated. Perhaps following his heart more than his head, Duchossois had attended to every detail concerning the physical setting, amenities, and overall experience of his customers. The new Arlington did not exist merely to serve its function as a place to take bets and present races. It was meant to represent more than that.
  • In 1996, Duchossois offered a million-dollar purse to lure the great Cigar to Arlington, where the latter tied the all-time record (since broken) by winning his 16th consecutive race.
  • In 2002, Duchossois brought the Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships to Arlington.
None of these triumphs equaled Saturday's, at least to Duchossois himself. "I'd rather win this race [the Beverly D] than the Kentucky Derby," he said as he wiped away tears of joy. "This one means more to me."

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