Flying Wallenda: Resilient Warrior Horse

September 25, 2022

Taiba won the Pennsylvania Derby Saturday but 29 years ago Wallenda won the Penn. Derby and followed that up five weeks later with a victory in the Super Derby

Once in a while you are reminded of a horse that inspires curiosity. Perhaps a mention in a pedigree or a press release. A photo pops up in a search for something completely unrelated. This reminder came in the form of an Ebay listing.

Oh yes, the horse, his name is Wallenda

The Ebay item was a winner’s plaque from a very special race. The Suffolk Downs Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap prize had the lovely iconic Breeders’ Cup logo emblazoned across the top of the plaque with Wallenda’s accomplishment noted below.

I didn’t get the plaque, but I got the horse, and leaning about him is such a gift. Just ask Michael Blowen, Old Friends founder and President .

“Wallenda was named after the great high wire artist, Karl Wallenda. 26 years ago, I don’t think he imagined that the son of Gulch would become the equine embodiment of his namesake. 

Aron Wellman, Cot Campbell and Brian Spearman of Dogwood Stables (now Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners) Photo courtesy of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners

Cot Campbell saw his colt leap over a small ditch. His colt’s sire was Gulch and it reminded him of when he saw Karl Wallenda cross the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia on a tightrope. He thought he would call his colt Wallenda. So, Cot contacted the Wallenda family for permission to use their name. Permission was granted and the horse’s official Jockey Club name was set.

“Wallenda’s life was like crossing the Grand Canyon every day on a thin wire with only determination and audacity keeping him from the abyss. He lived by his courage and wits and toughness. Ironically, both Wallendas, who lived by their extraordinary feet were, ultimately, betrayed by them. We have..and had…more lovable horses at Old Friends but none of them could surpass the determination and resilience of the incomparable flying Wallenda,” said Michael Blowen.

Old Friends is where Wallenda spent his golden days. Let’s go back to his beginning.

Tino Wallenda walking a highwire so to speak feeding a carrot to his family’s namesake with his mouth. Photo by Ralph Quinllen. Used by permission of Tino Wallenda

Many of you may not remember the son of Gulch on the track. Although, you may be familiar with him due to his time at Old Friends. Or perhaps you remember his Super Derby victory in 1993. 

Wallenda was bred in Florida by Peter M. Brant, who owned Gulch, and Haras Santa Maria de Araras, who owned his dam So Glad. The colt was later purchased by Cot Campbell’s Dogwood Stables at the 1992 Fasig-Tipton Florida February select sale of 2-year-olds for $43,000.

He was campaigned wearing the distinctive Dogwood green with yellow polka dot silks and trained for his career by Hall of Fame Frank Alexander ridden by jockey Herb McCauley for most of his career. 

The dark handsome colt made his first start June 18, 1992, at Belmont but didn’t break his maiden until his third start at Saratoga August 2. Ridden by Chris Antley he won by two lengths running just off the leader the entire race. 

Alexander would move Wallenda up to stakes company in the G3 Sanford at Saratoga twelve days later with a lackluster eighth place finish. 

Moving him down to the Allowance level, a more comfortable Wallenda hit the board fourth in consecutive starts, one at Saratoga and one at Belmont spaced exactly a month apart. 

His next start was at Aqueduct in October in the G2 Cowdin. Apparantly, the Allowance runs boosted Wallenda’s confidence. He finished a first by a half-length under Herb McCauley and got his first graded stakes.

And he earned his first triple-digit Equibase Speed Figure—104.

Frank Alexander. Photo by NYRA

Alexander kept Wallenda at Aqueduct for the remainder of 1992 running in graded stakes. 

Fourth places in both the G2 Remsen and G2 Nashua closed out the year. And then team Wallenda headed south to Gulfstream Park.

Wallnda got a little two-month break getting his first start Feb. 5, 1993. It seemed it would be uphill with a sixth place in the G2 Hutcheson. A notable race no less as future Belmont winner Julie Krone was in the irons.

Alexander would give Wallenda a little fretting in an Allowance next where the colt scored a second-place rallying under Craig Perret March 10.

This was followed ten days later with a third place in the G1 Florida Derby with Herb McCauley and a very respectable second in the G2 Blue Grass at Keeneland April 10 again under McCauley.

The Blue Grass was a major prep for the biggest race of the year—the Kentucky Derby.

May 1, 1993, Wallenda wearing Dogwood Stables silks would run in the Kentucky Derby. One of only 19 3-year-olds to get the honor that year. 

“With Wallenda running in the Kentucky Derby, it provided me the opportunity to spend Derby Week in Louisville, a memory I will always cherish!” Jack Saddler of Dogwood Stables and Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners said.

Wallenda in a work before his Derby run. Photo from The Tony Leonard Collection, Dogwood Stables Room. Courtesy of City of Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum

In his Derby start, Wallenda started in post 11 under Pat Day, began in 16th, bounced between fourteenth and fifteenth, fell back to sixteenth and finished thirteenth behind Dixieland Heat. 

That year Sea Hero won under Jerry Baily besting Prairie Bayou by 2 1/2 lengths with Mike Smith up who bested Wild Gate piloted by Shane Sellers by a head who nipped Personal Hope with Gary Stevens by a neck. 

Recognizing the colt was a bit stressed from his spring campaign, Alexander gave him a three-month turnout. 

The tenacious colt’s next two starts were Allowances at Saratoga eleven days apart.

August 2, he came in fourth by 2 3/4 lengths. August 13 he was second by a neck and regaining his winning form. 

Alexander continued to race him back at a fast pace starting him again August 21 moving back up to stakes company in the Travers. It was a questionable decision with a sixth-place finish where he never got out of the middle of the pack of eleven. 

Another freshening for Wallenda? Nope.

Cot Campbell colt’s next challenge would be the $200,000 G2 Pennsylvania Derby at Philly Park. At his standard distance of 1 1/8 miles under Herb McCauley Wallenda battled Press Card with John Velazquez and Storm Tower with Joe Bravo down to the last few yards to win by a neck. 

A thrilling finish to a classic race. But not his most thrilling finish. 

Wallenda would perform several amazing feats in his career under McCauley. One was the 1993 Super Derby at Louisiana Downs. 

Take his first Grade 1 victory in the Super Derby at Louisiana Downs October 2, 1993, over Saintly Prospector by a nose! 

And I mean a nose in a photo finish that shocked fans, punters and the racing press. 

At 20-1 odds Wallenda was one of three horses in a photo finish. 

Let’s rewind. Wallenda broke from chute #1 and started in twelfth place in a field of twelve. It didn’t look promising. By the 3/4 pole he had moved into tenth, with Premier Cheer setting a fraction of 45.92. 

At a mile, Peteski had taken the lead under Craig Perret with Future Storm with Patrick Valenzuela up chasing the leader. Wallenda in sixth and Saintly Prospector in fourth were getting ready to move up coming into the stretch turn. 

With Wallenda still back in fifth it looked like a duel to the wire between Peteski and Saintly Prospector. That’s until Wallenda pulled out a sprint that carried him right up to the leaders in the final few furlongs and he bobbed his nose at just the right time. 

“Not only did they not know that Wallenda had won, but announcers also didn’t even know Wallenda was in the mix. When Charlsie Cantey and Frank Wright called the finish, they never mentioned his name.” said Jack Sadler. “Until the photo showed Wallenda’s nose was first!” 

Wallenda’s Super Derby finish. Photo by Lou Hodges

Wallenda’s time of 2:02.30 didn’t break the track record, but he did earn a 114 Equibase Speed Figure and his time beat Alysheba (1987 2:03.10) and Sunday Silence (1989 2:03.10).

The colt produced the most exciting finish in Super Derby history.

The Pennsylvania Derby and Super Derby are prep races for the G1 Breeders’ Cup Classic. And that’s exactly where Wallenda and Frank Alexander headed next at scenic Santa Anita. 

The Classic was Nov. 6 and running at 1 1/4 miles which was stretching Wallenda out a bit especially after his two Derby victories. It would also be his eleventh start of the year. But running in the Classic is still quite an honor, and an earned honor. A career benchmark. 

Breaking from post seven under Herb McCauley Wallenda started in thirteenth and got stuck there until the one-mile mark when he started to move up just a bit. 

Coming to the stretch the tenacious colt got into a match race with Devil His Due (Mike Smith) Best Pal (Corey Black) and Missionary Ridge (Eddie Delahoussaye). Finishing eighth was Devil His Due got the better of ninth place Wallenda by a neck with Wallenda getting Best Pal by a head who be a Missionary Ridge (GB) by a neck in eleventh. 

Wallenda needed a freshening. Alexander turned him out for almost three months.

The son of Gulch would start his sophomore year with an Allowance freshener resulting in a win on January 27 and starts om all handicap races that year. 

With well-spaced starts every month he had game third places in the G1 Donn and Gulfstream Park Handicaps and a not-so-great eighth in the G1 Oaklawn. Alexander gave him another couple of months to relax.

Ebay screen shot.

Wallenda came back fresh and ready.

Now for my favorite race, the Suffolk Downs Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap in June 1994. 

Breaking from post 1 under McCauley started in fourth, faded back to seventh then slowly moved up on the pace setters Prolanzier and Sunny Sunrise trained by Grover “Bud” Delp. And on the straight Wallenda went four wide and took off like a rocket crushing the competition by 10 lengths at his standard 1 1/8 miles on dirt.

14 days later, Wallenda would place second in the G2 Brooklyn Handicap. 

The dark bay colt would hit the board in the G2 Fayette (4th), Saratoga Cup Handicap (L) (3rd), The G1 Suburban Handicap (4th), He would also come in fifth in the G1 Philip H. Iselin at Monmouth. 

But Wallenda wasn’t done yet. He ended his year Nov. 5 at Aqueduct with a victory in the Stuyvesant with his highest Equibase Speed Figure yet—121. Under McCauley Wallenda rallied from sixth at the top of the stretch and went head-to-head with John Velazquez on Lost Soldier the latter losing by just a head. 

The gritty colt named after a daredevil would run one more time on Feb. 11, 1995, in the the Donn at Gulfstream. Herb McCauley fittingly was his jockey. 

Wallenda ibasking n the sun at Old Friends. Photo by Rick Capone

Wallenda did not do well in his last race for Frank Alexander. He finished last.

However, once again, the Dogwood Stables colt was there in a historic race. The winner was Cigar on his way to his 16 straight victories. And the race tragically ended the career of Holy Bull due to an injury from which he recovered before going to stud at Darley in Kentucky.

With a record of seven wins, five second places and five thirds, Wallenda ran in 17 graded stakes with earnings of $1,205,929. 

“He was, by any definition, a warrior,” said Michael Blowen. “Like his sire, Gulch, who was also with us for many years, Wallenda was one of the toughest and most resilient horses we have ever known.”

Imperial Pedigree

The colt’s pedigree is impressive. Gulch, the 1988 Eclipse Champion Sprinter, won on debut and then swept up graded stake as a 2-year-old. The G1 Hopeful, the G1 Belmont Futurity with second place in the G1 Norfolk, G2 Saratoga Special, and G3 Tremont. 

The champion Peter Brant-bred horse went on to win seven more graded stakes, five Grade 1’s and finish second or third in eleven more. He raced until he was a 4-year-old completing his career with a record of 32 starts, 13 wins, eight places and four shows with earnings of over $3 million. 

Gulch in April of 2012 at Old Friends. Photo by EquiSport Photos

Gulch entered stud at Lane’s End until he was pensioned and was welcomed at Old Friends. He was euthanized in November 2016 due to cancer.

Wallenda’s dam was very successful on the track. The top filly in Argentina for 1984 and 1985, So Glad won five Grade 1 stakes including the Argentine Oaks and the Grand Premio Copa de Plata. She placed second in three other Grade 1’s that included the Argentine One Thousand Guineas. So Glad placed third in the G1 San Isidro Mil Guineas.

Wallenda grazing in the fields at Old Friends. Photo by Rick Capone

New Life at Old Friends

Entering stud in 1995, the dark bay stallion first went to New Zealand and later to Toyosato Stallion Center in Hokkaido, Japan. 

Old Friends, with the help of Dogwood, trainer Frank Alexander, members of the stallion’s syndicate, and loyal supporters, helped Wallenda returned to the United States in 2007.

A chronical of Wallenda’s trip back home: “He was vanned from his farm in Hokkaido and will be in quarantine until he leaves Japan next week with a scheduled arrival at JFK/NY on April 1. 

Wallenda will be quarantined at the quarantine facility in Newburgh, New York for three days and then, vanned to Kentucky. He will be quarantined at Hurstland Farm until he passes the various tests required by State and Federal law. Then, he will be vanned the three miles from Hurstland to Old Friends.” 

“We’re extremely grateful to Dr. Fraley and his team for their continued care and creative approach to Wallenda’s welfare and comfort,” said Blowen, “and we’re grateful to Cot Campbell and everyone who helped us bring him home from Japan. He was a favorite here on the farm and we will miss seeing him every day.”

Fate brought Wallenda to Old Friends when Dogwood’s Mary Jane Howell visited Kiri’s Clown there and asked about Wallenda. Because of her visit, Wallenda ended up coming to Old Friends, where he had been pensioned since 2007.

Michael Blowen with Wallenda at Old Friends. Photo by Ralph Quillen

The dark handsome stallion captured the imagination of thousands of fans since his return to the U.S. and would live out his next nine years at Old Friends greeting and entertaining visitors.

Wallenda was euthanized at Old Friends May 9, 2016. The 26-year-old horse battled a bad foot throughout his life and showed great courage.

“Despite his ongoing hoof issues, he maintained a gleam in his eye and vibrant attitude,” Blowen continued. “But today his demeanor changed, and after much discussion with our vet, Dr. Bryan Waldridge, the vets at Hagyard, and the amazing farriers at Dr. Bryan Fraley’s Equine Podiatry, we felt Wallenda’s medical issues had reached the point where we could no longer maintain his comfort or quality of life.”

Click here to watch Old Friends Equine’s video about Wallenda.

Make Old Friends Your New Friend

In 2003, Old Friends Equine thoroughbred retirement facility in Georgetown, KY, put a new face on the concept of Thoroughbred aftercare. Former Boston Globe film critic, Michael Blowen, started our organization with a leased paddock and one horse. Over the years we have expanded to a 236-acre farm, three satellite locations and a herd of over 240 retired former racehorses and breeding stallions.

We opened our doors to the public, inviting fans to visit their turf heroes. As a result, Old Friends is now the “living-history museum” of horse racing. Annually, our horses attract nearly 20,000 visitors, who come to get up-close-and-personal with racing’s superstars, and also meet a few who never saw the inside of a winner’s circle.

While rock stars like 1997 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Silver Charm draw crowds, the revenue they raise supports hard-knockers like Popcorn Deelites, a one-time claimer who made a name for himself by starring in a Hollywood movie. Every horse at Old Friends has a story to tell, and our volunteer tour guides enjoy sharing them with their fans. (like Wallenda!)

In 2014 Old Friends was a proud recipient of a Special Eclipse Award, an industry accolade honor-ing extraordinary service to the sport of Thoroughbred racing. But perhaps the greatest reward of all has been respect and support of the owners, trainers, and fans who not only donate to the cause of protecting these amazing athletes but come out to the farm often and visit with all of their old friends.

For more information about Old Friends click here

The Dogwood Stables-Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners Connection

Dogwood Stable was founded in 1973 by W. Cothran “Cot” Campbell of Aiken, South Carolina. The pioneers of Thoroughbred group partnerships, the operation’s stated policy is to acquire moderately priced, young horses. 

Dogwood sold shares in Thoroughbred racehorse ownership to multiple owners who split the expenses as well as the purses. It was a novel concept at the time. Today, there are dozens of partnerships. 

Dogwood’s yellow and green colors were inspired by the dogwood plant’s yellow blossoms and green leaves. 

According to their website, since inception, Campbell has introduced more than 1,200 people to the sport of Thoroughbred racing, and Dogwood partnerships have raced more than 70 stakes winners. 

In 1990, their colt Summer Squall won the Preakness. In 2013, they won the Belmont Stakes with Palace Malice.

Other successful Dogwood Stable runners include Nassipour, Southjet, Smok’n Frolic, and Limehouse. The partnership has also raced two Champions:

Storm Song won the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies and was voted the Eclipse Champion Two-Year-Old Filly.

In July 2013, Dogwood Stables merged with Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners brining key people to the new company most notably Jack Sadler, COO, and Bill Victor, Treasurer. 

Jack Sadler had been with Dogwood for many years and all of Wallenda’s career as he had worked with Frank Alexander since his days at Sagamore Farm. Jack was a hotwalker for Alexander at Sagamore and Pimlico before the headed to Delaware Park and then Dogwood Stables in Aiken. From there, Sadler went to join Eclipse. 

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners Silks

Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners is owned and guided by two men: Aron Wellman, a Californian and one of the most astute horsemen on the international racing scene; and Brian Spearman, a Saratogian and a former Senior Vice President at PepsiCo.

Happily, Dogwood partners/clients have blended seamlessly into the Eclipse fold and have enjoyed above-average success.

Partnerships are today the backbone of Thoroughbred racing. And none can surpass the accomplishments of Eclipse. Incredibly, in 2016 they ranked eleventh among all American owners in money won ($3.3 million), with a winning strike rate of 23%. This, after only five years after inception.

“Dogwood is proud of its own role and place in the sport and industry of Thoroughbred horse racing, and grateful for the recognition we have received. Our legacy is now in the hands of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners. How gratifying that is.”

Dogwood Stables Room Filled with Trophies and Racing History

The Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum has a Dogwood Stable room with several Wallenda racing memorabilia pieces including his Pennsylvania and Super Derby Trophies. 

Dogwood Stable Room. Screen shot used by permission

The Dogwood office and the Campbell’s home were filled with trophies and photos that spanned nearly five decades of racing… and a glorious life. A significant part of this collection is now on permanent display in the new Dogwood Room in the Aiken Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame and Museum. The Dogwood Room opened on October 26, 2014.

“Aiken, South Carolina, is one of the greatest racehorse towns in the world – right there with Newmarket, England, and Chantilly, France,” explained Cot Campbell. “The fact that Dogwood has been honored with this special recognition in our wonderful Aiken racing museum is a very big deal to us. The museum already honors Mack Miller, Jim Maloney and Pete Bostwick with permanent displays, and that we would belong to such a select group is very meaningful to us.”

The Thoroughbred Hall of Fame and Museum is nestled within Hopelands Gardens and has been open to the public since 1977. There are 40 Thoroughbreds enshrined in the Hall of Fame (including Dogwood’s champion filly Storm Song) as well as displays honoring Aiken’s notable horsemen. 

The Dogwood Room is located on the second floor of the museum and will house trophies that range from trays to punch bowls. Photos tell a pictorial history of the stable from the earliest runners to the most recent stable star, Palace Malice. Other memorabilia, such as the Dogwood racing silks and saddle cloths will also be on display.

“Dogwood Stable has been a key component in Aiken’s equine history for many years, so the creation of a permanent room in the Hall of Fame dedicated to their successes was very appropriate,” said Lisa Hall, Museum Coordinator.

In Gratitude … I would like to thank everyone at Old Friends Equine in particular Michael Blowen and Cindy Grisiolia, also, Tino Wallenda and Jack Sadler of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners for their assistance; Lou Hodges, Ralph Quillen, Rick Capone and Tony Leonard, City of Aiken Hall of Fame for the contribution of their timeless photography.

UPDATED 9/25/2022 4:13 PM ET
UPDATED 9/25/2022 5:20 PM ET

Contributing Authors

Maribeth Kalinich, Senior Editor, Graphic Designer

Maribeth Kalinich grew up in a family with a love for horses, a passion for Thoroughbred horse racing and a taste for playing the ponies....

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