THE DARK DAY FILES: How Can We Appropriately Honor Fourstardave?

Saturday’s feature at Saratoga was the Grade 1 Fourstardave. Named for one of the most beloved horses in recent Saratoga history, the race was won by another local favorite, Voodoo Song. Voodoo Song was previously best known for winning four times at the 2017 Saratoga meet, and this quickly inspired some in racing to compare the two horses.

I like Voodoo Song. He’s a cool horse and a great story, having risen from the claiming ranks to become one of the better turf horses in the eastern part of the United States. In a sport that desperately needs cool stories, his is a cool story. However, comparing him to Fourstardave does the latter a great disservice.

Records in sports are made to be broken. They’re how we measure greats of varying eras, and there are some that, try as competitors might, will likely never be approached. For example, we’ll never see a pitcher throw three no-hitters in a row and break Johnny Vander Meer’s mark of two, and we’ll never see an NBA player go for 100 points in a game, like Wilt Chamberlain once did.

All of this leads up to this one indisputable fact: Fourstardave holds the most unbreakable record in horse racing. No horse will ever win a race at eight consecutive Saratoga meets, and horses outlined on the hood of Ferraris will drive them before one of their fellow equines wins one at nine in a row. Shoot, the only horses with careers that long nowadays are converted steeplechasers, and those races are probably even harder to win than ones on the flat!

From 1987 through 1994, Fourstardave made at least one appearance every summer in the Saratoga winner’s circle. He was never a top-tier thoroughbred. He was never beating the likes of contemporaries such as two-time Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Lure, and an argument can be made that he wasn’t even the most accomplished offspring of sire Compliance and dam Broadway Joan (full brother Fourstars Allstar won the Group 1 Irish 2,000 Guineas). That lack of high-profile form is probably why, the further you get from upstate New York, the less people you find that fondly remember Fourstardave.

What he did have, though, was longevity unmatched by any horse that ever summered at the Spa. As a comparison point, let’s look at Wise Dan, the latest model of the “hard-knocking, hard-trying, ornery gelding” that the racing gods molded out of clay and gave to us for our betting and viewing pleasure. During his Hall of Fame career (and yes, Wise Dan bashers, he’s a Hall of Famer), he won a race at Saratoga in three straight seasons. He was in training for a 2015 return before he was officially retired.

Had Wise Dan won that season’s Fourstardave, it would have given him four straight years with a win at Saratoga. This is nothing to sneeze at, and would look great on a plaque across town at the Hall of Fame. However, and let this resonate…such a total would have only put him halfway to Fourstardave’s lofty total.

Unless scientists find ways to turn horses into indestructible robots, no top-tier horse will run long enough to even get halfway to Fourstardave’s record. It’s simply a different sport now, and horses that appear at four or five Saratoga meets are getting harder and harder to come by.

As the years roll on, Fourstardave’s accomplishments should be growing in magnitude because of that fact. However, it seems as though the opposite is happening, at least in some circles. While he was given an edible key to the city of Saratoga Springs upon his retirement, and even paraded inside local hot spot Siro’s, Saratoga’s Hoofprints Walk of Fame (in principle, a very good idea) does not have a spot for him as of yet.

Former Saratogian colleague Mike Veitch (one of the smartest, kindest men I’ve ever known) is on the selection committee. He and I have had a few conversations about Fourstardave’s credentials over the years, and from those, the information I’ve been given is that his resume does not have enough wins over top-tier competition for the committee’s liking.

This is a fair, accurate assessment of his body of work. As I’ve mentioned, Fourstardave wasn’t close to the top horse of his era. Having said that, if the purpose of the Hoofprints Walk of Fame is, as stated online in a recent NYRA release, to honor the most prolific and notable horses to compete at the track, how can one justify Fourstardave’s exclusion? It is physically impossible for any horse to be as prolific as Fourstardave was from 1987 to 1994. His wins spanned three Presidents, for crying out loud! And notable? The track the Hoofprints Walk of Fame sits outside of has a Grade 1 race named in his honor, and one of the side streets near the backyard bears his name, too.

If the purpose of the Hoofprints Walk of Fame is to honor prolific and notable horses, there is not a justification for Fourstardave’s exclusion. For the sake of this conversation, I don’t think it matters that he couldn’t beat the likes of Lure (to be fair, many others couldn’t, either). Over the course of his career, he accomplished something much, much greater. He gave fans a horse to follow and root for, one that wasn’t immediately retired at the first sign of trouble or handled with kid gloves because the connections couldn’t stand the thought of losing. We need more horses like that, and we need to appropriately honor the ones that have come and gone.

I don’t know if my voice carries to Saratoga from my little one-bedroom apartment in northern California. I’d like to think that it carries at least a few ounces of weight, and it’s my hope that the Hoofprints committee gives Fourstardave his due next summer.

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