Real Quiet, who shocked many horsemen during his life as he moved his skinny, imperfect body from the starting gate into the winner's circle in five Grade I races, including the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness, shocked the horse world again Monday when he died after a fall.
Real Quiet, 15, was in his paddock at Penn Ridge Farms near Harrisburg, Pa., when he somehow fell on his left shoulder. A necropsy at New Bolton showed he fell so hard that he drove his shoulder into his neck, fracturing five cervical vertebrae, according to Mike Jester, owner of Penn Ridge Farm and majority shareholder and manager of the syndicate that owned the stallion.
"It was beyond a big shock," Jester said by telephone. "We were pretty devastated. He was a classy horse with personality and a joy to be around. Yesterday there was no indication of anything wrong. We thought it was a heart attack or a stroke. He never does anything stupid. And then to discover he had had to rear up and fallen on his left side with such force, made it even more devastating."
Jester said Real Quiet will be buried near his paddock Wednesday and will have a view of his mares grazing across the road.
"He loved to just stand and look over them," Jester said, excusing himself for a moment to regain his composure. "He had a great life. He proved himself on the racetrack and off with his offspring. And one good thing is we still have his offspring."
Jester said he had planned to sell five or six of Real Quiet's yearlings at the Timonium Fasig-Tipton sale Oct. 5 and 6, but said he may now keep a few more than he expected to.
Bob Baffert, who trained Real Quiet and came within a nose of winning the Belmont Stakes and the Triple Crown that would have gone with it, said he was saddened when he heard the news, remembering the joy the horse had brought to him and his owner Mike Pegram.
"He was one of those horses you don't pay a lot of money for that blossom into something special," Baffert said. "He was the ugly duckling who turned into a swan."
Baffert paid $17,000 for the quiet American stallion, who went on to win $3,271,802 in purses and five Grade I stakes, including two at Pimlico Race Course -- the Preakness and, the following year, The Pimlico Special. His other grade I wins were in the Kentucky Derby, The Hollywood Futurity and the Hollywood Gold Cup.
"Real Quiet was important because he put owner Mike Pegram at a different level and kept him involved in the sport to the present day," said Dave Rodman, the track announcer at both Pimlico Race Course and Laurel Park. "Pegram's horse Looking at Lucky won this year's Preakness.
"And Real Quiet accomplished a rare feat, joining just a handful of horses when he came back the year after winning the Preakness and won the Pimlico Special. War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation -- he's in good company."
At dinner the night Baffert purchased Real Quiet at Keeneland, the trainer said he and Pegram nicknamed the horse "The Fish."
"Mike asked me if I'd bought a horse," Baffert said. "I said yes, I had bought one that afternoon. The purse strings were a little tight at the time, and he asked what I paid for him. I said $17,000.
"And I said, 'What's wrong with him? Does he have cancer?'" Pegram said Tuesday.
Both men laughed at the memory.
"I thought he would go for $60,000," Baffert said, acknowledging his own puzzlement. "When I got him for $17,000, I thought, 'What don't I know?' I told Mike he was the kind of horse you look at from the side and its like looking at one of those big, beautiful fish in a fish tank, and then when you look at him from the front, he's thin as a rail. Real Quiet was thin like that, and that night we named him The Fish."
A week before the Kentucky Derby the next year, someone asked Baffert if he knew Real Quiet's knees had been wired. He didn't, but he suddenly knew why he had gotten such a deal.
"I didn't know," he said. "But at that point it didn't matter. He'd been wired up as a baby. He was the equine version of Forrest Gump. All wired up, but he was a great racehorse who took Mike Pegram to a different level in the sport, and took us both all over the United States to race. He gave us a lot of fun. And when he became a sire he gave us Midnight Lute, a two-time Breeders' Cup Champion. Real Quiet left his mark."
Pegram said he "just couldn't believe it" when he got the news about Real Quiet.
"That horse has taken me places I thought I'd never be," Pegram said. "And that race at Pimlico, he just stamped himself as a champion. Going in there everyone was taking cheap shots at him -- the cheap horse with the cheap victory at the Derby. But that day in the Preakness, the way he raced and won it. He didn't have an easy trip, but he still annihilated them, exploding at the three-eighths pole."
At Pimlico in 1998, Real Quiet was the main distraction on a supremely hot afternoon that had to be endured by everyone as the power went out at the track. Baffert said he loves to win the Preakness "because it's that race that validates your horse," and remembered sweating along with everyone else, including Rodman, the announcer, whose broadcast booth's thermometer read 95 degrees but whose broadcasting equipment was working thanks to a generator on the roof.
Real Quiet drew the 11th post but started out of the No. 10 hole when an inside horse scratched. That was the easiest move he'd make all day. According to official charts of the race Real Quiet ran four-wide around the first turn, ran in the fifth lane of the track down the backstretch, drifted wide out of the second turn and then veered in badly near the 16th-mile pole before increasing his lead to win by 21/2 lengths.
Three weeks later Real Quiet would come within a nose of winning the Belmont.
"The only peace I had in losing the Triple Crown was that Real Quiet didn't know he lost," Pegram said. "He just thought they forgot to take the picture."