Friday, October 1, 2010

Saying Goodbye to Arc Winner Alleged

The cover of the 1998 Walmac stallion brochure was a tribute to Alleged, who had been pensioned for that season.
One of the greatest winners of France’s prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe was Robert Sangster and partners’ Alleged, who won in 1977 and 1978. Only six horses have won the Arc twice: Ksar (1921-’22); Motrico (1930 and 1932, interrupted by a spell at stud in 1931); the filly Corrida (1936-’37), an ill-fated victim of the Nazi occupation in France during World War II; Tantieme (1950-’51); *Ribot (1955-’56); and Alleged, whom I knew from my years at Walmac Int’l, where he stood.

The American tourists didn’t really know Alleged, and unless he charged at them when they walked past his stall, they didn’t take much notice of him. But the Europeans were different. They had a reverence for Alleged as one of their greatest racehorses of all time, with memories of him winning the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe two emphatic times, just like his great-grandsire Ribot. Champion three-year-old colt in England and France and champion older horse in France, Alleged’s only loss in ten starts was a second-place finish in the St. Leger.

At stud, Alleged became a leading sire and broodmare sire, infamous for his savageness; by the time I got to know him, he was 16 and certainly no pet. I’ve heard that his sire Hoist the Flag was not mean; I don’t know about his grandsire Tom Rolfe, but there’s no question that Alleged had inherited Ribot’s bad temperament.

Champion turf female Miss Alleged, winner of the '91 Breeders' Cup Turf and Hollywood Turf Cup, was a daughter of Alleged.
I used to take walks around the farm after hours or on the weekends, and I’d spin by the stallion complex when the horses were turned out. Alleged’s paddock was boarded from top to bottom, with no space between the boards. I had to stand on my tiptoes to find him, and once he spotted me, he’d come tearing over, huffing and puffing like a monster, and crane his head over the fence. I’d pet him, carefully, and he would follow me from behind the fence while I continued my walk, and when I had to leave the perimeter of his paddock he neighed after me as though he’d enjoyed the company and was demanding that I return immediately. Alleged was very vocal – he loved to squeal.

“He’s misunderstood,” I would say – insulting, I’m sure, to anyone who had actual hands-on work experience with the stallion.

I worked in the office but liked being in touch with the horses and frequently got out to see them. I was fond of many of our stallions, Nureyev and Alleged most especially. For the last month of Alleged’s life, when I realized that his time had just about run its course, I visited him every day until he died. The following entries are excerpted from a journal I kept; the people mentioned are stallion manager Ron Gilbert; farm vet J.D. Howard; and Walmac owner John T.L. Jones Jr. I’ve taken out the names of the stud grooms.

June 3, 2000

His right foreleg is so swollen he can barely move it. His right hindleg is swollen too, though not nearly as drastically. One of his handlers opened the stall door for me the other day and I did what I would have never imagined possible – entered Alleged’s stall unattended. He was facing the wall, and he moved his head towards the carrot bit I extended and took it before turning back to the wall. He chewed for a while and then twisted his neck around for another bite. He let me scratch his head every time he came back for more carrot.

I’ve been visiting him every day now, giving him two carrots at a time. The other day I had to give part of one of them to Gentlemen (not by hand of course!) because it was too thick for Alleged to chew and I couldn’t break it any smaller without a knife. I have the sense now to pick smaller carrots for his worn down old teeth. After he finished, I braved up (or as J.D. rightly pointed out, behaved stupidly) and gave him the side of my hand to suck on. He grabbed hold of it and clamped down gently, not trying to hurt me at all; he just held it contentedly. I don’t know what came over me that I placed my hand into the mouth of the beast, but I had seen one of the stud guys do it often.

This was the first day that I didn’t go in his stall. One of the guys has always been there with me, and I wasn’t about to go in on my own. I feel I can read him well enough and that he accepts me as okay, but one never knows about the moods of the cantankerous old man, so I fed him through the bars. I was pleased to note that, as soon as he saw me, he limped over and greedily went after the carrot while I scratched his head as best I could fit my fingers through.

It warms my heart to see him perk up during my carrot run to him. He has lost so much weight since last Friday – just a week ago yesterday – and it is reassuring to see him get excited about his treats. Today he even ambled over to his feed tub afterwards to work on what he had left over from the morning’s feeding. With the extra care he’s getting from his handlers, his attitude is great, no sulking in a corner for him. If he wants to fight out his days, if he can still brighten up when someone gives him a hand to nibble or a handful of carrots, then we have to help him.

As Ron says, now that Alleged is hurting he’s acting like a big baby and is really hamming up the attention. I truly enjoy my now-daily forays to the stud barn and fully intend to keep the horse in carrots as long as they please him.

Earlier this evening I pulled out books that chronicle some of the history Alleged has made. I was reminded of how, after his follow-up Arc win, he was surrounded by a frenzied throng who pulled hair from his tail for their own little piece of this history. Lester Piggott remarked how Alleged had taken it all in stride while the pillage was going on. Piggott, who rode so many great horses, and Vincent O’Brien, who trained so many great horses, count Alleged as one of their top three greatest of the greats. Tomorrow, while he is eating out of my hand, I might even look at him a little differently.

On a misty morning in the mid-'90s.
 June 11, 2000

One day there’s improvement, the next a decline. While the improvement never comes in leaps and bounds, neither does the decline. Some days it’s harder for him to make it over to where I am, but every day he wants to; it’s just the convincing himself he wants to enough to move that is his struggle.

I was late one day. He was eating his dinner, feed tub clipped to the door – they feed him wherever he is – and I let him be when I saw that he had his nose in his sweet feed. But then Alleged saw J.D.’s truck pull up and his mood visibly, not to mention audibly, worsened. He stopped eating and started squealing – he knew J.D. was there to give him his shot. The groom tried to catch him, but he jerked his head every which way, biting and snorting. J.D. went in to give him the injection in his neck and you’ve never heard such a commotion! Unless, that is, you’ve witnessed Alleged getting a shot in his posterior, because the neck commotion doesn’t even begin to compare with the reaction a shot in the butt elicits. For a horse with two legs swollen as big as his to even consider kicking out viciously with one-half of his good legs is incredible. Not only did Alleged consider, he did – ten times. Each, naturally, accompanied by a squeal. When J.D. came out, I patted him on the back and said, “You’re a brave man.”

Alleged continued to squeal after he had been turned loose and the stall door was shut. Then he went suddenly silent, stood at his door and watched us watching him. It was eerie, the way he stared, looking from one to the other of us. It made me sad; it’s like he knows what’s happening to him and he’s telling us that he doesn’t want to die.

Yesterday Alleged was on his toes and not in much of a mood to be fooled around with. He ate the carrots just fine but wasn’t up to being fondled. Ron said he was watching the mares coming in that morning from his window, snorting at them, obviously feeling well. Alleged and Ron played their little game, squealing at each other. It was fun to see. Like little kids! J.D. does it too, with both Alleged and Nureyev. Ron said Alleged acts like he doesn’t always know what to do with attention, that he seeks it but then shuns it. I said it’s difficult to admit to craving something you’ve been turning your back on all your life.

Today, Sunday, Alleged got a bath. Ron said he walked pretty well, and that he squealed a lot. By the time I made it up to the stud barn to see him he looked very well. I thought the swelling had gone down. He was standing in the middle of his stall and came right over without pain. And I scratched and scratched and scratched his head while he ate.

Alleged playing with a puddle after a bath on June 16, 2000.

I prefer it when I can go in the stall and not have to feed him through the bars, but he usually seems to be in a better mood when I’m alone. He hasn’t yet gotten testy with me – I exist only to bring him treats.

June 20, 2000

With Ron’s approval I’ve been entering Alleged’s stall unattended since last week. It’s nice to be alone with him and to have him be as comfortable as he can be – he’s quieter when we’re one-on-one – and me unabashed to lavish attention on him. Which I do, as much as he lets me! He’s always pleased to have the carrots, always looking for more. I’ve given him my hand a few more times to suck on; the last time he had a pretty good hold of it. There’s some fight in him yet.

June 24, 2000

Alleged died yesterday. The day before, I went to see him at my usual time. His hindquarters were near the door, his head facing the wall so that his whole body was blocking the entrance lengthwise. I started talking to him and opened the door in the hope that he would move in response to me. He looked around two or three times and thereafter adamantly refused to budge or even pay attention to me again. Instead, he pawed with his left foreleg – the good leg, methodically piling his straw around the walls. I stayed for nearly ten minutes, hoping he’d change his mind. I experimentally placed my hand on his rump; I got a warning squeal from him and he raised his left hindleg slightly. I gave up. He had always displayed an interest in me, even if it took him a few minutes to convince himself he wanted the attention more than he wanted to stand still, so that was a bad sign.

I returned to the office, put the cut-up carrots back into the refrigerator and went about my day. Late in the afternoon I drifted into one of those moods where I knew I wasn’t going to accomplish anything at all anymore, so I went to the stud barn at 4:30. He had ceased the pawing, and when I went in his stall he crabstepped his way over to me, angling his hind leg out in the way I’ve seen him do several times before, horizontally (amazing athleticism!). He kept moving closer and closer as I fed him, though there was really no need since I was right there. He licked the carrots off my palm and permitted me to scratch his head a little. He had gotten some Furacin from his knee on his face and it made him look old and defeated, I thought. I rubbed it off his eyelid.

When he was done munching and had double-checked that I had no more treats, I latched his door. I don’t remember patting him on the head and telling him that was it for today, that I’d be back tomorrow, but as I did that every day I’m sure I must have. I didn’t like to acknowledge that there might not be a tomorrow.

I’m grateful that I had the good fortune to say goodbye, and to hopefully brighten up his last days. I’ve accepted his death graciously – I was prepared for it, I saw for myself on my last visit that the old warrior was ready. I feel for J.D. and Ron, who had to make the ultimate decision.

June 28, 2000

Alleged’s cremains were ready to be picked up on Monday. When we hadn’t heard from the UK Diagnostic Lab by late afternoon, I called them (obsessively) and finally got the okay at a quarter after four. The man who runs the crematorium told me they had only just finished collecting all the bits, because the oven gets so hot that it takes days to cool it down. They would be closing soon, but I wasn’t about to leave Alleged there any longer than need be. We wanted him home.

The woman behind the counter brought out a large, light green Sterilite container. Taped onto the top of the plastic box was a printout reading “Alleged / 23 June 2000” with a five- or six-inch black-and-white image of a rose. To avoid getting emotional, I made a face as I grabbed the box and commented on its being much heavier than I expected. What a strange thing to think when you’re carrying in two hands something that was a few days ago a thousand pound animal.

So Alleged rode in my car, on the backseat, with classical music playing.

Alleged in October, 1999.

I picked out my favorite of the head shots I had taken of him in October and J.D. and I taped it to the lid. The overall effect wasn’t too pretty in the sense of how we had plastered the photo in place, but it got the point across. The bin and the bits inside it didn’t seem much like Alleged – at least when we got Risen Star back from the lab I got to see his head and his feet (and heart), so I knew it was him – and the picture gave him some of his identity back.

Mid-morning on Tuesday, we buried him. There were nine of us altogether. Johnny kick-started it, saying (as only he can), “We’ll kind of miss the old booger.” Several voices answered that they already did.

And then Johnny again: “He sure was mean,” and everyone laughed. Here were these men, most of who had been on the receiving end of Alleged’s savagery – one of them had been pinned down on the ground by him years before – and they were all truly fond of him. Had he died ten years ago, maybe they wouldn’t have been so forgiving; he had mellowed in his old age.

It was noted how even in the end it had taken two people to lead Alleged. Johnny reminisced about how he almost hadn’t gotten him at Walmac because John Gaines had also been trying to syndicate the horse. And how Alleged had been the start, the one to get Walmac off and running. J.D. told how he had been scared to death when he was the new vet at Walmac and the blacksmith, Tex Cauthen, came to work on Alleged’s feet: the stallion had to be tranquilized, and J.D. didn’t know how much to give him, afraid he’d give him too little and Tex would get hurt, or that he’d give him too much and that he would kill the horse. One by one we each put a shovelful of dirt in the hole.

I had never been to a horse’s funeral. It was a simple gathering of people who had been lucky enough to know and admire a great horse.

Alleged in the early '90s. I've always loved the way the sunlight falls on his back in this photo, like it was the only thing that could tame him.


  1. Beautiful remembrance, Frances. Thanks for sharing the personal memories and photos.

  2. I'm so glad you wrote this. I've often wanted my dad to write down the stories about all the studs he worked with, but you know how he is. I have a photo of my dad with Devon when she was just a baby, they were talking and petting Alleged while he was in his paddock. It's one of my favorites.

  3. Thank you, M and J!

    Jenny, I'm sure your dad has enough great material for a memoir -- though not all of it may be suitable for print! I had to edit my journal entries, too.

    What a nice picture to have of Devon. Obviously I am not the only one to see a soft spot in Alleged or Ron would have never let her near him.

  4. Frances,

    Even edited, this was a wonderful, touching, and entertaining tribute to a great racehorse and important sire.

    He was one of those magnificent sires who made Kentucky the best place to breed a European horse for a long time.

    Regarding temperament, people who knew the horse have told me Ribot was not exactly mean but was very highly strung and curious (and probably dead bored). So he took it out on trees and boards and anything else that looked in need of a good chewing.

    Tom Rolfe, on the other hand, was easier to work with. He was also fairly small, not heavily made, and pretty light on his feet. One of the grooms also told me that he did not like having his space intruded upon and was willing to "defend his territory."

    Sounds like the grandson was not far different.

    Thanks for a great post,

    PS That is the best photo I've ever seen of Miss Alleged. Nice.

  5. Very interesting, especially the part about Ribot. I always thought he was vicious at heart, but knowing Alleged I'm not surprised there was something deeper there.

    I'm kind of partial to photos of Miss Alleged walloping the boys in the BC Turf, but I was lucky enough to meet her when she stayed over to be courted by Nureyev and I snapped a few of my own. I had high hopes for the Nureyev (and the Danzig colt she had at foot) but neither were any good.

    Thank you, Frank. It was hard to hit "post" on this one.

  6. What a wonderful read. I met Alleged several times over his stud career. The first time soon after he arrived at Walmac. He was a very different horse when young. One groom, holding him with a loose shank. Not even a chain in his mouth, just a shank clipped to his halter. We petted him, took photos with him. He was NOTHING like what he later became. The last time I went to see him, it took four men and a twitch to take him out of the stall. I didn't understand then, and I don't now, what changed him so much. I wonder what Ribot was like when young. I never saw him, but when I would visit Darby Dan, Floyd would tell tales, and I always had to see the marks in his old stall, twenty feet up the walls.
    Again, what a wonderful read. Thank you.

  7. From Terry Robson in Manchester England.
    It must be great to say you knew such a Star.
    I have just whatched his 1977 Arc win but can't seem to find his 1978 win ?
    Does anyone have a recording of that win ?
    For me, he ranks alond side The Brigadier in all time Greats.
    Terry Robson.

  8. Thanks for writing this. I own Alleged Danza and she acts unusually similar to her sire....vocal, stubborn....looks just like him too! She's an excellent mama and would be a great broodmare but her temperament makes her a pain to ride and now, I understand where she gets her crankiness from!

  9. so great when folks who knew and handled these great legends can give us common folk a taste of what it was like-and to know that you who handled him loved him and cared for him and took the time to understand and accept them-thanks

  10. Awesome!!! The best I found on him. Horses of My Life by Monty Roberts has a nice chapter. His book Horse Whisperer details how Alleged saved his career. I have Christitine Picavet's final workup of her painting of him. "Iloved to watch him run," she said, "but I stayed away from his hooves and teeth."

  11. His pop, Hoist The Flag, was also temperamental, and a brilliant racehorse and sire.

  12. Just follow Alleged's lines backward: Hoist the Flag < Wavy Navy < War Admiral < Man O' War < Fair Play < Hastings. And stop there for the answer. Alleged's savage personality sounds identical to how Hastings was described in every book I've read about him. Every once in awhile nature reaches back and grab some DNA and brings it back in to the mix. His mother was nasty and vicious as well. Hastings was known not only for his speed, but for his temper. Handlers and grooms carried large sticks in his presence to control him. Hastings too was said to be amazing on the track—when he wasn't trying to attack his opponents some said! I work with a grandaughter of his via Go and Go that one of my young students shows in the Hunter Division. Thankfully she's very sweet—but carries the family fire! Even at 20 she has more speed, energy. and stamina than most 3 year olds.
    A good read about Hastings: