The winners of the nine richest races ever

by Bob Heyden

1. Nihilator — $2,161,000 Woodrow Wilson in 1984. Bill O’Donnell for Billy Haughton and Ernie Gaskin for owners which included Bob Boni and Lou Guida

2. Land Grant — $2,011,000 Woodrow Wilson in1980. Del Insko drove and trained the son of Meadow Skipper who went off at 69-1. This was history’s first of two $2 million money events.

3. Fortune Teller — $1,957,500 Woodrow Wilson in 1982. Eldon Harner drove and trained the winner of the third richest race ever held. And he did it with a three-deep move to the top at the half.

4. McKinzie Almahurst — $1,760,000 Woodrow Wilson in 198. Billy Haughton’s richest ever driving victory was a scant nose over Lon Todd Hanover. Billy trained Nihilator so his name is the only conditioner whose name appears twice. This race might have been known more for who did not win — No Nukes — who caused a pair of recalls, was a non-betting starter-lagged well off the gate at the start and mounted a furious charge to put him in contention at the 3/4s only to fade late. He was soon syndicated for $5 million — one of the best bargains of the 1980s.

5. Carls Bird — $1,700,000 Woodrow Wilson in 1983. The second richest race ever decided by a nose. Carl Allen drove and trained the better than 30-1 shot who edged out Trutone Lobell on the wire. The latter raced for Cat Manzi and Jeff Lohmeyer. It would be 21 years until Catman won his first $1 million race — the 2004 North America Cup.

6. Cullin Hanover — $1,561,000 Woodrow Wilson in 1986. Buddy Gilmour won his second $1 million event of the year — at age 54 — after taking the Meadowlands Pace with Laughs. Neither was favored. (Cullin 5-1, Laughs 10-1).

7. Up The Credit — $1,530,000 Pepsi North America Cup in 2011. The richest event ever held for 3-year-olds. Jody Jamieson drove for father Carl.

8. Muscle Hill — $1,520,333 Hambletonian in 2009. Fitting that he captured the richest ever trotting race. Brian Sears drove the second of three straight sons of Muscles Yankee to win the Hambletonian. The overwhelming favorite, the runnerup Explosive Matter, sired another Brian Sears driven Hambletonian winner — Pinkman.

9. Redskin — $1,513,500 Governor’s Cup in 1986. Bill O’Donnell becomes the only driver to appear on this list twice, having driven the ninth richest and the richest race winner of all time. Note that 1986 became the only year where there were two races valued at better than $1.5 million. (Other things that happened in 1986 were: Andy McCarthy was born March 31; Peace Corps was foaled — bred by Stanley Dancer and raced out of the Haughton barn, she’d become the only 4-time Breeders Crown winner; Valley Victory was born; Ulf Thoresen won the Hambletonian with Nuclear Kosmos; John Campbell won the first of his eight Messengers with Amity Chef — the only driver to win that many of any single Triple Crown event).

Other notes:

  • Seven of the nine races on that list were for freshman.
  • Eight of the nine were contested in New Jersey.
  • The Meadowlands played host to the first six races — all 1980s Woodrow Wilsons, as well as the 2009 Hambletonian, the NA Cup, of course was in Canada and Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, NJ played host to the 1986 Governor’s Cup, the second straight seven-figure Governor’s Cup (Barberry Spur-$1,357,000 in 1985) and the last time it would go for seven figures.
  • The Hambletonian from 2005-2012 went for $1,500,000. Tim Tetrick and Linda Toscano combined to win it in 2012 with Market Share, the last time it reached $1.5 million.
  • Land Grant not only rewarded his backs to the tune of $140 and change in 1980, it made for the summer of summers for Del Insko, who just one month earlier (July 1980) went into the Hall Of Fame In Goshen.
  • Billy Haughton, the only horseman on this list who trained and drove (two different horses) on this list, died a month before the very last race contested at $1.5 plus — the 1986 Wilson won by Cullin Hanover.
  • Redskin was trained by Jerry Smith, who also owned the son of Storm Damage. He also owned Storm Damage, the 1980 Meadowlands Pace runnerup in history’s first ever $1 million event.