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Dr.Fager's Mark Falls Quietly

by Steve Haskin

Daily Racing Form reporter

February 12, 1997

29-year-old record bested by Isitingood

The record they thought would never be broken has been broken. For 29 years, Dr. Fager's world-record mile of 1:32 1/5 stood as a monument to the speed and class of the thoroughbred.

Dr. Fager's victory in the 1968 Washington Park Handicap was much more than an awesome display of speed. It provided a stage on which all the qualities of greatness were played out in the blink of an eye. Never before had a horse run so fast, won by so far with such ease, while carrying so much weight.

Burdened with 134 pounds, Dr. Fager sat just off a torrid :44 half-mile and grabbed the lead to set the six-furlong fraction of 1:07 3/5. It was an incredible sight watching The Doc, his mane blowing wildly in the breeze, draw off to win by 10 lengths with a motionless Braulio Baeza bent over double in the saddle.

Brilliant horses such as Buckpasser, Precisionist, Lure, Bold Bidder, Greinton, Honour and Glory and Fastness managed to come within a few ticks of the revered mark, and Easy Goer came within a whisper of equaling it in the 1989 Gotham (1:32 2/5). For almost 30 years, the quest for the elusive record was like chasing Dr. Fager himself. Many tried, but it was like trying to catch the wind.

While his time still stands as the fastest mile ever run on dirt, it is no longer the "unreachable star." Now it is Isitingood who holds the coveted mark, and while many still shudder over the colt's name, it is in some ways appropriate that the new record-holder is trained by the "Sultan of Speed," Bob Baffert. Baffert, ironically, has been trying to shed that title and went a long way in doing so last year when he captured the Santa Anita Derby and other distance stakes and, with Cavonnier, was beaten a nose in the Kentucky Derby.

Baffert said he can't wait for Isitingood's first foal so he can name him Ishefastenough. Baffert admitted that the Santa Anita turf course has been like "running n Astroturf" and felt it was only a matter of time before a record was broken.

Dr. Fager set four track records in his career, and this was the first to be equaled or broken. He also holds the seven-furlong record at Aqueduct (1:20 1/5), in which he won by six lengths carrying a staggering 139 pounds.

Many felt if Dr. Fager's world-record was to be broken, it would be accompanied by fireworks and a brass band. But somehow it snuck through the cracks with barely a sound.

"Kids today don't even know who he was," Dr. Fager's trainer, John Nerud, said. "He was one of the greatest horses who ever lived, but it's like, 'Who the hell was Dr. Fager?' It certainly makes you realize you've gotten old."

Nerud wasn't all that surprised that Dr. Fager's record was finally broken, but he wishes it could have come under different circumstances.

"All records get broken, and you knew it was just a matter of time before someone broke Dr. Fager's record," Nerud said. "I was surprised it lasted 29 years because there are some extremely fast tracks around the country.

"The one thing that did disappoint me was that it was broken on the turf. Also, it didn't look like it was that great a feat. The winner won by only three-quarters of a length, which means the horse that finished second equaled the record. If you have two horses run that fast, it more than likely wasn't a legitimate race.

"I would have liked to seen the record broken by a horse like Skip Away or Unbridle's Song, but it was broken that way and that's all there is to it. It's over and done.

"But there is one record of Dr. Fager's that they'll never break, and that's being voted Horse of the Year, champion handicap horse, champion grass horse and champion sprinter in the same year. Any horse who breaks that has to be a great horse."

Another incredible aspect of Dr. Fager's record is that he ran his second quarter in :20 3/5, which is believed to be the fastest quarter ever run in a non-sprint race and the fastest quarter within the body of a race at any distance. When Baeza wrapped up on Dr. Fager nearing the eight pole, it looked as if there was no way he had a chance to break the record. Passing the sixteenth pole, Baeza had his head buried in Dr. Fager's swirling mane. The Doc threw his ears up and coasted home the rest of the way.

It took about 20 seconds before final times were posted at Arlington Park, so no one was aware when they crossed the finish line that Dr. Fager had broken the world record. Track announcer Phil Georgeff said Dr. Fager was going so easily he completely forgot about the record. Georgeff had left his microphone open after the race, and as Dr. Fager was pulling up, Georgeff just stood there in awe of what he had just seen.

Then from out of the silence came on faint word: "Wow!"

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