What happens when a former Canadian Derby winner and multiple graded stakes winning champion takes a break from his retirement pasture and ends up at the Tofield Auction Market? Mayhem! That’s what!
Fancy As (by Dignitas, out of Fancy Lucky) was undoubtedly one of Western Canada’s best thoroughbreds, and was by far the best three year old in 2001. He won the Alberta Derby, Canadian Derby and British Columbia Derby as well as 4 other Stakes races that year and placed second in the Manitoba Derby.
Fancy was purchased at the Manitoba Yearling Sale by Linda Smith, who was left to her own devices to purchase a yearling after her husband Red bid on another yearling to $22,000. Linda had already picked out Fancy, who was a tall, lanky, thin, rough coated yearling with a scar on his hindquarters from an encounter with another horse. Linda bid on the ‘ugly duckling’ until she reached $3,000 and then she asked for Red’s opinion. Having settled down to have a beverage at the bar (one of the best spots at any yearling sale to watch the horses and the bidding action!) he encouraged Linda to keep bidding until she got the dark brown horse and she eventually purchased him for $3,200.
Not long after they got him home Linda watched him playing in his paddock with a group of other yearlings that had come in from Kentucky and she knew that he was going to be something special, “The yearlings were turned out in a paddock outside the office, and they were running and playing and showing off and Fancy just floated. His feet didn’t even touch the ground he moved so well.” She remembers telling Red that wouldn’t it be something if their least expensive yearling from Manitoba outclassed all the powerful yearlings from Kentucky!
Outclassed them is an understatement.
Fancy As had 27 starts, 16 wins and made $670,092! That’s a pretty good return on the initial investment of $3,200, but Fancy was so much more to so many people than his win statistics or his bank account. Fancy captured the hearts of exercise riders, grooms, jockeys, trainers, sports writers, racing officials, casual fans and complete strangers alike. The big gelding grew into his lanky frame throughout his two year old season, and from his first work out of the starting gate his team at the barn knew he was something special. Red remembers the young horse’s stride “it was just huge, and he made it look easy even as a two year old just learning to come out of the gate. And he was smart, he caught on the first time we did anything with him. The smart ones are easy to train, because they are willing, and that helps them go from green to professional quickly.” The first time jockey Jake Barton rode the youngster he had to be talked into it, because the veteran jockey wasn’t keen on taking a big, green horse into the starting gate.
Starting gates can be loud and frightening to a young horse, and the jockey would have preferred the regular exercise rider take Fancy through, but Red prevailed and Jake came out on Fancy flying like an arrow. By the time they got back to the barn, Fancy had a friend for life and Jake told Red he’d ride him anytime, in any race. He knew a good one when he sat on him! Fancy’s fan club grew, and even the most jaded of horsemen commented on the horse’s ability to focus in the walking ring before a race. One horseman likened Fancy’s pre-race rituals to the focus that any professional athlete has to have before a competition. After the saddle went on, Fancy would stand taller, and seemed to concentrate on every step in the walking ring as he turned his focus inwards. He would radiate power and calm, and before the jockey got on he would take one deep breath. One great, deep breath and then everyone knew that Fancy was ready to hit the track. Like a boxer watching his opponent in the other corner, with that breath Fancy told his team and the other horses in the race that was ready to go to work.
Able to win stakes races from 6 furlongs to 1 3/8 miles, Fancy was an extremely versatile racehorse, and the purchase offers came in as fast as he won races. Fancy attracted international attention, and an offer was made to purchase the gelding from an Arab Sheikh through trainer Bob Baffert. Linda, a true horsewomen, knows that there is a lot of money in the world but there was only one Fancy As, and she refused to part with him! She did send Fancy to California as a four year old, and he was conditioned by Bob Baffert and ridden by Gary Stevens. Fancy’s fan club was pretty big, and there would be 10-20 people fly down for each of his races in California, and he rewarded them with a third place in both the G2 San Fernando Breeders’ Cup Stakes and the G2 Strub Stakes.
Fancy raced until he was eight years old, and Linda decided to retire him, rather than risk any injury to her beloved brown baby. He went home to the farm, where he lived in a quiet paddock with all of the attention he was used to at the track. If it was cold he was blanketed and in the barn, if the mosquitoes bothered him he wore a sheet or was in the barn. He was treated like the superstar he is every single day! When Red and Linda sold their farm Fancy had to move. He went to an 80 acre paddock at Donver Stable, where he shares his domain with a number of other retired horses from the racetrack. Not long ago, some work was being done by a construction crew along the old retirees paddock, and the main gate was left open. Horses being horses, they decided to investigate the open world and went on a neighborhood walkabout.
They ended up in an acreage down the road, and when the owner returned home to a number of very large, very strong looking horses in his yard he called the Alberta Brand Inspector who came and picked up the entire group and took them to the Tofield Auction market. Imagine the thoughts running through Fancy’s head! “A stock trailer? A cattle auction market? Don’t you people know who I am?!” Meanwhile a full out search was on for the missing horses with calls to every neighboring farm, RCMP and Alberta Transportation. Three days passed without any clue to where the horses had disappeared. Three days of a frantic Linda wondering if Fancy had been stolen, or injured, or hit by a car on the highway. Three days of panic. Finally the brand inspector connected with the RCMP, and the horses were identified as the ones that were waiting at Tofield. When they arrived to pick the horses up at the auction they couldn’t have loaded onto the trailer any faster! There was as much rejoicing as there had ever been after one of his many stakes wins!
Fancy is back in his retirement paddock at Donver Stable. He is as beloved now as he was when he was at the track, and he will enjoy his retirement for many years to come.