A gray for all seasons
by Mary Bartz
reat geldings have always had a
following among race goers. Their ability to keep winning year
after year has endeared them to generations of fans. On the national scene,
names like Exterminator, Kelso, Forego and John Henry evoke some of the most
cherished moments in racing history. And the same holds true in Washington.
Before Captain Condo, there was Turbulator in the 1970s, a Washington horse of
the year who was honored with a retirement day at Longacres and an I Love
Tubby button. Before Turbulator, there was Little Rollo, a star of the
1940s who capped a successful racing career with a win in the Longacres Mile as
an eight-year-old. But only Captain Condo earned a horse of the year title at
age nine. Only Captain Condo won 16 stakes races within the state. And only
Captain Condo had a button, and a poster and a T-shirt all designed and
distributed in his honor. His place in the hearts of Washington racing fans is
as unique as he was. And it is this unique affection that earned him a place in
the first group of inductees into the Washington Thoroughbred Racing Hall of
He had the ability from the beginning. He
had the attitude from the beginning. But it was awhile before the people of
Washington discovered they had a star in their midst. Foaled on May 7, 1982
Mothers Day Captain Condo initially seemed to be just
a big, lazy colt who was always loping behind the others, according
to Vaden Ashby, who bred the son of Captain CourageousCondoe Mia in
partnership with his wife Fern, and trained him throughout his career. But
then, one day there was a disturbance in the field that held him and his
playmates. Something happened, Ashby said, and he blew by all
the other horses like they were tied down. Thats when I knew I might have
something special. Still, it took some time before that glimpse of
ability seen in the friendly competition of the pasture translated into
readiness for the tougher competition of the racetrack. He was big, eventually
reaching 17.1 hands, and needed extra time to mature, so he didnt race at
two. When he was ready to race at three, the Ashbys could not obtain stall
space at Longacres, so they took their promising young runner to Playfair with
the rest of their small stable. In addition to winning four races, he ran
second in the Sophomore Classic Handicap, and ended his year with a second in
the Yakima Valley Derby at Yakima Meadows. So far, his race record was
encouraging, but hardly spectacular.
He began the
following year with another second place finish in the 6 1/2 furlong Memorial
Day Handicap at the Spokane track, followed by his first stakes score in
Playfairs one mile Stars and Stripes Handicap. In a masterpiece of
understatement, the story that appeared in the Washington Horse
contained the comment that The Stars and Stripes Handicap, Captain
Condos 18th lifetime start . . . is likely just the first of several
stakes scores. He also made his debut at Longacres that year and finished
second in the 1 1/16 mile Washington Championship, a race he would come to
dominate. After two years of racing, he looked like a router of some ability
with a late running style.
Then, in 1987, at the
age of five, Captain Condo really began to show what he could do. He dropped
back to shorter distances and dominated the competition at Playfair, winning
the Inaugural, Speed and Turbulator handicaps in his only three starts and
carrying highweights of 126 and 128 pounds. His performances were enough to
earn him sprinter of the meeting and best handicap horse honors. It was his
farewell to racing in eastern Washington, but he went out in a blaze of glory.
On Sunday, August 2, 1987, Steve Kelley used his
column in The Seattle Times to suggest some alternatives for the sports
fan who wasnt interested in the days hydroplane races, among them,
Take the money you would normally spend on a hydro ticket to Longacres
and put it on Captain Condo in the featured Governors Handicap. For
the second time, a local turf writer seemed to be gazing into a crystal ball.
Captain Condo obliged all the fans who took Kelleys advice by winning the
6 1/2 furlong feature decisively in 1:14 3/5, the fastest time of the meeting
to that point in the year. With a third place finish in the 6 1/2 furlong
Warren G. Magnuson Handicap and a second place finish in the Washington
Championship to go with his first stakes score at Longacres, Captain Condo
showed he had versatility as well as talent to spare.
Unfortunately, his racing career for the next two years
was severely compromised by injuries. His 1988 season began with sore feet,
brought on by training on a treadmill, and ended with a chipped sesamoid and a
pulled suspensory ligament, both suffered in the Independence Day Handicap. In
spite of those injuries, he managed a second place finish in that race to go
with an earlier win in the Space Needle Handicap in just three starts. There
would be no attempt at the Washington Championship, however, as the severity of
the injuries meant more than a year away from the track in order to recover.
Once back in training, he quickly made up for lost
time. Making his first start of the following year in August, he won the
overnight Chinook Pass Invitational, the Warren G. Magnuson Handicap and the
Washington Championship in three consecutive starts in less than a month. His
score in the latter was his first in three attempts and came in 1:41 3/5, the
fastest time of the meeting at the 1 1/16 mile distance. Captain Condo was
seven years old and his train to glory was picking up speed.
In his first stakes start of 1990, the Northwest
Budweiser Breeders Cup Handicap, Longacres acknowledged the growing fan
club of the oversized gray by handing out free T-shirts emblazoned with a
caricature of Captain Condo to everyone who attended the races that day. The
hero of the hour gratified his fans in attendance by winning the feature race,
following that up with his second victory in the Space Needle Handicap three
weeks later. Later in the season, he finished second again in the Independence
Day Handicap and third in the Longacres Mile-G3.
Captain Condo was ready to wrap up his season with
another run in the Washington Championship. It was a familiar experience for
the eight-year-old star with three previous starts in the race, but there was a
new element in place for the 1990 renewal. To that point in his career, Captain
Condo had made 54 starts under 15 different jockeys, winning stakes with six of
them. But, for the first time ever, in the 1990 Washington Championship, he was
partnered with leading Washington rider Gary Baze, a fellow Washington Hall of
Fame inductee. The partnership would achieve extraordinary success, even by the
high standards of its two members. It started with the Captains second
consecutive victory in the Championship. Then the Ashby protégé
retired for the year. But hed be back at age nine, ready for one of the
great years in the history of Washington racing.
1991 could have been subtitled The Return of the
King, as Captain Condo turned the stakes program at Longacres into a
personal, season-long triumphal procession. Partnered throughout the year by
the equally talented and enduring Baze, the big gray raced to a record of six
wins and two seconds in eight starts. His schedule encompassed most of the
Longacres stakes races open to older runners, a series of races on which he had
already made his mark. Beginning the year with a record of seven stakes wins at
Longacres, Firesweepers record of 12 added-money wins at the oval
initially may have seemed out of reach, but not for long.
After a season opening allowance win, Captain Condo got
down to serious business in the Northwest Budweiser Breeders Cup
Handicap, making his record two-for-two in that stakes with a comfortable
score. Three weeks later, he triumphed in the Space Needle Handicap, making him
three-for-three in the race on those occasions when he finished, and
three-for-four lifetime. His one failure came in 1987, when he stumbled at the
start and unseated his rider.
Next came the
Independence Day Handicap, a race that represented one of the few black marks
on his record. In three attempts, he had managed no better than two second
place finishes, suffering season-ending injuries in the 1988 edition. In 1991,
the curse of the so-called jinx race could not snap the string of
victories for the Captain Condo crew. His win made him four-for-four for the
year and five-for-five under Gary Baze. With 10 stakes victories,
Firesweepers record began to seem within reach.
But his next two starts brought setbacks. In the
Governors Handicap, a race he won in his only other attempt in 1987,
Captain Condo finished second by a head to Lucky Baba, on a day when the first
3,000 fans through the gates received a commemorative Captain Condo poster.
Then came the signature race of the Longacres season, the Rainier Mile
Handicap-G3. In two previous attempts, his best finish was his third in the
previous year. The magnitude of the challenge he faced was indicated by the
fact that it was the only race all season in which he did not start as the
betting favorite. In the event, it took another Washington Hall of Fame member,
jockey Gary Stevens, to beat him as Captain Condo finished 4 1/2 lengths behind
Louis Cyphre (Ire) with Stevens aboard. The ovation he received from the crowd
despite his second place finish indicated that the loss hadnt diminished
his popularity in the least. The Mile marked the last setback that Captain
Condo suffered for the season. He followed that race with a victory in the
Warren G. Magnuson Handicap, a race in which he had one win in two previous
tries, and then concluded his most successful season ever with his
unprecedented third consecutive victory in the Washington Championship.
Although he returned to the races the next year as a 10-year-old, the 1991
running of the Washington Championship would also be his final career victory,
providing a fitting climax to his Hall of Fame career. From 1986, as a
four-year-old, to 1991, he had missed only one renewal of the Championship, and
had compiled a record of three wins and two seconds in his five starts. No
single race provided a clearer barometer of his talent over the course of his
career. It also provided his twelfth stakes win at Longacres, putting him in a
tie with Firesweeper for the all time record.
Captain Condo began his 1992 campaign precisely where
he ended the previous year, as the crowd favorite. On the day he was scheduled
to make his first stakes start, in the Northwest Budweiser Breeders Cup
Handicap, Longacres distributed 5,000 buttons picturing the champion. But
things had changed. He no longer had the services of his favorite rider since
Gary Baze had been sidelined with a broken leg. And he fell a nose short of
winning that day. As the season progressed, it became apparent that time had
finally caught up with him, something his opponents on the track had rarely
managed to do. He was retired to the Ashbys farm at the end of the year
with a record of 30 wins in 70 starts and 16 stakes victories.
What is the source of Captain Condos tremendous
appeal? Its not just about longevity, for there have been other
successful older runners, including his contemporaries Kent Green and Snipledo.
Nor is it entirely about ability. Captain Condo never won the Longacres Mile,
traditionally the most important showcase for talent in the Pacific northwest
each year. And it is unlikely to be rooted in his versatility as a runner,
though he won stakes from six furlongs to a mile and a sixteenth. Instead, it
was the combination of all those attributes with something extra, a competitive
spirit recognized by everyone who saw him run. Lonny Powell, general manager
and chief operating officer at Longacres at the time, captured it best when he
said You kill for these horses. One of the greatest challenges of running
a racetrack is finding a hero.
a good description of Captain Condo, but there are others. The late Mark
Kaufman, manager of racing and media relations at Longacres, tried to quantify
it when he said He is the only horse racing at Longacres that impacts the
handle. And rider Gary Baze gave a jockeys view of him when he
said, The first time I rode him . . . I was surprised at how hard he goes
after those last few horses. Hes so fiercely competitive. He really bears
down hard on them . . . Most horses couldnt care less if they won or
lost, but hes different. Different, indeed. After he lost a race by
a nose, trainer Ashby had to call the vet and have him tranquilized. He
just wouldnt settle down, according to Ashby. He really
didnt get a chance to run his race and I think he knew that.
How Vaden and Fern
Ashby came to breed their champion is the stuff of which all horse people
continually dream. Never owners of more than a small stable, they purchased the
filly Condoe Mia privately as an unraced two-year-old. She went on to win and
place in stakes at Playfair at three, four and five, foreshadowing the talent
and durability of her best son.
When it was time
to breed her, the Ashbys sent her to Captain Courageous, a successful
Washington stallion in which they had purchased a share. The son of Sailor from
the family of blue hen mare Grey Flight had already sired Washington champions
Dark Satin and Savanna Blue Jeans and would be Washingtons leading sire
by progeny earnings in 1981, the year Captain Condo was conceived.
When the Ashbys bred the gray Condoe Mia to Captain
Courageous, they were inbreeding to one of the best families in the Stud Book,
that of the gray mare Planetoid, a foal of 1934 by ArielLa Chica. In
addition to his distinctive racing ability, Captain Condos equally
distinctive color can be traced back through Planetoid to the very beginnings
of the Thoroughbred breed. (Note: In England, the color is spelled grey, with
an e, while we spell the same pigment with an a
gray, in the U. S.).
The coat color was introduced
into the breed through a stallion known as the Alcock Arabian, brought to
England in the early years of the 18th century. He sired the grey Crab (1722),
who in turn accounted for a large number of grey mares. One of Crabs grey
granddaughters was bred to the undefeated star Eclipse and produced the grey
matron Speranza, dam of the grey mare Bab, dam of an unnamed grey daughter by
Sir Peter, winner of the 1787 Derby Stakes. The daughter of Sir Peter produced
the grey filly Spinster who delivered the grey colt Master Robert to the cover
of Buffer in the year 1811. This represents the first male link in the line of
descent since Crab, 89 years and seven generations earlier.
The stallion Master Robert sired the grey/gray stallion
Drone in 1823, who was in turn the sire of the grey filly Whim, dam of the grey
stallion Chanticleer, a foal of 1843. Chanticleer sired the grey mare Souvenir,
dam of the grey colt Strathconan. Strathconan sired the grey filly Gem of Gems,
who produced the grey colt Le Sancy in 1884.
Sancy was the first of four tail-male generations from which practically all
grey/gray Thoroughbreds today derive their color. He was a top class racehorse
and a successful sire, but his significance with regard to coat color derives
from his grey son Le Samaritain. Le Samaritain was the sire of Roi Herode,
whose gravestone reads: Roi Herode by Le SamaritainRoxelane, born in
France, 1904, imported to Ireland in 1910 by Mr. Edward Kennedy to re-establish
the male line of Herod in England and Ireland. He produced a line of horses
hitherto unequalled in size, make, shape and speed, including The Tetrarch by
Roi HerodeVahren, 1911, and died June 8th, 1931.
The Tetrarch forms the final, and best known, link in
the line of four sires from which grays today descend, but he is a sidebar to
the story of Captain Condo, whose color traces to another offspring of Roi
This was the grey filly *La Grisette, a
foal of 1915 out of the brown Miss Flora, and the eighth dam of Captain Condo.
In 1930, she produced the gray filly La Chica, dam of four stakes winners,
including two stakes-winning gray fillies who made major contributions to the
Thoroughbred breed. One of these was Miyako, whose daughter Geisha produced the
Gray Ghost, Native Dancer.
stakes-winning daughter of La Chica was Planetoid, sixth dam of Captain Condo
and third dam of Captain Courageous, the latter through Planetoids blue
hen daughter Grey Flight, dam of nine stakes winners. Another of
Planetoids daughters was the gray Just-a-Minute, dam of the gray filly
The connection with Washington State
begins with Moving, for her daughters included Trophy Queen, dam of northwest
stakes winners Trophys Son and Nasty Phil, as well as the gray
Sallys Move. Sallys Move is in turn the second dam of Washington
champion Belle of Rainier as well as the dam of the gray Theresa Mia, purchased
by the Ashbys at the 1977 CTBA winter mixed sale. The Ashbys bought Theresa Mia
after racing her daughter Condoe Mia successfully, as mentioned earlier. So all
of the generations from the Alcock Arabian to Roi Herode were 18 generations
and from Roi Herode to Captain Condo were nine generations. Captain Condo was
born to be gray, his color demanding attention at first sight and his
performances guaranteeing that attention was never diverted elsewhere.
One of the most popular runners ever at Longacres,
Captain Condo retired in the same year that the Renton oval closed forever.
After a three year hiatus, racing in western Washington resumed at the brand
new Emerald Downs facility on June 20, 1996 and Captain Condo was scheduled to
be part of the opening festivities, appearing before the crowd in a parade of
champions. That morning, while galloping easily around Emerald Downs
clubhouse turn, he collapsed and died of a heart attack. He was buried where
the roar of his fans still echoes on. The memories of this spectacular gray
gelding and his accomplishments forge a link between the old and the new,
between the heritage of Washington racing and achievements to come.
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.