The making of a legend
by Susan van Dyke
wenty-odd years ago in the small town of
Wauna, a handsome bay colt with a distinctive blaze emerged to become a local
icon. He was bred, raised, trained and owned by a Tacoma mechanical engineer
and his English-bred wife Eugene (Gene) and Jean Zeren. His name was
Trooper Seven; and this is the story of how this future Washington Racing Hall
of Famer came to be a bona fide equine hero.
the banner national crops of 1954 (Bold Ruler, Round Table, etc.) and 1970
(Secretariat, Forego, Dahlia, etc.), the 1976 crop of Washington-bred runners
included several talented horses who would have a consequential impact on horse
racing, albeit mainly in the western states.
the colts were Knights Choice, Black Mackee and Trooper Seven; all of which
became significant runners and turned out to be better than average sires. Each
of the three was sired by a prominent Washington-based sire. Also from that
crop came the good stakes horse Kilty and the stakes-winning distaffers and
future stakes producers Navira Flame, In Your Defense and Persian Success.
A Trip to England
In 1951, a
young Eugene Zeren was stationed with the Air Force in England. It was there
that he met the 17-year-old Jean Burrows. Her family lived in Newmarket and at
one time owned a betting shop. Jean and her dad both loved the horses and were
frequent visitors to the track. In 1953, the couple were married. Gene, who was
from California, was by then stationed at the March Air Force Base in his home
state. He later attended the University of Californias campus at
Riverside and earned a masters degree in engineering. He soon got a job
with The Boeing Company in their research and development department and the
Zerens moved to Federal Way. A friend at Boeing introduced Gene to Longacres.
Among the other horse enthusiasts from the aeronautic field that Gene spent
time with at the Renton oval was future Emerald Downs president Ron Crockett.
In 1967, after purchasing their farm in Wauna
located just on the other side of the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma
Gene went to work for the nearby St. Regis Paper Company. When he retired after
23 years as a project engineer, it was so he could become more involved with
While still at St. Regis, Gene would
spend the early mornings overseeing his trainees at Longacres, before putting
in a full days workload. His daily commute from
home-to-track-to-work-to-home would entail nearly 100 miles of travel each day.
Jean also worked at the Renton racetrack, but on
the frontside as a mutuel clerk.
first venture into horse racing came in the late 1960s with the ownership of
Decorated Miss. She won a few races for the couple before being claimed. In
1969, they claimed the seven-year-old Miss Holanda, a winner of 12 races in 103
starts and earner of $26,780. Miss Holanda had been a hard-knocking claimer at
the $1,600 to $3,200 levels. The following year, the California-bred daughter
of *Holandes II was bred to the Sailor son Cup Race and produced the winner
*Holandes II was foaled in Argentina
and was the son of English stakes winner Full Sail, who was first or second on
the Argentine leading sire list for five years. Full Sail was sired by
four-time leading English sire Fairway, an English classic winner who sired six
classic winners, including two Epsom Derby winners in Blue Peter and Wattling.
Fairway was a younger full brother to Pharos sire of Nearco.
Stakes-placed in his native Argentina, where he had
also finished fourth in the Argentine 2,000 Guineas, *Holandes II had been
second in smashing efforts in two minor stakes before being sold
for a reported $99,000. In his next start, *Holandes II, with William Shoemaker
in the irons, equaled the track record in the nine furlong Bay Meadows Handicap
against older horses on December 15, 1956; just three months after his actual
third birthday on September 6. At four, he won the San Fernando Stakes, again
with Shoemaker, and then finished second to Corn Husker in a blanket
finish in the Santa Anita Handicap. He won a total of nine races in
Argentina and the U.S. and earned just over $100,000. His SSI was 9.39. Retired
to stud in California, he sired 67 foals in 11 crops. There were three
stakes-placed horses among his 27 winners and Miss Holanda was one of his
Miss Holanda was the only winner
among the three foals and two starters produced out of Annabeth; whose race
record consisted of one unplaced effort. Annabeth was sired by the French
import *Toubo, a son of French classic winner and leading sire Vatout. Annabeth
was one of 11 foals produced out of unraced Dalfence. Seven of Dalfences
foals became winners, including the durable Damos. A gelding by Chatmoss, Damos
ran eight years, made 142 starts, had 15 wins, 44 placings and earnings of
$46,025 while racing in the 1940s.
third dam of Miss Holanda, was an unraced daughter of the obscure runner (seven
wins and $4,810 earnings) Fence Rider, a son of the equally undistinguished
Bucky Harris. Bridal Boquets dam Flying Moments, by *Hourless, produced
only one minor winner in seven foals.
for that nugget of gold in the pedigree, we find that *Aggie
Martin, the sixth dam of Miss Holanda was imported from England by H. P.
Headley. *Aggie Martin was from the prolific Agnes family Bruce Lowe
Family 16. Among the many Reines-de-course from this female line are Plucky
Liege, Friars Daughter, Fille de Salut, Hostility, Lea Lane, Banquet
Bell, Cequillo, Colosseum, Primonetta, Sly Pola, Matriarch, Satanella and
Marguerite de Valois; all stemming from Hultons Spot Mare, a sister to
Miss Leslie, Miss Holandas first
foal, was a winner who later produced Washington Lassie Stakes winner Sorgie,
by Barrydown. Miss Holandas second foal, Hunter Seven, a 1972 filly by
Disdainful, was also a winner and was in the first group of runners Gene
trained. Sent to the court of the brilliant, but unfertile Ahoy another
son of Sailor, Miss Holanda, whose nickname was Missy, produced Bravo Seven.
(The tradition of naming Miss Holandas foals with a seven
began with Hunter Seven. Gene simply liked the way adding the number to each
It was a bit of a miracle that
Bravo Seven ever made it to the races. Twice, the fates intervened. First
through a forgetful van driver, and second, because of the dedication of the
Zerens. In 1973, Miss Holanda, along with their other mare, Rosa Delia, were
sent to California to be bred. Rosa Delia had almost killed Jean in 1972, when
she had kicked her owner in the head, leaving Jean in a coma for some time with
injuries that required many surgeries. Rosa Delia, along with a full van of 11
other horses, were headed to Washington when tragedy struck and the van was
involved in a serious accident; many of the horses were lost, including Rosa
Delia. Miss Holanda had also been scheduled for that disastrous trip north, but
the van driver fortuitously failed to pick her up. Without that lapse of memory
there would have been no Bravo Seven, no Trooper Seven and no tale to tell.
At two, Bravo Seven was injured severely enough
that the Zerens were advised to put her down. They instead brought her home and
nursed her back to health. She rewarded them by winning the 1979 Rhododendron
Handicap at Longacres as a five-year-old. Trained by Gene, she won six of her
23 starts and placed in nine other races, including four stakes, before
retiring with earnings of $40,250.
In 1971, Dr. John
Furukawa, a Sunnyside dentist, ventured to Kentucky for the Keeneland January
Mixed Sale. In the name of his Riverview Farms, he purchased a newly turned
yearling colt for $39,000. The colt, who was later christened Table Run, was
sired by 1958 horse of the year and outstanding turf runner Round Table out of
the young Fleet Nasrullah mare Theonia. A winner of four races and $24,475,
Theonia was a half-sister to Santa Anita Derby winner Ruken. In later years,
four of her sons would stand stud in Washington: Longacres Mile-G3 winner
Theologist, by Prince John; Drumheller Memorial Handicap winner Noholme Way, by
*Noholme II; winner Grits and Gravy, by Olden Times; and Table Run.
After placing in his first race, a maiden special
weight at Bay Meadows, Table Run reeled off two wins at Santa Anita in
allowance company. He next finished second to Sham in a February allowance,
also at Santa Anita. This was, after all, the same crop that produced 1973
Triple Crown hero Secretariat. After a fifth to stellar performer Lindas
Chief, Table Run traveled north to Longacres where he won an allowance race on
August 11. Sent into the Longacres Derby as the .35-to-one favorite and 123
race highweight, Table Run outclassed his rivals to win by nine lengths and
came within two-fifths of a second of equaling the track record. After a
three-length victory against older horses in the Seattle Handicap, the Bill
McMeans trainee was named horse of the meet. Sent back to California, Table Run
went wire-to-wire to take the Hayward Stakes in what proved to be his final
victory. He ended the season with a second in Santa Anitas Alibhai
Handicap and was retired after one start in 1974.
Among the mares booked to Table Run that initial season
who would later produce stakes winners in that first crop were Ocean Monarch,
System Lady and Miss Holanda.
Table Run would lead
the state sire ranks in 1980, 1981 and 1989. Before his death in March of 1989,
he would sire additional state champions Run Away Stevie, Sneakin Jake, Lady
Marion, A Little Bit Tipsy, Crystal Run, Table Express, Got You Runnin, Miss
Ebony and 1979 Washington horse of the year and multiple grade two stakes
winner Table Hands.
The Zerens had, of course,
seen Table Run make those scintillating runs at Longacres, and after further
careful consideration they felt his pedigree meshed well with their prized
broodmare. So on a spring day in 1975, they loaded their mare in a trailer and
traveled to Guy Bar Farm in Sunnyside where the new stallion was holding court.
According to Jean, they got right down to business, as Miss Holanda was
unloaded, bred and brought home the same day.
April 8, 1976
picked a very rainy northwest afternoon to have her first colt. Even though
Jean had her daughter Kimberlys help, they had to wait umbrella
sheltering the newborn for Gene to get home from work to give them a
hand in moving the mother and son into a warm and dry barn. Trooper
Sevens early nickname was Herman (Munster), as the young little
monster loved to bite. As he was the only foal born at Whispering Firs
that year, his constant companion was the Shetland pony Babalooie, a.k.a.
Misty, who later accompanied Trooper during his trips to the track.
Trooper was more like a member of the Zeren family,
rather than a highly strung athlete and stallion. He would follow me
around like a Shetland pony, remembered Jean.
The Zerens, as with all their foals, did all the
breaking and training of the future champion. Jean recently recalled the first
time Gene and Trooper went out on their own. Gene would be astride
Trooper and I would have a close hand on the lead rope. One day, Gene told me
to gradually undo the lead rope and walk away slowly. The minute Trooper knew
he was on his own, he gave a big buck and threw Gene into the air. Gene
literally came out of his rubber boots.
Trooper Seven grew to a modest 15-3 hand stature and
resembled the Round Table side of his pedigree in the looks department.
made his first start on September 1, 1978, as a two-year-old at Longacres. He
finished third, but showed enough promise that the Zerens runner next
appeared in the entries for the Tukwila Stakes (won by Black Mackee) nine days
later. After finishing fifth, the young colt won a 6 1/2 furlong maiden special
weight race by two lengths just six days later. The Zerens had two winners on
the September 16 race card, as Bravo Seven won an allowance race earlier on the
10-race card. Sent home to Wauna, Trooper Seven returned to the track the
The season began inauspiciously
with a seventh place finish in a six furlong allowance. Two weeks later,
Trooper Seven rallied to win a six panel allowance. In his second stakes start,
the 6 1/2 furlong Joshua Green Cup, the Zeren homebred ran an encouraging
fourth. On July 8, Trooper, with soon-to-be favorite rider Gary Baze aboard,
won the mile Seattle Slew Handicap by three lengths in a hand ride. He paid
$24.30 for the victory, which was just two ticks off the track record. It was
the fastest sophomore mile ever recorded at Longacres. After locking up the
Seattle Slew, Trooper Seven went into the 1 1/16 miles Bellevue Handicap as the
121 pound highweight. Baze once again kept the bay colt within striking
distance, before drawing clear in the stretch; defeating Bridge Twister by two
full lengths. Loaded with 124 pounds for the Spokane Handicap on August 5, the
14 pound weight spread enabled Maxwells Power to defeat the Zeren runner
by one length.
The young, but already
accomplished, rider Baze and Trooper were a perfect fit for each other.
Gary always had a quiet way with the horses, remembered Jean.
He was a quiet professional.
Longacres Derbys purse of $97,100 was the richest in race history and
Trooper Seven was favored to take home the largest part of the purse. Instead,
California invader Head Hawk blew by the son of Table Run to take the 42nd
running of the Washington classic in the seasons biggest upset.
Troopers highweight of 122 (versus Head Hawks 113 pounds), along
with the muddy track, contributed to his six-length trouncing. An unsuccessful
trip to Exhibition Park for the British Columbia Derby was followed by a second
against older horses in Longacres meet-ending Washington Championship,
won by Tilt the Balance. Trooper Seven was named top sophomore colt of the
meeting and was later honored as Washington champion three-year-old colt of his
generation. Among the accolades written: His courageous races made him a
standout and a favorite of all who appreciate a horse who is willing to give
his best effort time after time.
The First Mile
began his quest for the 1980 Longacres Mile with a second place finish in a six
furlong allowance race in May. Stepped up to stakes company, the bay colt
returned, with power to spare, a two-length winner in the Renton
Handicap. An ecstatic Jean remarked, Were really pleased. Sometimes
during the winter, when were pampering him with special feedings every
four hours and all the other extra work, I really wondered if its worth
it. But seeing him win today makes it all worth while.
The mile Space Needle Handicap was next on the agenda.
The Zerens runner closed with a rush to defeat Big
Daddys Dream by three-quarters of a length. After a slight falter in the
1 1/16 miles Independence Day Handicap, where Trooper finished third to Tilt
the Balance, the Zeren camp decided to change tactics for the nine-panel
British Columbia Handicap. Over a slow track, the champion was allowed to take
the lead in an unusual move. Gary Baze explained, Since there
wasnt any speed, we decided to let him run on his own and I left him on
the lead. Hes a game horse and has shown a lot of versatility this
year. Unfortunately, longshot Dyna Driller came through with a strong
drive in the stretch to defeat Trooper Seven by a length. After the race, it
was found that Dyna Driller had bowed a tendon during his run.
The most significant prep race for the Mile is the
Governors Handicap. Fourteen aspirants showed up for the 41st running of
the 6 1/2 furlong stakes. Among those on hand for the race was then Washington
governor Dixie Lee Ray. Ray, whose home was located not far from Wauna, on Fox
Island, considered Trooper and the Zerens her neighbors. And what a performance
she saw that day. Carrying co-highweight of 122 pounds, Trooper took the lead
and was never headed, winning by two lengths. But the reason Trooper Seven
carved himself a permanent place in racing history was the time
a sizzling 1:13 4/5, which equaled the world and track record set by
Best Hitter in 1973. Ray and Troopers countless other fans were
overjoyed. The governor had placed a $5 bet on Trooper and later remarked
I won . . . and hes my neighbor.
Two weeks later, in an afternoon that saw every
Longacres Mile record in history fall to the wayside, Trooper Seven
became the first Washington-bred in eight years to add the prestigious graded
stakes to his growing resumé. The race would mark the first of
Bazes record five Mile wins. Breaking from the number nine post in a
highly competitive field of 10, and carrying the second highest impost of 123
pounds, Baze worked Trooper forward along the rail while cruising down the
backstretch. The twosome eased out slightly to come between horses on the final
turn, passing early leader Murrtheblurr. At the wire, the Trooper/Baze team
finished an open five-lengths ahead of California invader Island Sultan. The
time was a very quick 1:34 2/5. Trooper Seven became the first Washington-bred
to pocket a check for over $100,000 from a single outing with the Zerens
combined breeders award, owners bonus and first place winnings of
$78,000. A Longacres record 20,170 fans wagered $2,367,266 during the golden
Though winless in his final four starts
of the season, including three races at Santa Anita in November, Trooper Seven
was an easy choice for Washington horse of the year and champion handicap horse
popular five-year-old returned to the racing wars on June 27 with a narrow head
length victory over future two-time Washington Championship winner Moonlately
in a six-furlong allowance. Three weeks later, Trooper Seven was back for the
five-furlong Owners Handicap test, which he won by a half-length.
Venturing once more into stakes competition, Trooper
faced six quick-paced rivals in the six-furlong Speed Handicap on July 26. The
odds-on choice, as he had been in each of his other starts that season, Trooper
Seven and partner Baze cruised to an easy three-length victory over J. W. Blade
in 1:09 flat. The pair had encountered a bit of a traffic jam heading into the
stretch turn, but fortunately a hole opened up on the rail, and Trooper
gave a huge burst of speed as he gained the lead. Baze commented:
Hes matured a little more each year, and every time out he runs as
hard as he can. Hes a horse that exudes class, and sometimes thats
Weight has humbled many a talented
runner. The next question asked of Trooper Seven was: Could he carry 125 pounds
to victory against a tough field of 11 sprinters in the Governors
Handicap on August 9? In blistering 99 degree heat, Trooper Seven responded
with a resounding Yes.
He ran a
beautiful race, Baze enthused. We stayed where we wanted, and when
I asked him to run, he has as much to give as he ever has. That was
particularly nice since this was the most weight he has ever carried to
In lieu of his 1 1/2-length victory in
the Governors, Trooper Seven was assigned one more pound of weight for
his second run at the Longacres Mile. Only race favorite Doonesbury, with 127,
was asked to handle more. A record 25,031 (over 5,000 more than the previous
record, and a record which was only surpassed on the dark day in 1992 of
Longacres final passing) filled Longacres stands on the Sunday, August 23,
afternoon with hopes that the Zerens black and white clad silks would be
atop a history-making performance. What they saw was a performance that would
later be selected by a panel of experts as the Top Mile of the 20th
Bill Shoemaker (Doonesbury), Sandy
Hawley (Rebs Golden Ale) and Laffit Pincay, Jr. (Summer Time Guy) and
their mounts all came north from Del Mar to take up the Mile challenge. But it
was homebreds Trooper Seven and Gary Baze who took home the glory.
After being held off the pace of early leaders Loto
Canada and Mr. Prime Minister with fractions of :22 4/5 and :44 4/5, Trooper
and Baze gradually advanced along the outside and forged to the front
entering the stretch. At the wire, Washingtons race
king won his second Mile, and became the first of only two runners to
gain back-to-back victories in the championship race. (Simply Majestic won the
1988 and 1989 runnings.) With the victory, Trooper Seven became the all time
leading Washington-bred earner with $371,435. (As of the end of 2003, he
currently ranks 28th.)
With nothing left to prove,
Trooper Seven was retired in a special ceremony the week after his second Mile
victory (and ninth stakes victory) to take up his new duties as stallion at
Whispering Firs. Always reticent when it came to public speaking, Gene Zeren
quietly spoke of the decision to retire the multiple champion. Hes
got nothing more to prove. Hes been awfully good to me, and I think
its time to think about him. Hes 100 percent sound, and I think
Trooper and his
connections were honored with his second Longacres horse of the meeting title,
along with sprinter, older horse and best Washington-bred titles. At the
Washington annual awards banquet the following spring, he deservingly added
titles as 1981 Washington champion older horse and sprinter. He lost out on the
title of horse of the year to the two-time grade one-winning juvenile filly
Back in on
their pastoral farm in Wauna in the spring of 1982, the Zerens set about
proving that Trooper Seven could be equally adept as a sire.
In reviewing his outstanding race record, The
Washington Horse states: . . . the impact of a Washington-bred
repeating as the winner of the northwests most valued race is not lost to
the racing community. Unfortunately, Trooper was not as highly regarded
by state breeders, falling under the son of a son syndrome a
local son of a local stallion; he did not get many of the quality mares that
the Kentucky-sired stallions did.
From his first
crop of 16 foals came Super Seven, his leading earner with $303,929. Bred by
Les Brainard, a strong supporter of Trooper, Super Seven (out of Hearts
OCrimson, by Hearts of Lettuce) inherited his sires soundness,
winning or placing in 24 stakes at five northwest tracks over an eight-year
campaign. Stakes-placed runners Highway Patrol and Troopers Sis were also
among the 11 winners in his initial crop.
Troopers second foal crop of 15 saw 10 reach the
winners circle, including his only champion the ill-fated filly
Spring Trooper. A stakes winner at Santa Anita, Longacres Exhibition Park, Turf
Paradise and Playfair, Spring Trooper won 12 of her 31 lifetime starts and
earned $242,544 before her death in 1991. Out of the Bold Hitter mare Spring
Event, Spring Trooper was named Washingtons champion older filly or mare
of 1989. Stakes winner Agent No. Seven and stakes-placed runners Synchronous
and Broomhilda were also foaled in that 1985 crop.
His last significant stakes winner came from his third
crop of 16 when a full sister to Super Seven, named Super Sis, was foaled.
Super Sis was victorious in both the Rhododendron and Prima Donna handicaps at
Longacres during the summer of 1989.
All in all,
Trooper Seven sired 152 foals in 14 crops, with 113 starters (74 percent) and
66 winners (43 percent), winning 323 races and earning $2,159,523. He sired six
stakes winners and eight stakes-placed runners, giving him nine percent stakes
horses overall. His average earnings per runner was $19,111.
Jean remembered that after each breeding, Gene and his
buddy Trooper would share a beer. While racing, many of the Zeren-trained
runners also developed a liking for lemonade.
A Fond Farewell
By the spring
of 2000, the infirmities of old age had caught up with the gallant campaigner.
The kind-mannered stallion finally succumbed on March 29 in the same paddock
where he had resided so many years. Trooper Seven was 24. The Zerens elected to
bury him where he died. His dam, Miss Holandes, had been laid to rest under the
same tree where she had foaled her champion son.
Today, Whispering Firs Ranch is a retirement
home for a dozen Thoroughbreds, including Troopers half-sisters
Bravo Seven, now 30, and Delta Queen Seven, a 21-year-old daughter of King
Pellinore. Bravo Sevens 21-year-old daughter Delta Bravo Seven, also by
King Pellinore, is a member of this old folks broodmare band, whose
youngest member is 15-year-old Sporting Glamour.
They still enjoy life and are as happy as can
be, remarked Jean in a recent conversation. We have our own
recycling plant we put it (feed) in one end and take it out the
other, she added with a laugh.
changed the lives of the Zerens in many ways. His winnings paid off the farm
and helped build many of its structures. He enabled the Zerens to quit their
day jobs and devote their lives to their horses. Because of
Trooper, Jean is still able to travel to England to visit her parents, James
and Leah Burrows. Jeans 97-year young dad still goes down each day to the
corner for his evening news and to place a bet on the ponies.
And then there are the memories. The I love you
Trooper signs, the way Trooper loved the racetrack and how he stopped to
gaze at his fans but was all business once the gate sprung open. How he
loved to have his tongue played with. How he loved to nibble a little grass
before every race. The day he was foaled, the day he died. And how much they
still miss this, oh so valued and pivotal member of their family.
Together, the Zerens all-inclusively brought
about a success story most of us are able only to fantasize. We thank and
applaud them for sharing these accomplishments with us.
for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.