Captain  Condo - Washington Racing Hall of Fame

A gray for all seasons

by Mary Bartz

Captain Condo Statistics

Great 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 Fame.
    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 – Mother’s 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 Courageous—Condoe 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. That’s 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 didn’t 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 Playfair’s 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 Condo’s 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 wasn’t interested in the day’s 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 Governor’s 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 Kelley’s 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 Captain’s second consecutive victory in the Championship. Then the Ashby protégé retired for the year. But he’d 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, Firesweeper’s 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, Firesweeper’s record began to seem within reach.
    But his next two starts brought setbacks. In the Governor’s 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 hadn’t 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 Condo’s tremendous appeal? It’s 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 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 jockey’s 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. He’s so fiercely competitive. He really bears down hard on them . . . Most horses couldn’t care less if they won or lost, but he’s different.” Different, indeed. After he lost a race by a nose, trainer Ashby had to call the vet and have him tranquilized. “He just wouldn’t settle down,” according to Ashby. “He really didn’t get a chance to run his race and I think he knew that.”

Gray Genes
    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 Washington’s 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 Ariel—La Chica. In addition to his distinctive racing ability, Captain Condo’s 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 Crab’s 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.
    Le 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 Samaritain—Roxelane, 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 Herode—Vahren, 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 Herode.
    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.
    The other stakes-winning daughter of La Chica was Planetoid, sixth dam of Captain Condo and third dam of Captain Courageous, the latter through Planetoid’s blue hen daughter Grey Flight, dam of nine stakes winners. Another of Planetoid’s daughters was the gray Just-a-Minute, dam of the gray filly Moving.
    The connection with Washington State begins with Moving, for her daughters included Trophy Queen, dam of northwest stakes winners Trophy’s Son and Nasty Phil, as well as the gray Sally’s Move. Sally’s 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 Down’s 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.

Click here for a complete list of all the Washington Hall of Fame inductees.

WASHINGTON THOROUGHBRED, January 2004, page 46

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