Trooper Seven - Washington Racing Hall of Fame

The making of a legend

by Susan van Dyke

Trooper Seven Pedigree and Race Record

Twenty-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.
    Like 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.
    Among 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 California’s campus at Riverside and earned a master’s 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 the horses.
    While still at St. Regis, Gene would spend the early mornings overseeing his trainees at Longacres, before putting in a full day’s 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.

Miss Holanda
    The Zerens’ 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 Miss Leslie.
    *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 largest earners.
    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 Dalfence’s 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.
    Bridal Boquet, 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 Boquet’s dam Flying Moments, by *Hourless, produced only one minor winner in seven foals.
    Searching 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, Friar’s Daughter, Fille de Salut, Hostility, Lea Lane, Banquet Bell, Cequillo, Colosseum, Primonetta, Sly Pola, Matriarch, Satanella and Marguerite de Valois; all stemming from Hulton’s Spot Mare, a sister to Stripling.
    Miss Leslie, Miss Holanda’s first foal, was a winner who later produced Washington Lassie Stakes winner Sorgie, by Barrydown. Miss Holanda’s 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 Holanda’s foals with a ‘seven’ began with Hunter Seven. Gene simply liked the way adding the number to each name sounded.)
    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.

Table Run
    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 Linda’s 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 Anita’s 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
    Miss Holanda picked a very rainy northwest afternoon to have her first colt. Even though Jean had her daughter Kimberly’s 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 Seven’s 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.

Longacres Bound
    Trooper Seven 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 following May.
    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 Maxwell’s 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.”
    The 1979 Longacres Derby’s 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 season’s biggest upset. Trooper’s highweight of 122 (versus Head Hawk’s 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
    Trooper Seven 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, “We’re really pleased. Sometimes during the winter, when we’re pampering him with special feedings every four hours and all the other extra work, I really wondered if it’s 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 Daddy’s 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 wasn’t any speed, we decided to let him run on his own and I left him on the lead. He’s 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 Governor’s 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 Trooper’s countless other fans were overjoyed. The governor had placed a $5 bet on Trooper and later remarked “I won . . . and he’s 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 Baze’s 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 afternoon.
    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 of 1980.

    The Zerens’ 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: “He’s matured a little more each year, and every time out he runs as hard as he can. He’s a horse that exudes class, and sometimes that’s enough.”
    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 Governor’s 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 win.”
    In lieu of his 1 1/2-length victory in the Governor’s, 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 century.”
    Bill Shoemaker (Doonesbury), Sandy Hawley (Reb’s 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, Washington’s “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. “He’s got nothing more to prove. He’s been awfully good to me, and I think it’s time to think about him. He’s 100 percent sound, and I think that’s neat.”
    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 Snow Plow.

Little Troopers
    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 northwest’s 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 O’Crimson, by Hearts of Lettuce) inherited his sire’s soundness, winning or placing in 24 stakes at five northwest tracks over an eight-year campaign. Stakes-placed runners Highway Patrol and Trooper’s Sis were also among the 11 winners in his initial crop.
    Trooper’s second foal crop of 15 saw 10 reach the winner’s 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 Washington’s 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 Trooper’s half-sisters Bravo Seven, now 30, and Delta Queen Seven, a 21-year-old daughter of King Pellinore. Bravo Seven’s 21-year-old daughter Delta Bravo Seven, also by King Pellinore, is a member of this old folk’s 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.
    Trooper Seven 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. Jean’s 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.

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