Certainly the finest miler in American racing history, Dr. Fager reigns over not only his fellow Florida breds, but most twentieth century American horses. The good doctor was foaled on W.L. McKnight's Tartan Farm in 1964. He was sired by 1951 Santa Anita Derby winner Rough n' Tumble, who also sired the champion filly My Dear Girl. His dam, Aspirdistra, was a daughter of multiple stakes winner Better Self, and she later produced Ta Wee, the Champion Sprinter of 1969 and 1970.
The big bay colt was still a yearling when Tartan Farm's trainer and breeding manager, the great John Nerud, suffered a near fatal fall from a stable pony. The Boston brain surgeon who saved the trainer's life was Dr. Charles Fager, in whose honor the future world record holder was named.
Dr. Fager raced in the name of Tartan Farms, and Boots Foster had the honor of grooming the champion. Bob Judy rode him in his morning works.
Dr. Fager broke his maiden at first asking, and followed that success by cantering to an eight length victory at Saratoga. He then left allowance company and was made odds-on favorite for the World's Playground Stakes. Here, he stretched his margin of victory to twelve lengths. Finally, he met Wheatley Stable's brilliant colt Successor, as well as In Reality and several other good two year olds, in Aqueduct's Cowdin Stakes on October 5.
In the toughest race of his young life, Dr. Fager was paired with Bill Shoemaker, and the high strung colt didn't make life easy for his jockey. He broke last, and in his enthusiastic attempt to make up the distance, Dr. Fager nearly ran over the frontrunners, forcing his rider to check him sharply. The Shoe moved the colt to the outside as they headed for home, and despite the hardships the pair won by three quarters of a length. Said Shoemaker of his mount:
"He's green, and I suppose this should be expected, but this could be a good horse."
Dr. Fager had swept through his first four starts undefeated, taking two stakes races at two different tracks, and scoring an average winning margin of seven lengths.
He once again met Successor in the Champagne Stakes, and this time the Bold Ruler colt got some help from a sprinting stablemate named Great White Way, and the pair got the better of the Tartan Farms horse. Dr. Fager was beaten a length after engaging in an early speed duel. Bold Hour, previously winner of the Arlington-Washington Futurity, also burned all his speed early, finishing up the track. Proviso ran third, four lengths behind Dr. Fager.
Successor, who had also won the Garden State Stakes and the Tremont Stakes, was named Champion Two Year Old Colt. The Experimental Free Handicap ranked Dr. Fager only a pound below the divisional champion.
Illness interrupted the Doctor's winter training, and it was April before he went to post again. With Manuel Ycaza holding the reins, Dr. Fager made his three-year-old debut in the Gotham Mile, beating future dual classic winner Damascus by a half length after a dramatic stretch dual. Although knee trouble kept Dr. Fager out of the Kentucky Derby, Damascus was also denied the roses. Uncharacteristically nervous and rank, he ran third behind longshot Proud Clarion, who was uncharacteristically calm and collected that day.
Dr. Fager's next move was to take the mile long Withers Stakes by six lengths, this time with Braulio Baeza in the irons. His time of 1:33 4/5 was a record for a three year old. He skipped the Preakness and Belmont, which Damascus claimed, because Nerud preferred to err on the side of caution with his talented charge's sore knees. This decision may have cost Dr. Fager a chance at a classic victory, but the other choice could have had much more serious consequences.
The Doctor had a reputation for being somewhat hard to handle, and in the Jersey Derby his temperament proved to be a handicap. Although he beat In Reality by six and a half lengths and broke the stakes record, he disqualified for interference and placed last. The stewards, apparently, disapproved of the physical contact between Dr. Fager's teeth and In Reality's skin on the first turn. Ycaza, who was back in the irons, earned a suspension and permanently lost the mount on Dr. Fager.
Dr. Fager returned to the winner's circle in the Arlington Classic, having conquered his first sloppy track with Braulio Baeza up. The hundred thousand dollar race was no contest at all; the mighty Dr. Fager romped to a ten length victory and earned high praise from his new regular rider. Dr. Fager headed to New England, where he broke the track records in both the mile and one eighth Rockingham Special and the mile and a quarter New Hampshire Sweepstakes. In the former, he beat Hail to Reason by a little more than four lengths. In the latter, he avenged his Jersey Derby "loss" to In Reality.
Since he had skipped the classics, the New Hampshire was Dr. Fager's first attempt to run further than a mile and an eighth. It was contended that the big bay didn't have the stamina to match his speed. All doubts were silenced, however, although not easily. Dr. Fager claimed the early lead, but In Reality drew even after seven furlongs. In Reality inched his way ahead, but Dr. Fager wasn't through. At Baeza's urging, Dr. Fager fought back, and the two battled gamely down the stretch. Dr. Fager pulled away to win by a length and a quarter, while In Reality beat Barb's Delight by nine lengths Dr. Fager had taken three seconds off the previous track record, which In Reality also broke.
In the worst showing of his career, Dr. Fager ran third, eleven lengths behind Damascus and one length behind Buckpasser, in the Woodward Stakes. It was hardly Buckpasser's proudest moment either, but Preakness and Belmont winner Damascus was truly at the top of his game that day; that, coupled with the fact that both Damascus and Buckpasser had the advantage of speedball entrymates, kept Dr. Fager out of the winner's circle that day. Said trainer John Nerud, looking back on his charge's career:
"He was the only horse I ever had that could run. The only one. No one horse could ever beat him. It took two, they had to run an entry to beat him. He was the fastest horse that ever lived."
Dr. Fager bounced back to the winners circle immediately after the Woodward, reeling off a two and a half length victory in the Hawthorne Gold Cup. The season was topped off with a win in the Vosburgh Handicap at Aqueduct. Dr. Fager gave weight to a talented group of sprinters, including older horses. It was one of the few races in which Dr. Fager came from behind; he rallied from fifth to win by four and a half. For his efforts, he was named Champion Sprinter of 1967. After the smashing Woodward victory, however, it was Damascus who was named Horse of the Year.
After a victorious season debut under 130 pounds in the seven furlong Roseben Handicap, a four year old Dr. Fager was shipped west, where Nerud believed he wouldn't have to carry as much weight. He was wrong. In California, Dr. Fager carried 130 pounds again, and met three time champion mare Gamely, winner of two runnings of the Beldame Stakes, and the top horse Rising Market in the Californian Stakes. He handed defeat to both, beating Gamely by three lengths. Then it was back east for the Suburban, and a rematch with Damascus.
The Suburban field included not only Damascus and his partner in crime Hedevar, but also In Reality, fresh from winning the Carter Handicap and the Metropolitan Handicap, as well as the good horse Bold Hour, who had won the Haskell Handicap, and finally the filly Amerigo Lady. When Hedevar was scratched at the last moment, the contest became somewhat more balanced. Damascus carried 133, while Dr. Fager carried 132. In Reality shouldered 125 pounds.
Damascus broke on top, but was almost immediately overtaken by Dr. Fager. The two champion dueled throughout the backstretch, and Damascus finally gave way on the far turn. Dr. Fager then held off a late charge from Bold Hour to win by two lengths. A tired Damascus was three more lengths back. Although the track record of 1:59 3/5 for a mile and a quarter wasn't broken, it was equalled.
Attempting to give five pounds to Damascus in the Brooklyn Handicap, Dr. Fager met defeat for the only time that season, finishing second. The weight was probably less of an issue then was the presence of Hedevar, who set a typically blistering pace which Dr. Fager chased. The Doctor took command after the first six furlongs, which were run in 1:09 2/5, but he couldn't hold off the final charge from Damascus. Thus the rivalry ended with two victories each.
Recovering from defeat, he wired the field and romped home with eight lengths of daylight behind him in the Whitney Stakes. Despite giving away eighteen poinds, Dr. Fager went to post at 1-20, a New York state record.
Dr. Fager's last three races were considered to be his finest efforts. He took the Washington Park Handicap by ten lengths, setting a new world record of 1:32 1/5 for a mile, despite a burden of 134 pounds. The previous recordholder, Buckpasser, had been carrying 125 pounds. It is for this performance that Dr. Fager is best remembered. Hedevar was among the defeated.
The next time out, he met Advocator, a classic placed son of Round Table, as well as two time Turf Champion, future Horse of the Year, and millionaire Fort Marcy, in the United Nations Handicap. It was Dr. Fager's first and only start on the turf, but he pulled off an impressively game victory, winning by a hard gained neck.
In Dr. Fager's final start, he topped of his career by carrying 139 pounds to a new seven furlong track record at Aqueduct. It was his second victory in the seven furlong Vosburgh Handicap. The half mile, with Kissin' George forcing the pace, flew by in :43 4/5. The time at the six furlong mark was 1:07 4/5, which broke the track record. The final time was 1:20 1/5, a full second faster than the previous track record and only a fifth off the world record. Dr. Fager had cemented his position in history. He had also reached millionaire status, earning $1,002,642.
Dr. Fager made a clean sweep of the year end awards, winning the titles of 1968 Horse of the Year, Champion Sprinter, Champion Grass Horse, and Champion Handicap Horse. His career earnings had reached $1,002,642, and he had won eighteen of twenty two starts. The only time he had missed a payoff had been his loss by disqualification in the Jersey Derby. Retired to stud, Dr. Fager sired Dearly Precious, the Champion Juvenile Filly of 1975, as well as a number of excellent broodmares. He passed away in 1976.
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