Champion Real Quiet, winner of the 1998 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, died in his paddock at Penn Ridge Farms in Pennsylvania on Monday after fracturing his cervical vertebrae near the base of his neck. The son of Quiet American was 15.
Michael Jester, owner of Penn Ridge — which had stood Real Quiet since 2006 — said the bay horse had been turned out briefly in his paddock while his stall was being cleaned when farm employees noticed he was lying down and not moving.
"He was always so calm, we've never had a problem with him. He was such a class act," said Jester, who also was the syndicate manager of Real Quiet. "One of the farm employees said he was laying down in his paddock, which he never does, and we ran up to him and he never moved from the time we found him.
"He must have reared up and fallen on his left shoulder and driven it with enough force to fracture those five vertebrae. We looked at the paddock and there was not a mark, not a slide, nothing. Just a completely freak accident. We're devastated."
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Bred by Little Hill Farm and campaigned by Mike Pegram, Real Quiet was a true rags-to-riches story, having been bought for just $17,000 at the 1996 Keeneland September yearling sale.
Despite a narrow frame that would earn the bay colt the nickname "The Fish," trainer Bob Baffert recognized his athleticism and bought the horse that would put the ebullient Pegram into the national spotlight.
"He was immature, he was a little crooked," said Baffert, who trained Real Quiet throughout his career. "But he was a specimen of a horse."
Though Real Quiet lost his first six career starts, all at a mile or less, he blossomed toward the end of his juvenile season, capturing the Grade I Hollywood Futurity to close out a nine-race 2-year-old campaign.
Respect still came slowly for Real Quiet as he suffered defeats in the first three starts of his sophomore campaign, putting him in the shadow of his more highly touted stablemate Indian Charlie. But when the calender hit May, Real Quiet delivered when it counted, winning the Kentucky Derby by half a length over Victory Gallop to give Baffert his second straight blanket of roses. He saddled Silver Charm to victory in 1997.
"I always thought highly of him, but in the afternoons he didn't run well," Baffert said. "Once we stretched him out, he was a completely different horse. When he broke his maiden at Santa Anita (in October 1997) that's when the light came on."
Real Quiet bested his rival Victory Gallop once again by 21/4 lengths in the Preakness Stakes, setting the stage for one of the most memorable editions of the Belmont Stakes in recent history.
With Kent Desormeaux up, Real Quiet looked poised to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 when he held a 4-length advantage at the eighth pole. Victory Gallop, however, unleashed a determined rally to edge Real Quiet by a nose at the wire.
"He let people know you can get lucky and buy a good horse and don't have to give a lot of money for him and almost win the Triple Crown, just like Seattle Slew," Baffert said.
That gut-wrenching Belmont would mark Real Quiet's final start of 1998, but his two classic wins were enough to earn him the Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old male.
Real Quiet returned for a 4-year-old season, winning the Grade I Pimlico Special and Hollywood Gold Cup during his five starts that year, before retiring because of injury with six wins in 20 starts and $3,271,802 in earnings.
Just as he carried a workmanlike attitude on the track, Real Quiet developed a solid if not flashy reputation as a stallion. He entered stud at Vinery in 2000 and later moved to Taylor Made Farm before being relocated to Pennsylvania.
Among Real Quiet's top runners are champion sprinter Midnight Lute, winner of the 2007 and 2008 Breeders' Cup Sprint, and Grade I winners Pussycat Doll and Wonder Lady Anne L. From eight crops of racing age, Real Quiet has had 15 stakes winners with progeny earnings of more than $18.1 million.
Jester said plans call for Real Quiet to be buried on the farm.