Genuine Risk was a fabulous filly who dared to take on the boys in the 1980 Kentucky Derby, and wound up in the winner's circle draped in a blanket of roses.
One of just three fillies to win America's greatest race, Genuine Risk died Monday at Newstead Farm in Upperville, Va., at the advanced age of 31. Hall of Fame trainer Leroy Jolley said an "unbelievable determination to win" made Genuine Risk a horse for the ages.
"She wanted to win and she would run so hard that after some of her races, she just practically would lay down for three or four days," Jolley said in a telephone interview from Saratoga Springs, N.Y. "She would run very, very hard and give it all she had every time."
Cindy Perry, an office administrator at the farm, said Genuine Risk died peacefully about 7:30 a.m. after eating a hearty breakfast and being turned out in her paddock.
After her Derby win, Genuine Risk finished second to Codex in a controversial Preakness and second to Temperence Hill in the Belmont Stakes, marking the only time a filly has finished in the money in all three Triple Crown races. She won 10 of 15 career races, and never finished worse than third for Jolley.
"Genuine Risk was an amazing horse with tremendous heart that lived a life befitting a champion," owners Bertram and Diane Firestone said in a statement issued by the farm. "We are truly blessed that she was a part of our life and we are deeply saddened by her passing."
A champion on the racetrack, Genuine Risk had a difficult time as a broodmare after she was retired from racing in 1981. She was first bred to 1973 Triple Crown champion Secretariat — the first time Kentucky Derby winners were mated. The foal was stillborn. Genuine Risk produced just two offspring in 17 attempts through 2000.
But it was her talent on the track that will always be remembered.
After an unbeaten campaign as a 2-year-old, Genuine Risk had her first test against the boys in April of her 3-year-old season, finishing third in the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct. A few weeks later, Genuine Risk stunned the racing world in the 106th Derby. Under Jacinto Vasquez, the filly took a commanding lead in the stretch and outran Rumbo and Jaklin Klugman to win at 13-1 odds. She paid $26.80 to win in becoming the first filly since Regret in 1915 to take the Derby. The filly Winning Colors won in 1988.
"Her win was a very romantic Kentucky Derby win and I don't think the fans ever forgot her," Churchill Downs spokesman John Asher said Monday. "She was a special one."
In the Preakness, Vasquez brought Genuine Risk up to challenge on the outside in the stretch against Codex. The colt drifted wide and appeared to bump the filly, a move that many thought deprived Genuine Risk of a chance to win. Vasquez later lodged a complaint against Angel Cordero, the jockey aboard Codex, but the stewards let the results stand. An appeal to the Maryland Racing Commission also was rejected.
"We have always thought that Codex should have been taken down," Bert Firestone has said. "We did what we thought was the right thing to do. It didn't work out in our favor."
Purchased for $32,000 by the Firestones at the request of their 14-year-old son, Matthew, in July 1978, Genuine Risk was trained by a man who five years earlier guided Foolish Pleasure to victory in the Derby.
At 2, Genuine Risk was 4-for-4, including a pair of stakes races in New York, creating a buzz about her ability to take on 3-year-old colts in 1980.
The women's movement had finally come to the racing world four years earlier, but with tragic results. In a televised match race between the speedy filly Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure, Ruffian broke her leg and had to be destroyed at Belmont Park.
Jolley was not inclined to race Genuine Risk against colts, but when she opened her 1980 campaign with easy victories against other fillies and with no clear cut Derby favorite, the Firestones' desire to test their filly prevailed.
A solid third in the Wood Memorial convinced everyone Genuine Risk could hold her won against the boys, and she came through with a one-length victory over Rumbo.
Even more impressive, Genuine Risk ran the last quarter-mile faster than any Kentucky Derby winner except Secretariat.
At 4, Genuine Risk ran in three allowance races, winning two and running third in the other. She was retired after injuring her knee one morning on the backstretch of Belmont Park.
An Exclusive Native mare out of Virtuous by Gallant Man, Genuine Risk earned $646,587, and won the Eclipse Award in 1980 as the top 3-year-old filly. She was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1986.
When she was retired, it was anticipated she would enjoy a life of producing winning offspring. But she did not deliver her first live foal until 1993. The offspring was appropriately named Genuine Reward, but the horse never raced and went immediately to a stud farm.
Genuine Risk produced only one other live foal, Count Our Blessing, in 1996, but it, too, never raced.
Genuine Risk was the oldest living Derby winner; now it's Alysheba, the 1987 Kentucky Derby winner who is 24.
Associated Press writer Malcolm C. Knox in Louisville contributed to this report.