PREAKNESS MEMORIES: THE COURAGEOUS SUMMER SQUALL
Summer Squall had the kind of breeding that suggests that stardom is possible. But it was his courage that made him a star.
On March 12, 1987 a leggy, bay son of Storm Bird was born. He was out of the Secretariat mare Weekend Surprise, who, a couple of years later, would give birth to a Seattle Slew colt who would become a breed-defining sire: A. P. Indy.
Bred by W.S. Farish and W.S. Kilroy, the Storm Bird colt was sold to Dogwood Stable for $300,000 in the Keeneland Select Yearling Sale in July of 1988. The colt was given the name Summer Squall and eventually placed in the training care of Neil Howard, who would go on to help the colt discover his full potential on the track.
From the very beginning Summer Squall displayed glimmers of greatness. Beginning his racing season in the spring of 1989, Summer Squall rattled off five victories in a row, including scores in the Saratoga Special (G2) and Hopeful Stakes (G1).
It wasn’t until his debut as a freshly turned three-year-old that Summer Squall tasted his first defeat, finishing second in the Grade 3 Swale Stakes at Gulfstream Park.
Summer Squall’s runner-up effort in his seasonal debut did little to break his stride, and the colt was soon back to his winning ways. Summer Squall pounded to victory in the Jim Beam Stakes (G2) at Turfway Park and then the Blue Grass Stakes (G2), before setting his sights to Kentucky where he would make a bid for the roses on the first Saturday in May.
The 1990 Kentucky Derby dawned and nearing the head of the lane, Summer Squall made a bold move to the lead. But almost as soon as he put a head in front, Unbridled went to the attack, drawing even and the moving past his rival. Summer Squall had to settle for second as Unbridled cruised home to steal the show by 3 ½ lengths.
Summer Squall’s defeat in Kentucky did little to deter the confidence of his connections. Unbridled may have won the battle in Kentucky, but the war was far from over, and Summer Squall was prepared to prove that.
When the starting gates sprung open in the Preakness Stakes, it was local speedster Fighting Notion, who was fresh off a recent 20-length romp in an allowance race, who charged to the lead. The beaten favorite in the Kentucky Derby, Mister Frisky, was keen to chase in second while Summer Squall and jockey Pat Day rode the rail in fourth and Unbridled followed from the back of the pack. There wasn’t much change in the order of the race until the field raced into the backstretch and Unbridled began his bid.
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While Unbridled steadily advanced toward the leaders while on the far outside, Summer Squall crept forward along the rail. Fatigue was beginning to set in for Fighting Notion.
Nearing the lane, Unbridled pounced and stole the lead. However, it was an advantage short-lived. Shooting through a narrow gap along the rail, Summer Squall made it into the clear and was right there to challenge. Before Unbridled could react the tables were turned.
With a furlong to go, Summer Squall stole the lead by a head. The noise of the crowd grew with each frenzied stride of the leaders, who were locked in battle and far ahead of the rest of the pack. Summer Squall unleashed a devastating kick that propelled him ahead of Unbridled. “It’s Summer Squall by two lengths!” announcer Dave Johnson excitedly told the TV crowd. “Second in the Derby, he’s gonna WIN the Preakness!”. And win he did. With a powerful 2 ¼ length advantage, Summer Squall declared victory.
Summer Squall completed the 1 3/16-mile test of the Preakness Stakes in a sharp final time of 1:53 3/5. The final 18 seconds for Summer Squall’s final three-sixteenths of a mile was the fastest in Preakness history at the time.
“Easy Goer’s the best horse I’ve ever ridden,” Day said in the aftermath of the race. “But Summer Squall is the most courageous. I knew that if there was the slightest opening on the inside, he would go through it. His perseverance is amazing.”
The consecutive one-two finishes in the nation’s biggest races stoked a growing rivalry between Summer Squall and Unbridled, but there would be no renewal of it in the Belmont. Before Summer Squall even won the Preakness, his camp decided that he would not be going to New York for the final leg of the Triple Crown. Summer Squall was prone to bleeding, and as a result required the use of the drug, Lasix. Since the use of Lasix was prohibited in that state, Summer Squall would be sitting out while the longest of the three races was run.
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As it happened, Unbridled didn’t make a huge impact in the Belmont, either, finishing a middling fourth as the even-money favorite. Instead, it was 7-1 shot Go and Go who ran away and hid, winning by eight lengths over a good track.
Summer Squall raced ten more times after the Preakness Stakes, making it to the winner’s circle in five of those attempts. He would not win again in Grade 1 company, his best results a couple of Grade 2 wins. He made one more visit to Old Hilltop, for the 1991 Grade 1 Pimlico Special. He ran second that day as the 9-5 favorite, beaten three lengths by Farma Way, who set the Pimlico track record for 1 3/16 miles, getting the distance in 1:52.55. Unbridled was sixth in the race. That record still stands.
During his career, Summer Squall squared off with nemesis Unbridled a total of six times, finishing ahead of his rival in four of those meetings. Those matchups included Summer Squall’s wins in the Blue Grass, Preakness, and Grade 2 Fayette Handicap late in their four-year-old seasons; Unbridled, of course, won the Kentucky Derby. Additionally, Summer Squall was second in the ’91 Pimlico Special, while Unbrdiled was sixth, and the latter ran third in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic; Summer Squall was ninth.
When his racing career was all said and done, Summer Squall had won a total of 13 races from 20 starts and had collected earnings of $1,844,282.
A quarter-century later, Dogwood Stable founder Cot Campbell would call Summer Squall’s Preakness win “one of the truly stupendous moments” of his life.
Summer Squall retired to stud at Lanes End Farm and went on to have a lucrative career in the breeding shed. The stallion sired 35 individual stakes winners, including 1999 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Charismatic, who was also honored as the Horse of the Year the same year that he collected the roses and Black-eyed Susans.
Summer Squall has humanely euthanized in 2009, due to the infirmities of old age.
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