BACKTRACKS: Burt Bacharach’s magic moments

Soul of the Matter
Soul of the Matter. Photo Keeneland Library, Thoroughbred Times Collection.

When you think of the name Burt Bacharach, perhaps some of his signature tunes spring to mind. As the man behind such hits as “What’s New, Pussycat?” and “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head,” among many others, the songwriter’s name immediately invokes familiar songs rather than fast horses.

But in the mid-1990s, Bacharach had not one but two West Virginia-bred Grade 1 stakes winners, horses that would go on to represent West Virginia on the sport’s biggest stages. Not only did both bring home multiple graded stakes wins for their iconic owner and breeder, but they also factored into a couple of the era’s greatest races.

Quite a journey for Soul of the Matter and Afternoon Deelites: from Mountain State beginnings to squaring off against some of the best horses in the world.

Wishin’ and Hopin

Bacharach the songwriter had his first hit with “The Story of My Life,” which hit number 15 in the US in 1957, and his first top five hit with “Magic Moments,” a number four hit for Perry Como in 1958. His first hit as the owner of racehorses came in 1968, when he asked Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham to pick out a horse for him. That horse was Battle Royal, who won his first time out, whetting the songwriter’s appetite for the sport. By the 1980s, Bacharach had moved onto other trainers and expanded his interests into breeding. He connected with breeder and trainer Vincent Moscarelli and his wife Suzanne, owners of Country Road Farm in Charles Town, West Virginia.

With the Moscarellis, Bacharach bred the filly Heartlight No. One, named for the song he wrote for Neil Diamond. The songwriter had hoped the song would hit #1 so he put that in the filly’s name. Instead, the song only went to #5 on the charts, but the filly went to #1 in the Eclipse Award voting the following year. In her lone season on the track, the daughter of Maryland stallion Rock Talk won the Grade 2 Del Mar Oaks, the Grade 1 Hollywood Oaks, and the Grade 1 Ruffian Handicap before ending the year second in the Grade 1 Beldame.

In 1991, Bacharach, breeding under the name Blue Seas Music, welcomed a foal by Maryland-based stallion Private Terms, the 1988 Wood Memorial winner, out of his homebred mare Soul Light, a half-sister to Heartlight No. One. Named Soul of the Matter, the dark bay colt made his debut for trainer Richard Mandella at Santa Anita Park in late October 1993, winning by four lengths. He finished third in the Hollywood Prevue Breeders’ Cup Stakes, later known as the Grade 3 Bob Hope Stakes, ending an abbreviated two-year-old season with one win in only two starts. At three, though, the Private Terms colt would make history.

Promises, Promises

Bacharach kept his horses in southern California, employing trainers like Whittingham, Mandella, John Gosden, and others based in the SoCal circuit of Hollywood Park, Santa Anita Park, and Del Mar Thoroughbred Club. Under Mandella’s tutelage, Soul of the Matter started fast at three, winning the Grade 2 San Felipe in his third start of the season before shipping to Keeneland to finish second in the Lexington Stakes.

From there, Mandella sent the colt to Churchill Downs where Soul of the Matter became the first horse bred in West Virginia to start in the Kentucky Derby. Though the colt finished fifth behind Go for Gin, he bettered his sire’s performance in the 1988 edition, where Private Terms finished eighth behind Winning Colors. After several months off, Soul of the Matter won the Super Derby over the Maryland-bred three-year-old Concern before finishing fourth behind Concern in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

At age four, Bacharach’s colt finished behind Tinners’ Way in the Pacific Classic at Del Mar before beating him in the Goodwood Handicap at Santa Anita. In the 1995 Breeders’ Cup Classic, both horses met the juggernaut named Cigar, who was eleven races deep in his legendary winning streak, with Soul of the Matter fourth behind eventual Horse of the Year Cigar.

At five, Soul of the Matter met Cigar again, this time over the deep and sandy surface of Nad Al Sheba in Dubai for the inaugural running of the Dubai World Cup. After stumbling at the start, Cigar sat fifth early in the 1¼-mile race, while Soul of the Matter lingered toward the back of the pack, prepared to make his usual closing move.

Jockey Jerry Bailey asked Cigar to move around the far turn, pulling him on even terms with the front runners as they turned into the long stretch. Cigar took the lead as Soul of the Matter mounted his bid, rallying on the champion’s outside.

“Cigar is digging deep,” the track announcer called. “He’s never had to fight harder.”

[Click for video of Cigar and Soul of the Matter in the stretch]

Inside the final furlong, Bacharach’s colt had pulled even with Cigar, but the legend would not relent. Cigar battled back, grinding out a short lead within the last sixteenth of a mile to hit the wire a half-length in front of Soul of the Matter.

Cigar would run six more times in 1996, but Soul of the Matter was retired to stud, injury preventing Bacharach’s horse from meeting the legend one more time. He would stand in Japan for seven seasons before returning to the United States to stand in California. After retiring from stud duty, Soul of the Matter was relocated to Montana and passed away there in 2018.

Come and Get Me

As Soul of the Matter was preparing to meet Concern and Kentucky Derby winner Go for Gin in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic, another Blue Seas homebred was preparing to make his debut. Also sired by Private Terms, Afternoon Deelites was out of another Bacharach-bred mare, Intimate Girl, and was foaled, broken, and prepared for racing by the Moscarellis, much as Soul of the Matter had been.

“He was a rambunctious little thing,” Suzanne Moscarelli recalled of the dark bay colt. “When we were breaking him, I remember his paddock had a bit of a downhill part right at the beginning and he loved to rear there. He would always do that. He was a lively thing.”

Also under the tutelage of Richard Mandella, Afternoon Deelites won his first start in late October at Santa Anita and followed that up with wins in both the Grade 3 Hollywood Prevue Breeders’ Cup Stakes and the Grade 1 Hollywood Futurity, where he beat Thunder Gulch by 6 ½ lengths.

After the first of those stakes wins, beaten jockey Chris McCarron cracked of Afternoon Deelites, “They better check that horse’s lip tattoo. He accelerated like a 4-year-old.”

At three, the son of Private Terms opened his 1995 season with an easy win in the San Vincente and the San Felipe, both over small fields. His next stop was the Santa Anita Derby, as he prepared for the 1995 Kentucky Derby.

At Santa Anita, Afternoon Deelites entered the race as the favorite for the Kentucky Derby but met defeat for the first time when Larry the Legend caught the Bacharach colt at the wire.

Undeterred, Mandella shipped his colt to Churchill Downs to meet a field of nineteen, including Thunder Gulch, whom Afternoon Deelites defeated in the Hollywood Futurity; Timber Country, the two-year-old champion who had finished behind the Bacharach colt in the San Felipe; and Serena’s Song, the speedy filly who had beaten the boys in the Jim Beam. Under the Twin Spires, the filly led for the first mile before giving way to Thunder Gulch, who was trainer D. Wayne Lukas’ third string behind the filly and Timber Country.

Afternoon Deelites with Kent Desormeaux up. Photo Keeneland Library, Thoroughbred Times Collection.

But Afternoon Deelites, the second West Virginia bred to compete in the Run for the Roses, finished eighth, unable to factor in the running of America’s most famous race. The colt missed the rest of the Triple Crown season with a bowed tendon and did not see the starting gate again until Decemer, notching his second career Grade 1 stakes win in the Malibu at Santa Anita.

At four, Afternoon Deelites could not quite find the form that had defined his two-year-old season and the early months of his three-year-old season. He won only once, taking the Grade 2 Commonwealth Breeders’ Cup Stakes at Keeneland, and finished second in a pair of Grade 1 events, the Strub Stakes and the Metropolitan Handicap.

In late June 1996, just before an injury ended Soul of the Matter’s racing career, Afternoon Deelites suffered a tendon injury that meant the end of his days on the racetrack, as well.

Suddenly, Bacharach’s two best horses were retired. “You know these things can happen, you hold your breath every time, but you don’t think you’ll get the double punch that quick,” the songwriter said after both of his contenders were retired to stud.

Long After Tonight Is Over

Afternoon Deelites started his stud career at Airdrie Stud near Midway, Kentucky and then moved to Clear Creek Stud in Louisiana in 2004. In his time at stud, he sired 309 winners and 23 stakes winners, including Zappa, Three Hour Nap, and Princess Deelite. He also sired Popcorn Deelites, one of the eight horses that played Seabiscuit in the 2003 film of the same name. Popcorn Deelites plays Seabiscuit when he wins the match race against War Admiral.

Both Afternoon Deelites, who was pensioned from stud duty in 2011, and Popcorn Deelites currently reside at Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky.

As for Bacharach, he continues to own horses, but none has quite reached the heights that Soul of the Matter and Afternoon Deelites did. After a 2017 fire at San Luis Rey Downs in Bonsall, California claimed forty-seven horses and left several people injured, Bacharach teamed with Elvis Costello, Anjelica Huston, and Bo Derek for a fundraiser to benefit those affected.

Even at 93, the songwriter, who bought his first horse in 1968 and bred and owned perhaps the two best West Virginia-breds ever, maintains a love for the sport and the animals at its core.



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