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Derby winner Genuine Risk lived out her 31 years in nearby Virginia

By Staff | Jun 27, 2014

In the quietly disappointing atmosphere just after the filly Genuine Risk finished third in the 1980 Wood Memorial, trainer LeRoy Jolley and co-owner Bert Firestone both wondered to themselves if she could recover her energies in time for the on-rushing Kentucky Derby.

That was a time when the Kentucky Derby came just two short weeks after the Wood Memorial was contested in New York.

She has lost for the first time in her seven-race career. And it was her first time running against colts and not just other females.

In the race’s aftermath, Jolley couldn’t help but be slightly disheartened when he and his stable workers led her back to her stall.

“When she came back she looked tired,” the normally ebullient trainer would say. His first reaction was to change his chestnut filly’s schedule and maybe just move on to Baltimore and go after the Preakness.

Jolley rested Genuine Risk for several days and then had her regular jockey, Jacinto Vasquez, go out on the main track at Belmont Park and gallop her.

Jolley and Vasquez were pleasantly surprised when “she tried to run off with Jacinto . . . and he is a good rider in the mornings,” said the trainer. “For her to run off with him was something, and she had to be feeling pretty good.”

The Firestone-Jolley-Genuine Risk team went on to Kentucky. Baltimore and the Preakness could wait.

In Kentucky, they faced history and looked it straight in the eye. No filly had won the gilt-edged race since Regret was back when Louisville and Churchill Downs barely won a competition against the Hatfields and McCoys for state-based fame or notoriety.

Genuine Risk created her own history. She bettered 12 colts to win the 1980 Kentucky Derby.

Vasquez carried the green silks with the large white diamond holding a smaller green diamond to victory. Just two weeks past the Wood Memorial and emotions in the Genuine Risk camp had been moved 180 degrees to the bright side of thoroughbred racing.

Genuine Risk was built a little on the slight side and had a signature white blaze moving the full length of her comely face.

But it was her gentle nature and competitive spirit that always moved Jolley to err on the side of her welfare if there was any erring to be endured.

“In her races she gave everything she had. It was all her. All she knew was to try as hard as she possibly could,” he once said.

With such thoroughbred racing royalty as Native Dancer, Raise A Native, Gallant Man and sire Exclusive Native and dam Virtuous as part of her diamond-studded family tree, she was vanned from Kentucky to Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes.

Only eight horses contested the Preakness.

Genuine Risk had moved alongside Codex and was threatening to ease by him at the top of the stretch. That’s when Angel Cordero, Jr. aboard Codex brushed her and actually had his whip make contact with her head.

Codex won the race. Since no horse that had crossed the finish line first in the middle jewel of the Triple Crown series had ever been disqualified, Vasquez’s claim of interference and foul were disallowed by the track’s stewards.

Three weeks later, Genuine Risk placed second in the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes.

Even today some 34 years later, she is the only filly to ever finish “in the money” in all three versions of the Triple Crown series.

Retired after three races at age four, she finalized her career record with 15 starts, 10 wins, three seconds and two thirds — never finishing worse than third in her three-year racing career.

In 1981, she was brought to the Firestone’s Newstead Farm in Upperville, Virginia — just about 35 miles from Jefferson County.

She adapted well to “retirement” and seemed to always have her alert eyes and pricked ears ready to please her handlers and caretakers.

Finally, after birthing one stillborn foal — Secretariat was the sire — and having two other foals never “make it to the races” she was pensioned as a possible broodmare.

It was then that Genuine Risk accepted visitors to her stall in the well-lit home equipped with an infra-red lamp for adequate heat.

Newstead Farm was often on the list of estates, stables and farms that could be visited on the Memorial Day weekend when self-guided tours were offered the public.

She would munch on the carrots and lumps of sugar offered by her visiting admirers who came on the tour weekends.

Ever the lady, she stood for photos and seemed to enjoy the stroking of her forehead the visitors were allowed to give.

When she died quietly of natural causes at age 31, it was owner Firestone who quietly remembered, “She was great to be around. You couldn’t ask for a better horse. She did everything the right way . . . “

Genuine Risk, the perfect lady with the perfect disposition.