Retired Trainer Bill Donovan Dead

Bill Donovan, who trained millionaire Lost Code and authored the popular “Backtracks: Recollections of a racetrack lifer” for The Blood-Horse, died Wednesday morning. He had suffered from emphysema for about 20 years. He lived outside Baltimore near Pikesville.

Lost Code was one of racing’s stars in the mid-1980s, and Donovan took him all over the eastern part of the U.S. Campaigned by Donald Levinson’s Wendover Stable, Lost Code won a dozen stakes at eight different tracks.

Lost Code’s greatest accomplishment came when he won seven consecutive stakes, including three straight Derbys in 1987. He captured the Illinois Derby (gr. III), Ohio Derby (gr. II), and St. Paul Derby (gr. III), and then won the Arlington Classic (gr. I).

In his next race, he took on the year’s two classic winners, Alysheba and Bet Twice, in the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I). He finished third, beaten a half-length by Bet Twice, with Alysheba in between them.

The following year in the Pimlico Special Handicap, Lost Code finished second to Bet Twice, with Alysheba running unplaced.

Lost Code’s biggest win came in the 1988 Oaklawn Handicap (gr. I), when he beat Cryptoclearance and Gulch. The time was two-fifths of a second slower than the track record.

Lost Code retired with 15 wins and seven placings from 27 races and earnings of $2,085,396.

Donovan's other stakes winners included Code Blum, Diamond Duo, and Jacody.

"Backtracks" appeared in The Blood-Horse in the first issue of each month, and it drew upon Donovan’s recollections of 50 years in racing.

The most recent one, which appeared in the Aug. 2 issue, started:

Where are all the characters?
Where did they all go?
There were so many of them.
I’ll never remember them all, I know.
We had Poppa Jack, Big Smitty, and Edible Pat.
Buck, Mulligan Red, Loose Horse, and Harry the Hat.
A few became wealthy,
Some even reached the Hall of Fame,
But most passed on with no recollection
Of a given last name.

Donovan is survived by his wife, Donna; sons Pat and Mike: and a daughter, Sheeree. Pat worked for his dad for 25 years.