Precisionist Joins Hall of Fame

Published in the Aug. 2, 2003, issue of The Blood-Horse
Precisionist was the most dangerous kind of racehorse: he had speed and he could carry it--anywhere. At the dawn of the Breeders' Cup era when horses, like other athletes, were being pegged as specialists, Precisionist was a general practitioner. Fast enough to be named champion sprinter (1985), he had the stamina to win at 1 1/4 miles three times in grade I and grade II races. And if he didn't win, Fred W. Hooper's homebred was pressing his generation's best to their limits. West Coast, East Coast, dirt, turf, slop, it didn't matter.

Time was another virtue for Precisionist, as his longevity to remain in training parallels that of his owner, who lived to be 102.

Those formative years of the Breeders' Cup were Precisionist's personal playground. He made appearances in four of the first five editions, finishing seventh in the inaugural Classic (gr. I) at Hollywood Park, then winning the Sprint (gr. I) at Aqueduct in 1985. He ran third in the 1986 Classic before a disappointing attempt at stud duty. Mounting a comeback, this time under the care of trainer John Russell, he ran fifth in the 1988 Sprint at Churchill Downs. To date, only Kona Gold has made more Breeders' Cup appearances.

Though he showed his signature versatility even as a 2-year-old, it was early in his 3-year-old year that trainer Ross Fenstermaker discovered the key that turned the good horse into a champion.

"When I started galloping him myself, I learned something about the horse," Fenstermaker said from his home in Temple City, Calif. "And when I told Chris (jockey McCarron), he just about turned white. Before one race, I told him not to take a hold of the reins; just let 'em dangle." McCarron thought Precisionist would run off, but he didn't, and they finished third in the Silver Screen Handicap (gr. II). He employed similar tactics in his next start, the Swaps (gr. I), and Precisionist drew off by 10 lengths, getting the 1 1/4 miles in 1:59 4/5.

Two starts later, the Del Mar Handicap (gr. II) "was one that impressed me," Fenstermaker said. In his first start against older horses, Precisionist won by 1 3/4 lengths, getting slightly less than 10 furlongs in 1:56 4/5.

Precisionist then suffered a head loss to Gate Dancer in the Super Derby (gr. I), a race Fenstermaker thought he should have won. "He turned for home three in front and he got to looking at the grandstand. If he saw Gate Dancer coming, he would have won."

In a span of 16 months, from January 1985 to April 1986, Precisionist and Greinton faced each other eight times, running one-two seven times in graded stakes (four grade Is, three grade IIs), and the evenly matched foes split the series. McCarron remembers both horses were "very honest, consistent, and they were a good match."

Stinging feet from the hard Hollywood track took Precisionist out of training in June of 1985, and Fenstermaker brought him back patiently. To show his range, Precisionist's next start off a loss to Greinton in the Hollywood Gold Cup (gr. I) was his victory in the six-furlong Breeders' Cup Sprint in 1:08 2/5 on a raw, overcast day in New York.

Precisionist had done it all by the end of 1986, including finishing in front of that year's Horse of the Year, Lady's Secret, twice. A third-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Classic was his swan song. A half-interest in the son of Crozier had been purchased by Hooper's fellow Floridian Arthur I. Appleton for $4 million. However, he was a bust as a stallion, unable to get his mares in foal. The money was refunded, and Precisionist was put back into training. He won three of 10 starts and ran fifth in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.

He returned to Hooper's farm in Ocala, Fla., and his proud owner stretched his imagination, and wallet, on countless tests to determine why Precisionist was sterile, but to no avail. Precisionist was only able to sire four foals, and his first one died.

Precisionist today resides with Dr. Siobhan Ellison at her farm near Fairfield, Fla. She took over the care of the champion in 1996. Hooper died in August of 2000.

Perhaps his failure as a stallion took some of the sparkle off the streaking star over time. The numbers and times he put up on the track, however, take a backseat to few. Twenty wins from 46 starts, with another 10 seconds and four thirds. Total earnings of $3,485,398. Six furlongs in 1:08 2/5. A mile in 1:32 4/5. Ten furlongs in 2:00 1/5. It's time for Precisionist to take his place in the Hall of Fame.