Dazzling Falls, Nebraska’s Only Kentucky Derby Starter, Dies At Age 28

As Nebraska sits on the precipice of seismic change with its recent racino green-light, the state also lays to rest one of its greatest equine heroes.

Dazzling Falls, who became the only Nebraska-bred to compete in the Kentucky Derby when he finished 13th in 1995, was found dead in his field Tuesday in Mead, Neb., just outside Omaha, bringing to an end 28 years as the standard bearer for the Cornhusker State as a runner and a sire.

The son of Taylor’s Falls competed as a homebred for Donald and Barbara Kroeger’s Chateau Ridge Farm, and he lived out his final years at Rogers Ranch, supported financially by Barbara on behalf of her late husband. Dazzling Falls was handled for the bulk of his racing career by Omaha-born trainer Chuck Turco.

Dazzling Falls came into Turco’s barn at Remington Park near the end of his 2-year-old season after establishing himself as a multiple stakes winner at Ak-Sar-Ben for trainer Robert Jorgensen. Turco could tell by the colt’s ground-devouring stride that he could handle the deeper waters in Oklahoma, but he’d have to change up the gameplan from what won him races in his home state.

That decision likely took Dazzling Falls from a good state-bred horse to one that could compete with the best of his class.

“He was a front runner, and they sent him to Remington for the [Mathis Brothers Remington] Futurity, and I thought it was a lot to ask for him,” Turco said. “Plus, Evansville Slew was floating around town, so being another speedball wasn’t going to help. We changed his style of running, and he just relished it. He’d get way behind, and then he was able to use the speed he was bred for in the last quarter-mile.”

The change in tactics saw immediate returns when the colt showed restraint, then blew away in the stretch to win the Prevue Stakes at Remington by 3 1/2 lengths. Old foe Evansville Slew got his revenge in the Remington Futurity, but Dazzling Falls finished the season on a high note with a win in the Hawthorne Juvenile Stakes in Illinois.

Dazzling Falls returned to Remington Park for his spring campaign and linked up with jockey Garrett Gomez, who would become his most successful partner.

After a couple in-the-money efforts in prep races, Dazzling Falls successfully dialed in his closing kick again in the Remington Park Derby. With the backing of fans from both Nebraska and Oklahoma, the colt entered the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby as one of the favorites two weeks later, and he emerged a 1 1/4-length winner.

All of a sudden, two Nebraska boys had the graded stakes earnings to enter the Kentucky Derby. While the buzz back home revolved around Ak-Sar-Ben’s eventual sale, it was a needed morale boost for a state about to face some hard times.

With that being said, the culture shock of the spotlight was real.

“The thing about racing a horse from this part of the country in those kinds of races is they’re just not used to the noise, the attention, the crowds, the bigger cities, the airplanes and helicopters,” Turco said. “Things are pretty quiet in Nebraska. He really handled it step-by-step as he got better. I remember him staring at me the first time we put him on an airplane like, ‘Get me off this thing right now.’”

Turco said he expected the Nebraska-bred to stick out like a sore thumb in Louisville, given his unorthodox background, and the media machine rumbled to life by the time the colt was back to his stall after the Arkansas Derby. Despite coming into the Derby off an impressive win in his final prep, Dazzling Falls was still considered one of the field’s biggest longshots.

“I think the question really was, ‘Do you think a horse with this pedigree should go to Churchill Downs?’” Turco said. “I said, ‘I’m an Italian from south Omaha, and my pedigree probably doesn’t match up, either, but we’re going.’”

Dazzling Falls’ sire, Taylor’s Falls, earned his most lucrative victory in the Beef State Handicap at Ak-Sar-Ben, and he never raced at a distance longer than six furlongs. He was a solid sire of stakes winners, and he even got four graded stakes winners over the course of his stud career, but classic success was certainly not expected of his foals.

Even though the horse and trainer were outsiders at Churchill Downs, that didn’t mean they were completely separated from their people.

Tulsa-based sportscaster Chris Lincoln, a friend of Turco’s from the races at Remington Park, was on the outside rail covering the Derby for ESPN that year. As the trainer prepared to compete on the biggest stage of his life, Lincoln gave him a daily reminder of his roots.

“About a week out from the race, I heard this music playing,” Turco said. “The closer we got to the ESPN scaffold there, we heard the (University of) Nebraska fight song playing. Here at Churchill, everybody was looking at us like we were yokels, but we had a hell of a football team that year. Every morning that we went to the track, he’d play that song, and we would fight off tears.”

Turco knew he had his horse trending in the right direction heading into the Derby, having righted the ship from his defeats earlier in the spring to get him to Louisville with a two-race winning streak. However, he also knew the road he took to get there wasn’t easy. No matter what Dazzling Falls did in the race, it was probably going to use up whatever was left in his tank.

“He had 13 days between the Remington Derby and the Arkansas Derby, and he had another 14 days between Arkansas Derby and the Kentucky Derby,” the trainer said. “I knew if he won the Kentucky Derby, I was going to be the most unpopular trainer in the world, because there was no way I was going to run in the Preakness, because that was another two weeks away. Even back then, that was too much.”

With Gomez once again in the irons, Dazzling Falls left the gate in the 1995 Kentucky Derby at the field’s longest price: 27-1 in a group that was diluted on the odds board by two pairs of coupled entries and six horses lumped together as “the field.”

By that standard, he outran his odds. That’s pretty much where the positive comments on his Derby trip end. Knocked around out of the gate from the dreaded inside post, Dazzling Falls hugged the rail for most of the race before Gomez fanned him out widest of all for the stretch run. He picked up a few placings, but he was never any kind of threat for eventual winner Thunder Gulch, settling for 13th of the 19 starters.

Dazzling Falls got his break after the Kentucky Derby, then he traveled to the now-defunct Birmingham Turf Club and won the Alabama Derby in what would be his final start with Gomez. The colt continued to barnstorm graded stakes races around the country for the remainder of his 3-year-old season, then he raced twice at Oaklawn Park at age four before an injury ended his career. He finished with nine wins in 20 starts and he made $904,622, making him the highest-earning Nebraska-bred of all-time.

Turco and Dazzling Falls went their separate ways after the horse retired, as is the way of things. The trainer went back to his base at Remington Park to find the next one, and Dazzling Falls went off to begin his stud career, first in Oklahoma, before moving to Iowa, and finally Rogers Ranch in his native state.

Six or seven years passed, and Dazzling Falls was a cherished memory for Turco, but little else. Tied up with his growing stable, he didn’t have time to visit his star runner. One day, that changed. Then, Turco changed.

“I was a young man, and was busy,” Turco said. “You go through a lot of horses when you’re training, and there’s mechanisms you have to turn your emotions off. When I did have the opportunity to see him, six or seven of us went out there the first time, and he was out in this big pasture. He ran the length of that thing right to me and stuck his tongue out. At that point, I thought, ‘My God, he remembered me after all these years,’ and I felt guilty as hell. After that, I went out any chance I had.”

Between his visits with Dazzling Falls, Turco kept himself busy with a handful of his star’s foals, including the best one he ever put on the track, Diamond Joe.

Over the course of seven seasons, Diamond Joe won 24 of 56 starts, and earned $507,482, joining his sire among Nebraska’s highest all-time moneymakers. Among his 21 career stakes wins was a victory in Nebraska’s signature race, the 2013 Bosselman/Gus Fonner Stakes at Fonner Park.

While Dazzling Falls was Turco’s highest-profile runner, the trainer considered Diamond Joe his tour-de-force; an overachiever who banked a ton of money in a state where the purse structure makes banking a ton of money incredibly hard to do.

Dazzling Falls (right) comes face-to-face with Diamond Joe at Horsemen’s Park.

Once again, the blueprint for success meant teaching a speed horse to use his ability at the right time.

“For one thing, I knew Diamond Joe was from a speed-happy family, and I already did this once, so I told the riders when he was a baby, ‘If you work him fast, I’ll fire you in a heartbeat,’” Turco said. “We never asked Diamond Joe for anything. It got to the point where he wouldn’t even get published workouts, but we kept that edge off him that way.”

Though he’s been pensioned for five years, Dazzling Falls still had a small handful of runners compete this year. From 18 crops at stud, he had 165 foals and 90 winners with combined progeny earnings of more than $4.5 million. He never got a graded stakes winner, but he did send 19 foals to victory in stakes company.

Turco’s production as a trainer has geared down in recent seasons, and after a training career that spanned 35 years, he has not had any starters in 2020. Dazzling Falls remains his highest earner and lone graded stakes winner.

Dazzling Falls was the figurehead for his trainer’s ascent in the 1990s, then as a sire, he was the catalyst for Turco’s resurgence in the 2010s. The horse called it a career at stud around the same time his trainer began sizing down his stable, and he died in a year where the trainer went fully dormant on the racetrack.

The bond between the trainer and his greatest charge was special. One glowing conversation with Turco about the horse made that abundantly clear. It was the way their lives continued to intertwine over the course of decades that truly made it once-in-a-lifetime.

“It’s been good for my soul over the last 10, 15 years, just going out and seeing him,” Turco said. “A lot of people don’t get to do that. Some don’t care to. Some trainers are too busy, and everybody’s different. Some owners don’t want to spend the money to take care of a horse for the next 20 years. What a testament to the Kroegers for doing that.”

The post Dazzling Falls, Nebraska’s Only Kentucky Derby Starter, Dies At Age 28 appeared first on Horse Racing News | Paulick Report.

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