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Alysheba at the Kentucky Horse Park

Alysheba at the Kentucky Horse Park in March 2009 shortly before his death.

© Amber Chalfin

A living legend passes away:

On Friday March 27, 2009, Thoroughbred racing lost one of its living legends, when 1987 Kentucky Derby winner and 1988 Horse of the Year Alysheba was humanely euthanized at the Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington. He fell in his stall that afternoon and it was determined he had an insurmountable injury. Dr. Slovis, along with veterinary staff of both owner King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the Kentucky Horse Park made the decision to have him put down at 11:13 PM. He will be buried at the Hall of Champions across from John Henry. A memorial service for Alysheba will be planned at a later date.

Kentucky Derby winner:

Until his death, Alysheba was the oldest living Kentucky Derby winner. The son of Alydar out of Bel Sheba was sold as a yearling to Dorothy and Pam Scharbauer for $500,000. Sent to the barn of Hall of Fame trainer Jack Van Berg, who said, "He stuck out like a diamond in a rock pile. He was so smart he knew what he was doing all the time," he won the 1987 Kentucky Derby (G1), Preakness Stakes (G1), Super Derby (G1), and an Eclipse Award as Champion 3-year-old male. He was narrowly beaten in that year's Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita by 1986 Derby winner and eventual 1987 Horse of the Year Ferdinand.

Horse of the Year as a 4-year-old:

As a 4-year-old, he was even better, winning six Grade 1 stakes: the Strub Stakes, Santa Anita Handicap, Iselin Handicap, Woodward Stakes, Meadowlands Cup and the Breeders' Cup Classic, earning him Horse of the Year honors. His career highlights also included Horse of the Year honors and track records for 1 1/4 miles at Belmont and The Meadowlands. Along the way, he defeated Risen Star, Forty Niner, Bet Twice, Seeking the Gold, and Ferdinand.

Bio from Home of Alydar - Includes a complete race record with links to video from several of his races.


He retired with 11 wins in 26 starts and earnings of $6,670,242, as the world's richest Thoroughbred, a record that was not passed until Cigar. He stood at Lane's End Farm where he sired 11 stakes winners, before being sold to the Saudi Arabian royal family. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1993. In October 2008, King Abdullah returned him home as a gift to the American people after 8 years in the royal stables. The Kentucky Horse Park gave him the position of honor, the paddock and stall formerly used by John Henry.

His death in March 2009 at the age of 25:

Kathy Hopkins, Director of Equine Operations at the Horse Park explained, "Due to a chronic degenerative spinal condition that led to ataxia and instability, Alysheba fell in his stall yesterday injuring his right hind femur. Complicated by his advanced age, this trauma resulted in severe pain that did not respond to analgesic therapy. The resulting pain and suffering, and the inability to stand unaided, led to a joint decision for euthanasia."


Jockey Chris McCarron said, "Obviously what happened (Friday) was incredibly tragic, and I'm saddened by it. We had a great run with him. I was very pleased he was able to come home to his birthplace and spend the last couple of months of his life here."

Trainer Jack Van Berg said, "He was just a great, great horse. We never got to see the best of him. He'd do things you couldn't believe."

John Asher of Churchill Downs said, "You can't have an argument about the best horses in the last 25 years of the 20th century and not include him. I always describe him as Michael Jordan in horseshoes."

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