40 Days: A Salute to Saratoga–John’s Call

From Mary Lou to Tom; Jim Dandy to Fourstardave; Siro’s to backyard tailgating; and morning workouts to give aways; Saratoga has a cast of heroes, customs, and institutions which make it, in our opinion, the most unique sporting venue on Earth. Over the next 40 Days, we will profile 40 of these legends and traditions, adding our own memories and experiences from 30 plus years of summering at the Spa. It’s our Salute to Saratoga. We hope you enjoy following along.

Tradition, legend, hero. All of these words conjure up the past, times gone bye and stories of “the good old days”. As we have discussed in prior posts, traditions and respect for the past are things that make Saratoga special. There are many things that are done at Saratoga “the old way”. It’s throw-back operation, where the past is honored.

A true testament to history, John’s Call was himself a throwback. a horse that brought back memories of some of the greatest horses to ever cross a finish line. And what he did at Saratoga in 2000 is a testament to the old days and ways, and proof that the newest way of doing things isn’t always the best.

For those of you that don’t know, John’s Call was a fixture at Saratoga roaming the shed row in trainer Thomas Voss’ barn from 1995 – 2001. Even after his retirement at age 10, he was Voss’ pony during morning workouts. However, unlike many modern horses, his greatness was not known until late in his career.

John’s Call was foaled in 1991, and was purchased at auction as a steeplechase prospect. Voss, a preeminent figure in steeplechase and flat racing, tried him over both tracks. In fact, John’s Call broke his maiden in two starts in a row. First, going a mile and a sixteenth at Aqueduct in November 1994, then again in April 1995 over the hurdles going 2 and a quarter miles in Camden South Carolina. He traveled the Steeplechase circuit for the spring of  1995, before making his first appearance at Saratoga where he worked through his first two allowances conditions in consecutive starts.

John’s Call came back to Saratoga nearly every year after, winning or placing in a race at Saratoga from 1997-2000. Every winter Voss gave him four months off to recuperate, something few trainers do nowadays with winter race a staple around the country. But Voss did not sway, and as a result John’s Call stayed sound well after most horses have retired. John’s Call raced into his 10 year old year.

His longevity conjured up memories of the immortal John Henry. And the similarity of the two  would continue. In 2000, John’s Call equaled John Henry’s record by winning the Grade 1 Swordancer at age 9 in Saratoga. Not only that, but he did it by dominating the field by 8 lengths. Most horses are into a second career or away at stud by this time, but John’s Call was just peaking. He ran third in the Breeders’ Cup and took his connections to compete in the Tokyo Cup.

John’s Call showed the world that the old ways could still prevail, and horses could still compete later in life. He was a throw-back, with a signature victory in a throwback town. Traditional training in a tradition-filled environment. Coincidence? I think not.


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