by Dean Hoffman
To do the impossible once was miraculous. To do it a month later was epic.
A month earlier, he had won the Little Brown Jug despite being parked out for virtually every step of the mile. Horses simply don’t win after such a grueling trip on a half-mile track. And they certainly don’t win that way against the highest possible level of competition.
Perhaps Life Sign sensed what winning the Jug would mean to his trainer Gene Riegle and his owner George Segal. Riegle was a native Ohioan and had long coveted a Jug victory. Segal lived in Chicago and knew the importance of the Jug in the sport’s pantheon.
The Segal-Riegle team had come tantalizing close to winning the Jug the previous year when Western Hanover was nosed out by Fake Left. Could Life Sign compensate for Western’s loss?
Life Sign and Riyadh won elimination heats to qualify for the second heat. Riyadh got the edge when he drew post one, a critical advantage at Delaware. And Riyadh had quicksilver speed away from the starting gate.
Life Sign and driver John Campbell found no hole along the inside when the colts left the start in the Jug’s second heat. But neither could he overtake pacesetting Riyadh for the lead.
Campbell and Life Sign were stuck. There was nothing they could do except sit outside and take their medicine.
Riyadh had won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and, as they turned into the homestretch it appeared as if he was ready to complete the sweep.
But instead of raising the white flag of surrender, as most mortal horses would do, Life Sign dug deep into his pedigree and rallied for an unbelievable victory. Observers shook their heads in disbelief. They’d never seen anything quite like that.
Exactly a month later many of the same pacers lined up for the Breeders Crown at Freehold. Life Sign’s rivals Riyadh and President Ball were there—and they were always dangerous.
Presidential Ball won the sprint to the first quarter-mile marker. Life Sign was behind him but on the outside.
Life Sign stayed on the outside. It was a déjà vu of Delaware. He once again endured a trip that invariably ends in defeat. But Life Sign was no ordinary horse. He wasn’t about to surrender when Breeders Crown prestige was on the line.
In the stretch, Riyadh relented and Life Sign surged. That same determination he displayed at Delaware paid off once again at Freehold. Life Sign endured and overcame the extra distance he had to cover to win by a neck.
Presidential Ball finished fifth and Riyadh faded to dead last.
Life Sign accomplished seemingly impossible feats exactly one month apart. After such a memorable Breeders Crown win, there were no more worlds for Life Sign to conquer. He retired to stud and never raced again.