by Dean Hoffman
The story of Malabar Man was made for Hollywood or certainly for TV. He was bred by Mal Burroughs, a construction executive who developed a fondness for racing horses as an amateur. Mal had seemingly reached a career pinnacle when he drove his filly Gleam to victory in the 1994 Hambletonian Oaks.
But Mal Burroughs wasn’t content with that victory. He wanted to win the Big Dance, the Hambletonian. When Gleam was making headlines in 1994, Burroughs eyed his suckling colt by Supergill that showed promise of future greatness. Mal looked forward to driving this colt named Malabar Man in 1996.
But a not-so-funny thing happened to Burroughs along the way. He encountered serious heart problems and his surgeon said that if Burroughs wanted to continue to drive horses, a strenuous hobby, he would need open heart surgery.
“Start cutting,” Burroughs told the surgeon.
In early 1996, as Burroughs recovered from heart surgery, Jimmy Takter developed Malabar Man into a very promising prospect. When Malabar Man was ready to start racing in late June, Burroughs had received sufficiently to resume driving. And he found great joy in driving Malabar Man to 13 wins in 15 starts in 1996.
As a 3-year-old,Malabar Man was unbeatable through August, sweeping the Hambletonian easily and coming into the rich World trotting Derby as a with nine wins in nine starts.
In the first heat, Canadian invader Lord Stormont got to the front first. Malabar Man was parked outside him and just gradually wore him down for a hard-fought win.
“If they can’t beat Malabar Man after the trip he just had, they will never beat him,” said one racing expert on the scene.
But they did beat Malabar Man: Lord Stormont beat him twice in the next two hours, and next two heats. Lord Stormont took home the trophy in the World Trotting Derby while Malabar Man went back to his stable.
Malabar Man’s next two starts weren’t impressive. He made a break at Freehold and finished second. Then he narrowly won by a nose at Lexington. Was his form starting to fade? Was he losing his sharpness?
Meanwhile, Lord Stormont did nothing but win. In fact, he was so dominant in the New York Sires Stakes final that he won by 8-3/4 lengths at Yonkers.
That set up a grudge match in the Breeders Crown. This came over Lord Stormont’s home track at Mohawk Raceway in Ontario. Bettors there made Lord Stormont the odds-on favorite over Malabar Man. It was a role reversal for Malabar Man: in all of his previous starts that season, he had been the odds-on favorite to win.
Lord Stormont left aggressively for the lead while Malabar Man took a seat behind the early pacesetters. Lord Stormont had to work to get to the front and then found Malabar Man challenging on the outside.
The frantic early fractions took a toll on Lord Stormont and he faded to finish third while Malabar Man coasted to a 7-1/4 length triumph for Burroughs.
Revenge in the Breeders Crown was sweet for Malabar Man and he was voted 1997 Horse of the Year.