Tomorrow is the Belmont Stakes, and this year we have our 14th horse attempting to win the Triple Crown since 1978. But this isn’t about American Pharoah, this is about the second horse who tried and failed to win since Affirmed swept the series that people rarely talk about anymore.
Born in 1978, Pleasant Colony was a tall brown horse who was bred by his owner Thomas Mellon Evans in Virginia. As a two year old he showed talent but wasn’t particularly noteworthy, finishing up the track in his debut to Summing but showed he was a better horse going longer with his ears flopping around in every race. He had just two wins out of five starts including the Remsen Stakes at Aqueduct where the winning horse Akureyri was disqualified and placed third. In a previous race Pleasant Colony lost to Akureyri, and in their prep races for the Derby, Akureyri finished ahead of Pleasant Colony in both the Fountain of Youth and the Florida Derby. However, in the Florida Derby Akureyri finished second and never raced again, whereas Pleasant Colony was thirteen lengths back in fifth.
Displeased with his performance in the Florida Derby, Pleasant Colony changed stables and was now trained by Johnny Campo. Campo was quite pleased with his new horse, and wouldn’t stop talking about him leading up to the Wood Memorial. With Jeffrey Fell aboard, they won the Wood by a solid three lengths and went on to Louisville.
In Kentucky, Campo didn’t slow down. He boasted every day before the race that the Derby winner was in his barn, even claiming this his horse was the most sound runner in the race. Back with his regular rider Jorge Velasquez and starting from post position four, Pleasant Colony took the lead and held off a late charge from Woodchopper to win the Kentucky Derby. On the stand with Jim McKay after the race, Campo was asked about his confidence and he answered in typical Campo form, “I’m a good horse trainer pal, and don’t you forget it.”
Campo proved he was right once again two weeks later in Baltimore in the Preakness Stakes, with Pleasant Colony going off as the favorite for the first time in his career. In the Winners’ Circle, Campo gave his usual colorful interview to Jim McKay saying, “he was 3/5th off the track record, he was playing with these horses. He is a great horse. This is one of the greatest racehorses that’s ever been in the United States.”
Needless to say, in the three weeks leading up to the Belmont Stakes Campo did not slow down once when talking about his horse. They were back on his home turf in New York. Running against him this time was going to be the close Derby runner up Woodchopper, as well as Summing who was the winner of Pleasant Colony’s first race. Early on in the long Belmont Stakes, Pleasant Colony hung last as usual, and around the turn went wide but was picking up horses with every stride. Unfortunately on the front end Summing was holding and pulling away and was too much for Pleasant Colony to catch him and he finished third. After the race, Campo commented, “you can’t make an excuse. Don’t be sorry, its the name of the game!”
After the Triple Crown, Pleasant Colony would race just three more times. He finished second in the Travers Stakes to Willow Hour in a thrilling finish in the slop. After that race he went on to become the first three year old to win the Woodward Stakes since 1972 and with the win not only did he stamp himself as the best three year old in the country, he was in contention for being the best overall horse. In the final race of his career, he ran in the Marlboro Cup but would finish fourth. He was set to run in the Jockey Club Gold Cup that October, but had to pull out due to injury, and never raced again. Without being able to maintain his status as one of the top horses running, the Horse of the Year honor that year was awarded to John Henry, but Pleasant Colony was award Champion Three Year Old.
He stood at stud at his owner’s Buckland Farm in Lexington, Kentucky and had a good career as a stallion passing on those long legs of his. He sired 73 Stakes winners, and more than a dozen Grade One winners including Pleasant Stage, who won the Breeders Cup Juvenile Fillies and Champion Two-Year-Old filly honors in 1991, Pleasant Tap who was 1992 Champion Older Male, St Jovite who won the 1992 Irish Derby and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes, as well as Pleasantly Perfect who won the 2003 Breeders Cup Classic and 2004 Dubai World Cup. His owner Thomas Mellon Evans passed away in 1997, and the horse was moved to Lane’s End Farm, where he stood until 2000 when he was pensioned and sent back to Virginia at Blue Ridge Farm, where he stayed until his death in 2002 when he was 24 years old. He is buried back at Buckland Farm in Kentucky.
Almost-Triple Crown winners go down in history as horses who could have, but didn’t. Pleasant Colony, while remembered occasionally, rarely gets brought up anymore 34-years after his two classic wins. While he was a horse who definitely hit his stride at the right time under Johnny Campo, he earned his recognition as a very successful producer.