“Here is an undefeated phenom” Tom Durkin
I remember as a kid watching a young Dwight Gooden pitch. In his first two years in the majors he was a force of nature to behold. People all over the city would stop what they were doing for two hours to watch dominance take over. His windup would begin with a casual rhythm step backwards which helped to galvanize the power that emanated from his legs. As the batter crouched in, everyone watching knew the damage was already done. There was little else of mystery left, the die was cast, the pitch was either going to be a ninety-eight-mph fastball that starts at waist level and rises up to eye level, or a backbreaking 12 to 6 curve ball that begins with the rotation of that same ninety-eight-mph fastball, yet falls off the kitchen table just as the batter would be ready to hit it.
For those two seasons Dwight Gooden was virtually untouchable. He had all the gifts in the world wrapped up with youthful exuberance and focus. Unfortunately today we all know what happened after that, which is made all the more painful by those two years of dominance, a constant reminder of what could have been.
There are certain names in sports history that conjure up that same sense of mystical dominance, athletes who are so far superior that it seams like they came down from a higher level that mortals cannot get to.
As a baseball fan and a horse racing fan I can’t help but feel the same way about the great miler, Discreet Cat. A name that brought up in horse racing circles brings up a complete reverence and awe. Just like Dwight Gooden, Discreet Cat’s accomplishments for a short time were off the charts. During the years of 2005 and 2006 the name would conjure up the same feeling as if Gooden was taking the mound in 1985.
As a two-year-old he ran his first and only race at Saratoga. Winning in impressive fashion, so impressive that it was the fastest race for any two-year-old that year. And so impressive that it had wealthy investors on the phone as soon as he hit the finish line. After all was said and done Discreet Cat was bought by Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktum of the Godolphin Stables for $6 million dollars.
He was immediately flown out to Dubai to train and compete in the UAE Derby that following spring.
Following a prep race in the spring, which he won under a hand ride. Discreet Cat took on 13 top quality three-year-old colts in the UAE Derby. In the Derby (which he also won in under a hand ride) he was the only horse to have defeated the great Invasor. Invasor would go on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic that year, defeating Bernadini in the process. Yet Discreet Cat beat him easily in Dubai, decimating a field of future Grade 1 winners.
His running style could only be compared to something of a high performance vehicle, very smooth and efficient with a high cruising speed. Often time’s jockey Frakie Dettori or Garett Gomez would be seen trying to reign him in after the break to keep him from running away from the field and yet despite their rating tactics, Discreet Cat would literally run away with the greatest of ease. When he did get the lead he simply put away all his opponents by gliding away. Never during this time did a jockey ask for anything more than a shake of the reigns from Discreet Cat, and yet he won the toughest of races with the greatest of ease.
In terms of speed figures his numbers were obviously sensational. As a two year old he ran the fastest 6-furlong race at Saratoga in the last decade. He earned a very gaudy 106 Beyer Speed Figure for that race. When he came back from Dubai, as a three-year-old he ran in three races, winning all easily with exceptional figures of 112, 115, and 116.
His last race of 06’ was the G1 Cigar Mile, perhaps his magnum opus. The Cigar Mile is a top quality Grade1 race usually reserved the best of the best. He concluded his three-year-old season with a blistering victory in the Cigar Mile 1:32.46, a new stakes record and coming within .06 of the track record set by Easy Goer.
His four-year-old season was setting up to be monstrous. After the Cigar Mile Discreet Cat went back to Dubai to get ready for a monumental showdown with Invasor. Invasor was coming off a huge victory in the Breeders’ Cup Classic. The victory for Invasor was also one for Discreet Cat because it only served to flatter him for the ease in which he defeated the now Breeders’ Cup champion earlier in the year.
After that he shipped back to Dubai for a rematch with Invasor. It was going to be a clash of the titans in a part of the world known for being larger than life. Despite the anticipation and despite the impressive record for Invasor, it seemed inconceivable that any horse could possibly challenge the mighty Discreet Cat let alone defeat him.
At this time he had the same aura that Dwight Gooden had by the end of his untouchable 85’ season, which is of an unrivaled immortal legend.
Unfortunately in mythology there is an Achilles heel to contend with. We all know what happened to Dwight Gooden, but underneath it may have been the pressure to maintain pitching at such a high level .
For Discreet Cat his ultimate downfall wasn’t losing to any other horse, but the reputation he had built as an unbeatable force of nature. If there was something physically wrong with him before the world championships, his connections decided to press on and not look like they were evading Invasor.
The official diagnosis is that he raced in Dubai with a throat obstruction . Whatever it was Discreet Cat finished last, while Invasor avenged the only loss of his career. It seemed unreal that Discreet would lose at all, never mind a last place finish. No one who saw this horse run would even expect him to lose in a stretch duel, he simply had too much class. The only logical conclusion was that something was physically wrong with him.
Discreet Cat would go on to race two times after that.
Six months would go by before Discreet Cat would race again. When he did he showed up in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park. He still was admired by fans the press and the betting public as he went off as the favorite, despite the question marks to his health. However he ran a disappointing third, running far short of his ability from a year ago. He then showed up at the Breeders’Cup running on a rain soaked Monmouth Park. Again he ran third.
By the end it was clear that Discreet Cat never recovered from whatever was bothering him in Dubai. His third place finishes were accomplished on his class alone. It seamed surreal to see such greatness reduced to mediocrity. Similarly Dwight Gooden went on to have a decent career (he threw a no-hitter, won a world series). However as sports fans know it is difficult to watch greatness come back to earth and become normal again.