Hopes were so high for Bob Yagos and his wife, Val, of Jacksonville going into last Saturday’s Kentucky Derby.
Their 3-year-old thoroughbred, Archarcharch, had won the Arkansas Derby just three weeks earlier and now was being touted by many racing analysts as a longshot worth keeping an eye on in Louisville.
Meanwhile, extensive media attention had focused on 70-year-old trainer Jinks Fires of Hot Springs, who has been in the business for five decades and finally had a horse in the Kentucky Derby.
Not only that, the jockey was his son-in-law, a 50-year-old veteran rider named Jon Court.
Thoroughbred racing can bring owners, trainers and jockeys alike to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
Saturday, April 16, in Hot Springs had been the highest of highs for Bob and Val Yagos, Jinks Fires and Jon Court.
On the first Saturday in May in Kentucky, it was a different story.
Archarcharch stumbled coming out of the No. 1 post position and was never a factor in the race. The horse pulled up lame just after the finish. Those across the country who were watching the race on NBC had a sickening feeling as they saw Archarcharch being loaded into an ambulance.
X-rays revealed a fracture in the left front leg, and it was announced that Archarcharch would be retired from racing.
It could, of course, have been even worse.
Ruffian. Go For Wand. Charismatic. Swale. Holy Bull. Barbaro.
The list of great horses who had career and even life-ending injuries is long.
Arkansan John Ed Anthony understands.
In May 1993, the chairman of Anthony Timberlands Inc. stood at the top of the sport of kings. He had joined Harry Payne Whitney and the famed Calumet Farm of Kentucky that year in being the only 20th-century owners to win the Preakness Stakes in back-to-back years.
The highest of highs.
In June 1993, however, things began to change for Anthony, a 2001 inductee into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame.
Prairie Bayou, who had been the runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the winner of the Preakness, shattered a leg in the Belmont Stakes.
“The horse was strong and sound, had never had any physical problems, was on one of the safest tracks in America, just galloping along at the back of the pack, not even extended, and took a step and shattered his leg,” Anthony later told The Baltimore Sun. “More than anything, the emotion I felt was absolute astonishment.”
The lowest of lows.
John Eisenberg would describe it this way in the Sun: “Wild-eyed, unable to stand, the horse was taken by ambulance from the track to the Loblolly barn. After conferring with veterinarians, Anthony reluctantly agreed to have the horse euthanized a half-hour after the race. He is still haunted by his decision.”
“They kept telling me no horse had recovered from such an injury,” Anthony told the Sun. “I kept saying, ‘Death is always an option, but why do we have to do it now?’ They finally convinced me the situation just wasn’t going to change. But I have often wondered if it wasn’t the right time to try some of the radical procedures that are out there. The horse was a classic champion.”
Condolence letters poured in from around the world.
A year later, none of Anthony’s 37 3-year-olds proved worthy of running in the Triple Crown races. The best of the 1994 crop, Bayou Bartholomew, had been injured in the Arkansas Derby and retired.
Thus John Ed Anthony never had the chance to do what others in the 20th century could not do — win the Preakness three consecutive times.
Whitney had won with Bostonian in 1927 and Victorian in 1928, but Beacon Hill finished fifth in 1929.
Calumet won with Faultless in 1947 and Citation in 1948, but Kentucky Derby winner Ponder ran fifth in the 1949 Preakness.
Anthony had started Loblolly Stable with his wife Mary Lynn in 1975.
Loblolly began gaining attention as Cox’s Ridge won important races in 1977 and 1978. Then came Temperence Hill’s 1980 Belmont Stakes victory along with the Preakness victories of Pine Bluff in 1992 and Prairie Bayou in 1993.
John Ed and Mary Lynn divorced in 1988 after almost 28 years of marriage but continued for several more years as the co-owners of Loblolly.
“You divorce your husband, but you don’t divorce your friend,” Mary Lynn once said.
Mary Lynn married Arkansas Supreme Court Justice Robert Dudley, and Anthony also remarried.
In 1994, though, John Ed and Mary Lynn decided to desolve Loblly.
“If you want to blame someone, blame me,” Mary Lynn told the Sun that year. “John Ed and I have worked together well on Loblolly, but I have a new life, and it was getting harder to fit racing into it. And then Prairie Bayou was so devastating. I realized I had reached the point where the highs didn’t make up for the lows.”
Loblolly’s mares, yearlings and weanlings were sold at auctions in Lexington, Ky.
John Ed Anthony, however, wasn’t about to leave the racing game he had so come to love. He quickly created Shortleaf Stable.
“The name is symbolic,” Eisenberg wrote. “The shortleaf is a species of pine, a smaller, higher-quality species than the loblobby, which is more common in Arkansas.”
Shortleaf Stable would be smaller than Loblolly had been, but there would be quality.
Anthony, a Bearden native, was born in February 1939 and graduated in 1961 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. He briefly enrolled in law school but returned home when his father died. He knew the family timber business in the vast pine woods of south Arkansas was his calling and wanted to help his grandfather operate that business.
Anthony’s ancestors had settled the area in the 1840s. In 1907, his grandfather, Garland Anthony, began operating a small sawmill near Bearden. By the 1930s, the man affectionately known across the Gulf Coastal Plain as Mr. Garland had built one of the largest timber operations in the South.
From its headquarters in Bearden — just three miles from the original mill –Anthony Timberlands operates sawmills and other wood products businesses across south Arkansas.
Mr. Garland died in 1982 at age 97. John Ed Anthony’s grandchildren are the seventh generation of their family to work in those forests.
“We believe the seven generations of heritage invested in our lands, plants and communities require a higher standard than simply operating for a profit,” Anthony says. “Each succeeding generation is challenged to leave a better forest and a better company than when they arrived.”
Anthony, who recently completed a term on the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees, stresses quality in both his timber and racing operations. He has used some of the best trainers in the business — D. Wayne Lukas, John Veitch, Shug McGaughey, Joe Cantey.
The emphasis on quality extends to other areas.
In September 2006, the $5.8 million Anthony Chapel complex opened at Garvan Woodland Gardens in Hot Springs following a major donation by John Ed Anthony and his wife, Isabel Burton Anthony. There’s a six-story, wood-and-glass chapel that’s an architectural wonder along with a bride’s hall, a groom’s quarters and the 57-foot Anthony Family Carillon, an electric bell tower. The complex was designed by Fayetteville architects Maurice Jennings and David McKee.
“I think horses have to be secondary toward some higher purpose in life,” Anthony once told Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times. “Except maybe if you’re in the Pony Express and the Indians are chasing you, how fast a horse can run is not really very important in the whole grand scheme of things.”
Anthony, though, will long be remembered as having been among the greatest American thoroughbred owners of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.