Taz plays Alydar in mule battles with Black Ruby

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If Black Ruby is the Secretariat of mules, then Taz is the Alydar.

Second a remarkable 30 times in the 42
times he has raced against Black Ruby, Taz gallantly attempted to turn the tide
at Fairplex Park last Saturday, but the 8-year-old gelding couldn’t hold off
the 10-year-old mare, Black Ruby, in a winner-take-all match race worth $10,000
at a distance of 350 yards.

Unlike the 400-yard match race between
the two at Del Mar on Sept. 8 in which there was no wagering, win betting was
offered at Fairplex, with Black Ruby winning by a half-length and returning

Despite losing to Black Ruby for the
25th time in his last 27 starts against her, Ed Burdick is fulfilled.

“It feels wonderful (to be compared
with Alydar),” says Burdick, the 64-year-old trainer of Taz, who has 17 wins,
34 seconds, six thirds and earnings of $96,645 in 65 career starts. Taz last
defeated Black Ruby on Aug. 24, by a head.

“It’s a pleasure to have any
animal (that can compete) at this level, and there’s nothing wrong with being
compared to Alydar, because he was a champion in his own right,” Burdick said.
“I watched Alydar run (in the late 1970’s, when he and arch-foe Affirmed
established a rivalry that has become part of racing lore) and he never did give
up. Taz never gives up, either, and he will never give up.”

In their match at Del Mar, Black Ruby
got the jump on Taz from the gate and while Taz challenged at about mid-point,
Black Ruby never relinquished the lead and won by two lengths. Burdick feels the
start is crucial when the two meet, and despite Taz’s alert start at Fairplex
which enabled him to lead until the final 50 yards, the 8-year-old gelding
couldn’t withstand Black Ruby’s unflagging surge.

“Black Ruby is pretty flawless,”
Burdick said, “and when she does everything correct, she’s extremely tough
to beat. That’s the reason she is the world champion.”

Burdick is philosophical about Taz’s
unbalanced ledger against Black Ruby, as he is about the relative lack of
respect, recognition and earnings of racing mules, compared to their
thoroughbred counterparts. In his 65 starts, Taz has average winnings of about
$1,500 per race, and $11,332 for each victory.

“You’re right about the (inequity)
in the money,” said Burdick, a native of Lakeside, California, near Sacramento
(he grew up in Del Mar but moved to Northern California in his early 20’s).
But believe it or not, the money doesn’t really come into play here. It’s
just about Taz being gifted enough to step to the plate as much as he has,
because when he was younger in his career, he wasn’t really dedicated. So for
him to do like he’s doing now, we’re really proud of him.”

Unlike their thoroughbred kin, mules
can race days apart with little drain on their countenance.

“That’s not uncommon for a
mule,” said Burdick, a trainer of quarter horses and thoroughbreds for many
years before “getting into the mule world eight years ago. Their metabolism is
so much stronger than a horse that their recoup time is like three times greater
and quicker.”

Mules have a reputation for being
obstinate (“stubborn as a mule,” the expression goes), but Burdick thinks
that is a misconception.

“Mr. Jacklin (Taz’s owner, Don
Jacklin) chuckles when I use the word ”˜stubborn’ about mules,” Burdick
said. “He told me, ”˜You’re going to find out two things about mules: No.
1, they are extremely cautious, and here’s some insight the average person
doesn’t have. A mule’s sense of smell vs. a horse is 4-1 greater, so a lot
of times, if a mule balks at something, and when it has its head down looking at
it, they’re really smelling it and want to check it out.’

“I have found that to be true. Mules
are extremely cautious. They pick their friends. You don’t pick them.”

If a mule’s nose provides one of its
keenest senses, what about those oversized ears? Taz’s are 14 inches long.

“Here again,” Burdick said, “as
far as we know through (research at) the University of Idaho (Taz is an
Idaho-bred) and Texas A&M, mules are unique in several ways and their
hearing is one of them. They also have terrific peripheral vision, where a horse
does not. Mules are very gifted.”

But none so exceptional as Taz and
Black Ruby, whose frequent and competitive showdowns have captured the fancy of
the nation. Black Ruby was featured in a recent Sports Illustrated article.

Mules are sterile, thus cannot breed.
A mule’s parents are always a donkey and a horse, usually a thoroughbred or a
quarter horse. Burdick says more often than not, the male in the mating is the
donkey. “We have had our best success that way,” he said.

And as if one Taz isn’t enough, a
duplicate could be on the way.

“Even as we speak there is a Taz
clone being developed,” Burdick said. “We took DNA from Taz when he was
younger and Mr. Jacklin has been working on this program for about 2½ years. We
have had two mare’s eggs in an incubator for almost 50 days, and the
University (of Idaho) and Mr. Jacklin feel that if we can get up to 65 days, we
will have a real high rate of being successful.”

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