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Men’s Exclusive finally calls it
a career at age 11

Oct 12, 2004 3:06 AM

Old horses never die; they just race away.

So it was with Men’s Exclusive, who, in less than three months, turns the ripe old age of 12.

They tried to retire him once, but Men’s Exclusive would have none of it. He had the same mind set as the late Charlie Whittingham. "Retire to what?" old Charlie would say. "I can’t do nothing else."

Men’s Exclusive couldn’t do nothing else, either. He’s a thoroughbred and he wanted to race. Oh, towards the end he didn’t run like he did when he was winning most of his bankroll of more than $1 million, but like all things great and small, competing with stakes horses was easier when he was young and virile. Still, the dark bay gelding was giving it the old college try as an 11-year-old, despite racing in his career with feet so flawed they would have frustrated Dr. Scholl.

"We tried to retire him before but he just wasn’t happy," said his life-long trainer, 36-year-old Wesley Ward, a former jockey who won an Eclipse Award as the nation’s top apprentice in 1984 when he won 335 races. "He was like a man who had worked at a job he enjoyed for 30 years, then had to retire. He didn’t know what else to do. Men’s Exclusive loved to race and loved to be at the race track. I know. I’ve had him ever since he was a baby."

Ward and the owner of Men’s Exclusive, Debbie Reed, thought long and hard before deciding last week to send Men’s Exclusive out to pasture for good.

"He was turned out at my parents ranch in Corona the first time we retired him, last November," said Debbie, 47, the daughter of H.E. (Gene) Reed, who bred, owned and raced the California-bred son of Exclusive Ribot until Mr. Reed died at 83 last year. "We didn’t have him with other horses so he was kind of lonely, but he looked great and we know he loved the race track. But my father had passed away around that time so I thought, well, it’s the end of an era, for my dad and the horse, and that’s why we retired him the first time.

"Then Wesley said, ”˜You know, he looks great, his feet look good, let’s give him another chance.’ I thought, well, he’s made a lot of money, he loves the race track; if nothing else, it’s my gift to the horse."

Just as Men’s Exclusive was a gift to Mr. Reed.

"The horse kept my dad alive," Debbie said. "I think my dad would have died several years sooner if he hadn’t had the horse to keep him occupied."

Ultimately, the road to good intentions led to irrevocable retirement for Men’s Exclusive.

"He might have continued to race," Debbie said, "but we didn’t want to cheapen him. The decision to retire him for good was very emotional. Maybe he does have another race or two in him, maybe we could run him at a track like Turf Paradise, but he’s at our ranch now and doing fine. This is what’s best for him. I think he just needs company."

Debbie doesn’t regret giving Men’s Exclusive a final fling at racing, even though he finished up fourth in a $40,000 claimer on Sept. 15 at Fairplex Park, a five-eighths of a mile track dubbed a "bull ring" because of its tight turns.

"He just couldn’t handle it," Ward said, explaining why Men’s Exclusive finished seven lengths back of the winner. The fans still had faith in the old boy. He was the 6-5 favorite.

"I think my dad would have given him a chance, also," Debbie said. "He was a bit of a gambler and he would have wanted the horse to be happy. I don’t care if people are critical because we brought him back to race. We weren’t doing it for the money. It was as much a rational decision as it was emotional."

Ward echoed Debbie’s sentiments.

"It was in the best interests of the horse to retire him," Ward said. "But he was such a great warrior we wanted to give him one more chance to race. That’s why we brought him back in June. He was really training well at Del Mar and he looked better than he had in years. But then he developed a skin rash and was itching all over his body and rubbing his hair off. He lost about 30 pounds despite the fact that we bathed him and administered anti-fungular medication, but the ailment had to run its course.

Men’s Exclusive ran 48 times, winning 11, with 16 seconds and four thirds, earning $1,451,126.

"He was a great horse," Ward said. "He tried hard every time. Laffit (Pincay Jr.) rode him from the time he was two until the time he was 10. They matched up great together, two old champions. I don’t think one particular race stands out as his best. He ran great in Dubai and he ran great as a 10-year-old, earning a 4-minus on the Ragozin Sheets, the fastest he had ever run in his life. The fact that he competed for years at a top level is what I’ll remember most about him."

The homestretch

Lookalikes: Darin Erstad and Vincent Van Gogh (not counting ears).

”¡ You’ve got to hand it to George Steinbrenner and his New York Yankees, the best team money can buy.

”¡ My favorite gag from Rodney Dangerfield, the man of a thousand self-deprecating jokes, was about his wife’s cooking: "I don’t think meat loaf should glow in the dark."