The great Thrice Worthy: Totally Wonderful

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In his eloquent classic “All Things Must Pass,” George Harrison sang “Sunrise doesn’t last all morning . . . sunset doesn’t last all evening . . . all things must pass, all things must pass away.”

The Beatles great didn’t know Thrice Worthy, but it’s hard not to hear those words and think of the steeplechase great, who died Dec. 4 at age 32 after a bout of colic.  Along the way, Thrice Worthy left an indelible mark on a litany of friends and admirers.

A stakes winner on the flat for trainer Eddie Gaudet, Thrice Worthy rose to prominence after trainer Jonathan Sheppard bought him in 1980 for owner Will Farish.

The bay gelding won his first hurdle start at Atlanta in 1981 to start a tear, winning his first nine starts over jumps by a combined 121 3/4 lengths. He blended a high cruising speed with a lethal dose of stamina. Among those nine wins were lopsided stakes scores in the National Hunt Cup, Tom Roby, Lovely Night, Sandhills Cup, Pillar, Bolla and Imperial Cup. The streak, which ended in the Carolina Cup in 1983, stands as the longest in the modern era.  

John Cushman piloted Thrice Worthy during every race of the streak, in as much awe of his mount as were his rivals.

“I remember seeing his past performances before a race at Belmont and the charts were all solid 1s. He was ahead at every call of every race. I had never seen anything like that,” said Cushman, champion jockey from 1980-83. “He was by far the best 2-mile to 2 1/4-mile horse I ever rode. He could not get beat at that distance. He was just fast; a tearaway. He was quick at his fences and I would just never move on him. Never. I’ll never forget him. He would go out and try so hard every time – he would give 120 percent.”

Thrice Worthy won 13 times in 20 jump starts before retiring in 1984, due to leg injuries that plagued him throughout much of his career. If he was a great horse on the track, he became a legend off of it.

Sarah Nims, who owns Dogwood Springs Farm in Versailles, Ky., bought Thrice Worthy from Farish in early 1986 with the idea of making an event horse out of him. But “T.W.,” as he became known, didn’t take to dressage so Nims instead veered in a different direction, using Thrice Worthy’s talents around the farm – as an equine barn foreman.

“He would help me break the yearlings and younger horses and just teach them how to do everything, from loading into a trailer to walking into the barn. Basically he was always saying, ‘I’m here to help.’ He did everything I ever asked him to do,” Nims said. “He was like a babysitter around the farm and people called him the Commander in Chief of the barn. I never met a horse as smart as T.W. was. I always joked that he was a person in a horse suit.”

Talk to people that have been around world-class Thoroughbreds and they all tell you the same thing: good horses just know that they are good. They know it during their time at the track and the knowledge never leaves them. Thrice Worthy was no different.

“He knew he was a champion. Even when he was running around outside the barn, if a horse took off he would make sure he would not get beat by anyone else,” Nims said. “He was his own person that’s for sure. He had the run of the barn and would go anywhere he wanted to. He was galloping around up until a few days before he died. I lost a friend as much as I lost a horse.”

Dr. William Hess of the Woodford Equine Hospital was one of many who dealt with Thrice Worthy. Hess began treating Nims’ horses over the past six months and like everyone else he left with a lasting image.

“He was just a super horse and a favorite of all the doctors that treated him. They all have stories about him,” Hess said. “T.W. was one of those mascot horses. Things were done his way. You couldn’t stall him, he got to roam free. He wouldn’t wear a halter, but when you called him he would come. At 32, he looked as good as any 15-year-old horse I’ve ever seen. He lived a fabulous life.”

NOTES: In his career debut as a 2-year-old in 1978, Thrice Worthy lost to eventual Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Spectactular Bid going 5 1/2 furlongs at Pimlico . . . The Virginia-bred son of Twice Worthy won 25 of 66 career starts (including stakes scores on the flat and over jumps) and earned more than $300,000.