• Rick Capone, Sports Editor

Remembering a great champion: Monarchos

At 5:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, Monarchos, the 2001 Kentucky Derby winner, died after emergency surgery to repair a ruptured intestine. He was 18.

According to Charles Nuckols III, owner of Nuckols Farm in Midway where Monarchos stood at stud since 2007, he had shown signs of internal discomfort on Friday, Oct. 21. So he was taken to Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington and the decision was made to do the surgery.

“He made it through the surgery and we were hopeful for his recovery,” said Nuckols. “However, his age was not on his side, and he was just not strong enough to survive.”

Monarchos, who is by Maria’s Mon-Regal Ban, by Dixieland Band, was bred in Kentucky by J.D. Squires. He was foaled on Feb. 9, 1998.

He was offered at the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga yearling sale in 1999, but did not sell. Then in 2000, he was sold to John C. Oxley at the Fasig-Tipton Florida February sale of 2-year-olds in training for $170,000.

Oxley sent Monarchos to trainer John Ward and the horse finished unplaced in his first race as a 2-year-old at Keeneland. His next race was at Churchill Downs where he ran third to end his 2-year-old campaign.

As a 3-year-old, he began his season at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale, Fla., where he won three straight races – a maiden special weight, an allowance and then the Florida Derby (G1) by 4-1/4 lengths.

He was then sent to Aqueduct race track in New York where he finished second to Congaree in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2).

Following that finish, he headed back to Churchill Downs where he won the Kentucky Derby (G1) by 4-3/4 lengths in 1:59.97, which was the second fastest winning time in the history of the race. The record is still owned by Secretariat, who ran the race in 1:59 2/5.

He then headed to Pimlico for the Preakness Stakes (G1), but finished sixth. Then at the Belmont he finished third to the winner Point Given, who eventually was named Horse of the Year and Champion 3-Year-Old.

Monarchos raced only one time his 4-year-old season in an allowance race at Gulfstream Park and finished third. He was then retired and sent to stud at Claiborne Farm in Paris, where he stood at stud until 2007, before Oxley decided to move him to Nuckols Farm, where he stood the rest of his life.

Monarchos ended his racing career with four wins, one second, three thirds and earnings of $1,720,830 in 10 starts.

He had a successful stud career as well. According to the press release, “From 52 foals and 349 to race to date, Monarchos produced 244 winners (48 percent) who earned more than $19 million. He is the sire of 2009 champion female Sprinter Informed Decision, 2009 Scandinavia champion 2-year-old colt Aces Star, and 2014 Brazilian champion older mare Estrela Monarchos.”

The beautiful gray stallion was wildly popular, which was evident by the many visitors who stopped by to see him at Nuckols Farm.

If you are a horse lover, one of the great things about living in Central Kentucky is that you never know who a horse is standing in a paddock as you drive by a farm. That was the case with Monarchos, who lived in the front paddock along the road at the farm.

Some people would drive by and admire the beautiful gray horse standing in the paddock. People who know and love horses would drive by and know exactly who that beautiful gray horse was – Monarchos, the Kentucky Derby Champion.

For Nuckols, Monarchos was his most beloved Thoroughbred in residence on the farm. Every morning he would sit in his home office and look out his window and see him standing in the morning sunshine grazing in his paddock.

“We are very grateful to John and Debbie Oxley for entrusting their Kentucky Derby winner to our care,” said Nuckols. “He was the first horse I saw every morning and the last every night. It’s going to be a long time before we put somebody in that paddock.

“Our long-time devoted employees are deeply saddened by this news (of his death), as are the any, many fans who visited Monarchos at our farm. He was such a great horse to be around and had the best temperament. He will be sorely missed.”

Postscript: Very early on Monday, Aug. 24, a backhoe began to dig a large hole in front of the paddock where Monarchos grazed and spent his days. The reason for the large hole was that Nuckols had decided to bury the gray stallion whole.

Around 10 a.m., a truck pulling a trailer that contained Monarchos’s body pulled into the driveway at Nuckols Farm and preparations were made to put the horse into his final resting place.

Using chains, the backhoe lifted Monarchos out of the trailer and positioned his body over the hole, then slowly, with respect, lowered him into place – his back to his paddock and his head facing Lexington.

As Nuckols placed a blanket over Monarchos there was almost complete silence. The only sound heard was that of some leaves blowing around on the ground.

Soon, the backhoe began to fill the hole. Later in the day, workers would rake the area and level the ground, and one day soon a grave marker will be put in place to complete the grave site.

While the great champion’s life was over, his accomplishments, his beauty and his personality will live on forever.

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