LOS ANGELES – Not all of Burt Bacharach's hits were on the charts. The Oscar-winning songwriter and pianist found success at the racetrack, too.
He first got into horse racing in 1968, the year in which he co-wrote hits “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” by Dionne Warwick and “This Guy's in Love with You” by Herb Alpert.
Bacharach asked Charlie Whittingham to pick out a horse for him. The Hall of Fame trainer selected Battle Royal, who won his first race, setting Bacharach into a decadeslong career as an owner and breeder.
Bacharach, who died Wednesday in Los Angeles of natural causes at the age of 94, named his breeding operation Blue Seas Music.
His biggest successes came in the mid-1990s with two horses whose names were tied to his musical success: Soul of the Matter and Afternoon Deelites.
Soul of the Matter won seven of 16 races and had career earnings of $2.3 million.
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella recalled Bacharach asking if he could join the walk from the barn to the saddling paddock on Kentucky Derby day in 1994 at Churchill Downs.
“We started walking around the turn and the fans were all yelling ‘Bacharach,’ so I told him to go back a hundred yards so they wouldn’t scare the horse," Mandella said Thursday, “and he did.”
Soul of the Matter finished fifth in the Derby and fourth in the 1994 Breeders’ Cup Classic.
In the 1996 Dubai World Cup, Soul of the Matter battled the legendary Cigar in the final furlong. Cigar won by a half-length. An injury forced Soul of the Matter to be retired to the breeding shed.
“He was just a great owner. He loved his horses,” Mandella said. “I'm sure if he had something to say (today) he'd say it was a great life.”
In 1995, Bacharach returned to the Derby and watched Afternoon Deelites finish eighth.
“Burt was just a gentle soul and still today was the owner of the quickest horse I’ve ever ridden,” said Hall of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, who rode Afternoon Deelites. “He was like a cat, light on his feet.”
At the track, Bacharach was content to let the jockeys and trainers be in charge.
“He was a hundred percent entertained by us instead of the other way around,” Desormeaux said. “He wasn’t there to be coaching; he did that behind the piano. He definitely had a knowledge of horse racing, breeding, all aspects of the game. He could talk the talk if he was involved with a bunch of horsemen.”
Bacharach bred the filly Heartlight No. One, named for the song he co-wrote for Neil Diamond. Ever the optimist, Bacharach wanted the song to reach No. 1 on the charts so he added that to the filly's name. The song got to No. 5, but she went all the way to the top; Heartlight No. One won the Eclipse Award as the nation's champion 3-year-old filly in 1983.
Ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Laffit Pincay Jr., the filly won a pair of Grade 1 stakes, the most lucrative races in the sport.
Bacharach combined his loves of music and racing on a 1970 episode of the TV variety show “Hollywood Palace” he co-hosted with then-wife Angie Dickinson. Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker was a guest.
Bacharach was still active in the sport at the time of his death. He owned Duvet Day in a partnership that included his fourth wife, Jane. The 4-year-old filly won at Santa Anita last month.
“He loved the sport, he loved the horses,” said Paddy Gallagher, who once trained for Bacharach. “Winning was a bonus.”
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