John Veitch, a second-generation Hall of Fame horseman who achieved his greatest success in the late 1970s and 1980s training for Calumet Farm and Darby Dan Farm, died in his Lexington, Kentucky, home on Feb. 14. He was 77.
Veitch not only followed his father, Hall of Fame inductee Sylvester (Syl) Veitch, into the training profession, but specifically into the exclusive world of working privately for the blue-blooded stables that dominated American racing for much of the 20th century. Whereas his father had gained prominence training for C.V. Whitney and George Widener, Veitch briefly restored luster to the fading Calumet brand and then maintained a high profile for several years with Darby Dan.
After graduating from Bradley University, Veitch worked for his father and then as an assistant to Hall of Famer Elliott Burch. Briefly operating a public stable before landing the Calumet position, Veitch turned the historic farm’s racing stable around in relatively short order.
Numerically, Veitch excelled with fillies at Calumet. Our Mims (1977) and Davona Dale (1979) were both voted champion three-year-old filly, with Davona Dale earning a spot in the Hall of Fame. Another champion was Before Dawn, the leading two-year-old filly of 1981.
However, it was the colt Alydar with whom Veitch will forever be associated. A year younger half-brother to Our Mims, Alydar would have been a sure-fire multiple champion and Triple Crown winner if not for the fact he was born in the same crop as Affirmed. The two staged arguably the greatest rivalry in American racing history, facing each other 10 times over two seasons.
Although Affirmed had the upper hand in the rivalry, winning eight times (though losing one via disqualification), the margins between he and Alydar were generally narrow. Alydar defeated Affirmed in the 1977 editions of the Great American S. and Champagne (G1), but it was Affirmed’s wins by a half-length in the Hopeful (G1), a nose in the Futurity (G1), and a neck in the Laurel Futurity (G1) that cemented the juvenile championship.
The pair next met in the 1978 Kentucky Derby (G1), for which Alydar was favored but Affirmed won by 1 1/2 lengths. Alydar would become the first horse in history to finish second in all three legs of the Triple Crown when finishing a neck behind Affirmed in the Preakness (G1) and a head short in the Belmont S. (G1) after an historic, spine-tingling stretch duel. The duo’s final, anti-climatic meeting, in the Travers (G1), resulted in Alydar’s elevation to first after Affirmed was disqualified for interfering with Alydar on the far turn.
Despite not winning a divisional title, Alydar’s 11 stakes wins and his collection of near-misses in numerous others top-level events secured him induction into the Hall of Fame. He became a stallion of world renown, most notably siring the classic-winning Hall of Fame colts Alysheba and Easy Goer.
Veitch resigned as Calumet’s trainer soon after the death of farm owner Lucille Wright Markey in 1982 and briefly operated a public stable, which included Frances Genter’s multiple Grade 1 winner Dr. Carter. In 1984, Veitch assumed a position as private trainer for John W. Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm.
Leading runners for Darby Dan during this era included Proud Truth, who Veitch nursed back from a mid-season injury to win the second edition of the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Aqueduct in 1985, and the three-year-old Sunshine Forever, who was voted champion turf male in 1988 after several Grade 1 victories against older rivals. Brian’s Time, owned by Galbreath in-law James W. Phillips, won the Florida Derby (G1), Jim Dandy (G2), and Pegasus H. (G1) in 1988.
The era of the private family stable dominating the upper echelons of the sport was winding down through the 1980s, and Veitch’s “old school” background made it difficult for him to attract clients after his release from Darby Dan in 1994.
“I’m not an entertainer or a promoter. Nor do I want to be,” Veitch told Bill Heller for an Eclipse Award-winning 1997 feature in Backstretch magazine. “If I don’t train another good horse, I’ve had my day.
“I love training horses, but I’d rather live with the memories I have than do something I think is wrong to be competitive. I’ve got too much regard for the horse.”
Veitch saddled only 15 winners from 1994 until his retirement in 2003, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2007. He supplemented his income through the lean training years as a racing analyst on television, and later became chief steward for the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
His tenure as chief steward ended after the events of the 2010 Breeders’ Cup Ladies Classic (G1) at Churchill Downs, in which the favorite Life At Ten was allowed to start despite concerns jockey John Velazquez had with the way she was warming up were aired on live television. Life At Ten finished last, but was not given a post-race test.
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission charged Veitch with five administrative violations, though a one-year suspension was later removed from his permanent record.
Veitch is survived by two children from a previous marriage and several grandchildren.