PA-Bred Alphabet Soup Pensioned at Old Friends

-By Nikki Sherman for Pennsylvania Horse Breeders Association

On a beautiful fall afternoon in central Kentucky, just a few days before the nineteenth anniversary of his most brilliant race, one of the greatest Pennsylvania-Breds of all time stepped off his personal van, prancing and snorting as he took in the rolling hills of his new and final home. The stallion’s nearly blinding white coat glistened even underneath an overcast sky as he strutted past a small group of tourists who were lucky enough to be present for the arrival of Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Alphabet Soup at Old Friends in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Alphabet Soup was a true rags-to-riches story for all of his connections. In 1988, Roy Lerman’s Southeast Associates bought his dam, the multiple graded stakes winner Illiterate. Two years later the daughter of Arts and Letters was bred to Eclipse Award Champion Cozzene. The resulting foal was a roan colt that was twice a buy-back at public auction, both times for under $30,000. Alphabet Soup would blast that figure out of the water by the time he retired from racing with career earnings of just a few thousand dollars under $3 million.

It took a bit longer than expected for Alphabet Soup to find his best stride. He did not debut until the spring of his sophomore season and broke his maiden in his third start after a failed attempt on turf. However, that maiden victory was a preview of the gutsy heart that Alphabet Soup would be remembered for in the 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic, as he battled eventual stakes winner Exalto to the wire in a long stretch drive before prevailing by a hard-fought head.

Three unsuccessful races followed his maiden victory before Alphabet Soup finally won again, but this time he was matched up with rider Chris McCarron. The duo was clearly meant for each other as they took two straight California allowance races.

Alphabet Soup made his stakes debut in the San Volante Handicap at Santa Anita Park on October 23, 1994. Unfortunately, McCarron was unavailable, having chosen to ride G3 Derby Trial winner Numerous. Alphabet Soup’s trainer David Hofmans made the decision to reunite the colt with jockey Chris Antley, who had been aboard earlier in the year. Antley and Alphabet Soup finished a solid second, well ahead of Numerous and McCarron.

After a fifth-place finish in the Grade 3 Lazaro Stakes at Hollywood Park with McCarron aboard, Alphabet Soup went to the sidelines until July of 1995.

It turns out that the break from racing and time to grow up was exactly what the handsome roan needed; Alphabet Soup would finish up the remaining fourteen races of his career with a remarkable record of seven wins, two seconds and four thirds, including a first-place disqualification in the 1996 Goodwood Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G2) that would have given him more than 50% wins for the time frame.

Apparently Alphabet Soup liked to be ridden by Chrises: he ran his best races while piloted by Chris McCarron or Chris Antley. The latter won the San Antonio Handicap (G2), San Pasqual Handicap (G2), Native Diver Handicap (G3), Pat O’Brien Handicap (G3), while McCarron rode Alphabet Soup to victory in the Del Mar Budweiser Breeders’ Cup Handicap (G2), Harry F. “Bud” Brubaker Handicap and the most exciting race of his career, the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1).

The 1996 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) was one of the most thrilling in the history of the event. The overwhelming favorite was defending champion Cigar, who had captured the imagination of the world with his sixteen-race win streak, one that included an incredible victory in the first running of the Dubai World Cup. Also entered were Strub Stakes (G1) and Pacific Classic (G1) winner Dare and Go, Meadowlands Cup (G1) winner Dramatic Gold, Belmont Stakes (G1) winner Editor’s Note, Preakness Stakes (G1) winner Louis Quatorze, Whitney Handicap (G1) winner Mahogany Hall, and Travers Stakes (G1) winner Will’s Way, as well as future Canadian champion Mt. Sassafras and eventual G1 winners Formal Gold and Atticus.

With such a deep group of competitors, Alphabet Soup was bumped down to eighth choice by the time the field of thirteen jumped out of the starting gate. Atticus set the early pace, with Alphabet Soup just a few lengths back near Louis Quatorze and Mt. Sassafras. Just a short time later, Alphabet Soup, Cigar and Louis Quatorze were engaged in a driving stretch drive, throwing their hearts into every stride. Each colt grabbed the lead in turn, heads bobbing alternately in front and noses reaching out for the wire, which suddenly flashed overhead. The clock stopped in a new track record of 2:01 for a mile and a quarter at Woodbine Racecourse. After what felt like an eternity, the photo revealed Alphabet Soup as the winner by a nose over Louis Quatorze with Cigar a mere head back in third. Even Mt. Sassafras had finished in fourth by just a half-length at odds of over 100-1.

After the Breeders’ Cup Classic, Frank Stronach bought into Alphabet Soup from owner Ridder Thoroughbred Stable. The colt raced once more, finishing second in the 1997 San Antonio Handicap (G2), before joining Stronach’s stallion barn at Adena Springs Farm in Kentucky.

Alphabet Soup was successful as a sire both regionally and internationally. In his fifteen crops of racing age, he is the sire of 483 winners including 39 stakes winners and his progeny have earned more than $40.9 million. Leading his offspring is millionaire Our New Recruit, winner of the 2004 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) and Champion Sprinter in the United Arab Emirates.

Being by the excellent turf sire Cozzene and out of an Arts and Letters mare, Alphabet Soup was able to sire racehorses that could run on a multitude of surfaces and distances. In addition to dirt sprinter Our New Recruit, he is also the sire of G1 dirt sprinter Alphabet Kisses, G3 dirt sprinter Watchem Smokey and listed dirt sprinters Abbondanza, Beautiful Bets, Lady Echo, Prince Alphie and Tempus Fugit. His additional graded stakes winning dirt horses are M B Sea, Mark One and Canadian Champion Phantom Light.

Matriarch Stakes (G1) winner Egg Drop, G2 winner Leprechaun Kid and G3 winners Fugitive Angel and Silver Whistle lead Alphabet Soup’s offspring on turf, while he is also the sire of Canadian Champion Alpha Bettor, a multiple Grade 2 winner on all weather. Alphabet Soup even boasts a Grade 1-winning steeplechaser: Italian Wedding captured the prestigious New York Turf Writers Cup in 2013 at Saratoga.

Alphabet Soup has truly “done it all” – winning one of the most prestigious races in the world over one of the most talented racehorses of all time and following that up by siring champions worldwide on every surface – so when it was time to finally retire from the breeding shed, Frank Stronach made the decision to send the stallion to a place where he could be appreciated by any fan who wished to visit. On October 26, 2015, the very first of his admirers watched Alphabet Soup step into the next phase of his life at Old Friends. Without a doubt, there will be many more in the future asking to see the handsome Pennsylvania-Bred, Alphabet Soup.

Copyright © 2021 Nikki Sherman