Thoroughbreds come by the their names in various ways, but the winner of Sunday’s second race acquired his unlike any of his equine brethren.
Watch Pat, a 3-year-old colt by Ghazi, defeated 4-5 favorite Slapout by a whisker at 15-1 odds, thrilling enough for his connections, but the origin of his name alone is enough to stir hearts and evoke emotion.
The derivation of this horse’s name is a a tale right out of From Here to Eternity, the Sands of Iwo Jima, Band of Brothers or Platoon. It is a story that began in World Word II, continued in the Korean war and then the Viet Nam conflict.
Jack Guggisberg of Burnsville, the owner/breeder of Watch Pat, was on orders for Viet Nam in December of 1970 and was paying a final visit to his girlfriend, Judy Butler, in Lamberton, Minn., before heading overseas.
During the visit, Judy’s dad, Pat, presented Jack with a watch, telling him it had been with him in the Philippines in WW II and in Korea with his nephew. Pat Butler gave it to Guggisberg with simple instructions. “Bring it back,” he told him. The words implied more than the return of a timepiece.
Guggisberg lost the watch somewhere in Viet Nam in 1971, something he prefers not to detail. He returned safely from the conflict and had no contact with any members of the Butler family until three years ago. All those years the lost watch had been on his mind.
“I wanted to tell Pat I had lost his watch,” Guggisberg said.
Guggisberg made contact with Sue Butler, Pat’s wife. Pat had been dead six months, she told him. Jack needed to tell the story just the same.
Sue Butler and her daughter Judy were at Canterbury on Aug. 2 when Watch Pat, who broke his maiden on June 26, won a second straight race.
Judy, a health teacher at North Dakota State University in Fargo, had car trouble on her way to Sunday’s race and didn’t make it. Her mother, Sue, sister, Patty, brother, Bob, and their spouses were present to see another thrilling win by Watch Pat, his third straight.
“I think I better take Sue with me when I go to Chicago,” said trainer Percy Scherbenske, alluding to the good luck quality of her presence twice in a row.
“She can’t go unless we find someone to watch the dog,” said Kristi, Bob’s wife.
“This is kind of a miracle,” said Sue, who admitted being a little suspicious three years ago when Guggisberg phoned.
“Well, you just don’t know,” Sue said. “My husband had been dead only a few months and a strange man was calling.”
Guggisberg finally convinced her of his identity by recalling what she had cooked for supper that night so many years ago. “When he told me we had a fondue I knew it was OK,” Sue said.
Guggisberg wrestled with a number of ways to name this horse he bred, and finally settled on Watch Pat.
As far as the lost watch goes, the Butlers consider the debt well paid.
“We feel honored,” Bob Butler said, “that he named this horse after dad.”
ONE LAST WISH
Somerset Wish made her swan song appearance in Sunday’s first race, a six-furlong claiming event and went out in grand fashion, winning by a nose over Squeezable. Dave Miller, who calls the charts for Equibase in the press box, heads Star of the North Racing and owns the horse in partnership.
“She’s lost a step and we decided before the race that we were going to retire her,” Miller said.. The 4-year-old filly by Gazebo from Somerset Blum finished her career with two victories from 12 lifetime starts, two seconds and two thirds for earnings of around $27,000.
Miller said she will be used as a pleasure horse by one of the partners, Brian Nodolf, an Eau Claire, Wis., attorney.
The irony in Somerset Wish’s victory on Sunday is that she is trained by Larry Donlin, who also owns and trains Squeezable. “Most Useful would have been the favorite in the race,” Miller added, “but was scratched by the veterinarians.”
AT LONG LAST
Magic Mittens is a five-year-old brown mare by Magic Cat from the Prince Forli mare Kikika. Trained by Bruce Riecken and owned by Marilyn Lacount of Burnsville. Magic Mittens hasn’t had much of a magic touch, however. She had raced 31 times and never been to the winner’s circle _ until Sunday.
That 0-for-31 streak came to an end in the seventh race, a 6 ½-furlong maiden claimer event. Jose Betancourt, with his first mount on the mare, was the winning rider.
The closet Magic Mittens has been in the past is third _ five times.