Real Quiet did not look or act the part of a champion early in his career. He was so crooked up front that he sold to Michael Pegram for only $17,000 as a yearling in 1996. He was so lacking in girth that his trainer, Bob Baffert, jokingly nicknamed him "The Fish."
On the track early in his career, Real Quiet might as well have been swimming. He sure was not doing much running. He needed seven starts before he broke through with the first victory of his career, at old Hollywood Park at a distance of eight and a half furlongs. The son of Quiet American won only two of nine starts as a 2-year-old, but that second victory served notice that he was a force to be reckoned with in the future as he topped speedy Artax in the $1 million Hollywood Futurity.
"Once he started running classic distances, he was the ugly duckling who turned into a swan," said Pegram. "He grew into a big, beautiful horse. When he was young, he was narrow up front and he was crooked up front."
Real Quiet could not have been more on his game than he was for the Triple Crown races. When jockey Kent Desormeaux asked for his all in the entucky Derby, the bay colt responded with a tremendously explosive move. No one could match his burst. It was the same in the Preakness.
There is no faulting Real Quiet for a nose loss in the Belmont Stakes, the narrowest margin to keep a horse from the historic Triple Crown sweep. When Desmormeaux asked his mount for more in the mile-and-a-half Belmont, the horse responded with his customary surge.
Real Quiet tore around the final turn and began to put the competition behind him, by one length, two lengths, three lengths and then four. He seemed to be home free as the enormous crowd cheered every stride, convinced it was watching the coronation of the first Triple Crown champion since Affirmed in 1978.
Announcer Tom Durkin was beside himself with excitement:
"Twenty years in the waiting, one furlong to go!" Durkin exclaimed. "But here comes his rival, Victory Gallop. As they come to the final sixteenth, Kent Desormeuax imploring Real Quiet to hold on. Victory Gallop, a final surge. It’s going to be very close! Here’s the wire! It’s too close to call! Was it Real Quiet or was it Victory Gallop?"
The wait for the examination of the photo finish seemed interminable. Had Real Quiet hit the wire a flash before Victory Gallop? Did Victory Gallop’s last desperate surge get him there? Even with the benefit of television replay, it was difficult for the naked eye to separate the rivals.
It was the ultimate head bob.
Then came the news that was so difficult for Real Quiet’s fans to swallow. "It was the ultimate head bob," Pegram said.
The dispiriting finish will always be remembered as one of the most exasperating defeats in racing history, one that led Desormeaux to be widely second-guessed. Did he move too soon? Should he have waited a couple of beats longer in a race that seemingly goes on forever?
Pegram has studied the replays. There are no easy answers. But any anguish he felt left him long ago. "I’m at peace with it," he said. "And the reason I’m at peace with it is because Real Quiet never knew he got beat. When he got back to the barn, he was prancing. He just didn’t know why he didn’t go to the winner’s circle."
In all, Real Quiet cracked the top three in 17 of 20 lifetime starts, winning six with five second-place finishes and six third-place showings. He earned $3,271,802 before a fracture in his right front leg during his 4-year-old season ended his career.
He enjoyed modest success as a sire before he died in a paddock accident at Penn Ridge Farm near Harrisburg, Pa., on Sept. 27, 2010. He was 15.
Pegram chooses to remember the triumphs rather than one gut-wrenching defeat. "He was the horse of a lifetime," he said.