Among the most dramatic stretch runs in the 129-year history of the Belmont Stakes occurred when a colt with more Canadian connections than an Ottawa lobbyist spoiled Silver Charm’s chance to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978. A huge national TV audience and a clamoring crowd expecting a coronation at the New York track stood in a stunned state in 1997 when Touch Gold unleashed a tremendous drive in the last furlong to win by three quarters of a length over the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.
Canadian connections? Touch Gold was by Vice Regent’s awesome son, Deputy Minister, Canada’s Horse of the Year, an Eclipse winner and a two-time champion sire in North America. The dam was Passing Mood, a daughter of Canadian Oaks’ winner Cool Mood, who was by Northern Dancer. Trained as a juvenile at Woodbine by Danny Vella, Touch Gold began his career here, winning a maiden special weight event before a second-place finish in the Gr.1C Swynford Stakes and a third in the Gr. 1 Grey Breeders’ Cup Stakes. That winter owner Frank Stronach shipped the Kentucky-bred colt to the U.S. and trainer David Hofmans. Stronach had bought him for $375,000 at the 1995 Keeneland Selected Yearling Sale.
Touch Gold was foaled at Romanoaks Farm near Lexington, Ky. His breeders were Sikura Family’s Hill ‘n’ Dale Farm, Ky., John Perrota (Star Stable) and Holtsinger Inc., which is operated by Joan H. Turner, the daughter of the late John Holtsinger, who founded Romanoaks Farm in 1960. Mrs. Turner owned Passing Mood and acted on the advice of John G. Sikura, who furnished the season to Deputy Minister.
Touch Gold’s improbable Belmont triumph in the 1½ mile classic seemed unlikely when you examine the manner in which jockey Chris McCarron rode the colt. He had Touch Gold on top with a slim lead in the early going but relinquished it at the half-way mark. Coming into the top of the stretch he was sitting fourth, locked in behind a wall of horses while running three-wide. McCarron swung him to the outside but down the stretch Silver Charm began to pull away for what seemed certain to be his crowning moment. But Touch Gold found another gear to overhaul him in the final strides.
Besides his Belmont victory, Touch Gold won the Lexington Stakes and the Haskell Invitational in 1997. Owned by a syndicate he was retired to stud in 1999 at Stronach’s Adena Springs in Midway, Ky. Touch Gold has been a huge success, siring earners of more than $32 million, including several Grade 1 winners — Seek Gold, Composure, Midas Eyes and Mass Media.