An Ode to Eight Gauge
By Nicolle Neulist
Photo by Nicolle Neulist
On November 11, 2012, Eight Gauge beat Work All Week in an Illinois-bred maiden special weight at Hawthorne.
Neither won that day; those honours went to Big Man in Black. Eight Gauge finished third, Work All Week sixth. Work All Week, debuting that day, tried two turns on the grass. That experiment failed. Work All Week came back the following spring, trying a dirt sprint for the first time. He found such races a bit more to his liking. By the time he retired in October of 2015, he had run 18 more times. All of those starts came at sprint distances. He never missed the board at one turn.
Work All Week ended up proving consistent on the racetrack, the sort of consistent that won him accolades, fans and an Eclipse Award.
Eight Gauge was consistent, too... but, in the way of a Zippy Chippy or Vote for Lust.
That race was the Chicago Six gelding’s 28th. He had finished in the money six other times before that start – all in maiden special weight company, despite the fact that he made his first eight
starts for a claiming tag. He was fast enough to finish in the money here and there, and once even finished second behind Work All Week’s eventual Grade I-winning stablemate, The Pizza Man. Still, after almost 30 starts, Eight Gauge was the sort of horse you could leave out of the top spot without losing a wink of sleep the night before the race.
As Work All Week progressed up the class ladder, and traveled to run on those dirt tracks he loved so much, Eight Gauge kept trying on the Chicago circuit. For years, Eight Gauge was so dependable. He kept running in maiden special weight company, almost always state-bred. He occasionally hit the board, but never got all the way there against that sort of company. Though his later starts lacked Grade I luminaries, the closest he came through 2013 and 2014 was a second-place finish, beaten a length and a half, behind eventual Illinois-bred stakes winner Bold Rally.
Eight Gauge tried turf, dirt and poly. He went long, short and even that ultimate middle distance of a one-turn mile. He showed up… to an extent. He got a piece often enough to provide some hope to
anyone who did not automatically toss career maidens.
He fell short consistently enough to endear him to anyone who cheers for the lovable loser.
This spring, he finally faced the easiest state-bred maiden claiming company Chicago had to offer. He was seven, and had not faced that company since he was three. His first try last year at that level,
he once again showed what made Eight Gauge... well, Eight Gauge. He finished fifth in a six and a half-furlong sprint, suggesting the class drop may not have done much.
Next out, against similar, he did something a bit different. On April 17, 2015, in a six-furlong dirt sprint, he ran down longtime leader Wolf Creek – and kept right on going. No one caught him. Isn’t
that the old adage: 55th time’s a charm?
The pale grey Orphanellie, a 48-time starter, has overtaken the role of Chicago’s premier professional maiden. Even so, Eight Gauge remains a favourite. He tried for so long, and finally got there. On one hand, he never quite reached Zippy Chippy status, a hundred defeats, a winless career. Still – why should he? So many of his starts came against tough horses. So many of his starts came against better and faster horses. He had shown enough flashes of talent, enough good races, to finish in the frame against classier horses.
Though Eight Gauge lost his lovable loser label, he still has his story, and no horse in Chicago deserves to pass his non-winners of two condition soon more than he does. Eight Gauge always had some talent lurking; he had to. He kept trying to break his maiden against those tougher horses. He finally found the wire, after all, even though it took him 55 times to do it. Look at it this way – it was only his second try against that class level at age seven, and he had not faced that level since he was still three, still maturing. Perhaps he took a while to mature, and he fit there all along. He never lost his heart.
And, in a sport so laden with trivia... the fact that Chicago’s career maiden crossed the wire ahead of an eventual champion will always rate as one of the best little tidbits.