Burt Bacharach was a lifelong horse racing fan and a multiple Grade 1-winning owner, and he described the game as “exhilarating”.
All the world’s news outlets ran lengthy obituaries to Bacharach, the musical genius who died last week aged 94, but, amazingly, not one of them mentioned his favourite past-time.
The man who composed such brilliant songs as Close to You, I Say A Little Prayer, The Look Of Love, Always Something There to Remind Me, What the World Needs Now, That’s What Friends are For, Alfie
and scores more, was seduced by racing while growing up in Queens in New York in the 1940s and 1950s.
Between slipping, underage, into New York jazz clubs to revel in the thrilling, innovative sounds of Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, young Burt studied race cards and took “mind bets”.
Classical music training in a variety of instruments soon saw the prodigy performing publicly and writing melodies. A stint in New York’s Brill Building – a legendary locus of pop song creation – drew him into a fateful partnership with lyricist Hal David.
Through the 1960s, Bacharach and David ruled the world’s pop charts; only Lennon and McCartney were in the same league.
First race horse
After gathering fame and fortune with hits like Magic Moments (Perry Como), Baby It’s You (The Shirelles and The Beatles), 24 Hours From Tulsa (Gene Pitney), Anyone Who Had a Heart (Cilla Black), Walk On
By (Dionne Warwick) and What’s New Pussycat? (Tom Jones), Bacharach was ready to fulfil a longstanding ambition and buy a horse.
In 1968, around the time he was picking out Do You Know The Way to San Jose? and I’ll Never Fall In Love Again on his home keyboard, he asked a neighbour in California, acclaimed trainer Charlie Whittingham, to find him a horse.
That was Battle Royal, who won his first race and set the Bacharach off on a happy, decades-long journey
as an owner and breeder.
He named his breeding operation Blue Seas Music and adopted pale blue silks embellished with a musical quaver symbol (a 16th note triplet, to be more precise, hinting at the complexity of Bacharach tunes,
which confound many musos and led Frank Sinatra to say, “He’s the only guy who writes in hat sizes, like seven-and-three-fourths!”).
As the likes of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head (BJ Thomas) and Arthur’s Theme (Christopher Cross) were winning Oscars and Grammys, Bacharach was looking keenly at horseflesh.
His first really good horse was Heartlight No. One, named for the song Heartlight he wrote for Neil Diamond, hoping it would top the charts.
The song only got to No 5, but the filly got to No 1 after winning two Grade 1 stakes races and being named US champion filly of 1983.
His best runners
In the 1990s, came his two best runners – Soul Of The Matter and Afternoon Deelites – both of whom were good enough to contest the Kentucky Derby, finishing fifth and eighth.
Soul of the Matter won seven races and $2.3-million, but perhaps his greatest moment came in the 1996 Dubai World Cup when he battled the mighty Cigar all the way down the Nad-al-Sheba straight but had to settle for second.
Famous US racing writer Jay Hovdey penned a stirring account of this:
“On a warm night in Dubai … a lean, spry figure of a man dressed in a pale blue suit of exquisite tailoring floated down the staircase to the cheers of the surrounding crowd… awaiting him in the walking ring was a dark brown thoroughbred, unsaddled and sweating in the desert night. Soul of the Matter had just run the race of his life, which is why the man, his owner, was crying for joy…
“Burt Bacharach was overcome with affection and respect for the equine athlete he had bred, named, and suffered alongside … Burt did not curse his luck or wonder at what might have been.”
They are lyrical words David might have penned for Bacharach to apply his bewitching time signatures and melodic hooks to.
‘Talking the talk’
Another who summed up Bacharach for the racing press this week was Hall Of Fame jockey Kent Desormeaux, who said: “He was a hundred percent entertained by us instead of the other way around … [but] he had a knowledge of horse racing, breeding, all aspects of the game. He could talk the talk if he was involved with a bunch of horsemen.”
And he was still involved in racing when he died. A month ago, his filly Duvet Day won at Santa Anita.
He made music well into old age, including collaborations with the likes of Elvis Costello and Diana Kral – and even performing live himself.
A man whose songs were recorded by artists as diverse as Nat King Cole, Dusty Springfield, The Carpenters, Luther Vandross, Dr Dre, The Stranglers and The White Stripes had to have been some kind of
And he loved thoroughbreds.