SI Vault
August 31, 1998
Randy Johnson's MoveHe Got His Groove Back
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 31, 1998


View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3

The food wasn't bad, either. The players stayed for more than an hour, munching on hot dogs, barbecued chicken and corn on the cob. "This is amazing," said Dan. "I can't imagine any other professional team that would do something like this."

Who knows, it might become an annual ritual. The next day the Galaxy hammered the Revolution 5-1.

Woody Stephens (1913-1998)
The King of Belmont Park

The stately old pleasure dome on Long Island had never witnessed a spectacle quite like it. Moments after an 8-1 shot named Danzig Connection swept to victory in the 1986 Belmont Stakes, the colt's 72-year-old trainer, Woody Stephens, floated, on mounting waves of sound, toward the winner's circle at Belmont Park. Stephens had just won an unprecedented fifth straight Belmont, and as he made his way past the blue bloods in the box seats, you could hear the tribute building among the blue collars in the grandstand below, a murmur and then a chant rising louder and louder: "Wood-dee! Wood-dee!" Of all the cherished memories from more than 30 years at Belmont, my warmest is of that June afternoon, of the inimitable Woody moving with that swagger through the crowds. Woodford Cefis Stephens had earned the ultimate benediction—the unequivocal adulation of the New York player.

Stephens, 84, died last Saturday of complications stemming from chronic emphysema, and horse racing thus lost one of its most beloved and colorful characters. After leaving a hard-scrabble boyhood in the hills of eastern Kentucky, he rose to become one of America's preeminent horsemen, an artful raconteur, horse whisperer and Hall of Famer who spun tales of his life as magically as he conditioned horses to run hard and long. He trained two Kentucky Derby winners, Cannonade (1974) and Swale ('84), and some of the finest horses ever to race in the U.S.: Traffic Judge, Bald Eagle, Never Bend, Smart Angle, Conquistador Cielo and Devil's Bag among them.

Eleven years after his triumphant moment, Woody was back at Belmont for the 1997 Stakes, holding court in the stable area, sniffing oxygen from a tank, paying the price for a lifetime of unfiltered cigarettes. But he was still crowing. "That record will stand long after I've said good night," he said. Right again. Good night, Woody. And thanks.
—William Nack

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

1 2 3