An Unlikely Champion Racehorse Who Charmed Everyone

Alphabet Soup was one of those cheerful, upbeat horses—always in a good mood, never of a mind to bite you.
An illustration shows two horses racing.
Illustration by Dadu Shin

The saddest donkey in northern Kentucky is a little knock-kneed fellow named Gorgeous George, who is grieving the recent loss of his dearest companion, the famed racehorse Alphabet Soup (1991-2022). At the time of his death, Alphabet Soup—who went by Soupy, Alfie, or, most often, Alphabet—was the oldest living winner of the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He was also one of the more memorable winners of the race: he had been a 19–1 long shot that day, in 1996, and upset the champion, Cigar, who was so heavily favored that some bettors might have napped through the stretch run, assuming that the race was in the bag. A lot of people lost a lot of money that day, making Alphabet Soup something of an Equus non grata, but he was such a likable animal that he ended up being adored.

Alphabet had been a scrawny, scraggly foal who sold for not much as a youngster. It didn’t help that he was pale gray; people in the racing world are famously superstitious, and some of them think that gray horses are bad luck. He did, though, have a fancy ancestry. His mother was the fabulously named Illiterate, and her father was the Hall-of-Fame champion and equally fabulously named Arts and Letters. (The owners obviously had a good time naming them.) Alphabet bloomed slowly. According to his longtime trainer, David Hofmans, he was “a little backwards, a little immature” and not ready to compete in the Kentucky Derby when he hit the requisite age of three. Apparently, even stallions can be babyish. Still, Alphabet Soup was one of those cheerful, upbeat kinds of horses, always in a good mood, never of the mind to bite you or kick you or crush you against the side of his stall, which an average stallion is wont to do. He was a sucker for a carrot and a nose stroking, and the worst he would do when he got tired of being manhandled was go to the back of his stall and give you a view of his butt.