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Racing Trainer Woody Stephens Dies

August 22, 1998

MIAMI (AP) _ Woody Stephens, one of thoroughbred racing’s all-time great trainers, died today after a long illness. He would have been 85 on Sept. 1.

Stephens died at 3:20 a.m. EDT at the Heartland Health Care Center in Miami Lakes, said Bill Tippins, administrator of the facility. Tippins confirmed that Stephens died of complications from chronic emphysema.

Stephens, who went into racing’s Hall of Fame in 1976, saddled a record five straight Belmont Stakes winners after his induction.

He trained 11 Eclipse Award-winning horses, including 1984 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Swale, 1983 juvenile champion Devil’s Bag and 1982 Horse of the Year Conquistador Cielo.

He was voted the Eclipse Award as the nation’s No 1 trainer in 1983.

His decades of success made Stephens a wealthy man. His breeding interests in Devil’s Bag and Conquistador Cielo alone were worth about $1 million each, and the trainer traditionally gets a 10-percent cut of a horse’s winnings. Stephens, whose stable won $5.2 million in 1984 and more than $4 million in 1987 and ’88, drove a silver Mercedes two-seater and had homes in New York and Florida.

After five years as an assistant, he struck out on his own in 1940. He didn’t saddle his first winner, Bronze Bugle, for three more years. His first stakes triumph was with Saguaro in the 1945 Excelsior Handicap.

Stephens won his first Triple Crown race, the Preakness Stakes, with Blue Man in 1952. The next, the Kentucky Derby, took 22 more years.

He won the 1974 Derby with Cannonade, then took racing’s most coveted prize again 10 years later with the ill-fated Swale. That colt, a son of 1977 Triple Crown winner Seattle Slew, went on the become the third of Stephens’ four Belmont winners, then died suddenly eight days later.

In the 1980s, Stephens seemed to own the third leg of the American Triple Crown. He saddled nine entries for the Belmont in 10 years. Five went on to win: Conquistador Cielo in 1982; Caveat in 1983; Swale; Creme Fraiche, the first gelding to win the 1 1/2-mile classic, in 1985, and Danzig Connection in 1986.

The funeral will be in Lexington, Ky., on Wednesday morning. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be made to the ``Emphysema Foundation.″

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