Roger Pelster knew something was wrong Tuesday when Dazzling Falls was silent.
“He’d make a lot of noise in the mornings because he wanted to be fed,” Pelster said. “When I didn’t hear anything, I knew something was wrong.”
Dazzling Falls, the only Nebraska-bred horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, died Monday night. The horse was 28 years old — 25 years removed from his Derby race.
Pelster, who owns a ranch in Mead, has been caring for the thoroughbred for several years. He said there had been no sign of illness.
“He was just doing great,” Pelster said. “It’s weird, but when a horse is that old it can happen at any time.”
The colt, who was owned by Don and Barbara Kroeger of Valley and trained by Omahan Chuck Turco, ran in the 1995 Derby. Turco had taken over training of the horse the previous year, and victories in two major races — the $300,000 Remington Park Derby in Oklahoma and the $500,000 Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park — put Dazzling Falls on the path to Kentucky.
In a recent World-Herald story that marked the 25th anniversary of the race, Turco spoke about that Derby appearance.
“To know that he’d be the first Nebraska-bred ever to run made it very special,” he said. “It made me especially proud because very few trainers ever get that opportunity.”
In the race, Dazzling Falls was unable to overcome the difficult No. 1 post in the 19-horse field. The late-running colt got caught up in traffic along the rail and finished 13th, well behind the winner, Thunder Gulch.
“We needed a great trip to win,” Turco said after the race. “And we didn’t get that trip.”
After winning another major stakes race later that year, Dazzling Falls suffered a career-ending injury in a race the following spring. He stood at stud in Oklahoma and Iowa before moving on to Pelster’s 47-acre ranch in Mead.
Among Dazzling Falls’ progeny was Diamond Joe, another star in the Turco barn. That gelding won 24 races and more than $507,000, fifth all time among Nebraska-breds.
Dazzling Falls remains the all-time state-bred money winner, earning more than $900,000 in his short racing career.
Turco visited Dazzling Falls often at Pelster’s ranch over the years, bringing his Derby friend peppermints.
Now the colt will be buried there.
“I hope he’ll be remembered as one of the greats of Nebraska racing,” Turco said Tuesday. “He was quite a horse.”