I was first captivated by the image before I knew anything about Your Host. What captured my attention was the way the horse held his foreleg … something about the angle seemed so familiar to me. So many of us seem to be drawn to the thoroughbred, if not to horses in general, in this way: they call to us, we respond and then we dive down a little deeper, looking for something in a particular horse’s story that might explain our connection to them. More often than not, we find that horses who reach out to us in mysterious ways have come into our lives exactly when we needed them most. So it was with Your Host and yours truly….
Although you never would have guessed it by looking at him, Your Host (1947) was a regally bred colt, the son of Alibhai (1938) and the mare, Boudoir II (1938). The chestnut foal was born with an ear and eye that were set a full inch higher on the right than they were on the left, resulting in a tendency to tilt his head as though he were in a permanent state of confusion. As a weanling, he was either injured or stricken with a pernicious virus of the spine, leaving him with an unnaturally twisted neck. Either because of the misaligned eyes or because he favoured the neck, Your Host carried himself in an unusual way that was most noticeable when he cantered or galloped. In turn, this oddity earned him a number of unflattering nicknames: “Twister,” “Ol’ Sidewinder” and “The Freak.” However, the colt’s groom — the first in an impressive array of people who came forward when Your Host needed them — swore that his way of carrying himself was simply an intelligent response that allowed him to align his vision.The little chestnut also had four white feet — the latter a subject of negative superstition among horsemen — even though he had clearly inherited them from his grandsire, the great Hyperion.
Your Host was a “California boy,” foaled at the stables of movie mogul, Louis B. Mayer who also owned his sire, Alibhai. Bred by the Aga Khan, Alibhai was an unraced son of the great Hyperion (1930). Alibhai’s racing career had come to a screeching halt when he bowed his tendons during training; his subsequent success in the breeding shed indicates that he had very likely inherited the winning bloodlines of Hyperion and his damsire, Tracery (1909), a son of Rock Sand (1900). His 54 stakes winners include Kentucky Derby winner Determine (1951), the champion handicap mare, Bornastar ( 1953) and the wonder-filly Flower Bowl ( 1952) who, in turn, produced Graustark (1963), His Majesty (1968) and Bowl of Flowers (1958). Alibhai’s name appeared in the top ten sires list a total of 11 times.
Hyperion was quite the character and like the beloved Zenyatta (who descends from him), the little chestnut was a dancer even at the ripe old age of 24, as pictured below. In fact, during his entire career at stud, Hyperion was never ill. This was due to his tough constitution, as much as it was the result of great stallion management. During the mating season, he was habitually walked for 90 minutes a day and — again reminding us of Zenyatta — he was interested in everything, leading to minutes where he would simply stand and study whatever caught his eye. He was then turned loose in his paddock for a good 3-4 hours. Jim Courtney, his caregiver, could bring him to hand by simply producing a carrot — Hyperion’s absolutely favourite treat.
|Jim Courtney takes Hyperion for his daily walk. He was a familiar figure
in the lanes near Newmarket, taking his daily constitutional!
Photo copyright Baron & Clive Graham
|Tracery, courtesy of The National Horse Racing Museum, UK|
|The exquisite Teresina, daughter of Tracery and dam of Alibhai|
|Alibhai, Hyperion’s son and the sire of Your Host|
Little wonder that Your Host was a nervous and unpredictable colt! Other than his grandsire, Hyperion, noted for a personality that disdained — among other things — what his trainer wanted from him, Your Host’s dam, Boudoir II was a daughter of Mahmoud (1933) an equine character with a haughty personality. And, for all the jeering about Your Host’s odd running style, it was in every way identical to Mahmoud’s choppy way of going, indicating a strong genetic connection to the rugged little grey. No question: Your Host got a double dose of the kind of equine snobbery that seems to say, “Remember who the royalty is in this relationship, buddy!”
|Boudoir II, as white as the driven snow, dam of Your Host|
When he was two years old, the stables of Louis B. Mayer were dispersed and Your Host was bought by Mayer’s son-in-law William Goetz for $20,000. Goetz’s trainer was Harvey L. Daniels and the colt made his first start for the owner-trainer duo on July 15, 1949 at Santa Anita and was unplaced. In Your Host’s racing career at 2 and 3, being unplaced was to be very, very rare indeed. Eight days later, he ran again over the same track and won by 4 lengths, covering 6 furlongs in 1:11 with the great Johnny Longden in the irons. At Delmar, he was beaten by a nose but returned to win two straight, including the Del Mar Futurity. In the latter, Your Host won by 4 lengths with ease. Going on to Bay Meadows, he carried top weight of 125 lbs. and punters of the day attributed his narrow defeat only to the additional weight, pronouncing him easily the best 2 year-old in the field. Blue Reading (1947), the colt who had beaten him, was declared the winner in the Salinas Handicap when Your Host was DQ’d for interference in the home stretch. The colt finished his 2 year-old campaign with authority in the California Breeders’ Champion Stakes in December 1949, a race where he led the whole way, winning over a mile and 1/16 in 1:44. Your Host closed out his 2 year-old season with 8 races under his belt, winning 4 and placing in 3. (In California at this time, a horse who was disqualified from winning was placed second.)
The colt started his 3 year-old season in January 1950 in the San Felipe Stakes. By then, Your Host was a highly regarded candidate for the Kentucky Derby. And he seemed to know this, taking the first race of the year in style. Johnny Longden, who rode Your Host at 2 and 3 was very high on him, comparing the son of Alibhai to the phenomenal Count Fleet. Even though he was plagued by disparaging nicknames, Longden stressed that Your Host had “smooth” action and top trainer Jimmy Jones thought the colt likely to be “…ten pounds better than any other 3 year-old in America,” according to the Daily Racing Form. The colt’s next start was the Santa Anita Derby. It was a rather weak field and the Your Host-Longden duo triumphed, winning by 2 1/2 lengths.
|The handsome Your Host as a 3 year-old, ridden by Johnny Longden.
(Copyright American Race Horses, 1950)
By now, Your Host was greeted by Californians with the same kind of enthusiasm we saw most recently for the great Zenyatta. So it was that the little hero departed for Kentucky by train, in a box car emblazoned, “Kentucky Bound, Derby winner 1950.” Arriving there in March, he began to train in a light snowfall, working a mile in 1:42 3/5 , the last quarter run in :24 3/5. The Derby prep race chosen by Daniels was the 7-furlong Scarlet Gate Purse: Your Host won by 6 1/2 lengths and set a new track record. The field included Oil Capitol (1947), Mr. Trouble (1947), Theory(1947) and Wisconsin Boy (1947) but the California invader made them “look like hacks” according to racing analyst Joe Palmer. Kentucky fell in love with Your Host and he returned to Louisville amid gossip that he might well be the fastest horse since Roseben (1901). Certainly, he was one of the best thoroughbreds California had ever produced.
Your Host started on Derby day as the favourite, at 8-5 odds. The colt preferred to be on the lead and this was to prove his undoing. Having battled both Black George (1947) and Mr. Trouble (1947) before the field turned for home, an exhausted Your Host came in ninth behind the victor, Middleground (1947). Even though the California turf writers took a terrible beating from their Eastern colleagues over the loss, it quickly became apparent that Your Host’s performance on Derby day was an anomaly: never again would he run so poorly. Remember, too, that Your Host had not been given a break from racing since his very first start as a 2 year-old. This and his disappointing run for the roses persuaded his trainer to give him a well-deserved — albeit short by today’s standards — rest.
Footage from the 1950 Kentucky Derby can be viewed at the address below. (Just copy the address into your search engine and it will take you right there.) Be sure to watch the close-ups of Your Host — as mentioned earlier, he runs exactly like Mahmoud!
Your Host’s next start was in June (1950) in the Kent Stakes at Delaware Park, which he took handily under Johnny Gilbert, who replaced Longden for this and subsequent races. At Arlington Park, he won the Dick Welles Stakes over both Wisconsin Boy(1947) and Oil Capitol (1947). Then, after finishing third in the Arlington Classic, he won the Sheridan Handicap in 1:35 3/5, carrying a top weight of 126 lbs. only to lose again in the East, finishing well back in third place in the American Derby. Returning to Hollywood Park against older horses, he finished a game second carrying 125 lbs. to the 108 carried by the winner. But in the Golden State Breeders’ Cup, he rallied to win in a time that was 1 second short of a track record.
|Winning the Golden State Breeders’ Cup in 1950.|
Your Host’s final start of 1950 came in the Thanksgiving Day Handicap, where he got the better of two really fine horses — Ponder (1946) and Hill Prince (1947), an old rival and the 1950 Horse of the Year — and missed beating the track record by a fifth of a second. The tough little colt completed his 3 year-old season with a record of 12 starts, 8 wins, 1 place and 2 shows, with total winnings of $ 342, 345.
Records indicate that he was back on the track in 1951 as a 4 year-old, finishing second in the San Carlos Handicap and winning the Santa Catalina in a gut-wrenching display of courage and intelligence. Carrying a staggering 130 lbs., Your Host was on the move when his saddle slipped forward over his withers. His jockey struggled to stay aboard, dropping the horse’s reins to cling to his mane. As the spectators watched, the chestnut weaved his way with care across the track to keep his rider aboard. Your Host went on to rate himself and win the Santa Catalina, breaking the existing track record.
|Tuffy Morlan and Your Host|
Disaster struck in his next start, the San Pasqual Handicap. As is the case with many great thoroughbreds of the past, written records are quite sparse, suggesting that the people who knew about the event in detail have long since gone. What follows, then, is what can be pieced together from very scant sources, among them an issue of the Daily Racing Form from 1951.
Your Host came out of the gate smartly in the San Pasqual and, as was his habit, made for the lead. As they turned for home, the 4 year-old began to cut through traffic to take the lead. What happened next is somewhat obscure. While some reports claim that a horse called Renown II (1943) weaved in too close to Your Host causing him to swerve, others say that the colt came up too fast on the leaders and clipped heels. In any case, Your Host went down, throwing jockey Eric Guerin clear as he fell. The stands were silent, as people came to their feet in a single, horrified wave. The colt struggled to get up — and kept on struggling until he managed to stand. Tuffy Morlan, Your Host’s exercise rider, was the first on the track and he raced to the chestnut’s aid. He is reported to have described the scene thus, “There he stood, broken and in horrible pain, but his funny cock-eyed head was up and he whinnied at me….a faint, desperate sound. It was the first time he had ever asked me for help. I knew he needed me then and I could do nothing but take him by the head and weep. I don’t think I ever felt so empty and lost as at that moment.”
The colt had shattered his shoulder, fracturing the ulna in his upper foreleg in 4 places. There was disagreement as to whether or not Your Host should be euthanized right then and there, but the horse carried a hefty insurance from Lloyd’s of London and immediate action was deferred, since permission to destroy him needed to come from the insurance underwriters. Subsequently, Louis B. Mayer “persuaded” Lloyd’s to pay out the insurance on the colt to his son-in-law and ownership was transferred to Lloyd’s. The decision was made to do as much as could be done to save Your Host — but this was 1951 and the medical possibilities were very limited. It was likely less a humanitarian gesture on the part of his new owner and more a question of recovering some of the $250,000 that had been paid to William Goetz; if the colt could be saved, he would perhaps be able to stand at stud and/or re-sold.
Veterinarians began the work of trying to save Your Host, while the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) — reflecting the public’s concern for the popular colt’s well-being — monitored each and every intervention. Finally, after trying a range of treatments aimed at getting the bone to fuse on its own, the decision was made to bed down Your Host in sand, immobilizing him in an effort to buy time for the fracture to heal. Even though he was a high-strung individual and in great discomfort, Your Host cooperated in a manner that suggested he seemed to understood that he was in a battle for his very life. He didn’t struggle and he didn’t complain. He just hung in there, grimly. After several weeks spent in this kind of traction, the fracture showed signs of mending.
|I’m Still Standing! Your Host with Dr. John D. Walker and
groom, Jack Stroka taken shortly after the colt’s ulna bone
had mended. (Copyright owned by The Thoroughbred Times.)
Once he was on his feet again, the colt had to learn to live with a right foreleg that was shorter than the left and lacked full mobility when extended. In between the accident and the horse’s miraculous recovery, Humphrey S. Finney, president of Fasig-Tipston sales had stepped forward to facilitate the young stallion’s transfer from California, where he stood briefly in 1952/-53, to the farm of F. Wallis Armstrong in New Jersey. Armstrong, who had suffered from polio, so empathized with Your Host’s story that he bought him for the asking price of $150,000 on behalf of a syndicate he had formed.
Here is how Oscar Otis of the Daily Racing Form assessed Your Host’s condition eighteen months after the accident.
” … Your Host, as everyone must know, has a “game leg” as the result of a shattered forearm sustained in a race at Santa Anita. What the son of Alibhai has accomplished in the way of learning to compensate for the injury has been under close scrutiny by students of equine psychology, and some of them have professed themselves as being utterly amazed at the way the stallion handles himself. The Armstrong’s have had countless suggestions and letters offering suggestions for his welfare and while everything has been done to make him comfortable, the horse has had to work out his own salvation, so to speak, if it were to be done at all. His fighting heart, which sustains him through each day, is clearly evident in his eye, which flashes. He has done any number of things which some have proclaimed impossible for a horse with only three good legs. One example of this is that Your Host has taught himself to stand while his feet are being trimmed, a process which, in his case, necessitates two feet being off the ground. He accomplishes this feat with a slight assist from the groom who gives him just a wee bit of support when the injured leg is one of the three on the ground...”
|Cover boy: Your Host, looking fit and feisty, pictured on
a Blood-Horse cover in 1961
|Kelso and his dam, a daughter of Count Fleet. (Richard Stone Reeves)|
Your Host died in 1961, leaving the world a splendid son and several other outstanding offspring. Plagued all his life by ridicule, mishap and misfortune, Your Host met every challenge with both grace and dignity. His is a story that must always be remembered, since it represents the essence of what makes thoroughbreds unique and why they fill us with inspiration and awe.
|Your Host’s grave.
Photo courtesy of LAW (Lydia Williams), equine photographer par excellence
The place where Your Host and my life meet:
My dog, Jericho, wears a brace to support a foreleg that was injured in a terrible accident. His life hung in the balance for 72 hours. Once at home, we went for acupuncture to restore feeling to his foreleg. Eighteen months later, having endured the sensation of nerves slowly returning to life, most of the feeling had returned, except just above Jericho’s paw which he carries folded over when he walks. Like Your Host, except with the aid of a jointed brace for support, Jericho continues to defy the odds. In so doing, he has become a local celebrity. I learned to cope with these changes a lot more slowly than my courageous soul-mate and during the darkest times, it was the image of Your Host and his story that gave me the strength to go on. As for Jericho, pictured here in 2010 at the age of 10, he goes on with his life, having brought comfort to troubled teenagers, handicapped people and the aged.
(Photo courtesy of artist Liz Read. Her amazing portraits of dogs and cats can be viewed on her blog:http://lrpix.blogspot.com/2011/03/ariel-in-snowstorm.html If you scroll down to the bottom of Gallery #2, you will see another photo she did of Jericho — laughing!)