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Archive for April, 2013

Here at THE VAULT, we’re thinking about the fillies and colts who tend to fly “under the radar” as Oaks and Derby day draw near. After all, our sport would be awfully dull if the favourites always won.

 Along the trail to the first Saturday in May, thoroughbred experts are busy vetting their instincts and know-how to come up with a likely winner. There are all kind of statistics to pour over: past performances, pedigrees, sire records, profiles of trainers and jockeys. And, when the posts are drawn, there will be debates about the impact of starting positions on performance.

Of course, all of this cogitating is what makes horse racing exciting.

With the inevitable focus on favourites, it’s easy to forget that every one of the colts or fillies entered in the Oaks or the Derby are there because they’ve earned it. Collectively, these 3 year-olds rank in the top 1% of all thoroughbreds born in the same year. They are athletes trained to perfection, cared for down to the last detail and, more often than not, loved by their handlers, owners and fans. 

As they parade before the stands on their way to the starting gate, we celebrate their accomplishments and the stories that brought them to Churchill Downs. In those opening moments before the field is set on its way, each filly and colt moves in a shining light of possibility. 

And, for the true racing fan, that’s what it’s really all about.

(NOTE: This article is based on the leader board (@ http://www.kentuckyderby.comfor the Kentucky Oaks and the Kentucky Derby as of April 22, 2013)

There have been some stunning Derby upsets: Exterminator, who won in 1918, and Dark Star, who defeated Native Dancer in 1953, to name two of the most famous. Others include Donerail (won in 1913), Bold Venture (won in 1936) and, more recently, Thunder Gulch (1995).  And without question we must add the brilliant fillies Regret, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors who raced into history as members of an elite triad:

The Kentucky Oaks, inaugurated in 1875, has a no less prestigious history. Marking the start of Derby weekend, it is still seen as a bit of a “light weight” in comparison to the main event. But there are moments when the fillies deliver a champion so moving and so talented, that they manage to dwarf the colts.

……She stepped onto the track at Churchill Downs undefeated and, accordingly, the favourite in that year’s Kentucky Oaks. Her performance on that day was absolutely mind-boggling. Although Rachel Alexandra was neither a long shot nor an underdog, her resounding victory reminded everyone that great horses aren’t the sole domain of breeders like Coolmore, or trainers with enormous stables.

The place she won in our hearts on that day stands in memory as definitively as Secretariat’s Belmont, or Zenyatta’s triumph in the 2009 Breeders Cup Classic.

Kentucky Oaks 2013

Like the Derby, the Oaks has also known its fair share of upsets. The hugest (at 47-1) was Lemons Forever in 2006, who routed the favourite, Balance. But other fillies who flew under the radar until they came across the finish line ahead of the field include: Heavenly Cause (defeating De La Rose, Wayward Lass and the favourite, Truly Bound, in 1981), Seaside Attraction (who beat the undefeated Go For Wand in 1990), Luv Me Luv Me Not (1992), and Farda Amiga (who defeated Take Charge Lady and Habibti in 2002).  For all the statistics and analysis, nothing can dull the prospect of that pesky spirit of racing who, every so often, blesses a thoroughbred that was “under the radar.” Here are a few fillies that just might surprise us all.

 1. ROSE TO GOLD (Friends Lake ex. Saucy [Tabasco Cat])

Rose To Gold with jockey Calvin Borel. Photo and copyright, Steve McQueen.

Rose To Gold with jockey Calvin Borel. Photo and copyright, Steve Queen.

The chestnut daughter of Friends Lake is not exactly a long shot for the Oaks, having won 5 of 7 starts since her maiden at 2 and carrying second-highest points in the field.

However, Rose To Gold comes out of a lesser-known stable and is trained by Sal Santoro, who is hardly a household name. Her sire is useful if not brilliant, having yet to produce a superstar in his 6 foal crops to date. Then again, breeders can be fickle and in an environment where stallions like Smarty Jones get little respect, it’s tough to blame a sire for getting more modest winners. Rose To Gold’s pedigree also boasts the likes of A.P. Indy, together with Kentucky Derby winners Spend A Buck, Seattle Slew and Secretariat on top. Her dam, Saucy (Tabasco Cat ex. Sierra Madre by Mr. Prospector) has produced 6 foals to date, of which Rose To Gold is by far the most distinguished.

The question about Rose To Gold centres on the fields she’s taken on, or “Who did she beat?” She comes to the Kentucky Oaks out of Grade 3 stakes company, suggesting that stepping up to take on the likes of Dreaming of Julia will require that she’s at her absolute fittest. And it will be the filly’s first start at 1 1/4 miles. However, Rose To Gold has already romped in the slop to win the Fantasy Stakes and assuming that Calvin Borel — her steady jockey to date — gets the nod to ride her in the Oaks, we can count on her getting a very strategic ride.

2. SILSITA (Macho Uno ex. Naturally Wild [Wild Again])

The ravishing Silsita.

The ravishing Silsita.

Macho Uno’s elegant daughter, Silsita, has won 2 of her 4 starts and only ever been out of the money once. Her most recent win came in the Bourbonette, which she took in a head bob, although at the finish she looked as though she could easily go further than the mile. And, in prevailing to win the Bourbonette over a very determined Marathonlady, she showed that toughness that we associate with her grandsire, Holy Bull.

Although the best she has beaten is Pure Fun, and Flashforward proved too much for her in her second start on January 3, Silsita remains a “work in progress,” improving steadily over her last 2 races. Trained by the accomplished Todd Pletcher, we should assume that Silsita’s entry in the Oaks speaks loud about what he thinks of this filly. Silsita’s dam, a daughter of the great producer, Wild Again, made 33 starts, retiring with a record of 6-9-6 and earnings of $293,134 USD. The filly is Naturally Wild’s third foal to date and all have been modestly successful.

Holy Bull’s granddaughter may be poised to make the finest effort of her career on May 3.

3. SEANEEN GIRL (Spring At Last ex. Afternoon Krystal [Afternoon Deelites])

Spring At Last hails from the line of Deputy Minister and his dam,

Spring At Last hails from the sire line of Deputy Minister and his dam, Winter’s Gone, is 4 X 3 to both Ribot and Flower Bowl, through the spectacular brothers His Majesty and Graustark.

Winstar’s Spring At Last retired a black-type winner and millionaire: among his wins, the Godolphin Mile in the UAE, where he met up with international competition. His first crop are 3 year-olds this year and, if first crops mean anything in terms of a trend, his forte appears to lie with fillies. Spring In The Air and Spring Venture rank 1 and 2 as his most successful progeny, with Seaneen Girl in the number 3 slot. One can only hope that Spring At Last has transmitted some of Ribot’s invincibility to his young daughter:

Racing at 2, Seaneen Girl finished her juvenile season with a win at Churchill Downs in the Golden Rod Stakes.

Seaneen Girl winning the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November 2012.

Seaneen Girl winning the Golden Rod at Churchill Downs in November 2012.

Having made 7 starts in her career, winning 2 and finishing in the money another 3 times, this filly is honest and has performed consistently as a 3 year-old. She may have been beaten previously by Flashy Gray and Unlimited Budget, but Seaneen Girl has a very canny trainer in Bernie Flint, who has chalked up a sizeable number of winners and been the leading training at several different race tracks, including Churchill Downs.

Even though Seaneen Girl is stepping up in class to take on some serious talent, there is no doubt that she will try her best to run them down. The fractions in her last 2 races compare nicely against the recent performances of favourites like I Dream Of Julia.With a pedigree that includes names like Dynaformer, Waquoit, Graustark (4 X4), Roberto, Princequillo and Secretariat, Seaneen Girl has enough blue blood to do battle with the very best.

KENTUCKY DERBY 2013

1. LINES OF BATTLE (War Front ex. Black Speck [Arch])

Make no mistake about it: Lines of Battle is a very fine specimen who, if he shows up for the Derby, arrives at Churchill Downs with the second-highest earnings in the field. His last race was a win in the UAE Derby (above) and he carries a decidedly American — and deep — pedigree. War Front is proving a very good sire and the colt’s dam, Black Speck, is a half-sister to Dynaformer and she has already produced other black-type winners.

The magnificent Lines of Battle at work prior to winning the UAE Derby.

The magnificent Lines of Battle at work prior to winning the UAE Derby.

The key factor mitigating against his being a resounding Derby favourite is that it remains unclear whether or not his connections have been able to de-code the requirements to win the Kentucky Derby. Aidan O’Brien has certainly been knocking at the Derby door, and no-one would contest his brilliance. However, Coolmore’s Derby entrants consistently arrive close to Derby day and this means their colts have had little time to acclimatize to the change of scene and the deep Churchill track. Lines of Battle will find himself in the same situation as previous Coolmore entrants, although he does have a dirt pedigree, something that many of the other O’Brien trainees have lacked. The impeccably bred son of War Front will get 2 works over the track prior to the Derby, but it should be noted that several of the hottest contenders have been at Churchill for several weeks.

In terms of running style, Lines of Battle tends to be a closer and, in a race where stalkers and closers have the decided advantage, he may indeed give Coolmore and Aidan O’Brien a much-covetted crown.

2. ITSMYLUCKYDAY (Lawyer Ron ex. Viva La Slew [Doneraile Court])

Although there are stamina questions about the mile and 1/4 being the best fit for this colt, it’s impossible not to love the honest Itsmyluckyday. He’s got all the bling that made us love his daddy, Lawyer Ron. He’s also chalked up a lot of running experience under trainer Eddie Plesa Jr’s tutelage: Itsmyluckyday makes his 11th start on the first Saturday in May.

Itsmyluckyday pictured after his win at Gulfstream.

Itsmyluckyday pictured after his second place finish to Orb in the Florida Derby.

In the Florida Derby, the colt was well-beaten by Orb, but he also chalked up a second defeat of Shanghai Bobby and Frac Daddy in as many starts. Itsmyluckyday always gives 100% +. And he’s a stalker, another advantage in a Derby where there are no speed horses. But this colt has speed when he needs it: he ran the Gulfstream Park Derby in 1:09 flat in his first start of 2013 (below). In a word, Itsmyluckyday was brilliant in that race, although the competition was not up to the standards of his subsequent Holy Bull win.

But this determined colt is coming along very nicely and he may just do his daddy proud come Derby day!

3. WILL TAKE CHARGE (Unbridled’s Song ex. Take Charge Lady [Dehere])

Aside from the important fact that this colt has done everything right coming up to the Derby, his dam was a superstar who had the kind of heart that makes falling in love with thoroughbreds easy. Will Take Charge is her second offspring, after Take Charge Indy, to show his mettle on the track.

Here is Take Charge Lady battling it out with HOTY Azeri in the 2003 Apple Blossom:

The white-faced Will Take Charge is a big colt, still growing into himself, but he’s willing, rates off the pace nicely and comes with a cavalry charge at the end, as befits his name. If there is reticence about his chances, it might be that he has never gone over a mile and 1/16. But his win in the Rebel was breathtaking and in this, his final pre-Derby prep, Will Take Charge out-duelled his talented stablemate, Oxbow, in a manner that was reminiscent of his dam’s battle with Azeri:

And last, but hardly least, Will Take Charge is trained by HOF trainer, D. Wayne Lukas.

Need we say more? The combination of legendary Lukas and Will Take Charge's heart and pedigree may very well land them in the Winner's Circle on May 4.

Need we say more? The legendary D. Wayne Lukas is tied for most Triple Crown victories with the late, incomparable Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

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My grandfather, Carl Leroi Boynton Wheeler, was born at the end of the nineteenth century with what my family called “the horse gene” deep in his blood. As a little girl, I sometimes bugged him to tell me “horse stories.” There were four thoroughbred colts my grandfather cherished: Man O’ War, Gallant Fox (“The Fox”), Count Fleet (“The Count”) and Citation. They garnered his love and respect until the last days of his life. Whereas Man O’ War was incomparable, “The Fox,” “The Count” and Citation were the benchmark against which all other thoroughbreds — including Canada’s hero, Northern Dancer — were measured. 

As we move closer to the 2013 Triple Crown races, THE VAULT joins in the excitement with this weave of Grandpa Wheeler’s reckonings, together with other credible sources of the time, to tell the story of the unlikely colt who brought joy to North America in a time of fear and uncertainty. 

Gallant Fox, shown here in a rare portrait without the famous Belair stable blinkers! Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Gallant Fox, shown here in a rare portrait without the famous Belair stable blinkers! That white around one eye (“wall eye”) was said to intimidate other horses — one of those popular beliefs of the day that has never really been proven. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Sir Gallahad III raced in France, where he was brilliant, and shortly after going to stud, was sold to a partnership of William Woodward, A.B. Hancock.

The Fox’s sire, Sir Gallahad III, raced in France where he was brilliant. Shortly after going to stud, Sir Gallahad III was sold to the American partnership of William Woodward Sr., A.B. Hancock, Robert A. Fairburn and Marshall Field III. The stallion stood mainly at Woodward’s famous Belair Stud and at Hancock’s Claiborne. He is best remembered as the sire of three Kentucky Derby winners (Gallant Fox, Gallahadion and Hoop Jr.), as well as one Triple Crown winner (Gallant Fox).

The broodmare Marguerite was a Blue Hen, but her partner was only Sir Gallahad III

The broodmare Marguerite (shown here with Gallant Fox as a colt) was a great granddaughter of Domino, through Celt, a son of Commando. A Blue Hen, she was bred twice to Wrack and produced the champion, Peetee-Wrack. Other than Wrack, her only other matches were to Sir Gallahad III. As Hancock put it, “If you’re trying to strike oil, you drill in the same field where it’s been struck before.” The “first strike”was Gallant Fox. Although Marguerite never produced another like him, sons Fighting Fox and Foxbrough won races on both sides of the Atlantic. Her daughter, Marguery, is the tail-ancestress of modern-day champions Generous (Caerleon), Imagine (Sadler’s Wells) and Albertus Maximus (Albert the Great).

This story is about a great thoroughbred, but not one in the tradition of Seattle Slew, Affirmed or the immortal Secretariat.

This colt was a dreamer….always more interested in the world around him than he was in racing. Like Hyperion, he hated to be in training unless there was another horse to chase and catch. And once he’d moved on by the other horse, our subject was inclined to slow to a languid canter, while his eyes hunted the landscape for something really interesting. Fortunately, he had a kind nature and so would do what was asked of him on the track….most of the time.

Exciting as horse racing may be for humans, the life of a typical race horse, then as now, is filled with structure and routine. Not terribly interesting for a colt who, in another life, was almost certainly an explorer or a poet or even a philosopher.

As those who knew him best would expect, even after winning the Preakness, our boy (blinkers and all) is scouring the spectators for something far more interesting than their smiles or applause. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As those who knew him best would expect, even after winning the Preakness, our boy (blinkers and all) is scouring the environment for something more interesting than the smiles of his fan club. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Marguerite’s boy was a big, handsome colt with a wide, white blaze that ran from his forehead to curl around each nostril, a “wall eye” and four white coronets. Of the eye, it would be said that it gave him a fierce, wild look that put paid to any horse who dared to draw up beside him.

Named Gallant Fox, the colt foal was born on March 23, 1927 and was quick to show his intelligence and the kind of curiosity that goes with it. By the time he hit the track in his 3 year-old season, Gallant Fox was walking into a world of shattered dreams. It was 1930 and North America needed something that transcended a faltering economy and lives lost to the cruelty of the unforeseen.

His bloodlines were impeccable. His sire, Sir Gallahad III was by Teddy (Ajax) out of Plucky Liege (Spearmint), one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century. Plucky Liege (1912) boasted the prepotent St Simon as her broodmare sire, as well as three crosses to another influential stallion, Stockwell. Other than Sir Gallahad III (one of America’s most influential sires), Plucky Liege also produced Bull Dog (sire of the brilliant Bull Lea), Derby winner Bois Roussel (broodmare sire of champion filly, Petite Etoile) and Admiral Drake (leading sire in France in 1955).

Bull Dog was another American foundation sire, produced by Plucky Liege.

Bull Dog was another American foundation sire produced by Plucky Liege.

Gallant Fox’s dam, Marguerite, was a direct descendant of Domino through her sire, Celt. As well, illustrious names filled her pedigree:  Bend Or (Derby and St. James Palace Stakes, Epsom Gold Cup), Doncaster (Epsom Derby, Ascot Gold Cup), St. Simon (champion sire and undefeated in 10 starts in the UK) and Lexington (leading American sire 16 times).

St. Simon was said to have perfect confirmation, a seemingly indefatigable fighting spirit and an exceedingly high-strung temperament.

St. Simon was said to have perfect confirmation, a seemingly indefatigable fighting spirit and an exceedingly high-strung temperament.

The legendary Domino line was responsible for Gallant Fox's dam, Marguerite, who was a direct descendant.

The legendary Domino line was responsible for Gallant Fox’s dam, Marguerite, who was a direct descendant.

Sculptor Gwen Reardon's figure of the stallion, Lexington, adorns Kentucky's Horse Park.

Sculptor Gwen Reardon’s figure of the stallion, Lexington, adorns Kentucky’s Horse Park.

There was no question that powerful blood ran in the veins of Marguerite’s curious son.

As a juvenile, Gallant Fox aka “The Fox of Belair,”or simply”The Fox,” was sent to one of America’s greatest trainers, James Edward (“Sunny Jim”) Fitzsimmons. “Mr. Fitz,” as he was fondly called, had come up through the ranks the hard way, beginning as a stablehand at the age of 10. He knew his thoroughbreds inside-out by the time The Fox arrived in his stable. Mr. Fitz was one of those trainers who was most himself around the barn with his horses. Gallant Fox, he was quick to discover, only trained his best in the company of another horse. Left on his own, the youngster was happier to watch the world go by and this meant, in turn, that he was never keen to be interrupted in order to head out to the track. The Fox wasn’t really a fractious colt, but like so many great thoroughbreds he didn’t like to be pushed around. You couldn’t dominate him — you had to partner up with him. So, Mr. Fitz selected a training trick that seemed to suit them both: the relay race. It involved a number of colts, each of whom took The Fox on at a different point around the track. The colt responded mightily to the challenge, refusing to be headed by another horse.

It was a good thing that Mr. Fitz was running a large stable, because not one of his other horses could keep up with The Fox all the way around the track.

Gallant Fox was more interested in everything going on around him than he was in racing. Although Sunny Jim never doubted his courage, intelligence or ability, it took some doing to train him for competition.

Gallant Fox was more interested in everything going on around him than he was in racing. Although Mr. Fitz never doubted his courage, intelligence or ability, it took some doing to train him. Shown here at trackside, just checking out the action, The Fox is so intent that he poses all alone for the camera — barely moving a muscle.

Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (foreground) pictured with his 1939 Derby winner, Johnstown. "Mr. Fitz" dominated American horse racing's "Golden Age." He trained two Triple Crown winners (Gallant Fox and Omaha), as well as winning the Derby 3 times, the Preakness 4 times and the Belmont, 6 times. Other notables trained by Mr. Fitz include Bold Ruler, Nashua and Granville. All told, the trainer sent out 155 stakes-winning horses who captured 470 stakes races.

HOF trainer, “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons (foreground) pictured with his 1939 Kentucky Derby winner, Johnstown. “Mr. Fitz” dominated American horse racing’s “Golden Age.” He trained two Triple Crown winners (Gallant Fox and Omaha) and won the Derby three times, the Preakness four times and the Belmont, six times. Other notables trained by Mr. Fitz included Dark Secret, Bold Ruler, Nashua and Granville. All told, the trainer sent out 155 stakes winners to capture 470 stakes races during his career. As well as training for Woodward’s Belair Stud, Mr. Fitz also trained many champions who ran in the colours of the Phipps’ family.

In his 2 year-old campaign, Gallant Fox continued to be calm, friendly….and insatiably curious.

In the second start of his career, the colt was left at the starting gate — looking at an airplane in the sky overhead. He did, eventually, get going but it was too late to finish in the money — the only time in his career that he wouldn’t.

It was in the Flash Stakes, on his third try, that The Fox broke his maiden, although the second-placed Caruso would beat him four days later. In his fifth start, the Futurity Trial, the Woodward colt seemed to get the hang of it and he put in a good effort, almost catching the winner, Polygamous, at the wire. Next came the Futurity itself, where the 2 year-old star of the 1929 racing season, Whichone, hooked up with The Fox for the first time.

Artist Art Krentz's sketch of champion, Whichone, done in 1929.

Artist Art Krentz’s sketch of champion, Whichone, done in 1929.

As it turned out, The Fox couldn’t quite catch Whichone. But he gave it his best shot, ending up in a tie for second place which he lost by a nose, to place third. The Fox’s last start of the season was in the Junior Champion Stakes at Aqueduct, which he won going away. Whichone captured Champion 2 year-old honours that year, but Gallant Fox was on the radar as “one to watch” in 1930. His flip-flop juvenile season didn’t faze either his owner or his trainer: like many in their day, neither William Woodward Sr. nor Mr. Fitz saw a colt’s 2 year-old season as a more than a dress rehearsal for what lay ahead.

The Fox at three was stronger and more experienced. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The Fox at three was stronger and more experienced. Of the colt, Grandpa Wheeler said, “He could look a bit like a plough horse but he was a blue-blood through and through. He got the Triple with his ears pricked forward.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As youngsters do, Gallant Fox grew into his 3 year-old year a stronger, more experienced horse. He was joined by jockey Earl Sande, who had been persuaded to come out of retirement to ride him. Sande had been a champion jockey in his day, riding horses like Zev, Flying Ebony and the great Man O’ War (once) to victory. Damon Runyon had even penned him a poem, “There Never Was A Guy So Handy As Sande.” Retiring in 1927, Sande decided to try his hand at training, but his wife died that same year and the champion jockey fell apart. Overweight and almost penniless, Sande headed back to what he knew best, only managing a single win in the 1929 season.

In the meantime, Mr. Fitz was working hard with The Fox to get him to focus on racing rather than sightseeing. He positioned him in the stable so that the 3 year-old could watch all the action and when Mr. Fitz was talking to someone, he’d often acknowledge the colt by reiterating, “Isn’t that so, Mister?” And The Fox would nod his head in agreement. The trainer also indicated to Woodward that it would be ideal if they could land a single jockey for the colt’s 3 year-old season. It was his feeling that The Fox would do his best in the hands of an experienced rider, one who would form a real relationship with him and learn to handle his strengths and quirks.

Mr. Fitz and The Fox.

“Isn’t that so, Mister?” Mr. Fitz and The Fox.

The colt didn’t have a mean bone in his body. But he was a character and although Mr. Fitz had managed to improve his attitude and work ethic, The Fox still had his moments. For one thing, the coppery bay with the wild eye had a tendency to dawdle once he got on the lead: if there was nothing in front of him, The Fox just couldn’t see the point of knocking himself out. It was equally tricky to get him to rate just off the pace. Too, he was quite capable of coming to a sudden halt if something of interest caught his attention, blinkers or no. Heeding Mr. Fitz’s advice, Woodward, acting on the recommendations of his trainer as well as that of Doc Pardee, manager of the Biltmore Stable in Arizona, approached Earl Sande.

Gallant Fox with Earl Sande in 1930. The two would form a partnership as legendary as that of Ron Turcotte and Secretariat.

Gallant Fox with Earl Sande in 1930. The two would form a partnership as legendary as that of Ron Turcotte and Secretariat.

It was, as they say, “a match made in heaven.” Not only did Sande ride Gallant Fox into thoroughbred legend, he also groomed and worked him. Sande taught the colt to play guessing games, hiding treats behind his back. And they seemed to be in a constant conversation that often ended with the colt butting Sande out of his stall. Best of all, Sande adored Marguerite’s handsome son and the colt revelled in his attentions. It was fun when Sande was around and Mr. Fitz began to notice that The Fox’s attitude was improving, largely because he wanted to please his new buddy. For the first time, in a consistent way, Mr. Fitz saw his colt show a competitive edge when training with other horses.

Earl Sande wasn’t one to use his whip unnecessarily. He had quiet hands and a patient way of working with his young horse. The combination of Mr. Fitz’s wisdom and Sande’s quiet confidence in The Fox framed what was to be an absolutely brilliant 3 year-old campaign.

The Fox’s season began with the Wood Memorial, where he met up with the dashing Crack Brigade, owned by Thomas Cassidy. Despite getting a less-than-ideal trip, Gallant Fox beat Crack Brigade by 4 lengths. Next, it was on to the Preakness, which in that year was run before the Kentucky Derby at a distance of 1 3/16 (the same distance as today).

The Fox and Earl Sande after winning the Wood Memorial.

The Fox and Earl Sande after winning the Wood Memorial. As Sande had told the press, “As long as there is a horse in front of The Fox, you can ride him backwards. He’ll use his competitive spirit to find a way to win.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Fox would again take on Crack Brigade, as well a really lovely filly named Snowflake, who came home third. Snowflake, owned by Walter J. Salmon, would end her 3 year-old campaign taking champion co-honours with the more famous Alcibiades, owned by Hal Price Headley. She was that good.

Here’s an excerpt from turf writer and CBS (radio) broadcaster Bryan Fields’ report of the race that appeared in the New York Times:

BALTIMORE, Md., May 9    

William Woodward won his first Preakness and Earl Sande rode his first Preakness winner when Gallant Fox captured Maryland’s greatest turf classic before 40,000 persons at Pimlico today.

The son of Sir Gallahad III and Marguerite came from next to last position at the half-mile mark to the heels of Thomas Cassidy’s pace-making Crack Brigade at the mile. Three-sixteenths further, the end of the race, and Gallant Fox was the winner by three-quarters of a length and had earned $51, 925. The time was 2.00.35. 

… The snapping of pictures at the finish and a talk over the radio took considerable time and quite obscured the quiet stroll in from the infield of a smiling , middle-aged figure. It was Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, trainer of the winner. Asked if he ever was worried when Gallant Fox ‘s prospects looked so poor, he said: ” No, he’s a fine colt and when he got close to the leaders I knew it was all over. But that Crack Brigade is a nice horse too.”

Gallant Fox comes home in The Preakness, ears pricked forward. Crack Brigade is at the rail. The Fox won it in the second quickest time ever recorded.

Gallant Fox comes home in The Preakness, ears pricked forward. The Fox won it in the second quickest time ever recorded. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Next up was the Kentucky Derby. Other runners included second-place finisher in The Preakness, Crack Brigade, as well as the filly Alcibiades and Tannery, the “pride of the Bluegrass” and the colt thought to be the best hope of defeating The Preakness winner. Gallant Knight and Ned O. rounded out the favourites the field of fourteen.

The day was rainy and grey, but this didn’t deter the fans, who began rushing in at 7 a.m. when the gates opened. By race time, an estimated 60,000 had assembled. Among the spectators, the most distinguished was undoubtedly England’s Lord Derby, who was housed in a glass pagoda near the finish line with William Woodward and other luminaries of American racing.

In the winner's circle, wearing the famous wreath of roses. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

In the winner’s circle, wearing the famous wreath of roses. Gallant Fox had come home to win the Derby in the pouring rain, with Earl Sande’s gentle hands encouraging him on. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Gallant Fox swung into the top of the stretch at Churchill Downs today, running free in the van [vanguard] of the Kentucky Derby field, while a quarter of a mile away in a glass-enclosed pagoda near the finish line a big-shouldered man dropped a pair of binoculars from his eyes with a throaty exclamation, ‘ Great stuff! I’m glad!’ 

It was Lord Derby of England turning to William Woodward , owner of the horse, which stands alone tonight as the champion 3 year-old in America.

Sixty thousand persons massed at the track were still roaring themselves hoarse for Gallant Fox or one or more of the fourteen thoroughbreds behind him when Lord Derby made his remark to Mr. Woodward. The race was far from over, but Lord Derby’s ancestors have been racing horses for centuries and he had seen the best in the Derby field challenge Gallant Fox only to be beaten off in the backstretch and on the bend…He knew the race was over and said so. Perhaps ten seconds later the big bay colt swept passed the little glass house to the finish line…

… Gallant Fox and Sande saluted the stewards, were drawn into the tiny protected oblong of greensward next to Lord Derby’s pagoda and Mr. Woodward stepped out into the rain. Without a topcoat, he strode across the lawn and grasped Sande’s hand and congratulated him on riding his third Derby winner, the first jockey to do this since Isaac Murphy in the previous century.

Then he caressed Gallant Fox, undefeated this year…Photographers by tens scaled the fence and in three minutes Mr. Woodward and Sande were surrounded…” (Bryan Field, The New York Times)

There were other “firsts” attached to the Derby win. It was the first Derby where the horses started from an electronic starting gate. And Gallant Fox became the first thoroughbred in the twentieth century to annex both The Preakness and The Kentucky Derby, in that order. (Sir Barton had won the first Triple Crown in 1919, but the order of Derby and Preakness were reversed. Too, The Preakness was 1 1/8 miles in 1919.)

All seemed as it should be for Gallant Fox’s Belmont, until — just two days before the race — Earl Sande was involved in a horrendous car crash with fellow jockey, Harry Gross. Sande got away with cuts to his hands and face, so it was a bandaged Earl Sande who rode “The Fox of Belair” — the latest monicker picked up by the Woodward colt — onto Big Sandy on Belmont Stakes day.

Rain was lashing down in thick, grey sheets. And back to contest the Belmont was The Fox’s nemesis, Whichone, still considered by many to be the best 3 year-old in the country. But the red-hooded Fox strode past the stands to the start with his typical nonchalence, Sande sitting quietly, the reins slackened over the colt’s withers.

The first fractions were slow, but The Fox was on the lead and held it throughout. Each time another horse tried to get close to him, Sande let out the reins a notch and The Fox was off again. There was no speed duel between Whichone and Gallant Fox, as had been anticipated. Instead, The Belmont became a procession, with a champion in the lead. William Woodward’s colt crossed the finish line 4 lengths ahead of Whichone, going away. The Fox had won the “triple crown” under a hand ride and his victory marked the christening of the term “Triple Crown” to describe a winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The running of the Belmont Stakes of 1930. Gallant Fox is just getting ready to leave Whichone behind in the stretch in this shot. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The running of the 1930 Belmont Stakes. Gallant Fox is just getting ready to leave the Whitney’s Whichone behind in the stretch. The Fox’s win set a Belmont Stakes track record. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

William Woodward leads in his Triple Crown winner. The Fox got a little fractious in the winner's circle even though his owner managed to hang onto him until Mr. Fitz arrived to take charge. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

William Woodward leads in his Triple Crown winner. Gallant Fox got a little fractious in the winner’s circle, even though his proud owner managed to hang on to him until Mr. Fitz arrived. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

For a re-cap of Gallant Fox’s Triple Crown, enjoy this great piece of old newsreel footage. (Some highlights include The Fox and Sande breaking through the barrier at the start of the Preakness — twice! And there is also some superb footage of Alcibiades and Snowflake (white blaze) coming up to get third in the Preakness. In the Belmont footage, the blur is rain!!!!)

Following his Triple Crown, Gallant Fox went on to take the Dwyer and to win a hard-fought battle with Gallant Knight in the Arlington Classic. The latter endeared him to fans and turf writers alike, and he began to be compared to the great Man O’ War. The New York Times’ Bryan Field made the following observation: “Gallant Fox is a horse of individuality and magnetism, and thus far has behaved in the opposite manner to the tempestuous Man o’ War, who was a devil to break and a big, raw colt to handle and train as a two-year-old. He gives the impression of unusual grace and distinction and his symmetry and harmony have attracted thousands of admirers, as did Man o’ War’s effervescent temperament.”  

In the Lawrence Realization, the colt met up with the brilliant Questionnaire, who had only lost once — to Gallant Fox in the Belmont, where he finished third. It was a match-up that showed the greatness of the nation’s second Triple Crown winner. Trailing at the start of the race, Gallant Fox and Questionnaire went eyeball-to-eyeball in a driving finish, with Belair’s red-hooded super horse crossing the finish first by a head. The Fox also annexed the Saratoga Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which only one other horse stepped up to race him. He was declared the 1930 Horse of the Year or, as many preferred to say, the “Horse of the Century.”

Questionnaire, shown here at stud, gave Gallant Fox one of the toughest challenges of his career.

Questionnaire, shown at stud, handed Gallant Fox one of the toughest challenges on the track.

The biggest upset of The Fox’s career came in the Travers (1930) when he and Whichone duelled each other from the start, enabling a rank outsider, Jim Dandy, to leave them both behind — by some 8 lengths. In the silent footage below, you get a sense of what transpired. (NOTE: Clearer at thumbnail size than on a full screen.)

Gallant Fox was retired to Claiborne Farm after his Gold Cup win when he came up with a fever and cough. His all-too-brief appearance on the stage was always recollected with a certain melancholy by my grandfather, who stressed that the champion was “just starting to show his real mettle” late in his 3 year-old season.

At stud, Gallant Fox produced a third Triple Crown winner in his very first crop, at the age of 5: Omaha. He also sired Flares, a full brother to Omaha, who won the Ascot Gold Cup, as well as the 1936 Horse of the Year, Granville. He was a moderately successful sire; his full brother, Fighting Fox, was less successful as a runner but more consistent in the breeding shed. Still, Gallant Fox remains the only Triple Crown winner to sire a Triple Crown winner and that only adds to his cachet.

Gallant Fox's full brother, Fighting Fox. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Gallant Fox’s full brother, Fighting Fox. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

" He was a meteor who swept across the sky of racing in 1930."

” He swept like a meteor across the racing sky of 1930.”

When he died in 1954 Gallant Fox was laid to rest at Claiborne, where he had first come into the world.

His epitaph reads, “He swept like a meteor across the racing sky of 1930” — a fitting tribute to a thoroughbred whose dignity, determination and capacity to dream illuminated the darkness of the Great Depression.

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