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Images hold a memory in place and this image, of a champion colt who has been long-forgotten, is about to find its frame.

 

ROMAN SOLDIER pictured in 1935 at Hialeah Park, Florida. An NEA photograph. (Source: EBAY.)

 

Go looking for Roman Soldier and you’ll be greeted by blanks almost everywhere you turn. If you’re lucky, you might find a trace that invites you to find out more.

My first sighting of Roman Soldier was when I saw this beautiful photo listed on Ebay. I’m a sucker for a great photograph –one that fills the eye and stops you dead in your tracks. And this one (above) did just that. Although a solitary figure, Roman Soldier’s stride and arched neck screamed power, courage, confidence.  Something about the composition, perhaps its atmosphere, communicated that this colt was special.

Off I went to search, learning that Roman Soldier retired after making 40 starts, with earnings of in excess of 91k USD — an enormous sum in the 1930s, when he raced.

He was, indeed, special.

 

BLOODLINES

In 1919, the year that the “Great War” (WW1) ended, Roman Soldier’s grandsire, Grand Parade, won the Epsom Derby and St. James Palace Stakes, among other British races. Foaled in Ireland, it was said that his dam, Grand Geraldine, spent her days pulling a cart. The coal-black son of another Derby star, Orby, who was also the first Irish-trained horse to win the Epsom Derby, was purchased by Richard “The Boss” Croker, aka Lord Glanely, as a foal:

“…He was well bought as a foal for 470 guineas and showed himself a good early two-year-old, winning in England and Ireland, but considered some way short of the best of his generation. The colt thrived the following season but because of a trace of lameness holding him up in his work, he took his place in the Derby field very much as the owner’s second string.

Grand Parade came in at 33/1 after prevailing in the final furlong, a brave run by a colt who was having his first start as a three-year-old. After a success at Ascot in a two-horse race, Grand Parade went to Lord Glanely’s Exning Stud (near Newmarket) in 1920. He was not a spectacular sire but his Diophon won the 2000 Guineas in 1924. Most of his stock lacked the stamina he showed himself. ” (Source: The National Horseracing Museum, Newmarket, Suffolk)

The handsome GRAND PARADE (1916) after his Derby win, showing the colours of his owner, the Baron of Glanely (Richard Croker), and a portrait of his jockey, Fred Templeman.

Grand Parade’s owner had also bred and raced Orby, but his “other” story was one of corruption. In an article written by Jay Maeder in the New York Daily News, Croker was profiled under the heading “Richard (The Boss) Croker: How the Tammany Hall Leader Became ‘Master of the City.’ ” Here’s an excerpt:

“… Once upon a time, Tammany Hall had been purely a nest of thieves, for years presided over by the ravenous William Marcy Tweed, a man who plundered the city’s coffers so openly that after a while it just seemed to be the natural order of things. By 1870, indeed, Tweed had engineered a new City Charter that effectively made it legal to steal.

…County Cork-born Croker had come to New York as a child, grown up with the brawling Fourth Ave. Tunnel Gang and then, like so many ambitious Irish lads, sought to improve himself by joining Boss Tweed’s Fire Department. Fast did he find himself useful to a Tammany organization always on the lookout for such a promising young fellow as himself: Croker was very good at voting many times over for a given Tammany candidate, and he was very good at breaking the bones of citizens who seemed to want to cast their votes for anyone else.

…In short order he became an alderman, then coroner, then the personal protege of Honest John, who named him fire commissioner. When Honest John died in 1886, it was Croker who succeeded him, merely by sitting down in his chair and asking what anyone was going to do about it.

They called him The Master of the City, and this he indisputably was. His Tammany Hall was the very model of administrative efficiency: ‘I go down to the City Hall every day and go through the departments and see what is going on,’ Croker explained once, ‘and if I find anyone at fault I take them to task.’ Recalcitrant district leaders were summoned to his office, slammed into the walls for a while and then sent away more agreeable to his wishes.”

A political cartoon depicted Richard Croker, his tentacles deep into one of New York City’s “Ice Trust” office.

 

Richard Croker aka Lord Glanely leads in GRAND PARADE after his 1919 Derby win.

Grand Parade’s Derby win includes a portrait of England just at the end of WW1. (Note that, unfortunately, the footage has no sound.)

How Croker purloined his Irish title is unknown, but he did retire to his native Ireland where his stud at Exning gained a fine reputation, counting six classic winners to its name. It was as though Croker took on a completely new identity in his native land, becoming a portly owner-breeder who was known by his turf friends as “Old Guts And Gaiters.” But his return to the Emerald Isle did not go without comment — and the criticism was harsh and came from established Irish breeders.

As it turned out, Croker also had a stud in America and when he retired to Ireland, he brought some of his American bloodstock with him. At the time (the early 20th century) the Irish — in fact, most of the UK — felt that the American thoroughbred was a “stain” on the legacy of the British thoroughbred. But in a supreme irony, one of Croker’s  “inferior” American horses was to establish a breeding legacy.

Her name was Rhoda B. (1895), a daughter of Hanover (1884) out of the mare, Margerine (1886), a descendant of Australian (1858) and Stockwell (1849). Once arrived, Rhoda B. was bred to the great British sire, Orme (1889), of the Bend Or line, producing Orby (1904) and, bred the following year to St. Frusquin (1893), she produced the champion filly, Rhodora (1905).

RHODA B., dam of ORBY and RHODORA. She is pictured here with an unidentified foal.

 

ORBY (Orme X Rhoda B). Bred by Croker and from the Bend Or sire line, Orby became the first to complete the Epsom-Irish Derby double. Following his exploits on the turf, Croker was offerred 50 thousand guineas for both ORBY and his dam, but refused to sell them. ORBY proved to be a reasonably successful sire. Among his best were the Classic winners GRAND PARADE and DIADEM (1000 Guineas). He also sired the winners of about 30,000 (BPS). His reputation was sterling enough that the prominent Irish firm, Goff’s, named one of their sales events after him.

 

RHODORA (St. Frusquin X Rhoda B.). She was one of the best in 1907, winning the Dewhurst and the 1000 Guineas. As a broodmare, she had a hard time and none of her foals survived. Owned by Donald Fraser, Rhodora was slaughtered and fed to his hunting dogs when she failed to give him a live foal.

 

Cohort (1925), the sire of Roman Soldier, was a Croker homebred. The son of Grand Parade was imported to the USA from Ireland at the age of 4, where he proved a very useful stallion. Roman Soldier’s dam, Miamba (1921), was a daughter of Lord Derby’s Light Brigade (1910), also of the Bend Or sire line. Light Brigade arrived in the United States in 1916, where he stood at Hartland stud in Versailles, KY until 1931. Top American winners sired by Light Brigade include Rose of Sharron (1926) and Dr. Freeland (1926), although he is arguably best known today as the BM sire of champion, Discovery (1931).

A winner of the Scarborough and Easter Plates in the UK, Cohort’s best progeny, other than Roman Soldier, and winners of 50k USD or more were the colts  Bobanet (1942) and Brownie (1939), and the filly Ciencia (1939), who won the Santa Anita Derby and was trained by HOF William James “Buddy” Hirsch for King Ranch. The ride that jockey Carroll Bierman gave Ciencia in the Santa Anita Derby is considered one of the finest in all of racing and made the filly the first of her sex to win the classic. Ciencia would go on to become the granddam of champion filly, Miss Cavendish (1961).

Despite Ciencia’s remarkable achievement at Santa Anita, Roman Soldier was easily Cohort’s best progeny based on earnings.

SEABISCUIT, KAYAK II and CIENCIA (left with white nose) going down to the start of the Santa Anita Derby.

Cohort’s dam was Tetrabazzia (1918), a daughter of the incomparable The Tetrarch, out of the mare, Abazzia, a daughter of the champion Isinglass (1890). As we have often asserted here on The Vault, whenever The Tetrarch appears in the first 5 generations of a pedigree, even in the form of a lesser-known daughter like Tetrabbazia, it is always worth noting. Although his brilliance on the turf in the UK was short, The Terarch’s influence on generations of champions right up to the present day is extraordinary.

Tetrabazzia’s best progeny was not Cohort, but the colt Singapore (GB b. 1927). The latter was sired by Gainsborough (GB b.1915) and rated co-champion 3 year-old after his wins in the St. Leger and the Doncaster.

 

The Tetrarch winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue u

 

ROMAN SOLDIER’S RACING CAREER

His name a nod to his sire, Roman Soldier (1932) was purchased for $1,000 USD as a yearling by HOF Max Hirsch at a fall sale in Lexington KY and at 2 was introduced to the track. As proof that Hirsch didn’t think much of him, the colt ran strictly for purse money, capping his juvenile season with 12-5-4-0 and earnings of $4,690, paying back his purchase price in style. The little black colt moved with the Hirsch stable to Florida for the winter and was sold, shortly thereafter, to the wealthy Indiana merchant, William Sachsenmaier and trainer, Phil Reuter, for $7500 and 25% of his earnings, if he won the Florida Derby. However, Roman Soldier would also race under the ownership of Phil Reuter and Elwood Sachsenmaier, the son of William, as the latter died shortly after the colt’s 3 year-old campaign. Phil Reuter trained him throughout a career that may well have put paid to Max Hirsch’s initial impressions about the Cohort colt’s ability.

Trainer Phil Reuter visiting a few of his horses. Date unknown.

Among Roman Soldier’s 3 year-old peers were the likes of Triple Crown winner, Omaha, and the splendid filly, Black Helen. But even such stiff competition did not dim his reputation for the esteemed thoroughbred sports writer, John Hervey, aka “Salvator,” who devoted no less than a fulsome four pages to him in “American Race Horses, 1936” when the “Black Soldier” (Hervey’s moniker for Roman Soldier) campaigned as a 4 year-old. And it was to this source that I turned to find out more about Roman Soldier’s racing career. In fact, without Hervey’s copious research, this article would have been very thin indeed, despite numerous headlines about the colt that appear with regularity in local and national newspapers during his career.

The legendary John Hervey, aka “Salvator,” a consummate racing historian.

 

ROMAN SOLDIER (top corner) as he appeared in American Race Horses 1936, where he was featured in the chapter “Handicap Stars.”

 

There is no question that Roman Soldier was one of the stars of the 1935 -1936 racing seasons, a reputation he earned based on heart, courage and determination. In 1935, between January 17 until July 20, the colt started 12 times, finishing up with a record of 6-2-1 and earnings of $45,100 USD, making Roman Soldier the third highest-earning 3 year-old that year, after Colonel Bradley’s Black Helen and Triple Crown winner, Omaha. After his score in the Detroit Derby, which came in June of that year, his owners were offerred $60,000 USD for him. The offer was refused.

BLACK HELEN and jockey Don Meade after the filly’s win in the 1935 American Derby. She was the undisputed best of her sex that year, also winning the Florida Derby, CC Oaks and Maryland Handicap.

Although the small black colt won impressively in Detroit, Texas and Florida that year, putting up figures like 1:53 over 9f, Roman Soldier is arguably best known for chasing home Omaha in the May 4, 1935 Kentucky Derby.

1935 Kentucky Derby program.

The colt went into the Derby as second favourite; in the post parade John Hervey observed that he looked “…small and frail beside the first choice, the towering Omaha.” But none of that kind of talk bothered Roman Soldier. He did himself proud on the day.

(Note: This video has no sound. However, it stands as a record of May 4, 1935, giving the viewr a sense of the day. Of interest, too, are the shots of police battling gate crashers: apparently gate-crashing was a common affair on Derby day in the 1930’s. As the field turns for home on that wet, rainy day, it becomes a two-horse race. Roman Soldier can be seen clearly at the finish, closing on Omaha.)

A courageous and gritty performance by ROMAN SOLDIER demonstrated that, however “frail” he might have appeared in the post parade, his heart was as big as the winner’s.

The colt came out of the Derby with a sore and swollen ankle on a foreleg, but once mended, he would go on to race in at least three other highly-rated contests. In the Illinois Derby (May 24), where he gave away 6-11 lbs to his challengers, Roman Soldier got up for second. The view of racegoers and sportsmen alike was that he deserved to win. His performances following the Illinois were lacklustre and by the end of his 3 year-old campaign, Roman Soldier was worn out.

Sent off to Kentucky to refresh for his 4 year-old season, John Hervey notes his comeback as follows:

“…Our Soldier, unlike many that come home maimed from the field of battle, was right back on it when robins nested again and hostilities resumed in the Atlantic sector, which he had not invaded the previous campaign. With a strange disregard of critical opinion, he declined to be either a withered leaf or a pensioner idling in the sunshine before the temple of Mars…As a patrician of the equestrian order, the fighting urge proved irresistable and on May 6 he came forth in his war gear at Pimlico…the active combatant ready for any kind of scrimmage…”

The comeback was in a Grade A handicap and Roman Soldier, assuming top weight of 126 lbs., won over 6f in 1:12 1/5. He won his second start at Belmont Park with ease before moving on to “the New England entrenchments” (Hervey). Starting at Rockingham Park, the colt romped home and this earned him, in turn, weight of 132 lbs in the Granite State Handicap, also run at Rockingham, where he faced off against Vanderbilt’s son of Man O War, Identify, who carried 116 lbs.

Rockingham Park’s clubhouse in 1933

 

The handsome IDENTIFY (Man O War X Foot Print by Grand Parade) shared some of ROMAN SOLDIER’S bloodlines through his BM sire, Grand Parade. The colt was picked up in a claiming race by Alfred G. Vanderbilt Jr for $3500 USD. He would easily repay Vanderbilt: he retired with earnings of over 36k, having made 51 starts with 12 wins and another 15 place and shows. (Source: American Race Horses 1936; photographer Bert Clark Thayer. Copyright: The Sagamore Press.)

It was a rousing battle in which Roman Soldier and Identify fought tooth-and-nail to the wire, with the former prevailing by a head. The New York Times blared out the headline:

“Roman Soldier Beats Identify By Head at Rockingham Park; Heavily Weighted Favorite Passes Vanderbilt Racer in Stretch to Win Granite State Handicap as 30,000 Look On — Black Gift Third, Three Lengths Back.” (June 7 1936)

Dramatic as his contest was with Identify, it was not the apex of Roman Soldier’s 4 year-old season. Nor was it his defeat of the champion Discovery in the Havre de Grace Handicap in September, where Roman Soldier only carried 118 lbs. to Discovery’s 128. In fact, Discovery limped off the track, and few witnessing the race would have disagreed that Roman Soldier did much more than claim the spoils. But this is all speculation: no question that Discovery was in a league apart, but upsets do happen.

The crown of Roman Soldier’s year was his very own “Triple.” In sweeping the Havre de Grace, Washington and Riggs Handicaps, the colt did something that had never been done before. No thoroughbred had won the richest triad of Maryland handicaps in the same season. His feat was “…the only one in our turf history comparable to that of Whisk Broom when in 1913 he achieved his historic ‘triple’ in the three great spring handicaps of the Long Island courses,  the Metropolitan, Brooklyn and Suburban.” ( John Hervey in American Race Horses 1936)

Much of the credit for Roman Soldier’s performance in the Washington and Riggs Handicaps must go to jockey, Jack Westrope. According to John Hervey, when HOF Jack Westrope got on board, the colt seemed energized in a way Hervey had never seen before. It’s a shame that he only rode Roman Soldier twice, as Westrope was an absolutely brilliant pilot. He began riding at just eleven years of age, but four years later when he was still an apprentice, he was the leading rider of 1933 in the USA, with 301 victories out of over 1200 rides. He was 15 years old. Although he never achieved the notoriety of a Charlie Kurtsinger or Earl Sande, Westrope won many prestigious races across America; his most famous mounts were Stagehand and Cravat. Jack Westrope died in 1958, when his horse threw him. He was only 40 years old. Inducted into the HOF in 2002, at least one of his peers commented that he should have been honoured the day he died and not almost a half-decade later.

1934: Jack Westrope aboard BIEN FAIT after a win at Hawthorne. For more on Jack, please see Bonus Features below.

IN CONCLUSION

 

A fuzzy image of ROMAN SOLDIER when he won the 1935 Hialeah Inaugural Handicap as a 3 year-old. Photo: NEA.

Roman Soldier was retired at the end of his 4 year-old season and his first progeny arrived in 1938. Perhaps it was that ankle the finally got to him. At any rate, his progeny, although few in number, appear until 1950 and none were really remarkable although he did get six good runners, the best of which were the fillies Roman Sox (1940; BM sire Donnacona, a grandson of Persimmon) and Lady Romery (1936; BM sire Mad Hatter, by Fair Play). Through a daughter, Anthony’s Girl (1939), the French filly Right Bank (1980) descends, a winner of the Premio Lydia Tesio (It-Gr1), Oaks d’Italia (Italian Oaks) (It-Gr1).

The final tribute to Roman Soldier goes to John Hervey:

” Our mental picture of a War-Horse is of a tremendously big, tremendously bulky, tremendously stout charger, looking able to carry a ton of weight and go either over or through a stone-wall as may seem most urgent.

But they are not all of that kind. As we apply that term on the turf, Roman Soldier deserves it as much as any colt of recent seasons, Discovery excepted. He has sniffed the smoke of battle, heard the thunders of the captains and the shoutings, exulted in his prowess and ‘brought home the bacon’ many a time when the carnage has been fiercest. Yet to see him, you would not suspect it. He is not a horse of great size or strength. On the contrary, he is overtopped by many he has lined up with, while instead of being Herculean, he is slim and almost slight of build…

…In reality he is all steel-and-whipcord, with astonishing vitality, constitutional vigor, courage and endurance…” (In American Race Horses 1936, “Handicap Stars,” p. 161.)

 

BONUS FEATURES

1) “News In A Nutshell,” including Roman Soldier and Omaha in the 1935 Kentucky Derby:

2) Old Derby footage, beginning with Omaha’s win in 1935:

 

 

3) Article about Jack Westrope, published by The Blood Horse in 2002, the year he was inducted into the HOF:  https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/186824/jack-westrope-quiet-little-man

4) 1938 Opening Day At Santa Anita:

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Church, Michael. Online: https://www.michaelchurchracingbooks.com/the-1919-victory-derby

Harzmann, Craig. Jack Westrope: Quiet Little Man. August 5, 2002. Blood-Horse online: https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/186824/jack-westrope-quiet-little-man

Hervey, John. American Race Horses 1936. USA: Sagamore Press.

Thoroughbred Horse Pedigree. Online: https://www.pedigreequery.com

 

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