Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Commando’

 

The beautiful EQUIPOISE in a study by C.W. Anderson, who captures both his kind eye and steely head.

The beautiful EQUIPOISE in a study by C.W. Anderson, who captures both his kind, inquisitive eye and wide, intelligent brow.

Every once in awhile, a stellar group of juveniles appear on the scene at exactly the same time and this was the case in America in 1930. Although they spent much of their time beating each other, victory over peers of such excellence reinforced just how good each of these thoroughbreds truly was. When it was all said and done, it was Harry Payne and C.V. Whitney’s dark chestnut colt, Equipoise, who wrote himself into legend. Which is not to say that each of his competitors were not equally worthy of stardom. Jamestown, Twenty Grand, Mate, Don Leon, Vander Pool, Epithet, Tambour, Sweep All, Happy Scot, Polydorus and the wonderful filly, Baba Kenny, were all champions. But the racing gods can be fickle: of Equipoise’s challengers, only Jamestown, Twenty Grand and Mate are remembered today and two — Jamestown and Twenty Grand — are HOF inductees. Dubbed “The Big Four” by the Chicago Tribune when they lit up the two year-old ranks of 1930, Equipoise, Jamestown, Mate and Twenty Grand met and clashed a number of times, delighting racing fans, many of whom felt compelled to pledge their allegiance to one of the “Fab Four.”

Even famed correspondent John Hervey, who wrote under the pen name “Salvator,” got into the act. His choice was Equipoise.

MATE (1928) was a son of PRINCE PAL.

MATE (1928) was a homebred of of Alfred C. Bostwick Jr., whose grandfather was a founding partner of Standard Oil. Winner of the 1931 Preakness, MATE raced in both the USA and England before his retirement. He is best known for his son, ELKRIDGE, a HOF inductee who was the American Champion Steeplechase Horse in 1942 and 1946.

Joseph P. Widener's JAMESTOWN, shown here at stud

George D. Widener Jr’s JAMESTOWN, shown here at stud. He shared American Champion Two Year-Old of 1930 honours with EQUIPOISE. As a sire, he is best known for his son, JOHNSTOWN (1936), winner of the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes in 1939 and HOF inductee.

TWENTY GRAND is led in by his owner, Mrs. Payne Whitney, after winning the 1931 Belmont Stakes. The colt also won the Kentucky Derby that year.

TWENTY GRAND is led in by his owner, Mrs. Payne Whitney of Greentree Stables, (H.P. Whitney’s sister-in-law), after winning the 1931 Belmont Stakes. The champion colt also won the Kentucky Derby that year, together with most of the key American stakes races. Photo and copyright, S. Lug for International Newsreel.

But the world in which the “Big Four” ran was a troubled one, devastated by economic depression and climactic disaster. People were shaken to their very roots by circumstances beyond their control. And then along came “The Chocolate Soldier”: in his Eaton-blue mask with its chocolate piping, Equipoise quickly forged a reputation for refusing to go down without a fight. He was, quite simply, the epitome of the will not only to survive, but to thrive.

A dark chestnut colt was born in the spring of 1928 to the mare Swinging (1922), a daughter of Broomstick (1901) and granddaughter of the mighty Ben Brush (1893). Bred by Harry Payne Whitney, who died before his homebred became one of America’s favourite thoroughbreds, the colt was given the name Equipoise. The name was apt. Even as a foal, anyone could see how perfect he was and he appeared to have a temperament to match. Following the death of his father, Equipoise became C.V. aka “Sonny” Whitney’s first superstar.

EQUIPOISE'S grandsire, PETER PAN, shown here as a colt racing in the colours of James R. Keene. Acquired by C.W. Whitney in 1915, PETER PAN proved himself to be a potent sire and BM sire. (Note: America's PETER PAN was a son of the great DOMINO and should not be confused with the Australian champion of the same name.)

EQUIPOISE’S grandsire, PETER PAN, shown here as a colt racing in the colours of James R. Keene. Acquired by C.W. Whitney in 1915, PETER PAN proved himself to be a potent sire and BM sire. (Note: America’s PETER PAN was a son of the great DOMINO and should not be confused with the Australian champion of the same name.)

The Whitneys are one of America’s most famous thoroughbred horse racing dynasties and played a huge role in the making of the American thoroughbred. The family is represented today by C.V. Whitney’s last wife, Marylou Whitney, who has continued to breed thoroughbreds along the lines that have distinguished the Whitneys as both breeders and owners.

The breeding of Equipoise provides insight into the knowledge that H.P. Whitney exercised in arriving at a champion horse.

Equipoise’s sire, Pennant (1911) was a direct descendent of the great Domino (1891). Equipoise’s grandsire, Peter Pan (1904) — not to be confused with the Peter Pan (1929) of Australian fame — was a son of Commando (1898) and, through his female family, Peter Pan also carried the bloodlines of the brilliant British mare, Beeswing (1833) as well as the legendary Eclipse (1764). America’s Peter Pan was a brilliant runner, starting 17 times and distinguishing himself with wins in the Hopeful, the Brooklyn Derby and the Belmont Stakes. Of his win in the 1907 Brighton Handicap, before a crowd of 40,000, the New York Telegraph wrote that Peter Pan “accomplished a task that completely overshadowed any previous 3-year-old performance in turf history.”

Whitney acquired Peter Pan in 1915 and as a sire, he was pure gold. Among his progeny are the exceptional sire, Black Toney (1911), as well as the champion fillies Puss In Boots (1913), Vexatious (1916) and Prudery (1918). Peter Pan was also a BM sire of champions, including the Preakness winner Bostonian (1924), Whiskery (1924) winner of the Kentucky Derby and Champion Three Year Old Colt of 1927, Victorian (1925) who won the Preakness and the filly, Top Flight (1929) who was Champion Two Year Old and Three Year Old Filly and a HOF inductee. Along with Equipoise, Peter Pan was also the grandsire of the ill-fated Black Gold (1921) and of champions Brokers Tip (1930) and Bimelech (1937), a son of La Troienne (1926) who won the Preakness and Belmont Stakes and is also a HOF inductee. Bimelech sired Better Self (1945) and is the sire of Never Bend (1960) grandam. Nevert Bend, in turn, sired the British champion, Mill Reef (1968), winner of the Epsom Derby and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

The handsome PENNANT may not have been PETER PAN'S best son but he was a solid campaigner and useful sire.

The handsome PENNANT may not have been PETER PAN’S best son but he was a solid campaigner and useful sire. EQUIPOISE was PENNANT’S most successful runner.

Next to this kind of brilliance, Equipoise’s sire, Pennant, might seem pretty ordinary. But although he was lightly raced, the handsome chestnut never finished out of the money. Equipoise was his best son, but Pennant also sired the champions Bunting (1919), Crystal Pennant (1924), Dauber (1935) who won the 1938 Preakness, Jolly Roger (1922) a Champion Steeplechaser and HOF inductee, as well as that hardy campaigner, The Chief (1935), who made 101 starts before his retirement.

A conformation shot of EQUIPOISE reveals equine perfection, from the fine head through the deep chest and powerful hindquarters. One of his many famous descendants, BUCKPASSER, was blessed with the same almost perfect conformation.

A conformation shot of EQUIPOISE reveals equine perfection, from the fine head through the deep chest and powerful hindquarters. One of his many famous descendants, BUCKPASSER, was blessed with the same flawless conformation.

It is fair to assume that hopes of the Whitney Stable were high for this beautifully-bred colt. But being both breeders and owners, they knew that superb bloodlines and great looks don’t necessarily add up to a champion. Happily, the youngster showed promise, winning his first two starts impressively. But in his third start, Equipoise ran into the more seasoned Vander Pool and came home third. (Vander Pool, owned by Mrs. W.P. Allen, chalked up fifteen straight victories from his maiden win in 1930 into 1931. Ending his two year-old season as a undefeated favourite for the 1931 Kentucky Derby, Vander Pool was injured and never hit the Triple Crown trail. His fifteen straight wins tied the record set by Colin in 1907-1908.)

Next came the Pimlico Nursery Stakes, in which the dark chestnut colt was partnered by the legendary Sonny Workman for the first time. It didn’t go well: Equipoise reared up at the start, pitching Workman. In the Youthful, Workman and Equipoise came home first by five lengths, but the colt was DQ’d for muscling his way to the front and the win went to Vander Pool instead. According to C.W. Anderson in his book, The Smashers, (Equipoise’s)  “zest for battle” was strong “…if he couldn’t find racing room, he made it.” This tendency would not change and the Youthful wasn’t the only race Whitney’s champ lost through disqualification. Workman, a champion rider and HOF jockey who would be Equipoise’s steady partner throughout his career, was quick to learn how to handle the assertive colt and the initial contest between them was forged into a fabulous partnership by the end of Equipoise’s first season.

EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the start.

EQUIPOISE aka “The Chocolate Soldier” and Sonny Workman head to the start. (Photo carries photographer’s signature, i.e. copyright. It may be Coglianese “the elder,” who took many photos of Equipoise.)

Equipoise’s next victories came in the Keene Memorial and Juvenile Stakes, beating another very good two year-old in Happy Scot. In the Keene, the colt showed he could handle the slop, running to a two length win at Belmont. Then, in the National Stallion Stakes, ” The Chocolate Soldier,” as he was dubbed by press and fans (on the basis of his dark coat) beat Polydorus and the filly Baba Kenny by six. Carrying 130 lbs. to Polydorus’ 115 in the Great American, Equipoise wired the field and crossed the finish line two lengths ahead of his rival.

Equipoise then met up with Jamestown at Saratoga in the summer of his juvenile season. Trained to a “razor’s edge” by trainer A. Jack Joyner, Jamestown built up such a lead in the Saratoga Special over the Whitney colt that Equipoise just couldn’t catch him, although he did beat Sun Meadow by eight lengths, to finish second. Carrying 132 lbs. to Mate’s 119, Equipoise lost by a head in the Champagne. The following week, The Chocolate Soldier went into battle again, facing both Mate and Jamestown in the Futurity, where each horse carried 130 lbs. In a furious stretch duel, Jamestown prevailed by a head over Equipoise. Mate finished another three lengths back.

After the Futurity, Jamestown was put away for the rest of the season. But Equipoise’s connections continued his campaign. The two year-old cruised to a five length win over Don Leon in the Eastern Shore Handicap before meeting up with still another fabulous juvenile, Twenty Grand. In the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct, with the Whitney colt carrying an extra 11 lbs, Twenty Grand prevailed by a length.

TWENTY GRAND beats EQUIPOISE in the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo and copyright: The Chicago Tribune.

TWENTY GRAND beats EQUIPOISE in the Jr. Champion Stakes at Aqueduct. Photo and copyright: The Chicago Tribune.

In their next meeting — the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes — Twenty Grand and The Chocolate Soldier had the crowd on their feet as they battled, head-to-head, to the wire. Twenty Grand won, but the two had set a track record of 1:36 — the fastest ever run by a two year-old over eight furlongs. H.P. Whitney died ten days later, and Equipoise became the first thoroughbred to race in C.V. Whitney’s name.

The Chocolate Soldier's performance in the Pimlico Futurity, together with his record at two, would see him share co-honours, with JAMESTOWN, as Champion Two Year-Old Colt of 1930. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Chocolate Soldier’s performance in the Pimlico Futurity, together with his record at two, would see him share co-honours, with JAMESTOWN, as Champion Two Year-Old Colt of 1930. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Pimlico Futurity was a match of the titans, with Twenty Grand, Mate and Equipoise facing off against each other at the equal weight of 130 lbs.  It was a battle called “The Most Spectacular Race Of The Decade” by the Baltimore Sun. And Equipoise won it in a way that not only established him as a champion, but as a colt with the heart of one. The track was muddy and at the start, Equipoise and Sonny Workman broke sideways, effectively hustling both of them back so that it looked as though the pair had been left at the post. Righting the colt, jockey Workman took off after the field. Twenty Grand and Mate got into a feverish duel down the stretch and so intense was their struggle that no-one saw the hooded Equipoise charging at the leaders. In a dazzling display, The Chocolate Soldier won by half a length. Not only was his win incredible, but Equipoise had scored barefoot, having lost his two front shoes somewhere along the way. He had righted a bad trip and won on a muddy track without the benefit of the kind of grip those discarded shoes would have afforded him.

Mud-spattered EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the winner's circle at Belmont after the "Chocolate Soldier's" win in the

A mud-spattered EQUIPOISE and Sonny Workman head to the winner’s circle at Pimlico  after the “Chocolate Soldier’s” dazzling win in the Pimlico Futurity against TWENTY GRAND and MATE. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The loss of his shoes hinted at a problem that would plague Equipoise throughout the rest of his career: he had thin, shelly feet. And they would plague him even as a three year-old. After three lacklustre performances, including the Preakness, it was discovered that Equipoise had sustained a three-quarter crack and he was retired for the rest of the season. His old rival, Twenty Grand, would win the coveted Kentucky Derby, as well as the Belmont, and had an absolutely brilliant season, annexing just about every major stakes race in the country.As a result, Twenty Grand was crowned Champion Three Year-Old Colt and 1931 Horse Of The Year. (Another of Equipoise’s rivals, Mate, won the Preakness, denying Twenty Grand the Triple Crown.)

The gorgeous TWENTY GRAND with his roses, after winning the 1931 Kentucky Derby.

The gorgeous TWENTY GRAND with his roses, after winning the 1931 Kentucky Derby.

Were it 2014 rather than 1931, the infirm Equipoise would likely have been retired. Happily, retiring a colt with such potential, as long as he was fit, was neither the ethos of the time nor the sensibility of Sonny Whitney. And a good thing, too, since The Chocolate Soldier’s campaign as a four year-old was nothing short of spectacular.

EQUIPOISE sets off for a work, wearing the Whitney colours on his blinkers. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

EQUIPOISE sets off for a work, wearing the Whitney colours on his blinkers. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Possibly taken the same day as the photo above, EQUIPOISE gets a rubdown after a work. This photo is dated 1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Possibly taken the same day as the photo above, EQUIPOISE gets a rubdown after a work. This photo is dated 1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Right from the start, the concern was keeping the colt injury-free, since his feet were a constant problem, not unlike the great Northern Dancer, who ran throughout his career on a quarter-crack. But the four year-old had filled out and was otherwise a stronger horse and it didn’t take long before he showed the nation that the old Equipoise was back. In fact, he made his first four wins look so easy that it was hard to believe he was running on delicate feet, taking six in as many starts, including the prestigious Toboggan Handicap, as well as the Metropolitan.

In his seventh start, the Delavan Handicap in Chicago, The Chocolate Soldier met up with a rival of old, the brilliant Jamestown. In fact, the Delavan had been especially designed for the two of them. C. W. Anderson’s account brings the drama of their meeting to life:

“…The weights were 128 for Equipoise and 118 for Jamestown. The track was at its best, and Jamestown shot away from the barrier as if to make a runaway race of it, but he could not open up more than a length or two. The pace became faster as they neared the far turn and still Workman had not asked Equipoise for his best. Not until they were in the stretch did he call on him, and the effect was startling. Already it seemed that they were running at an unbelievable pace, but Equipoise flew past Jamestown in a dozen strides and came to the finish three lengths in front. The time, 1:34 2/5, was a new world’s record. That an ovation greeted the dark chestnut as he came back to the scales is putting it mildly. He was a horse that was more than a horse. He had personality and people felt it. Always a perfect gentleman he was as calm and unconcerned in the winner’s circle as if he had been out for an exercise gallop. Jamestown showed distress from his terrific effort, but Equipoise had evidently not been fully extended.”

His world record-breaking time of 1:34 2/5 for the mile stood as an Arlington track record for twenty-six years and as a world record for twenty. And when Equipoise’s record came to an end, it was a faster track and not a faster horse that did it, according to Anderson.

THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER gets his own byline.

In 1932, THE CHOCOLATE SOLDIER is right back in the news following his record breaking win in the Delavan Handicap.

In his next two starts, the Stars & Stripes Handicap and the Arlington Gold Cup, Equipoise beat the champion filly, Tred Avon (1928), the hardy Dr. Freeland (1926), Gusto(1929) and another rival during his two year-old season, Mate, in the Gold Cup. Then, carrying a 134 lbs. to the 111 of the winner, Plucky Play (1927), the colt was beaten by a short head, breaking a winning streak that had seen him 9 for 9.

Next stop was Saratoga, where The Chocolate Soldier annexed the Wilson and Whitney Stakes. These were both weight for age races, giving Equipoise a break from the bone-crushing weights of the handicap division. The Havre de Grace Handicap under 128 lbs. was his next victory. Burdened by weight, Equipoise lost his final two starts of 1932. But his earnings for 1932 stood at a staggering $107,375 USD — the equivalent of $1,819,915.25 today. More than enough for him to be declared Champion Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year. 

EQUIPOISE was the star of the Handicap Division for three straight years from 1933-1935, winning Horse of the Year each time. Shown here with his lad. Date unknown but likely post-1932. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

EQUIPOISE won Champion Handicap Horse for three straight years, from 1932-1934. So spectacular was he that The Chocolate Soldier was also awarded Horse of the Year in 1932 and again in 1933. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As C.W. Anderson notes about horses racing in the handicap division in the early part of the last century, ” For three years, Equipoise was at the top of the handicap division, where the reward for a victory is always more weight. Two- and three-year olds may finish a season undefeated, but that is absolutely impossible for a handicap star. There is a limit to what he can carry, but there is no limit to what the handicappers can put on him. He may be the best horse on the track by twenty lengths and still win less than half his races. This was the road Equipoise had to travel…”

…And, in 1933, Equipoise not only travelled, he positively triumphed.

Winning the Philadelphia, Metropolitan, Suburban and the Arlington handicaps in succession, carrying as much as 135 lbs., it seemed impossible to believe that the chocolate beauty could be conquered, either by the handicappers or chronic foot issues. At this point in his career, the hoof that had sustained the quarter-crack had frequently to be pared down so severely that it was almost to the extent of growing a new hoof. Other researchers who have written about Equipoise claim that he never ran 100% sound. But by the time 1933 had come to a close, the Whitney champ had run up a 7-race winning streak, a feat rarely accomplished by any horse in the Handicap Division. One marvels at his courage and determination, but it’s easy to see why Equipoise was a racing hero of the Depression — and why his mere presence on the track evoked a sense of hopeful anticipation.

No matter how much weight they put on him, EQUIPOISE re-enacted this scene over and over again. Here he is, coming home under his regular rider, the great SONNY WORKMAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

No matter how much weight they put on him, EQUIPOISE re-enacted this scene over and over again. Here he is, coming home under his regular rider, the great SONNY WORKMAN. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The last two years of his racing career saw the burden of being a high weight in the handicap ranks start to tell on The Chocolate Soldier. The quarter-crack was becoming harder and harder to patch up and the Whitney Stable became even more diligent in monitoring his overall condition. But Equipoise loved to race because he lived to dominate his opposition on the track, in spite of his easy going temperament off it. And his fans…..the stands continued to shake each and every time he appeared. But soldiers soldier on, and at six Equipoise won the Philadelphia and Dixie Handicaps, before running in the Metropolitan. It was a tragic race. Chase Me (1929), an undefeated former hunter, much beloved in Maryland, went down while leading the pack home and was euthanized on the track. Equipoise came home first, but was disqualified for banging into Mr. Khayyam (1930).

Mr. KHAYYAM, a son of OMAR KHAYYAM, depicted by Frederick Voss in 1937.

Mr. KHAYYAM, a son of OMAR KHAYYAM, depicted by renowned equine artist, Frederick Voss, in 1937.

In the Suburban Handicap Equipoise carried 134 pounds, and although he came to the wire in a blaze, beating War Glory (1930) by ten lengths, it wasn’t enough to stop Ladysman (1930) from edging him out by a nose. After running third in the Narragansett Invitational, Equipoise beat Mr. Khayyam in the Whitney Trophy Handicap. It was enough to earn him a third consecutive Champion Handicap Horse award. At the age of seven, Equipoise ran only three times and all were on the West Coast, beating his old rival Twenty Grand in the Oakwood Handicap, only to again be disqualified for bumping.

Here’s rare footage of Equipoise winning the Whitney Trophy (Gold) Cup in 1934. It was found for us by a VAULT reader, Lorelei! (Just CLICK on the link below. Then, on the site, click on the number 57983 in the red box. You can also make the clip full-screen. Just look for the 2-way arrows at the bottom.)

http://www.efootage.com/stock-footage/57983/Equipoise_Wins_Whitney_Gold_Cup_Race

EQUIPOISE at seven in California, where he was training to run in the Santa Anita Handicap. Burdened with 130 lbs., he finished unplaced and was retired to stud shortly thereafter.

EQUIPOISE at seven in 1935, pictured in California, where he was training to run in the Santa Anita Handicap. Burdened with 130 lbs., he finished unplaced and was retired to stud shortly thereafter.

The Chocolate Soldier ended his career with twenty-nine wins (plus ten seconds and four thirds) in fifty-one starts, and earnings of $338,610 USD.

Sadly, his stud career was short: by 1938, Equipoise was gone. However, out of only four foal crops, the stallion produced the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes winner, Shut Out (1939), helping to make him America’s leading sire that year. Happily, Equipoise’s story doesn’t end there: he is also the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, Assault (1943), and through a daughter, Alpoise (1937), he is represented in the third generation of the great Tom Fool (1949), who would go on to sire Tim Tam (1955) and Buckpasser (1963).

"Here is a living harmony in horseflesh; an embodiment of rhythm and modulation, of point and counterpoint, that sang to the eye and made music in the heart..." (famed turf writer John Hervey, aka Salvator, writing about Equipoise)

“Here is a living harmony in horseflesh; an embodiment of rhythm and modulation, of point and counterpoint, that sang to the eye and made music in the heart…” (John Hervey, aka Salvator, describing EQUIPOISE) Photo shows EQUIPOISE working over an unknown track. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

EQUIPOISE shown here in a stunning portrait by photographer Sutcliffe. Source: EBAY

EQUIPOISE shown here in a stunning portrait by photographer L.S. Sutcliffe. (Source: EBAY auction)

EQUIPOISE'S passing was noted in all the major race publications.

EQUIPOISE’S passing was noted in all the major race publications.

The handsome SHUT OUT as he was depicted in 1943 in the Daily Racing Form.

The handsome SHUT OUT as he was depicted in 1943 in the Daily Racing Form.

EQUIPOISE was the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT, pictured here with his handler.

EQUIPOISE was the BM sire of Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT, pictured here with his handler.

Buckpasser, pictured here in 1966 with trainer   was thought by equine artist Richard Stone Reeves to be the most perfect thoroughbred he had ever seen. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Buckpasser, pictured here in 1966 with trainer Eddie Neloy was thought by equine artist Richard Stone Reeves to be the most perfect thoroughbred he had ever seen. Certainly his bloodlines were golden: not only did he count EQUIPOISE in his pedigree but his dam was the great BUSANDA (1947), a daughter of WAR ADMIRAL (1934). Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Another descendent of EQUIPOISE was the Kentucky Derby winner, TIM TAM, shown here at work. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Another descendent of EQUIPOISE was the Kentucky Derby winner, TIM TAM, shown here at work. TIM TAM went on to win the Preakness before he fractured a sesamoid in the Belmont. Amazingly, the colt finished in second place, showing all the courage of EQUIPOISE and earning the title of Champion Three Year Old colt in 1958. As a sire, TIM TAM would go on to sire the champion filly, TOSMAH (1961), as well as the dam of KNOWN FACT(1977)  and TENTAM (1969), TAMERETT (1962).  Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

SOURCES

Anderson, C.W. The Smashers. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1952.

EQUIPOISE in The Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame @ http://www.spiletta.com/UTHOF/index.html

“Horses In Arlington’s Hall of Fame” in The Chicago Tribune, June 28, 1989

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. We make every effort to honour copyright for the photographs used in our articles. It is not our policy to use the property of any photographer without his/her permission, although the task of sourcing photographs is hugely compromised by the social media, where many photographs prove impossible to trace. Please do not hesitate to contact THE VAULT regarding any copyright concerns. Thank you.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: