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Posts Tagged ‘Exterminator’

In the annals of history, who or what gets either remembered or forgotten is always a messy business. And thoroughbred horse racing is no different.

 

The image that starts it all: RUNSTAR, in 1924, after a win on an unidentified track. Photo N.E.A.

 

Photo back.

There’s nothing sweeter than a mystery and it was the depiction in this photo that grabbed our attention. The delighted crowd around the winner, who dips his handsome head as if in response to the warm smile and the touch of the woman just approaching him, caught on film somewhere in North America in March or April of 1924. The crowd surrounding jockey and horse suggests that one of them, or both, were well-known to the racing public of the day, or else that the win was in a significant race, whether at the local or national level. Another photographic detail that struck us immediately was the resemblance of this colt/filly to a nineteenth century legend: Salvator (b. 1886, by Prince Charlie o/f Salina by Lexington) who raced in the USA at the end of the nineteenth century for James Ben Ali Haggin.

Haggin was a lawyer and mining magnate from Kentucky who struck it rich in California and built the world’s largest thoroughbred stable and breeding farm there in the 1880’s on well over a million acres. In 1898, he purchased the historic Elmendorf thoroughbred farm and eventually relocated his thoroughbred operation to Kentucky where he was referred to as the “Laird of Elmendorf.” Salvator and the filly Firenze/Firenzi (Glenelg X Florida by Virgil) were Haggin’s most famous thoroughbreds, although he did win the Kentucky Derby in 1886 with a colt named Ben Ali (Virgil by Ulrica by Lexington).

A photograph of the incomparable SALVATOR, who bears a distinct resemblance to RUNSTAR.

 

The Match Race between SALVATOR (outside) and TENNY was one of epic proportions, prompting this famous Currier & Ives print.

 

BEN ALI, Haggins 1886 Kentucky Derby winner.

The information on the back of the “mystery” photo said little, except for what appeared to be a scrawled name. Having had a good deal of experience unlocking the (English) words in old manuscripts, this one was no challenge: RUNSTER or RUNSTAR.

As it turns out, the resemblance to Salvator that we had noted was no coincidence. The horse pictured was Runstar and he was born in 1919, a son of Runnymede (1908) o/f Salvatrix (1902), a granddaughter of Salvator through a son, Salvation (1892). Given his superhero status on the track, Salvator proved a great disappointment at stud, producing little of merit. But Salvation was one of his better progeny, winning the Champagne and Matron at two and the Ingleside in San Francisco at five, with a number of second- and third-place finishes in the intervening years.

Born in 1884, little FIRENZE (FIRENZI) earned $100,000 for James B.A. Haggin before her retirement. FIRENZE was without question one of the greatest fillies of the nineteenth century in America.

Runstar’s sire, Runnymede was most famously the sire of Morvich, the first California-bred colt to win the Kentucky Derby, which he did in 1922. Runnymede was bred by James R. Keene, one of the great American racing breeders and owners. Runnymede, who had earned the reputation of a first class sprinter in England, was shipped back to America by one Emil Herz, who had purchased him in England at the dispersal of Keene’s bloodstock circa 1914/1915; once here, Runnymede was sold first to Barney Schreiber, who in turn sold him on to Adoplh B. Spreckels, an enormously wealthy Californian and owner of the Napa Stock Farm.

Runstar and Morvich were born in the same year, 1919, and despite the latter’s rise to Derby glory, it was Runstar who the Spreckels’ stable held in the highest esteem until the day he retired. Compared to the handsome Runstar, Morvich was described as a “plain, ungainly colt” with an awkward gait, the result of defective knees. Even though the striking chestnut and chrome Runstar won his maiden at Empire City over 5f and a purse of $1131, he would never find his way into the public’s imagination as Morvich did.

As a two year-old, Morvich was never defeated; as he readied for his three year-old campaign, at least one sports writer claimed that the son of Runnymede would prove as great as Samuel Riddle’s Man O’ War.

MORVICH. Source and photographer unknown.

Unlikely as it seems to us today that any thoroughbred would be hailed as comparable to Man O’ War, the enthusiasm seemed justified when Morvich took the 1922 Kentucky Derby, his first start of 1922, in fine fashion:

But the Derby would be the last race Morvich ever won. Retired to stand in Kentucky, under the care of Elizabeth Dangerfield, who had also taken care of Man O’ War when he first retired, Morvich eventually made his way back to California where he died at 27 years of age. There, Arthur Mosse took care of him, describing the old stallion as one of the kindest, sweetest studs he had ever known. Morvich produced little of any note during his time in the breeding shed.

1922: WHISKAWAY beats MORVICH in the Kentucky Special. Press photo. Source: Pinterest

But back in 1921, when Morvich and Runstar first arrived on the East coast from the Spreckels’ California stable, it was Runstar not Morvich who toook pride of place and was housed in the number one stall. Morvich was up for sale and despite a daylight win in his first start, was duly sold through the aegis of trainer Max Hirsch, who kept 10% of the colt’s winnings throughout Morvich’s career. Prior to making their first starts, the colts worked together even though Morvich proved a sluggish workmate. The DRF noted, under the heading, “The Colt Runstar Is Much Admired” : “In the opinion of such a good judge of horseflesh as James McLaughlin, paddock and patrol judge at Jamaica, C.W. Carroll {Spreckels’ trainer at the time} …has the best-looking 2 year-old that has made its appearance in the East this year. ..” (DRF Archives, 1921-05-28)

The two year-old Runstar may have been a knockout to look at, but his performance paled in comparision to Morvich’s freaky rise to fame in 1921. However, Runstar can hardly be viewed as an “also ran” that year. He raced 9 times over American and Canadian tracks, and won or placed in 5. The colt was DQ’d from a win in one race at Empire, when his jockey Metcalf reached over and slashed Earl Sande as they neared the finish. The DRF reported , of his win in the Wakefield Handicap, that he was “troublous” but had behaved that day, so he may also have been a high-spirited two year-old. But Runstar was also described in the DRF as “…Never really fit as a two year-old and troubled by a sore mouth in all of his races.” (excerpt from DRF Archives, 1922-04-23)

The Daily Racing Form summed up Runstar’s juvenile season as follows:

“Runstar was one of the hard- luck two year-old colts of last year. He came from California with Morvich…and was the highest tried of the {Spreckels} stable, far better than the two year-old champion {Morvich} — which was sold for that reason. He was a big colt, growing and soft, and never had the proper chance. In races he was fast, but seemed to be without the vitality to finish. Runstar won three races, two at Empire, one the Wakefield Handicap, and another the Autumn Handicap: the Hochelaga, at Montreal. But his prizes were not great or worthy of his reputation, speed or looks. The colt will be in the 1922 Derby and is in Roy Walden’s {Waldron} skilled hands among the Simms-Xalapa farm string at Havre de Grace. The colt has grown in size, health and spirit, and it would not surprise many to see him a vastly improved race horse in the Simms canary and purple colours when he comes out again.” (in DFR Archives, 1922-03-06)

“RUNSTAR An Unlucky Colt” in the DRF, 1922, as excerpted in the quote above.

It seems likely that the Spreckels family shared the sentiment expressed in the DRF, moving their prized colt from trainer Carroll to Roy Waldron, who was the trainer for businessman’s Edward F. Simms’ Xalapa Farm and stable. Simms had agreed to stable and race the Spreckels colt, who now ran in the former’s colours, although still owned by the latter.

The man who took over the training of the Spreckles’ blaze-faced Runstar had begun his career as a jockey. Interrupted by World War One, Waldron served with the U.S. Army’s Fifth Division, the 157 Depot Brigade, before taking out his training licence upon his return to civilian life.

Initially, Waldron’s chief client were Simms and Henry W. Oliver, who were racing partners. As time went on, Waldron would become best known as the trainer of Ethel Mars’ 1940 Derby winner, Gallahadion, who defeated the overwhelming favourite that year, Bimelech.

Ethel Mars’ GALLAHADION in the Winners Circle of Churchill Downs with trainer ROY WALDRON. Source: The New York Times.

Unless we are talking about Man O’ War, or Ruffian, the verdict on any individual’s racing proficiency is as affected by the context in which s/he runs as it is by his/her performance. And Runstar’s world was filled with several notable besides Morvich. Exterminator, Black Gold, Grey Lag, Mad Hatter and John P. Grier were the most renowned of those travelling the racing circuit in the early years of the 1920s, but there were several others, beginning with Kai Sang/Kai-Sang, who were champions in their time and whom our collective memory has failed.

Rare footage of Exterminator’s Kentucky Derby. (Please note that there’s no sound.)

It was Rancocas Stables’ Kai Sang/Kai-Sang who first brought attention to the The Finn, who would sire HOF Zev a year later. In 1921 the Sam Hildreth-trained Kai Sang ranked second-best after Morvich. (In the 1921 Eastview Stakes, it was Runstar’s jockey who slashed Earl Sande, handing Sande and Kai Sang the win.) In his three year-old campaign, Kai Sang/Kai-Sang was arguably the best of his generation, winning the Jerome Handicap, as well as the Lawrence Realization.  As a sire, Kai Sang had a respectable career: out of 137 foals, he had 9 stakes winners, of which the filly Khara was the most impressive.

Rancocas Stables’ champion, KAI-SANG/KAI SANG, pictured here in Thoroughbred Types 1900-1925, by Vosburgh, Lanier, Cooley and Bryan. Photograph by Haas.

However, as a broodmare Khara was outstanding. She produced the full siblings Aethelwold, Savage Beauty and Little Sphinx by Challenger II and each one would leave it mark on future generations. Aethelwold and Savage Beauty were stakes winners. Savage Beauty went on to produce Little Hut, dam of stakes winners and important sires (and broodmare sires) Habitat and Northfields. Little Sphinx produced three stakes winners, Equichall, Captor, and Glad, and several of her daughters were important producers. Noors Image, a daughter of Little Sphinx by champion Noor, produced Dancer’s Image, winner of the Wood Memorial, and first in the Kentucky Derby although his win was set down when drugs were found in his system post-race. 

Harry Payne Whitney’s BUNTING was another very good colt born the same year as RUNSTAR who won 8 stakes races at 2 and 3. His female family includes Jabot and Jay Trump. Photography by Rouch in the book, Thoroughbred Types 1900-1925, by Vosburgh, Lanier, Cooley and Bryan.

At three, Runstar appeared to be finding his best form, following his return from Spreckels’ stable in Napa Valley CA where he had wintered. It seems clear that racing gurus were expecting more from the colt in 1922, given the press he got and the regard in which he was held, including W. S. Vosburgh, the NY state handicapper and eminent thoroughbred expert. Vosburgh noted that Runstar had “…grown into a great smashing colt much like Salvator, to which he traces through his dam. Speed was Runstar’s forte at two, but he looks like a long distance horse and may surprise the critics by going on.” (excerpt from DRF, 1922-04-23. DRF Archives)

Runstar’s race record until 1924 is sketchy at best. At three, the colt was one of the featured names in the running of the rich Paumonok Handicap at Jamaica carrying a purse of $5,000 USD. Either he ran but failed to finish in the top three or he didn’t start at all; too, Runstar was assigned weight for several graded stakes, including The Excelsior, the Stuyvescant Handicap and the Yonkers Handicaps, as well as the Suburban, but there is no other data on him in these runnings. It is likely that Runstar shipped to Saratoga with the Waldron string in 1922, but more precise information about Runstar’s performance there is nonexistant.

RUNSTAR seemed to get excellent press at the start of his 3 year-old season, as is the case here. Source: DRF Archives, 1922-04-17.

And so it remains until 1924, the year in which Runstar stakes his claim to fame.

Below: In 1932, Phar Lap won the Agua Caliente handicap, initially known as the Coffroth Handicap.

 

Thanks largely to the DRF Archives, the context of the Runstar photo that started it all became clear: this is the winner’s circle at Tijuana race track on March 30, 1924 and Runstar had just won the Coffroth Handicap, later to become known as the Agua Caliente Handicap, most famously won by thoroughbred legends Phar Lap (1932), Seabiscuit (1938) and Round Table (1958), the last winner before the race disappeared altogether. The Spreckels’ colt had actually been retired to his owner’s Napa Valley farm in 1923/-24 when the idea of racing him at Tijuana became attractive.

RUNSTAR is shown here when his entry into the 1924 Coffroth Handicap in Tijuana was announced. Source: Oakland Tribune.

The Coffroth Handicap was first run in 1917 and was, in 1924, offerring a handsome purse of $43,650 USD to the winner. The Tijuana track was a popular venue at this time for wealthy and influential horsemen like Spreckels who was, in his day, a California “high roller.”  Still convinced that greatness lay within reach for his homebred, the decision to run Runstar in the Coffroth was almost certainly made in the fervent hope that the chrome and chestnut son of Runnymede would finally get the recognition he deserved. So it was that the five year-old suddenly found himself back on the work tab under the guidance of a familiar face, trainer Charles W. Carroll. But the time he got to get himself back into the groove was short: a mere two weeks.

Postcard with photo taken on the day of the 1924 Coffroth Handicap. Source: Pinterest.

The Coffroth was run on March 30, a mere three months before the death of Runstar’s owner, Adolph Spreckels. If Runstar hadn’t had much time to get into race-fit condition, it sure didn’t show on race day. Under jockey Edgar Barnes, Runstar led all the way, “…carefully nursed along in front by jockey Barnes, who used rare judgment and showed an uncanny skill in rating his mount along…” and won from fast-closing Osprey and Cherry Tree by a head. Other than a testimonial to Runstar’s courage and heart, as noteworthy was who came in fourth: none other than Exterminator, who, as an ageing champion, was described as “…beaten, though not disgraced.”  The finish of the 1924 Coffroth was determined to be the “…most sensational seen in the West.” (excerpts from DRF Archives, 1924-03-31)

Close-up: RUNSTAR with jockey Edgar Barnes and an unidentified woman who may, in fact, be Alma de Brettville Spreckels, wife of Adolph Spreckles. This same lady appears in both photos of RUNSTAR featured here. Photo: NEA.

Carrying his owner’s huge hopes, Runstar had finally proved himself worthy, and Adolph Spreckels must have been delighted.

BLACK GOLD, the 1924 winner of the Kentucky Derby. Source: The Vault library. Photo otherwise unidentified.

Runstar’s Coffroth win did not go unnoticed by either the horse racing industry or the public, indicating the status the handicap and/or its winner enjoyed in 1924. Shortly after Black Gold won the 1924 Kentucky and Louisianna derbies, Ak-Sar-Ben Exposition Company of Omaha, Nebraska approached his owner, Rosa M. Hoots, and Adolph Spreckels to set up a Match Race between Runstar and Black Gold. Initially, it looked as though both owners were interested, but the offer subsequently fell through. Spreckels died in June of 1924 and this almost certainly changed things as far as his breeding operation and stable of runners were concerned.

In October 1924 it was announced that Spreckels’ son-in-law, Walter de Brettville, had engaged trainer Lonny Tryon to train the horses being sent to the Tijuana track and Runstar was among them. After the Coffroth, Runstar’s only recorded stakes race was the 1926 Tijuana Speed Handicap, in which he finished second to Preston Burch’s Thistlewood.

Like his race record, progeny records for Runstar are woefully incomplete. We know that he stood in California in 1923, when Spreckels first thought to retire him. The last extant records of his progeny are in 1939, when the filly June Ray is born. Runstar appears to have lived out his life at the Spreckels stud in Napa Valley where he was born. The date of his death could not be found.

In 1941, Runstar was listed along with Dr. Leggo, Morvich, Alexander Partages and Ervast as one of the greatest California thoroughbreds of the last forty years and it appears that the Spreckels’ colt was inducted into the California Hall of Fame. Whether or not that was the case, it is clear that Runstar was held in the same or an even higher regard as Morvich by the California racing community.

RUNSTAR was one of California’s “greatest.” (DRF, 06-06-1941)

 

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Ahead By Three. Agua Caliente Handicap (Coffroth Handicap): https://aheadbythree.wordpress.com/charts/agua-caliente-handicap-coffroth-handicap/

Breitigam, Gerald. Morvich: an autobiography of a racehorse. 1922: Reprinted by Special Permission of the Author by “Bill” Heisler Publisher

Daily Racing Form Archives

Forney, Mary. The Original Big ‘Cap: South of the Border: http://maryforney.blogspot.com/2009/12/original-big-cap-south-of-border.html

Vosburgh, Lanier, Cooley and Brien. Thoroughbred Types: 1900 -1925. Privately printed.1926

 

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) 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.

 

 

 

 

 

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In recognition of Man O’ War’s birth over a century ago, it’s been a time of celebration in the USA and Canada. So many fabulous articles, exhibits and online postings about America’s “favourite son” made for great reading and learning. THE VAULT is joining in the fun, with the assistance of B.K. Beckwith, Frank Gray Griswold and the Director of the Keeneland Library, Becky Ryder, to whom a special thank you is extended. 

I. Recollections of Louis Feustel, who trained Man O’ War

 

MAN O’ WAR exercising at Faraway Farm. Keeneland Library Collection. Used here with permission.

In B.K. Beckwith’s magical book, “Step And Go Together,” there is a chapter entitled “The Old Man and the Horse.” It’s a touching interview with Man O War’s trainer, Louis Feustel. We thought it would be fun to share some of Feustel’s recollections with our readers. (NOTE: B= Beckwith; F= Feustel; non-italic = notes on the chapter.)

MAN O’ WAR as a 2 year-old with trainer Louis Feustel (right front, in the light suit), owner Samuel Riddle (in round top hat) and jockey Johnny Loftus. The identity of the other gentleman unknown. Source: Pinterest

B: What was he like? What made him great?

F: I don’t really know…Maybe this will explain it — there was not a thing in the world that you wanted him to do that he would not try to do it better. If you asked him to walk, he’d fight to jog; if you asked him to jog, he’d grab the bit and gallop; if you wanted him to gallop he’d say “to hell with you” — and run.

B: They raced on steel then; you had no aluminum plates.It wouldn’t have made any difference…I think he’d have “tied ’em in knots” … yesterday, today or tomorrow… any weight, any distance.

F: Naturally, I’d agree with you…But I want to say here and now, I’ve never bragged too much about this horse. I’ve always felt the facts could speak for themselves. I loved him, big and mean and bull-headed as he was. He had a heart the size of all outdoors, and he had the physical power to go with it. I knew he was good from the beginning, and I wasn’t fool enough not to know that he was making me look good. Mr. Belmont and Mr. Riddle and the rest of them used to have long talks about what we would do with him, but they all came back to me to see what the horse wanted to do himself.

MAN O’ WAR working out. The drill was to “blow him out” roughly three-eigths of a mile the day before a race, followed by another eighth the day of a race. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

 

F {continuing}: I guess…like every other trainer in the world, I had sense enough to know I had hold of the tail of a tiger and, while I could steer him some, I had to do a lot of swinging with him, I had to grow with him and try to out-guess him…figure things out with him and let him believe he’d done it for himself. You can’t handle a temperamental horse or human being any other way.

B: …Too many people are inclined to think that anybody could have handled “Big Red” …Nothing could be further from the truth. His massive frame housed as much destructive power and deviltry as the average hurricane. Maybe you could get to the “eye” of it with luck, but it took a very good man to navigate from there.

F: You see…I had a bit of an edge with him. I not only knew him from the day he was weaned, but I knew his sire and dam and his grandsire. I broke and trained and won with Mahubah — she started only twice with one first and one second — I handled Fair Play as a yearling and I used to gallop Hastings when I was exercise boy for August Belmont. They were all of them over-anxious and rough. I knew what to expect when I got Man O’ War.

Feustel’s experience with Hastings was short-lived.

F: I was assigned to gallop him an easy half-mile one morning…Two miles later, with him going like a runaway locomotive, somebody picked us up. I was never allowed to get on him again. And that …was alright with me. He scared me almost as much as the first horse I rode for Belmont.

HASTINGS was another tough customer in MAN O’ WAR’S pedigree. When Louis Feustel rode him as a boy for August Belmont, HASTINGS “scared me as much as the first horse I rode for Belmont.”

Feustel had been “bound out” to August Belmont when he was only 10 years old.

F: I got a dollar a month, plus board and room and clothes. I sent the dollar home to my folks. They kept us kids working on the ground for a long time in those days…

By 11, Feustel was riding for Belmont and he remained with racing stock all of his life. At 72, Feustel retired from the farm of Harry M. Warner, where he was farm manager, and with his wife, took over the operation of Mickey’s Tavern in Altadena. During his racing career, Feustel famously trained for Belmont and Sam Riddle, as well as for Elizabeth Arden, Averell Harriman, J.W.Y. Martin, Harry Brown and Edward Harkness.

F: I’ll still say, though, that the best man I ever knew was August Belmont, and Man O’ War was the best horse. It was a sad day for me when I took him back to Kentucky for retirement. It was cold and miserable when I unloaded him from the railway car. There were a lot of people around wanting to strip the blanket off him and take pictures. I guess I wasn’t very polite to ’em. I told ’em to get the hell outta there. When I took him to the van it was so old and rickety that I said to Miss Dangerfield, ” If you don’t get him something better than this to ride in, he’ll knock the sides out of it and end up in the road pulling it himself.” She didn’t like it but I was mad. I hated to see him go.

 

MAN O’ WAR in retirement and one of the vechicles that transported him. Was it the same one Feustel cautioned Miss Dangerfield about? Keeneland Library Collection. Used here with permission.

B: Why was he retired at the end of his three year-old season?

F: We figured that we’d get the grandstand on his back if we went on with him at four…He’d won the Potomac Handicap in his next to last start down at Le Havre, packing 138 pounds…he just galloped to them {the rest of the field}…{Sam Riddle} asked me to go ask Walter Vosburgh (then handicapper for all of New York tracks) what weight he’d put on the horse if we ran him as a four year-old. You know what that man’s answer was? “Lou…I can’t tell you exactly what weight I’d put on him next year, but I’ll say this much –I wouldn’t start him in his first out a pound less than 140” … What could we do? He wins at 140 and then there’s no ceiling. Vosburgh was right of course. He deserved it. But Riddle says, “Retire him. He’ll never run  again” …I wonder what he would have done if we’d gone on with him. We’d never really set him down, you know. Neither I nor anyone else knew just how fast he could run. I’ve always had a hunch on the tracks of those days he could have turned a mile in 1:32 flat…

B: Man O’ War was really Louie’s horse. Riddle bought him and paid the $5,000 at auction at Saratoga which made him his. But he didn’t want him and he never would have got him had it not been for Lou and Mrs. Riddle.

F: … Finally, in desperation, I turned my sales talk on Mrs. Riddle. We all went up to Saratoga and she says to him {Sam Riddle} “You’ve got to buy him. The big red one. Lou thinks he might be good. Just buy him for Lou’s sake if nothing else.” Man O’ War was really more Mrs. Riddle’s horse than Sam’s.

About Man O’ War’s management: it wasn’t as simple as just maintaining a perfect running machine.

F: I had no problems with soundness…But I had mental problems with him from the very beginning.The violent, competitive spirit which burned in him kept you continually on your guard. He never actually hurt anyone…but all of us working with him knew he might try it at any time. He’d peel the shirt off you if you weren’t looking, and he began to savage other horses even before we retired him…Sometimes sweets or a pet, or something of that sort, will help you. But not with him…

Man O’ War was a horse that needed a strong body on his back, hence Clarence Kummer, who Feustel described as “a husky type,” adding that Kummer was “the only one who could really rate him.”

F: I remember once when Kummer was sick up at Saratoga, I put Earl Sande up on him. It was in the Miller Stakes…He was carrying 131 pounds and he won off by six lengths in 1:56 3/5, a new track record {for 1 mile 3/16}. After the race Sande came up to me and he says, “You’ll never get me on his back again. He damned near pulled my arms out of their sockets!”

The Miller Stakes at Saratoga: MAN O’ WAR with Earl Sande up. After the race, Sande told Feustel, “You’ll never get me on his back again.” Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Feustel also pointed out that horses were handled differently in those days.

F: It was a much longer process both before and after a workout. When I first began exercising stock for August Belmont, there were only two sets went to the track every morning. An individual horse would be out for an hour. He would be walked and then given long gallops, and usually brought back to a paddock two or three times, unsaddled and cooled out, and finally sent out for his serious drill. When we got back to the stable we didn’t just wash ’em off in a hurry and throw a cooler on ’em…Sometimes I used to think that all that working on ’em with the brush and curry, and the saddling and unsaddling, made ’em restless and mean.

C.C. Cook’s exquisite portrait of MAN O’ WAR. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Beckworth’s interview with Louis Feustel ends with the author noting how much alike, in their youth, trainer and colt seemed to be. However, age had made both Feustel and Big Red more mellow, even gentle.

In the case of Man O’War, Beckwith had visited him one last time at Faraway Farm before the death of the stallion, taking his dog with him. Having been assured that it was safe by Will Harbut, Beckwith and dog drew closer to the great horse.

Big Red lowered his head to sniff and then touch noses with the dog.

 

II. How great was Man O’ War? The reservations of Frank Gray Griswold (1854-1937)

Frank Gray Griswold was an American financier, sportsman and writer who was also the darling of New York society. Griswold was an enthusiastic “rider to hounds” and wrote several books about fox hunting, salmon fishing and one about the bloodlines and performance of notable thoroughbred horses. The book excerpted here is “Race Horses and Racing,” privately published by the Plimpton Press in 1925 and dedicated to the champion thoroughbred, Iroquois. It is a compendium featuring great thoroughbreds, including St. Simon, Lexington, The Tetrarch, Durbar II  — and Man O’ War. While Griswold clearly knows the biography and pedigree of each of his subjects, the larger purpose of this book is to persuade the reader of his expertise on the subject.

 

GRISWOLD pictured here (furthest right, white shoes) on one of his sports fishing jaunts. The photo featured in his book, “Sport on Land and Water.”

 

The champion IROQUOIS, depicted here by Currier & Ives, to whom Griswold’s book is dedicated. IROQUOIS was the first American-bred to win the Epsom Derby in 1881. He then went on to win the St. Leger and the St. James Palace Stakes, among others. Returned to the USA in 1883, he won several races before being retired to stud duty. He was the Leading Sire of 1892.

For Griswold, the standard of excellence is set by champions like Iroquois, to which “Race Horses and Racing” is dedicated.  Iroquois was, without question, a brilliant racehorse who won on both sides of the Atlantic in dramatic fashion, only missing the British Triple Crown by a second place finish in the Two Thousand Guineas. Too, Griswold was a friend of Iroquois’ owner, Pierre Lorillard IV, a millionaire aristocrat who owned Iroquois and raced thoroughbreds out of his Rancocas Stable in the UK and the USA. The introductory chapter of Griswold’s book is devoted to a history of Rancocas Stable.

What makes Griswold’s reservations about Man O’ War being “…hailed as the champion race horse of all times…” is interesting primarily because it disrupts the popular narrative of the day about Sam Riddle’s great horse. Griswold was a mover and shaker in New York society and this fact also makes it intriguing to wonder if his views about Man O’ War were popular among the elites — including horsemen — of the 1920’s. The answer is tough to ascertain. The press largely exhalted Man O’ War — but did their accolades fully convince everyone in the racing community that they were witnessing something they had never seen before?

The Dwyer, July 10, 1920. It was the only race where Feustel held his breath and prepared for defeat — until Kummer tapped him with the whip (one of only two times the colt evcer felt it). Photo shows MAN O’ WAR with Kummer up ,on his way to the post. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Griswold is happy to extol Man O’ War’s physical attributes: ” …Man O’ War is a chestnut with a star and slight stripe on his forehead. He is a level-built beautiful horse to look at, and as a three year-old was a giant in strength and full of quality. Some good judges thought he was a trifle too long in the back and too wide across the chest, but my personal opinion is that it would be difficult to improve his looks.”

In pedigree, Griswold declares Man O’ War “…hardly fashionably-bred,” noting that despite the good individuals in his bloodline (specifically, Galopin, Macgregor, Underhand, Rock Sand and Spendthrift), “…Man O’ War cannot be registered in the English stud book owing to the mare Aerolite…the dam of three great American race horses Spendthrift, Fellowcraft, and Rutherford; and she was also the sister to that good horse Idlewild” because “…there are several mares in the remote crosses of Aerolite’s pedigree that cannot be traced in the {English stud} book, for they end in the ‘woods.’ ” 

Griswold implies that while this glitch might be “…quite good enough for America,” it is less than desirable in a so-called champion’s pedigree. There were, of course, other champions in Man O’ War’s pedigree that Griswold ignored, notably St. Simon, Hampton, Australian and Doncaster. But Griswold is accurate about Aerolite; in her tenth generation there are indeed a number of individuals whose pedigrees remain incomplete even today. (It should be said that when Griswold is writing, America held true to the English bloodlines and pedigree standards in the development of American-bred thoroughbreds.)

 

James R. Keene’s SPENDTHRIFT (Australian X Aerolite)

But Griswold’s chief reservation lies in the time standard used to evaluate Man O’ War’s greatness, to which he responds, albeit between-the-lines, “But who did he really beat?” To quote Griswold directly: “…He was hailed the champion race horse of all times, yet he had not met a really good horse in his two years racing career, for John P. Grier, though a fast horse, could not stay and when he met Sir Barton the latter was no longer the champion he had been in 1920…”

Following a meticulous review of Man O’ War’s victories and new track records, Griswold writes, ” It was a pity that he did not meet the reliable Exterminator in the Saratoga Cup, and that he was not raced in America as a four year-old or sent to England to win the Ascot Cup, for turf history can now never explain how great a horse he was. He had proved that he was a game horse and that he could carry weight, but competition alone decides the worth and stamina of the racehorse, and he really was never asked the question. He goes down in history as a ‘riddle horse’ in more than one sense.” 

MAN O’ WAR and Will Harbut checking out the Hazeltine sculpture that would become the monument now housed in the Kentucky Horse Park. Keeneland Library Collection. Used here with permission.

The final argument in Griswold’s chapter on Man O’ War states his case firmly: ” Those sportsmen who believe in the time test will always contend that Man O’ War was the best horse that ever ran. Those who do not believe in the watch will always consider Luke Blackburne, Hindoo, Hanover, Salvator and Sysonby greater race horses than Man O’ War.”

Champion SYSONBY, at Saratoga in 1904, takes a time-out to graze and watch the action on the backstretch.

1920: MAN O’ WAR winning the Lawrence Realization. Feustel and Griswold agree on one point: During his racing career, the colt was never asked the question. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

Frank Gray Griswold’s reservations about the status of Man O’ War in the pantheon of American-bred thoroughbreds are unlikely to change anyone’s mind. But his argument is salient nevertheless. Conferring greatness on a thoroughbred of any year, decade or century has always been a complex business and remains hotly contested.

Not to mention the fact that Griswold’s central argument, centred as it is on the question of speed vs. stamina, is as current today as it was a century ago.

 

III. Recollections of Man O’ War by others (Keeneland magazine and The Blood-Horse)

 

 

SOURCES

Beckwith, B.K. Step And Go Together. 1967: A.S. Barnes and Co., Cranbury, New Jersey.

Griswold, Frank Gray. Race Horses and Racing. 1925: Privately printed by The Plimpton Press, USA. Limited to 500 copies.

The Keeneland Library, Lexington, KY, USA

 

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NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) 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.

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This little ditty comes to you, dear reader, at the close of 2016 with my best wishes for a New Year filled with an abundance of lovely surprises, new adventures and discoveries, radiant health and many occasions for laughter. This narrative aspires to set a mood of joy and hope as we ring in 2017! Love, Abigail

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Dedicated to the family and descendants of W.J. Gray, and especially his granddaughter, without whom this article would have been so much less than it became.

 

BLUE LARKSPUR, a superb thoroughbred from track to breeding shed, captured in the lens of W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

BLUE LARKSPUR, a superb thoroughbred from track to breeding shed, carrying the W.J. Gray stamp. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

As many of you know, I am wholly addicted to photography and especially vintage photographs. One of my favourite haunts, even when I’m not looking to buy anything, is Ebay — a superb place to just enjoy old photographs of all kinds.

Over the years, my collecting of rare old photographs of thoroughbreds and standardbreds has netted a handful of surprise discoveries and chance encounters with people from all around the world. One was with a descendant of Colonel Phil Chinn of Kentucky, and another took place when I bought a photograph of Safely Kept beating Dayjur in the 1990 Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the now famous “shadow incident” (below). As it turned out, the seller was the then owner of the UK’s Pacemaker magazine (now Owner Breeder), who was in the midst of selling off his magazine’s photo archives. So it was that I was gifted with some rare and wonderful photographs of Nijinsky, Danzig, Danehill and Sadler’s Wells from the Pacemaker archives. As a thank you, I sent this gentleman a copy of Secretariat from the Thoroughbred Legends series, as he was a huge fan and this was one book he didn’t have in his collection.

But one of the most fascinating of my discoveries began on an ordinary day, when I was trawling Ebay for no particular reason. I was scrolling through a search I routinely do of vintage horse photos when I stumbled upon a relatively rare Phar Lap, at a ridiculous price. I bought it and then returned to the seller’s listing, to see what else s/he had on offer. What came up was the kind of “find” that makes a collector dizzy: photos of the beloved Exterminator, the great Discovery (BM sire of Native Dancer, Bold Ruler, Bed O’ Roses and Hasty Road), of Blue Larkspur (outstanding in every way, the son of Black Toney is credited as being one of the X -chromosome, large heart sires), Pavot (US Champion Two year-old and grandson of Man O’ War), beloved Stymie, “The People’s Champion,” and a couple of more obscure thoroughbreds. These were large and possibly authentic photographs of the day. I bought the Exterminator and a few others. And then I sent a note off to the seller, asking about the provenance of the photographs. S/he duly responded to say that they were purchased at a garage sale in Los Angeles, where s/he had found them “stuffed into a cardboard box” on the front lawn, surrounded by vast arrays of household goods.

 

COALTOWN by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

COALTOWN by W.J. Gray. His signature is just under the colt’s hind leg. (This was one I was too late to buy, unfortunately.) Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

I waited for the arrival of my bounty, feeling that this might well be my personal “Antiques Roadshow moment.” You know the reference: the moment where the little lady from some tiny town that no-one has ever heard of is told that her photograph is worth a small fortune. Or not: many purchases turn out to be not quite what they appear to be in the Ebay listing, mostly due to sellers who know little or nothing about the difference between original and newly-minted photographs.

In the interim, I went back to the seller’s Ebay profile to check on other photographs that s/he might have sold. There I discovered images of a handful of thoroughbred champions who had been scooped up by other buyers: Calumet Farm’s Coaltown, who had the misfortune to race in the same years as Citation; the champions Alsab, Challendon and Gallorette, together with Reigh Count, the sire of Count Fleet; and Rosemont, he who famously beat Seabiscuit and Omaha and sired the champion filly, Bed O’ Roses.

Anyone who collects thoroughbred photos of the past will know that getting an authentic, original photo of Coaltown, Exterminator, Reigh Count, Phar Lap, Discovery or Gallorette is a definite coup because, for whatever reason, images of them are scarce. But what was equally fascinating in this seller’s lot was that the majority of the images were ones that I had never seen anywhere before. And this, of course, peaked my curiosity. I hoped that my own photos would yield some clue as to the photographer’s identity and/or the source (i.e. studio or printer’s mark, date of production, etc.)

The champion ALSAB. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

The champion ALSAB. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

My anticipation was rewarded shortly thereafter when a large, padded envelope arrived. As one photograph after another emerged, I was beyond delighted. Each one was 13.5 X 11 ” with very little border, printed on thick,nicely aged paper presumably used by printing studios/photographers of the day. The images themselves were crisp and compelling. With the exception of the Exterminator and the Phar Lap, each one bore either the signature (within the print itself) of a “W.J. Gray ” or an oval stamp that read “W.J. Gray, Photos, 411 So. Main Street, Los Angeles.”  

The Exterminator bore an encircled C in one corner that I can attribute to the great equine master, C.C. Cook, as well as recognizing his distinctive hand in inscribing the horse’s name, the jockey (A. Johnson) and a few other details on the print itself. Affixed to the photo, on fading newsprint, were typed details of Exterminator’s race record.

 

The print of EXTERMINATOR. Photo and copyright: C. C. Cook.

The print of EXTERMINATOR. Note the paper note affixed, listing his race record. Photo and copyright: Keeneland-Cook.

The Phar Lap only carried a typed newsprint square of the date and locale of his death, together with his career earnings. Had it been taken at either Menlo Park, CA or at Agua Caliente? I knew that, after his celebrated arrival in California and at the request of the American press corps, the champion was kitted up to pose for photos — the last that exist of Phar Lap before his untimely death.

There were no other identification marks on the print, although the image was superb and I knew that this was an exceedingly rare image of Australia’s beloved “Red Terror.” (At this writing, I have only managed to locate one copy of this photo online, but the site is in a foreign language so I was unable to read it. If any of you have any information about it — including recognizing the track where it was taken — please contact me here below, in the section reserved for COMMENTS. Thank you. AA)

 

The PHAR LAP photo.

The PHAR LAP photo. I am fairly certain that this is Billy Elliott in the irons and Tommy Woodcock in the background, in coat and hat. (Phar Lap’s Australian jockey, Jim Pike, had very noticeable cheekbones and a sharper nose. But at a distance, his official trainer, Harry Telford and Woodcock look somewhat similar. However, it was Woodcock and not Telford who accompanied Phar Lap to America, making it important to know who that figure in the background is, as it would date the photo.) Taken either at Menlo Park, CA or at Agua Caliente, Mexico, or else taken in Australia at some point in his career.

Once I had fully savoured my treasures, and framed the photos of Old Bones (aka Exterminator) and Bobby (aka Phar Lap), I began a search for the mysterious Mr. W. J. Gray.  But “Gray” is a common surname and searches kept giving me any instance of “W.J.” separately from “Gray.” After several dead ends, I finally hit upon a lead.

As it turned out, W. J. Gray was a photographer of some of Hollywood’s most iconic stars:

 

INGRID BERGMAN by W.J. Gray. Note his signature on the photo on the left-hand side. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

INGRID BERGMAN by W.J. Gray. Note his signature on the photo on the left-hand side. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

JUNE ALLYSON by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

JUNE ALLYSON by W.J. Gray, also carrying his signature on the right. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

A young FRANK SINATRA by W.J. Gray with the latter's signature visible under Sinatra's. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

A young FRANK SINATRA by W.J. Gray with the latter’s signature visible under Sinatra’s. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

Too, I found one image of an iconic historical figure in American – World War II history that Gray had captured in understated dignity …

 

GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR by W.J. Gray. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

…as well as numerous aircraft, and one snowy scene of Los Angeles in the winter of 1944:

 

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wj-gray_3s-l1600

wj-gray_s-l1600

 

This was enough to tell me that Mr. Gray was, indeed, a very fine photographer, one whose reputation for exceptional work was acknowledged. After all, not just anyone was called upon to photograph Ingrid Bergman or General Macarthur. As well, many of the airplanes he photographed were produced by the industry giant Lockheed, with whom Gray likely had a contract.

From the scanty information I was able to retrieve, it appeared that much of Gray’s extant work was done in the 1930’s and 1940’s.

The great CORNELL WILDE, photographed by Billy Gray. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

The great CORNELL WILDE, photographed by Billy Gray. Gray’s characteristic signature sits to the left, below Wilde’s. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

But nowhere –nowhere — was there any indication of the photographer’s perhaps secret passion for the great thoroughbreds of his day. Whereas the Hollywood and possibly the Lockheed photos could well have been taken in California, several of the horses I had discovered never raced in California, indicating that Gray may have travelled around the country to record their exploits. Did he, I wondered, also work for (a)newspaper(s), capturing images of great thoroughbreds for their pages?

 

A quite spectacular photograph of DISCOVERY, the BM sire of Native Dancer and Bed O' Roses, carrying the W.J. Gray stamp. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

A quite spectacular photograph of DISCOVERY, the BM sire of Native Dancer and Bed O’ Roses, carrying the W.J. Gray stamp. Copies of this shot can be found on Ebay by those unscrupulous dealers who copy and sell other people’s work. Photo, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

Another thorny question: why a stamp and not a signature? Could the stamp indicate that the photograph was developed by Gray at his studio, whereas the signature, as seen in the Hollywood photos and on some of the thoroughbred shots, indicated that Gray himself was the photographer? This explanation seemed most likely, and is reinforced by the handwriting on the Discovery shot (above) that looks very much like C.C. Cook’s hand and carries only the Gray stamp. I hasten to add that, unlike today where so many unscrupulous types download someone else’s work from the internet and sell it on places like Ebay, if Gray did indeed sell others’ work in his store, it would have been through an agreement reached with the photographer, who likely made a commission on the sale of his work.

However, Gray — like C.C. Cook and other photographers of the day — was also given to writing on some of his negatives, as is the case with the photo of Alsab (above) that carries both writing and his signature (while minus the Gray stamp). If signature vs. stamp weren’t intended to discriminate the photographs Gray handled,  it’s equally possible that he just switched from signing his photographs to stamping them, making all those bearing either identification mark attributable to him. A tough call, and one impossible to resolve without the knowledge of someone who knew the man and something about his career.

So, on went the winding trail of the narrative of these stunning images and their creator, until I came across a blog that held a new Gray photograph. Although not of a thoroughbred, in the Comments section below it there was a reply from W.J. Gray’s great grandson, who confirmed that his great grandfather had owned a photography shop in Hollywood/Los Angeles. I duly obtained Mr. Gray’s great grandson’s coordinates from the blogger and shot off a hasty email. Could he tell me something more about his ancestor and about Gray’s thoroughbred photos?

CHALLENDON. Photo and copyright, the estate of W.J. Gray.

CHALLENDON, in what appears to be a press photo. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

Within a few days, I received a very cordial note from Mr. Gray’s great grandson, who told me that he was researching his great grandfather, knew he had taken photos of Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and commercial aircraft, but had absolutely no idea that he had an interest in thoroughbreds. I duly sent him copies of some of the thoroughbred photographs that had been listed on Ebay. Again I received a reply and a promise that he would forward the photos, as well as my letter, to other Gray family members. This was in 2014.

As the photos I had found were outstanding and reflected not only Gray’s skill but his knowledge about some of the most important thoroughbreds of his time, it was hard to forget about him.

Then, a day after I began writing this piece, I saw that there were many comments on The Vault that I had had no time to answer, given the Christmas holidays…and first among them was a message from W.J. Gray’s granddaughter. In fact, in a context where truth is stranger than fiction, she had written to me the day before I decided to try to pull something together about her grandfather for my first post of 2017.

Happy coincidence? Certainly.

I had been thinking about the mysterious Mr. Gray as a great subject for a new year post, because I believe that discovery is one of the great spices in life, even if its story is incomplete, which Gray’s clearly was until the moment I read his granddaughter’s note to me.

Sometimes the Universe is indeed inexplicable — and on December 26, 2016, it was presenting me with a gem.

 

Some horses don't wear well down through time. Meet the excellent LADYSMAN, winner of the Arlington Futurity, the Hopeful, the Grand Union Hotel Stakes and the United States Stakes in 1932, when he was also honoured with Champion Two Year-Old honours. LADYSMAN was a real press and fan favourite until his retirement in 1935. Used with the permission of WJ Gray's granddaughter.

Some horses don’t “wear well” down through time. Meet the excellent LADYSMAN, winner of the Arlington Futurity, the Hopeful, the Grand Union Hotel Stakes and the United States Stakes in 1932, when he was also honoured with Champion Two Year-Old honours. LADYSMAN was a real press and fan favourite until his retirement in 1935. Used with the permission of WJ Gray’s granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

W.J. (Billy) Gray’s granddaughter’s initial message to me was followed by a flurry of emails and an actual “phone date.”

As it turned out, she had been born two weeks after her grandfather died, in January 1958, but had grown up hearing many stories about him. Her mother, Billy’s daughter-in-law, had only wonderful memories of him: “…She adored him and his gentle spirit, {he} was the absolute kindest person she ever knew! …My grandfather was a self-made man who lived his life with dignity, integrity and kindness.” (Private correspondence)

As she went on to say:

“…When you contacted my second cousin, his dad sent me copies of the photos you found (where did you find them?)

That began my search for horse racing photos…I couldn’t find any, except one that had been hand painted and was sold at an estate auction a few years prior. I searched for months! Many many months with no success.

Then one night I was watching the movie “Seabiscuit.” I was crying at the appropriate moment😊 and then put the movie on hold and asked out loud (no one was home) ‘Grandpa, am I ever going to find your horse racing photos?’.

I began to search on the internet, again. This time I searched ‘WJ Gray Seabiscuit’. On the third page of searches I found three lines that included contact info and:
‘large, original photos of Seabiscuit and War Admiral by Wm Gray of Los Angeles for $100, Philadelphia’

I called him immediately and told him that {the photographs he was selling} was my grandfather who died 2 weeks before I was born and I was searching for his photos. The man called me back the next day and said I must have those photos and {that he had} discovered 4 more in his stash! He said his father had bought them in Philly when a bar closed and they were selling the photos off the wall! He’d tried to sell them before and thought that no-one understood what they were. But he did. He liked the ‘ponies’.” (Private correspondence) 

 

WJ GRAY getting ready to take a photograph. Used with permission by his granddaughter.

A very dapper WJ GRAY getting ready to take a photograph, possibly at Santa Anita. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

Then scans of the photos she had tracked down and purchased from the man in Philadelphia arrived. Once again, I was astounded. Not only were the images crisp, but most were shots of thoroughbreds I knew well but had never seen before: War Admiral in close-up coming into the final turn of the Belmont Stakes (and victory in the Triple Crown); Phar Lap after his win at Agua Caliente; an apparent press photo (because it included a typed byline) of Seabiscuit losing the Santa Anita Handicap to Rosemont; A.C. Bostwick’s champion, Mate, winner of some important races, notably the the Preakness, Champagne and American Derby in 1931; Equipoise winning The Metropolitan (1932); and Granville, a very good son of Gallant Fox, on track in the colours of the famous Belair Stud. Each large photo carried the oval “WJ Gray Photos” stamp.

 

GRANVILLE on track. Photo and copyright, the estate of WJ Gray.

GRANVILLE on track. Photo and copyright, the Estate of WJ Gray.

Mr. Gray’s granddaughter was also kind enough to send photos of her grandfather, as well as biographical notes.

 

W.J. GRAY with an unidentified horse. Used with the permission of his granddaughter.

W.J. GRAY with an unidentified horse. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

William (Billy) J. Gray was born on Edisto Island, SC in 1883, the youngest of ten children. He was orphaned at the age of seven and while in an orphanage was taught a trade that presumably allowed him to work on the railroad, possibly as a cabin boy. He eventually ended up in Los Angeles CA. Some time before 1919, Billy had bought himself a camera and learned how to use it, because in that year he took a photograph of Woodrow Wilson that he sold to the Los Angeles Times newspaper. (A signed copy of this photograph hangs in the Ronald Reagan Library, where it was discovered by Billy’s granddaughter. She tells me that the family has the original print.)

It was the sale of the Woodrow Wilson to the LA Times that suggested to the twenty-six year old Billy Gray that his photography hobby could, in fact, be potentially lucrative. And he had the courage to follow his instincts — and his heart. As Hollywood and its stars together with various newspapers came to recognize Billy’s endowment, it was possible for the then father of five to support his family during the dark days of the Depression by taking pictures. At some point soon after the sale of the Woodrow Wilson photo, Billy opened his first place of business in Los Angeles, to be followed by a second establishment, also in Los Angeles.

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An early advertisement placed by W.J. Gray, sometime after 1921. Note the company name: FILM STARS PORTRAIT CO. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

As the ad above indicates, Billy Gray was targeting Hollywood stars in the early years of his career and to say that he was successful would be an understatement. Below, a W.J. Gray photograph of Hollywood icons and, in his own hand, a note on the back:

 

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This was Charlie Chaplin’s private plane. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

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Back of the photograph above, listing of the names of the Hollywood icons pictured. Used with the permission of Billy’s granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

A cousin also supplied memories of Billy “on the job,” as in this excerpt from my private correspondence with Billy’s granddaughter:

“My cousin, as a little girl, remembers visiting our grandparents in Los Angeles and walking to our grandfather’s studio on Pico (his other studio). Grandfather was developing his own film and in those days you printed a photo, ad or sheet of stationary one-at-a-time. She remembers helping stack the sheets of naval ship stationary, one at a time. During and after the war, grandfather would go down to the docks and take a photo of the ships. He’d come back, develop the film and then print one sheet at a time on stationary. She added that they {other members of the Gray family} would help Grandpa as he printed the individual stationary paper and envelopes: she would fold them and place them into the envelopes which was how they were sold.

Then he would go back down to the docks to sell it. The sailors would buy the stationary that featured their ship to write home on.

My cousin was born near the end of the war and grandfather was still producing this stationary after the war.”

In addition, Billy’s granddaughter mentioned a photograph she had of Billy in a printing shop in Chicago, as well as evidence that he had travelled to Greenland at some point. She further told me that her grandfather’s wife hand-coloured portraits and other photographs associated with the Gray’s photography business and that she had located one, of a thoroughbred, that had sold at auction.

In our lengthy exchanges, she was also able to confirm that Billy was indeed a horse lover (as opposed to just a photographer of thoroughbreds), who had friendships with several of the jockeys at the California tracks and possibly at other racing venues. (This reported by her aunt, Billy’s 91 year-old sister.) As for the “stamp vs. signature” issue, she was unable to provide clarification. However, when I asked about the typing at the foot of some of the photographs, she told me that it was indeed her grandfather who had typed in these details himself.

 

 

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The Santa Anita Derby of 1937. Typed underneath by WJ GRAY: “Start –Santa Anita Derby. Won by “FAIRY HILL.” (M. Peters up) Photo and copyright, the estate of WJ Gray.

 

A portrait of Billy Gray. Used with the permission of his granddaughter.

A portrait of Billy Gray. Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

Finally, Mr. W.J. Gray was emerging out of the shadows for me and I was glad. He was an exceptionally gifted photographer and one who deserves to also be celebrated by anyone interested in thoroughbreds and the history of racing in America.

In recording facets of the world as he knew it, Billy made his mark in the world a lasting one.

He could not have known that his photographs would leave a trail for a little girl who loved him to follow. But I’m betting he’d be pleased. I know that his granddaughter is.

What a precious, precious gift Billy Gray left her: the opportunity to literally see a part of his world, through his eyes.

W. "BILLY" J. GRAY: Here's looking at you?

W. “BILLY” J. GRAY: Here’s looking at you! Used with the permission of his granddaughter. Photo and copyright, the Estate of W.J. Gray.

 

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NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) 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.

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Inspired by a pair of exceedingly rare photographs and the opening of Saratoga — a place of magic, history and imagining — comes this tale of two great fillies.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920's.

MOTHER GOOSE wind-up toy by Marx from the 1920’s.

 

Most American readers know the association between the nursery rhymes of Mother Goose and the thoroughbred of the same name, after whom The Mother Goose Stakes at Belmont Park is named. Once part of the triad of races that formed the American Triple Crown for fillies, The Mother Goose Stakes were removed from the Triple in 2010, but carries on as an important Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies. That part of the Mother Goose story is easy. Trying to get a look at H.P. Whitney’s champion filly or even a true sense of her racing career is quite another matter, even though she did everything right on the track and in the breeding shed. In fact, in the latter case, she made a very direct contribution to a thoroughbred dynasty.

The daughter of French import Chicle (1913), Spearmint’s (1903) best son who was also notoriously bad-tempered, Mother Goose was born in 1922, a Whitney homebred. Her dam, Flying Witch, from the Ben Brush sire line, was also the producer of a very fine full brother to Mother Goose, Whichone (1927). He raced against Gallant Fox, whom he managed to beat as a 2 year-old in the 1929 Belmont Futurity, while annexing a number of prestigious races, notably the Champagne, the Withers and the Whitney before breaking down after a dual in the stretch with Jim Dandy and Gallant Fox in the Travers. {If Whichone’s name sounds familiar it might be because of his two best sons: the gelding Whichee (1934), who had the misfortune to race against Seabiscuit and Kayak II, but who was a good runner in his own right, and Bourbon King(1935) a tough campaigner who won the Remsen Stakes.}

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

CHICLE, the sire of MOTHER GOOSE.

 

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire.

MOTHER GOOSE the broodmare shows a very kind eye, despite her bad-tempered sire. This is one of the very few images of her.

 

The fact that Mother Goose had a Grade 1 stakes named after her can be taken as proof that she was a filly who sparked the hopes, dreams and imagination of racegoers in the 1920’s, when the sport in North America was relatively new. Her most impressive victory came at two, when she beat the boys in the 1924 Belmont Futurity, most notably Marshall Field III’s sabino chestnut Stimulus(1922), a great grandson of Domino (1891) and winner of the 1925 Pimlico Futurity. In retirement, Stimulus proved a useful sire, producing the champions Beaugay (1943) and Stir Up (1941), as well as a small army of other good runners. {Summer Tan (1952), Nantallah (1953), Decidedly (1959), Sword Dancer (1956), Dust Commander (1967) and Slew O’ Gold (1980) are all direct descendants of Stimulus.}

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

STIMULUS after his win in the 1925 Belmont Futurity.

I knew that Mother Goose’s rout of the boys in 1924 was her biggest moment on the track, enough to award her champion 2 year-old filly honours that year. But like any good researcher, I wanted to know more.

And then it happened.

A few weeks back, on a day (to quote Thornton Wilder) “when the dogs were sticking to the sidewalk” in the heat, I was cruising around on the internet and spied an old racing photo at auction that had a peculiar heading: “1924 Press Photo Harry Payne on Mother Goose at Belmont Futurity race in NY.”  Could it be…….?

And there she was:

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity.

MOTHER GOOSE (on the rail) shown winning the 1924 Belmont Futurity. STIMULUS is in blinkers nearest to the camera. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

 

And as if that weren’t enough, the press photo included the press release on the back, clear as a bell. Like a message in a bottle, I learned more about Mother Goose the runner than I had been able to uncover in decades of searching.

 

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

The press release was as clear as a bell, describing the courage of the juvenile MOTHER GOOSE in battling on right to the wire. Photo and copyright, Wide World Photo.

Of course, I bought the photo — for the unbelievable price of $14.99 USD. (I do feel badly for the merchant but, like people who run bookstores knowing little about authors, the company is one of several who have bought up the newspaper archives of papers like The Chicago Tribune, knowing little about famous thoroughbreds.)

Mother Goose didn’t stop at the Futurity. She also won the Fashion Stakes and came second and third respectively in the Astoria and Rosedale Stakes that same year. After her debut, the filly seems to disappear from the record books. But as a broodmare, she left a lasting mark as the grandam of Almamoud (1947), one of the greatest ancestresses in American thoroughbred history who was the grandam of Natalma (1957), who produced Northern Dancer (1961).

And isn’t it lovely to know that each time you look at a descendant of Northern Dancer (Natalma) or Halo (whose dam, Cosmah, is a daughter of Almamoud) or Sunday Silence (son of Halo) you are beckoning the spirit of Mother Goose?

SUNDAY SILENCE with the great Charlie Whittingham.

SUNDAY SILENCE shares a silence with the wonderful Charlie Whittingham.

 

Since the explosion of online auction centres like EBAY, these kinds of finds have become rare for me. But there was another purchase I made some time ago that is as precious to me as this photo of Mother Goose. It was of another champion filly and matriarch: Alcibiades. And the circumstances that led me to her were remarkably similar.

Alcibiades’ career on the track and in the breeding shed are perhaps better known than the exploits of Mother Goose. Like her predecessor, Alcibiades has a Grade 1 stakes for 3 year-old fillies named after her and now sponsored by Darley as part of the Breeders Cup Challenge series.

Hal Prince Headley’s great filly was a homebred, born in 1927. Named after a soldier and statesman of Ancient Greece (for which Headley took more than a little abuse because the filly’s dam was called Regal Roman), Alcibiades was a descendant of the incomparable Domino (1891) through her sire, Supremus (1922). Her dam, Regal Roman (1921), a daughter of Roi Herode (1904), arrived in the USA from Great Britain in 1923. Alcibiades was her best progeny.

Her major win at two was in the 1929 Debutante; in 1930, Alcibiades captured the Kentucky Oaks and the Arlington Oaks. One lesser known incident in her three year-old season was that she also ran against Gallant Fox in the 1930 Kentucky Derby, setting blazing fractions on the lead before fading to finish tenth. It was easy to forgive her: the Oaks and Derby were only two weeks apart and the Oaks, which Alcibiades won, was the second of the two. So after this effort in the Derby, one must conclude that the daughter of Supremus was one courageous filly, with a heart as big as her ability, to come back to take the Oaks:

 

After winning the highest award in the land at two and again at three, Alcibiades was retired with a bowed a tendon to take up breeding duties at the Headleys Beaumont Farm. Her last race pitched her against older horses in the Hawthorne Gold Cup, where she ran beautifully to finish third to Wallace Kilmer’s champion, Sun Beau (1925). As serious a competitor as Alcibiades had been on the track, it was as a broodmare that she endowed the American thoroughbred with her most enduring gift. From her brilliant son, Menow (1935), in a direct line of descent, came two jewels of American racing: Tom Fool (1949) and his son, Buckpasser (1963). From her daughter by Man O’ War, Salaminia (1937), descended the Epsom Derby winner, Sir Ivor (1965), the first American-bred to win it since 1954. And Sir Ivor, as many will know, went on to become the ancestor of some very important thoroughbreds, among them Shareef Dancer (1980), Green Desert (1983), Zabeel (1986) and his son, Octagonal (1992), as well as the recently retired Encosta de Lago (1993).

 

Alcibiades' son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER.

Alcibiades’ son, MENOW, the sire of TOM FOOL and grandsire of BUCKPASSER. Photo and copyright Acme.

 

SIR IVOR ridden by Lester Piggott goes down to the start.

SIR IVOR, ridden by Lester Piggott and trained by Vincent O’Brien, goes down to the start.

 

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through a daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

ENCOSTA DE LAGO, who descends from ALCIBIADES through her daughter, SALAMINIA, is a recently retired champion Australian sire. Photograph published in the Herald Sun (Australia).

I stumbled across her photo on a popular auction site and again, the listing was curious: “Alcibiades and her jockey ready to race, 1930.” Assuming that I would be unlikely to find an actual photo of the beloved American filly, I was shocked to find that the image was, indeed, Alcibiades. Unlike the Mother Goose photo, the press release — normally tacked onto the back — was missing and the context around the filly gives little clue as to where the photo was taken. So it’s impossible to say what race this was, except that she was a 3 year-old in 1930. It’s clearly post-race, given the froth in Alcibiades’ mouth. And her jockey sure looks happy, so this is possibly after her win in either the Kentucky Oaks or the Arlington Oaks. But that’s pure guesswork.

In any case, we see her lovely face and soft, dark eye, and note the powerful shoulder and hindquarters of a champion.

 

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

ALCIBIADES as a three year-old.

 

Finding these two photographs is like opening a time capsule, or slipping through a wormhole to a time over eighty years ago. It’s as though two photographers in the early part of the last century chose to record two fillies in the hope not only that their images would feature in a prominent newspaper but also that they were capturing something significant, since images always signify something to the person who captures them.  Even if they are two hard-working individuals with an assignment, it was each of them who decided the angle, the lighting, the moment to press the button. They could not have known how important Mother Goose and Alcibiades would be for the breed or even what each filly would contribute to thoroughbred history. But framing each photograph is the hope that they just might be witnessing history-in-the-making. By opening the doors of a living present to those of us who stood like shadows in their futures, two people we will never know have, with two great fillies, reached out to us and in so doing, overcome the limitations of time.

Surely it is this, as much as the subjects themselves, that makes these photographs so precious.

 

Sources

Hunter, Avalyn. American Classic Pedigrees website:http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com

Bowen, Edward L. Matriarchs. KY: The Blood-Horse, 1999.

Mitchell, Frank. Racehorse Breeding Theories. Wisconsin: The Russel Meerdink Company Ltd., 2004

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NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) 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.

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Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out who our great trainers of today would pick, if they were asked the same question?

 

James "Sunny Jim" Fitzsimmons. The most prestigious American thoroughbred trainer of them all. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons. The most prestigious American thoroughbred trainer of them all. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

James aka “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons (also known as “Mr Fitz”) sits right at the top of distinguished American thoroughbred trainers. He began his career as a stable boy, working his way up to jockey. When his weight put an end to riding, Sunny Jim began to train thoroughbreds, saddling his first winner, Agnes D., on August 7, 1900 at Brighton Beach. As time moved on, his star shone brighter than any: two Triple Crown winners in Gallant Fox and son, Omaha, together with a slew of great colts and fillies, including Hard Tack, Granville, Faireno, Seabiscuit (before Charles Howard owned him), Fighting Fox (Gallant Fox’s full brother), Vagrancy, Johnstown, Bold Ruler, Nashua and Misty Morn. Sunny Jim’s horses won both the Jockey Gold Cup and Wood Memorial seven times; the Kentucky Derby three times; the Preakness four times; and the Belmont six times. His long association with William Woodward’s Belair Stud and the Phipps’ Wheatley Stables meant that some very fine horses came under his care and management. He was U.S. Champion trainer by earnings five times from 1930 until 1955. A beloved figure in the world of thoroughbred racing, Sunny Jim was noted for his gentleness and warmth, although he brooked no nonsense from any who worked for him. And he knew thoroughbreds inside-out.

Sunny Jim’s last great thoroughbred was Nashua, and the exploits of the colt in the 1950’s thrust both he and his trainer back into the spotlight. In 1957, word was out about another potential star in the 82 year-old Fitzsimmons’ stable: a son of Nasrullah named Bold Ruler.

NASHUA with Sunny Jim, who adored his less-than straightforward charge. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

NASHUA with Sunny Jim, who adored his less-than straightforward champion. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

BOLD RULER, with Eddie Arcaro up, defeats GENERAL DUKE in the 1957 Flamingo Stakes.

BOLD RULER, with Eddie Arcaro up, defeats GENERAL DUKE in the 1957 Flamingo Stakes. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

On February 23, 1957, journalist Frank Ortell, writing for the New York World Telegram, published this feature article. He had asked the great trainer which thoroughbreds he would place in his own fantasy stable or, which thoroughbreds were the greatest of all time. Here, as it was published, is Sunny Jim’s reply. (Photographs added by THE VAULT.)

Standouts In All Divisions: Exterminator and Man 0′ War Among His “All-Time Choices”

Frank Ortell, Staff Reporter

Miami, Feb. 23 (1957): Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who got his first racetrack job the day Grover Cleveland was inaugurated, looks back on his 82 years with undoubtedly the richest over lit capacity for thoroughbred appraisal of any living man.

Sunny Jim, still one of the top conditioners of America who even now is preparing Bold Ruler here at Hialeah for next Saturday’s Flamingo, today gives this newspaper’s readers the benefit of his Panoramic background in a unique venture. He’s picking the finest horses he has known in each division, in short a “dream stable.’

It is typical of the breadth of Jim’s vision that, of the 19 fillies’ and colts he has singled out, no more than three were trained by him-Nashua, Gallant Fox and Misty Morn.

 

Weight-Carrying ‘Essential’

Jim, stoop·shouldered but erectly forthright in opinion, started off with his top vote among the handicap racers.

“Exterminator is my best there,” he reported. “A handicap horse must carry weight at a variety of distances and he must be as strong at two miles as at six furlongs. That was Exterminator: He ran as often as called on — I think he

started 100 times –and track conditions meant little to him.”

C.C. Cook's great shot of EXTERMINATOR, whom he once described as "the beautiful and the glorious." Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

“EXTERMINATOR is my best there.” Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

Jim recalled that Exterminator, a gelding, had been purchased by Willis Sharpe Kilmer for $15,000 from J. C. Milam mainly as a work horse for the speedy Sun Briar. When Sun Briar couldn’t go in the 1918 Kentucky Derby, Exterminator

won under Willie Frapp, later named as Upset’s jockey in Man 0′. War’s only defeat.

Fitz’ supporting choices in the same division were Kingston, from the 1880s, and Roseben. At the turn of the century the handicappers just couldn’t find enough weight to stop Roseben in the shorter races.

ROSEBEN aka The Big Train.

ROSEBEN aka The Big Train joined EXTERMINATOR and KINGSTON as Sunny Jim’s top Handicap Horses.

For fillies in the handicap category, he nominated Beldame, leased by August Belmont to Newton Bennington (Belmont preferred not to race her himself) and the more recent Gallorette. “I’d like to add Lady Amelia,” he continued. “George Odom, a great trainer and a great jockey in his time, tells me that Lady Amelia could pack 130 pounds and run away from them. She did it at Gravesend. She also beat Roseben at Hot Springs.”

BELDAME was one of Sunny Jim's Handicap Fillies.

BELDAME was one of Sunny Jim’s Handicap Fillies.

Fitz’ Dream Stable

This is the “dream stable” selected by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons from all the horses in his ken.

TWO YEAR-OLD COLTS: Colin, Sysonby, Citation

TWO YEAR-OLD FILLIES: Top Flight, Regret

THREE YEAR-OLD COLTS: Man O War, Nashua, Count Fleet, Gallant Fox

THREE YEAR-OLD FILLIES: Artful, Twilight Tear, Misty Morn

HANDICAP HORSES: Exterminator, Kingston, Roseben

HANDICAP FILLIES: Beldame, Imp, Gallorette, Lady Amelia

 

Count Fleet for Speed

It is Jim’s opinion — and many others — that Man O’ War was the best three year-old of all time. “After him,” he said, ”I’d like to have Nashua and Count Fleet. Nashua was as sound as one could ask and and was willing to run any time.

Count Fleet had plenty of speed.”  Here he asked for inclusion of a fourth three-year·old. ‘” I want to save a stall for Gallant Fox,” he said. “He was the best three-year-old I had until Nashua came along.”

The Great One, Man O' War, shown working over the Saratoga track.

Man O’ War was “…the best three year-old of all time.”

 

COUNT FLEET (shown here with owners the Hertzes).

COUNT FLEET (shown here with owners the Hertzes) “…had plenty of speed.”

 

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.

“I want to save a stall for Gallant Fox.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

For his three year-old fillies, our expert chose Artful, Twilight Tear and Misty Morn. Artful, remembered by all old-timers was owned by W. C. Whitney and trained by John Rodgers. Strangely, she was no success as a broodmare. Her

“best” was a mediocrity named Sam Slick, who was five before he won at Bowie.

"Artful was the fastest horse I ever saw."

“ARTFUL was one of the speediest horses I ever saw.”

 

MISTY MORN, a daughter of Princequillo, was in the Fitz stable at the same period as Nashua. She was an exceptional filly. As a broodmare, she was the dam of BOLD LAD and SUCCESSOR, both sired by BOLD RULER.

MISTY MORN, a daughter of Princequillo, was an exceptional filly trained by Sunny Jim. As a broodmare, she was the dam of Bold Lad and Successor, both sired by Bold Ruler, and both two year-old champions in their respective years.

 

“Artful was one of the speediest horses I ever saw,” he recalled. “Twilight Tear was like a machine …. Misty Morn came strongest in the fall, because she could come up to a distance better than most.”

 

TWILIGHT TEAR "...was a machine." She is shown here winning the Acorn. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

TWILIGHT TEAR “…was like a machine.” She is shown here winning the Acorn. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

For his prize two-year colts, Fitz  picked  Sysonby and Colin, two fabled names out of the past. Both were owned by James R. Keene, one of the turf’s most noted patrons. It was his recollection, fortified by the records, that Sysonby lost

only once in 15 starts and that Colin never lost in 15. In a small purse era, Sysonby earned $184,438, Colin $181,610. Sysonby died of blood poisoning.. His skeleton may be seen in New York’s Museum of Natural History. Colin suf-

fered from chronic unsoundness and, when shipped to England, broke down in a workout. He never was raced there . ”Jim Rowe used to tell me, ‘the proudest thing in my life was that I trained Colin’,” Jim pointed out. For his modern two

year-old colt he added Citation. “One of the best young horses of all time,” he summed up Citation.

SYSONBY

SYSONBY figures as one of Sunny Jim’s prize two year-olds, together with COLIN and CITATION. The latter he described as “…One of the best young horses of all time.”

The two year-old fillies: “I’d take two from the same stable, Top Flight and Regret (C. V. Whitney). They could run with anything that was sent against them and were game enough to run as many times in a year as a trainer would want.”

 

TOP FLIGHT, shown here with her Man O' War foal, joins

TOP FLIGHT, shown here with her Man O’ War foal.

 

REGRET

REGRET, who, with Top Flight, “…could run with anything that was sent against them.” Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

1)“Welcome to Fitzsimmonsville” — a delightful and historical site devoted to Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.

http://www.fitzbook.com

2) Swaps & Nashua (video): 

3)  Bold Ruler runs in the Trenton Handicap for top honours (video):

4) Gallant Fox — rare footage (video) 

5) Twilight Tear wins the Arlington Classic (video)

http://www.gettyimages.ca/detail/video/the-arlington-classic-is-run-at-washington-park-race-news-footage/504412273

 

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NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) 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.

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Using history as a guide, if I was shopping for a potential champion, I’d be looking for an “ugly duckling.”

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr.

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr. The colt was royally bred, but so tiny that E.P. Taylor failed to sell him as a yearling. In fact, potential buyers laughed when he was paraded out with the other yearlings!

Of course, none of the thoroughbreds discussed in this article were ugly. Not literally. But metaphorically, there was something about each one of them that hearkens back to Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale: they seemed to be ugly ducklings but what no-one saw at the time was that they were not ducklings at all. Some weren’t good-looking enough. Others took too much time to come into their own. And still others were waiting for a special someone to come along, someone who looked into their eyes and saw who they really were.

The individuals whose stories appear here are only the proverbial “tip of the iceberg” — VAULT readers will certainly be able to name many others who fall into this category.

And it all adds up to this: If there’s any “secret” to finding yourself another Frankel or American Pharoah or Black Caviar or Treve, it has to do with looking “under the feathers.”

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #1: TOO UGLY TO EVER BE A CHAMPION

Perhaps we can’t help it. Horses are beautiful animals and thoroughbreds can be exquisite. And no matter how often horse folk remind us that beauty and talent don’t necessarily go hand in hand, it’s all too easy to ignore when you’ve got a plain bay standing next to a magnificent chestnut…….

 

KINCSEM (filly, 1874-1887)

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters.

This lovely print of KINCSEM shows off her lustrous liver-chestnut coat, massive chest and powerful hindquarters. But it was painted in hindsight, when the world already had learned that she was incomparable, making one doubt its absolute accuracy.

She may well have been the greatest thoroughbred of them all, winning 54 times in as many starts on two different continents. Kincsem took on all comers and was so devastatingly good that she also ran in 6 walkovers when no-one would run against her.

But at her birth, she was declared by her owner-breeder, Ernest Von Blaskovich, to be the ugliest foal that he had ever seen — and most agreed with him. When Von Blaskovich offered the majority of that year’s crop of foals to Baron Orczy, the latter purchased all but two — and one of the rejects was Kincsem.

Here is one fairly accurate description of a thoroughbred that was so brilliant she actually paused to graze before taking off after the others, only to win going away:

She was as long as a boat and as lean as a hungry leopard … she had a U-neck and mule ears and enough daylight under her sixteen hands to flood a sunset … she had a tail like a badly-used mop … she was lazy, gangly, shiftless … she was a daisy-eating, scenery-loving, sleepy-eyed and slightly pot-bellied hussy …” (Beckwith in “Step And Go Together”)

As a broodmare, Kincsem was pretty decent, although she never duplicated herself. But through one of her daughters, she comes down to us today in the bloodlines of Coolmore’s fine colt, Camelot. In her native Hungary, Kincsem is a national hero and a film based on her life (although it appears that the mare isn’t its central protagonist) is due for release in 2016.

For more on this remarkable thoroughbred:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/09/20/kincsem-the-mystery-and-majesty-of-an-immortal/

And on the film:

http://www.euronews.com/2015/10/06/multi-million-dollar-hungarian-movie-hopes-to-compete-with-hollywood/

 

IMP (filly, 1894-1909)

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

IMP in 1898, going to post at Hawthorne Race Track.

 

She was the 1899 HOTY and twice won the honours for Champion Handicap Mare (1899 & 1900). She had her own theme song (below): “My Coal Black Lady.” And she was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1965.

But when she came into the world, the tiny daughter of Fondling (1886) by the stallion, Wagner (1882) was looked upon poorly by her owner-breeder because she wasn’t pretty and her conformation showed not the slightest hint of promise. But her owner-breeder, D.R. Harness of Chillicothe, Ohio kept her anyway, perhaps because the fact she was bred in the purple overrode his misgivings. Her ancestry included direct descent from the Darley Arabian, Eclipse and Lexington.

Imp raced an unthinkable number of times: 171. But she won 62 times, with 35 seconds and 29 thirds and raced more against the boys than those of her own sex. She set track records from 1 3/4 to 1 1/16.

By the time she was retired, at the age of eight, she was a national figure.

For more about Imp:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/12/06/my-coal-black-lady/

 

PHAR LAP (gelding, 1926 – 1932)

“Bobby” as he was called by those closest to him, arrived in the stable of trainer Harry Telford looking like a very, very sorry excuse for a racehorse. Which, in turn, precipitated the first crisis in Phar Lap’s biography, unbeknownst to the scrawny, dishevelled colt who had been born in New Zealand and was a son of the promising sire, Night Raid. Trainer Telford had bought Bobby for owner, David J. Davis, who rushed over excitedly to see his latest acquisition. After a moment of silence, Davis went ballistic. The compromise was that Bobby would be leased to Telford for a period of three years, the trainer covering all costs and the owner getting one third of the colt’s earnings. Assuming he could run.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

How big was PHAR LAP? Have a look at these figures! Photo and copyright, Victoria Racing Museum, Australia.

The rest, as they say, is history: Bobby aka The Red Terror aka Phar Lap (meaning “lightning/bolt of lightning/lights up the sky” in the Thai language) was a champion. His great heart, together with his victories, moved Australia and New Zealand — and the racing world– to fall in love. And, in 2016, we are still in love with him:

Bobby’s risky run @ The Melbourne Cup in 1930 should have been a movie:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2013/11/08/bribes-threats-bullets-phar-laps-melbourne-cup-1930/

 

WAR ADMIRAL ( colt, 1934-1959)

“Sons of Man O’ War ought to look different,” Mr. Riddle decided, as he looked at Brushup’s new foal. It was a bay colt with no real pizzazz to it …. and it was tiny. Riddle found it impossible to hope for much from the little fellow, who much-resembled his dam. And Brushup had been hopeless as a runner, pretty as she was. Riddle tried, in vain, to hand the colt over to his partner, Walter Jeffords Sr., but when Jeffords refused, it was decided that Brushup’s boy would stay in the Riddle stable until he showed what, if anything, he had as a runner.

War Admiral [2006 Calendar, Nov]

 

By the time he was a three year-old, Riddle had learned that even though The Admiral was the size of a pony (15.2h) he did, indeed, carry his sire’s blood.

And that blood would show in not only in War Admiral’s Triple Crown, but also in the breeding shed. As a sire, his contribution to the breed was as definitive as was the impact of sons and daughters like Busanda, Busher, Bee Mac, Searching, War Jeep and Blue Peter on the sport itself. War Admiral led the general sire list in 1945, the 2 year-old sire list in 1948 and the broodmare sire list in 1962 and again in 1964.

Although The Admiral’s sons were not influential as sires, both Busanda and Searching made a huge impact. Their descendants include the likes of Swaps, Buckpasser, Numbered Account, Iron Liege, Hoist the Flag, Gun Bow, Striking and Crafty Admiral, as well as two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Other descendants of note from the War Admiral line include Dr. Fager, Alysheba, Cigar and, most recently, Zenyatta.

To this day, breeders point with pride to War Admiral in the lineage of their thoroughbreds. What the name connotes is timeless, synonymous with the very essence of the thoroughbred.

For more on War Admiral:

https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/war-admiral-the-little-horse-who-could-and-did-for-john-shirreffs/

 

ZENYATTA (filly, 2004)

As the tale is now famously told, the yearling daughter of Street Cry did not look her best in the sales ring as a yearling, due largely to a case of ringworm. But David Ingordo could see beyond all that. And Ann Moss has recounted how she and the filly seemed to “just click” at first meeting at Keeneland, just as though Zenyatta had chosen her.

When the hammer fell, the filly had been acquired by the Mosses. But she was not their only purchase that year and shortly after their yearlings arrived at Mayberry Farm, they received a call from Jeanne Mayberry. Jeanne had this to say,”Either you bought yourselves some very slow yearlings or else that Street Cry filly is very, very good. Because when they’re out together running, she leaves them all behind as though they aren’t even moving.”

Prophetic words.

But fast as Zenny was, it took time and patience to “get her right,” as the Mosses’ Racing Manager, Dottie Ingordo Sherriffs, has said. But when trainer, John Sherriffs, did get her right, the result was the birth of an American racing legend:

Retired with a record of 19 wins and 1 second place in 20 starts, Zenyatta’s fans have not diminished in the slightest. At this writing, Zenyatta is the only filly/mare to have ever won two different Breeders’ Cup races and the only filly/mare to ever have won the BC Classic.

 

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #2: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS

In any institution, whether a school or a sport like horse racing, it works out a lot better if everyone develops in the same, linear way. Couple that with our love affair with speed — intelligence being linked to quickness and, in the case of thoroughbreds, ability with running fast enough to win, preferably at two — and you have the “cracks” through which genius and greatness all-too-frequently slip ……..

 

EXTERMINATOR (gelding, 1915 -1945)

 

 

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

The story of “Old Bones” is famous. He’s as legendary a figure in American thoroughbred racing as Man O’ War — and some say he was the best of them all. High praise for a big, coarse gelding who was bought as a rabbity for a flashy colt named Sun Briar, the hope of  Willis Sharpe Kilmer for the 1918 Kentucky Derby.

The man who first saw under the surface of the lanky chestnut with the deep, dark eyes was trainer Henry McDaniel. It was he who studied Bones and Sun Briar as they worked, noting the intelligence of the former at dealing with his moody running mate. And when Sun Briar couldn’t run in the Derby — and after considerable lobbying by McDaniel and Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs — Kilmer agreed to let the ugliest of his horses run instead. And so it was that Exterminator stepped on to a muddy track and transformed, in three minutes, from an ugly duckling to a Swan King.

To read more about Exterminator: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/a-collectors-mystery-exterminator-and-bob-dorman/

 

DISCOVERY (colt, 1931- 1958)

 

Discovery, a brilliant runner and outstanding broodmare sire, won Horse of the Year in 1935 over Omaha. Discovery appears 4X5X4 in Ruffian's pedigree.

DISCOVERY on the track. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The son of Display had a brilliant, dazzling chestnut coat and lots of chrome. Born at Walter J. Salmon’s Mereworth Farm and owned by Adolphe Pons, the colt was impressively bred and ran head-first into the accompanying expectations. Predictably, he disappointed, winning only 2 of 13 starts as a two year-old.

At three he appeared again, looking fit enough. However, among the 3 year-olds that year was a colt named Cavalcade, who had already beaten Discovery the year before. In the Derby, Discovery chased Cavalcade home; in the Preakness, he finished third to High Quest and Cavalcade.

But Discovery was just getting going. He went on that same year to win the Brooklyn and Whitney Handicaps, and then set a world record time for 1 3/16 miles in the Rhode Island Handicap.

But his finest years were at four and five. In 1935, the colt won 11 of 19 starts, carrying an average of 131 lbs., gaining him the nickname “The Iron Horse.” Retrospectively named 1935 Horse of the Year (over Triple Crown winner, Omaha) and throughout 1936, Discovery’s winning ways continued. Of his Whitney win, the New York Times wrote that the chestnut ran “…the most decisive victory to be scored in a big American stake in many years.”

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

DISCOVERY was named Horse of the Year for 1935. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As a sire, it was Discovery’s daughters who gave him purchase on immortality, producing the great Native Dancer, Bold Ruler and Bed O’ Roses.

 

SEABISCUIT (colt, 1933-1947)

Rejected outright as a colt foal because of his size and conformation, the little son of Hard Tack languished as a runner until he hooked up with trainer Tom Smith, who could see right through the disguise. In Smith’s hands, “The Biscuit” blossomed into a horse with fire in his blood. It was the Depression Era: a good time for a hero to come along. Especially one who had once been “not good enough,” through no fault of his own. He battled back from defeat. He battled back from injury. And he taught America how to look a setback straight in the eye — and vanquish it.

Enjoy this rare footage of The Biscuit at work and play:

 

RED RUM (gelding, 1965- 1995)

 

 

RED RUM at work on the beach. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

RED RUM at work on the sands of Southport, England. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun

 

“Beloved”  is probably the first response when someone speaks his name. Or “Immortal.” Something like that.

In its long, distinguished history the National Hunt has known many great horses, but none who rose to the standard of Red Rum. He was, quite simply, the greatest steeplechaser who ever lived.

By the time Donald “Ginger” McCain got his hands on the bay gelding, he had won a few one-mile races over the flat before being passed from one training yard to another. The horse who had descended from the great St. Simon, and whose name originated from the last three letters of his dam (Mared) and sire (Quorum) was never going to amount to much, running in cheap races with modest purses.

GINGER McCAIN WITH RED RUM PICTURED AT HIS STABLES BEHIND SECOND HAND CAR SHOWROOM. SOUTHPORT 1975. pic by George Selwyn,119 Torriano Ave,London NW5 2RX.T:+44 (0)207 267 6929 M: 07967 030722 email: george@georgeselwyn.co.uk Vat no:3308110 05

Ginger McCain with RED RUM, pictured at his stables behind his used car dealership in Southport, 1975. Photo and copyright, George Selwyn.

The first thing that McCain set out to do was to rehabilitate the gelding, who suffered from the incurable disease, pedal osteitis, a disease of the pedal bone. (This was discovered after the trainer paid a goodly sum for “Rummy” on behalf of owner, Noel le Mare.) The “cure” was swimming and long works on the beaches of Southport. And it worked miracles. Red Rum blossomed into a tough, rugged individual. (It should be noted that Ginger adored Rummy and the horse was never put at-risk in any of his races, unlike the situation when he was running on the flat.)

The result was not one, but three, wins in the Aintree Grand National, arguably the greatest test of any horse’s courage and stamina in the world. His first win came at a time when the Grand National was flirting with extinction. It needed a hero and it got one, in the form of a thoroughbred once-destined to run on the flat until he could run no more, and a used car salesman who “also” trained National Hunt horses — and saw something quite different in his Champion’s eye:

 

JOHN HENRY (gelding, 1975-2007)

“For the first two years of his life, John Henry had been peddled like a cheap wristwatch.” (Steve Haskin, in John Henry in the Thoroughbred Legends series)

JOHN HENRY at work.

JOHN HENRY at work.

To say he was “difficult” doesn’t even come close: for what ever reason, John had a nasty disposition, despite his workmanlike performances on the track. It would take trainers (and there were many) like Phil Amato and Ron McNally to work their way around temperament issues to gain the gelding’s trust before the John Henry we now know and admire emerged.

In his 3 year-old season, there were glimmers of ability. But from 1980 to his final win, at the ripe old age of nine, John Henry turned out to be the stuff of greatness. And not only was it his “arrival” as a turf star: John’s rags-to-riches story captivated fans who even today, almost nine years after his death, still revere his memory. Indeed, for many, John Henry is one of a pantheon of superstars, right up there with Exterminator, Man O’ War, Secretariat, Ruffian and American Pharoah.

By the time he was retired to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, John had twice won the Eclipse Award for Horse of the Year (1981, 1984), with 39 wins in 83 starts and earnings of over six million dollars USD. His 1981 election as Horse of the Year was unanimous and at the time, unprecedented for a nominee to receive all votes cast. In addition, John was inducted into the American Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1990.

 

ISTABRAQ (gelding, 1992)

Unlike John Henry (above), whose bloodlines were blue collar, Istabraq came from a royal line: a son of Sadler’s Wells (Northern Dancer) whose dam, Betty’s Secret, was a daughter of Secretariat. Owned by E.P. Taylor, the Canadian thoroughbred breeder and owner of Northern Dancer, Betty’s Secret was sent to Ireland in 1987 to be bred to some of Northern Dancer’s British sons. Taylor died two years later and the mare, in foal to Sadler’s Wells was purchased by Hamdan Al Maktoum.

The foal she was carrying was Istabraq.

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty's Secret (Secretariat).

ISTABRAQ as a foal with his dam, Betty’s Secret (Secretariat).

The colt foal seemed to understand from the very beginning that he was “someone special.” And indeed he was destined to be — but it took time.

The colt’s name was Sindhi for “brocade” but the weave of him proved inferior on the flat, where he managed only 2 wins. His jockey, the great Willie Carson, described the youngster as a “slow learner” who “…also lacked speed and was not at home on fast ground…I came to the conclusion that the reason he was struggling was because he had no speed. In fact, he was one-paced…”

As a three year-old, he developed foot problems. He was, in fact, flat-footed, making shoeing him a problem. When Istabraq refused to quicken in his last race as a three year-old, despite Carson’s aggressive ride, Sheikh Hamdan let trainer John Gosden know that it was enough: Istabraq was to be sold.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey.

John Durkan started his career as a jockey before becoming an assistant trainer to the great John Gosden.

When John Durkan, Gosden’s assistant trainer, heard that Istabraq would be listed in the 1995 Tattersall’s sale he resolved to acquire him. He saw possibilities for Istabraq, but not on the flat — as a hurdler. Having informed Gosden that he would be leaving to go out on his own, Durkan began searching for a possible buyer for Istabraq and found one in J. P. McManus, a wealthy Irishman who had made a fortune as a gambler. Following the sale at Tattersall’s, McManus shipped Istabraq back to Ireland with the understanding that the colt would be trained by Durkan. In his young trainer, Istabraq had found someone who believed in him.

“He is no soft flat horse. He is the sort who does not get going until he’s in a battle. He has more guts than class and that’s what you need, ” Durkan told McManus, “He will win next year’s Sun Alliance Hurdle.” Prophetic words.

"No soft

“He is no soft flat horse…” Durkan counselled J. P. McManus. And you see it here, in the power as ISTABRAQ launches, even though he’s a good distance from the hurdle.

But the young Durkan would soon be beset with tragedy, although not before watching his beloved gelding take ten hurdle races in a row from 1996-1997. Durkan was battling cancer and was shipped to Sloane Kettering Hospital in New York City; Aidan O’Brien took over training duties. By 1998, John was dying and moved home to Ireland, succumbing on the night of January 21, 1998.

Charlie Swan wore a black armband in John’s memory on the day of Istabraq’s first start in 1998, the AIG Europe Champion Hurdle. The gelding, who was now 6 years old, was a national hero and thousands turned out to watch him begin his 6 year-old season in grand style at Leopardstown:

And then this gallant thoroughbred just went on and on and on, beginning with a win two months later at Cheltenham in what would be the first of three wins in the Champion Hurdle:

Retired in 2002, Istabraq is now in the fourteenth year of a happy retirement at his owner, J.P. McManus’ Martinstown Stud. There, the horse who was voted in 2009 the favourite of the last 25 years by the Irish people, hangs out with his BFF, Risk of Thunder, and continues to greet fans who visit from all over the world:

For more about Istabraq, one of Secretariat’s greatest descendants: https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2011/02/23/secretariats-heart-the-story-of-istabraq/

 

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NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) 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.

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Together,we saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every donation counted in this effort because no donation is too small. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you.

Please consider making a donation to a worthy cause so that we can help more rescue efforts in 2016.

Thank you.

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Most thoroughbred folk know about the great Exterminator. But who on earth is Bob Dorman?

 

I have been a collector since I was a little girl.

It started with rocks and model horses. There was a brief flirtation along the way with old quilts. And then about twenty-five years ago, I went back to thoroughbreds and horses, in the form of original photographs and press photographs. I began with photos of Secretariat and Terlingua, his daughter by Crimson Saint and dam of Storm Cat, then expanded to include Northern Dancer and his descendants. Then I branched out to North American thoroughbred champions.

I’ve been lucky: I got into the market before prices for original press photographs went through the roof. And along the way, I not only satisfied a passion for photography but also learned about thoroughbred racing history and the photographers who recorded it, men like C.C. Cook, L.S. Sutcliffe, Bert Thayer and “Skeets” Meadors, to name but a few.

C.C. Cook's great shot of EXTERMINATOR, whom he once described as "the beautiful and the glorious." Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

C.C. Cook’s great shot of EXTERMINATOR, whom he once described as “the beautiful and the glorious.” Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

Sometimes I get lucky, finding a “gem” that is not only a great addition to my collection but also provokes me to question, and to research its provenance.

A few days ago, during a woeful hockey game, I turned on my cell phone and was trawling through EBAY when I came upon this photo (below), for the unlikely sum of $24.99 USD (Buy It Now):

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

As a collector (of anything) you need to learn pretty fast how to recognize what’s rare and what’s fake. Marked up as it was, the photo was nevertheless stamped 1922 on the back and carried Exterminator’s name, neatly typed, in one corner. This was no fake. Photos of Exterminator are excessively rare, for reasons that simply may have to do with the state of photography of the day. Accordingly, an Exterminator photo can go as high as $500.00 USD in an EBAY auction. I had purchased from this seller over the years, one of a handful of enterprising people who have bought the photo archives of newspapers like the Chicago Tribune or The Baltimore Sun and are selling them on various sites on social media.

Naturally, I bought the photograph and I’m still flushed with delight about defining a photo of Exterminator at a price I can afford. Just before I bought it, I examined the back of the photo again:

Back of the 1922 photo of EXTERMINATOR.

Back of the 1922 photo (shown above) of EXTERMINATOR.

 

There, neatly stamped in the centre was the following: “Photo by/Bob Dorman/Newspaper Enterprise Ass.”

This is one of the best-known shots of EXTERMINATOR, with C. Fairbrother up.

This is one of the best-known shots of EXTERMINATOR, with C. Fairbrother up.

After collecting, researching, reading and writing for over two decades I’ve learned a great deal about press photographs in general, thoroughbred photographs in particular and the photographers who took them. I knew the photo I had just scored at a ridiculous price was rare because I’ve never seen it anywhere before.

Exterminator is an American thoroughbred legend. The gelding raced 99 times and did one exhibition run before his retirement, winning the Kentucky Derby and thoroughly surprising his owner, horseman Willis Sharp Kilmer. Kilmer had purchased “The Goat” (as he sometimes called him) as a three year-old, on the advice of his trainer, Henry McDaniel.

But it was the fancy Sun Briar on whom Kilmer placed his hopes for the 1918 Kentucky Derby. McDaniel and the big, leggy gelding soon developed a relationship based largely on Old Bones’ intelligence and the trainer’s skill at noticing it. Exterminator was a hard-working colt who seemed to know that his job was to get Sun Briar ready for Derby honours. According to some reports, “Old Shang” (his stable name) was intelligent enough to cope with Sun Briar’s mood swings and knew exactly what to do to get his workmate to put in a really good run.

EXTERMINATOR and SUN BRIAR work at Saratoga in 1918.

EXTERMINATOR (outside) and SUN BRIAR work at Saratoga in 1918, after the former’s win in the Kentucky Derby. Copyright KEENELAND-COOK.

 

But when Sun Briar was scratched, and after some powerful convincing by Churchill Downs’ President, Colonel Matt Winn, Kilmer finally agreed to enter Exterminator in the Derby as a replacement. The result was a decisive win by a colt his owner didn’t much like. (The silent footage below shows Exterminator winning the 1918 Derby and is the only live footage of this superb champion.)

After his Derby victory, the chestnut was to race until he was nine, taking HOTY in 1922. His victories at eight and nine were probably unprecedented and many would say that Exterminator was the greatest of them all — including Man O’ War. By the time he had retired, this courageous and gritty campaigner had amassed thousands of fans and even today, all these decades later, there are many of us who still adore him.

EXTERMINATOR and his best buddy, PEANUTS, lead horses to the post at Pimlico for the Exterminator Handicap.

EXTERMINATOR and his best buddy, PEANUTS, lead horses to the post at Pimlico for the Exterminator Handicap. Date unknown. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

I am one of those who loves Exterminator. C.C. Cook’s beautiful shot of him hangs above my bed, where his great heart dusts my dreams.

Images of Exterminator tend to be restricted to a few of the greatest equine photographers of the day, making it natural to be intrigued by this new photo I had just acquired by a photographer whose name meant nothing to me.

“Who was Bob Dorman?” I wondered — and what was his connection to Exterminator?

The search was on.

ROBERT PAINE DORMAN. Passport photo.

ROBERT PAINE DORMAN. Passport photo.

As it turns out, Robert “Bob” Paine Dorman was not only a very fine photographer, but he was a “Battle Photographer Extraordinaire,” according to Benjamin David “Stookie” Allen, a cartoonist best-known for his nationally syndicated series, “Mugsey.” Allen also created the cartoon series “Men of Daring” and “Women of Daring” for Argosy magazine and it is within its pages, on January 19, 1935, that the cartoonist portrayed the career of Robert Paine (spelled “Payne” in the issue) Dorman.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1885, Dorman’s obituary describes him as “a news photographer, 73,[who] had a varied career, covering the Mexican Revolution led by Pancho Villa, the Dempsey-Gibbons fight in 1923 and the first round the world flight of a U.S. Air Corps squadron in 1924.” As it turns out, this is a rather tame description of Dorman’s career.

According to “Skookie” Allen, in 1911 at twenty-six years of age, Dorman “…armed with a camera” set out for Mexico and what he imagined as the excitement of the Mexican Revolution. There, he joined the army of Francisco I. Madero as a Private. He earned no salary in this role, and so became a self-dubbed “unofficial” war correspondent and “sidelines” photographer. One assumes “sidelines” means exactly what it says: accompanying the Mexican revolutionaries into battle and trying not to get yourself killed in the process. But, maybe not…..because Dorman took part in at least two battles (Casa Grande and El Valle) and a number of minor skirmishes with “gun and camera in-hand,” according to Skookie Allen. Dorman may have known and partnered with another American photographer, Otis A. Aultman, who was also there recording the revolution.

Robert Dorman photo from The Mexican Revolution. Published in "The Wind That Swept Mexico" by Anita Brenner. Copyright The Estate of Robert Dorman.

Robert P. Dorman photo, taken during the Mexican Revolution. Published in “The Wind That Swept Mexico” by Anita Brenner. Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

 

Robert Paine Dorman photo taken during the Mexican Revolution. Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

Another Dorman photo taken during the Mexican Revolution. Also published in Anita Brenner’s book, “The Wind That Swept Mexico.” Copyright The Estate of Robert Paine Dorman.

 

Allen continues, “Because of his expert battle photographs, his first-hand reports to American papers, his fighting ability and his sage military advice to Madero, the Federals placed a large reward on his head. He taught Madero the trick of curling up rails …thus hampering the movement of Federal troops.”

By 1915, Dorman had risen to Colonel in Pancho Villa’s forces. He was, reputedly, one of “the few gringos that Villa ever trusted.” Once again, Dorman took gun and camera into combat, fighting in the battles of Tierra Blanca, Ojinaga, Monterey, Torreon, Leon and Zacarecas. While serving with Villa, “Don Roberto” (as he became known) photographed and reported scores of executions. One of these was carried out by “El Carnicero” (“The Butcher”) purely for Dorman’s benefit, since the executioner so respected El Roberto’s skills as a fighter he wanted to demonstrate his own ability to obliterate the enemy.

Fierri (The Butcher) in black with Pancho Villa. Possibly taken by Dorman, but source unknown.

Fierri (El Carnicero:The Butcher) in black with Pancho Villa. Possibly taken by Dorman, but source unknown.

By 1923 Dorman had moved on, this time to another bloody conflict in Honduras. He clearly had returned to the USA before the Honduras spate, however, since the photo of Exterminator was taken in 1922.

The story of Dorman’s coverage of the first world-flight by the U.S. Air Corps (1924) is colourful, although it doesn’t quite compare with being a Colonel in Pancho Villa’s army.

The Air Corps had landed in Labrador at the end of their mission, and Dorman, then employed by ACME Newspictures, needed to get his glass slides and negatives to New York City as fast as he could manage it if he wanted to be the first to scoop the story.

As his plane was flying over Manhattan’s East River, the photographer threw his slides and negatives overboard. Waiting in a boat on the river was another ACME photographer of merit, Frank Merta, who recovered the bag. The slides had smashed to bits on impact, but the negatives were intact. So Robert Dorman’s images went to press well-ahead of any of the legion of photo journalists who had covered the event.

One of Robert P. Dorman's shots of the first world-flight by the U.S. Air Corps.

One of Robert P. Dorman’s shots of the first world-flight by the U.S. Air Corps. Taken in Labrador, the shot shows the remaining planes coming in for a landing with dignitaries in the foreground, readying to greet them. Copyright UPI.

 

Robert Dorman also got the call to cover the Dempsey-Gibbons fight in Shelby,

Dorman also got the call to cover the Dempsey-Gibbons fight in Shelby, Montana in 1923.

 

Did Robert Dorman take these photos? Very possibly, but no photographer was named in the article.

Did Robert P. Dorman take these photos? Very possibly, but no photographer was named in the article.

 

In 1951 when Dorman retired, he had become the General Manager of ACME Newspictures. Throughout his career, he had somehow found time to marry Mary McConnell and they had two children, Dorothy and Robert G., both of whom are now deceased.

EXTERMINATOR (hi)

EXTERMINATOR meets visitors and enjoys a favourite snack. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

My research still can’t account for how Robert P. Dorman and Exterminator crossed paths in 1922, although it’s a fair bet that the former was assigned to get a picture of the Horse of the Year.

When the photographer came calling on this particular day almost a century ago, I’m guessing that the big chestnut knew he was among equals. You can see it in his eye.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

 

 

BONUS FEATURE

Did you know that on April 26, 2016……there’s a new book about Exterminator?

http://www.amazon.com/Here-Comes-Exterminator-Longshot-American/dp/1250065690/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1452200865&sr=1-1&keywords=9781250065698

REFERENCES

Allen, Benjamin David “Skookie,” Men of Daring: Robert Payne Dorman, in Argosy magazine, January 15, 1935

Faber, John. Great News Photos and the Stories Behind Them. Dover Publications, 2nd Revised Edition, 1978

 

NOTE: THE VAULT is a non-profit website. (Any advertising that appears on THE VAULT is placed there by WordPress and the profit, if any, goes to WordPress.) 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.

************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

Together,we saved over 20 horses from going to slaughter in Canada or Mexico in 2015. And every donation counted in this effort because no donation is too small. Hale, Trendy Cielo, Maya Littlebear, Felicitas Witness and 16 others, including two mares and their foals, thank you.

Please consider making a donation to a worthy cause so that we can help more rescue efforts in 2016.

Thank you.

https://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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