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Thanks to your support, messages and enthusiasm, THE VAULT goes into its 7th year in 2017. I can hardly believe it! This article, over two years in the making, is my special Christmas gift to each and every one of you. With it comes my warmest wishes for a joyous and safe holiday season, filled with laughter, surprises and special moments to cherish. Love, Abigail

 

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HOF jockey and trainer Johnny Longden rode winners with a capital “W” — champions like Swaps, Noor, Busher, Whirlaway, Round Table, Your Host and George Royal. But no matter how great the others were, Longden would say that “The Count” — Count Fleet — was the best of them all.

COUNT FLEET shown here with his trainer

COUNT FLEET shown here with his trainer Don Cameron and The Count’s regular exercise lad, Frank Kiniry. Photographer unknown.

Horsemen like my grandfather tend to say, “The reason so few horses ever get to the Triple Crown is because it’s a road fraught with everything but good luck.” And the story of Count Fleet and Johnny Longden is exactly that: so filled with the fickleness of Fate — good and bad — that it is absolutely remarkable they ended up together in the starting gate of the 1943 Kentucky Derby.

As regular readers of THE VAULT know, it was my grandfather who set me on the path that led to writing about thoroughbreds and standardbreds. No question I got the “horse gene,” as my late mother called it, from my Grandpa. It was his passion –a bright fire that illuminated the stories of the great thoroughbreds and standardbreds of his day — that kindled my imagination. In Grandpa’s pantheon, few were more admired than the incomparable John Longden, who had roots in Canada, and his “horse of a lifetime,”Count Fleet. I risk to say that The Count crowned my grandfather’s pantheon. He never said so, but he also never talked about any other thoroughbred, including Man O War, with the same fire in his eye. The Count had moved him in a way that none of the others he so admired, before or after him, would.

Count Fleet came into the world on March 24, 1940 at his owner, John D. Hertz’s, Stoner Creek Stud near Paris, Kentucky. The tiny son of champion and 1928 Kentucky Derby winner, Reigh Count, and the mare, Quickly — a great great granddaughter of the British wonder horse, The Tetrarch — did not impress. Hertz, the rental car magnate, was a canny businessman in all things and Quickly’s little colt foal likely went onto his “for sale” inventory within months of his birth.

 

 

REIGH COUNT

REIGH COUNT, the sire of COUNT FLEET. An outstanding looking individual who was bred in the purple, Hertz bought him from Willis Sharpe Kilmer after seeing the colt savage another horse during a race. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

QUICKLY, the dam of COUNT FLEET. Photographer unknown.

QUICKLY, the dam of COUNT FLEET, carried the blood of one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, THE TETRARCH, in her 4th generation. A sprinter, QUICKLY made 85 starts with a record of 32-14-13 before she was acquired by Hertz from Joseph D. Widener. Photographer unknown.

 

In 1912, almost three decades before the birth of Count Fleet, Mary Longden and her four youngest children — Lillian, Doris, five year-old John and baby Elsie — closed up their home in Wakefield, England and boarded a train for Liverpool. From there, they would board a ship that would take them to Canada, where they were to meet up with Johnny Longden’s father, Herb, and two older siblings. The family’s eventual destination would be Tabor, Alberta, where Herb had found work in the coal mines.

But the train was running behind schedule. Mary feared for the worst: that their ship would sail before they arrived at the port. And, as it turned out, she was right.

The ship they were booked on was none other than the Titanic.

As Johnny would tell it to B. K. Beckwith, author of The Longden Legend, ” …I was five years old and it didn’t mean too much to me then. I guess kids of that age aren’t overly impressed with the workings of fate or whatever you want to call it…I’ve heard since the iceberg ripped most of the bottom out of the boat. It probably would have been curtains for us. The Longden pocketbook wasn’t in any shape to afford upper deck cabins. Most likely we’d have been among the fifteen hundred that went down with her…”  

 

titanic-sinking-newspaper

The NEW YORK AMERICAN front page following the sinking of the TITANIC.

From his arrival as a little boy in Canada to his first encounter with Count Fleet, Johnny worked first as a herd boy and then as an apprentice coal miner and a clerk, all the while dreaming of becoming a jockey. He started out racing quarter horses before switching to thoroughbreds. By 1927 Johnny was working under contract for small-time thoroughbred owners in Alberta, Canada and in southwest American states just across the border. Along the way he met up with another youngster, George Woolf, and the two would remain best friends until Woolf’s tragic end in 1946, at the age of 35.

The $150,000 statue was commissioned by Cardston ranchers Jack and Ida Lowe and created by Artist Don Toney. It is being donated to the province of Alberta.

The statue of George Woolf and Seabiscuit  captured at the moment when George yelled, “So long, Charley!” to War Admiral’s jockey, pulling away to win the most famous match race in American racing history. The sculpture was commissioned by Cardston ranchers Jack and Ida Lowe and created by Artist Don Toney. Unveiled in 2010, the statue stands in Cardston, Alberta, Woolf’s birthplace.

 

In the same year that Reigh Count won the Kentucky Derby, Longden’s contract was bought up by one E.A. “Sleepy” Armstrong, a veteran horseman; when Sleepy Armstrong came into Johnny’s life, things started to change. His horizons expanded to racetracks in Cuba and Agua Caliente, where he rode a very good colt named Bahamas against the mighty Phar Lap in the Caliente Handicap of 1932.

Phar Lap won, of course. As Johnny remembered it: “I was leading the field to the three eights pole. About that point the big New Zealander went by the rest of us like we were tied to the fence…” :

 

 

By the early 1940’s, Longden was an established American jockey with a growing reputation for excellence, voted America’s leading jockey in 1938. In 1940 he was one of the founders of the (American) Jockey Guild. Now based in California, “The Pumper” — as he was nicknamed by his peers for his tendency to pump his arms as he encouraged a horse forward — had also become an American citizen. Over the testing ground of tracks from Canada to Cuba, Johnny had also learned to ride just about any horse under any conditions anywhere. Today, we would call him a “horse whisperer.” His whispers to particularly difficult mounts were communicated through voice, legs and hands. Johnny wasn’t one to hit a horse unless it really needed a reminder; instead, he relied on the language he had learned that his mounts would understand.

COUNT FLEET rendered by C.W. Anderson during a work. Based on a photograph from 1942/1943, this is a faithful representation of THE COUNT as a youngster.

COUNT FLEET during a work, beautifully rendered by C.W. Anderson and based on a photograph taken in 1942/1943.

 

By the time he was a yearling, Count Fleet already had a reputation for being tough to handle and was, accordingly, sent to auction. One of Hertz’s stable lads, Sam Ramsen, pleaded with the Stoner Creek manager on the colt’s behalf and his words were to become prophetic, “Someday he’s going to be some fine racer. When that leggy brown colt wants to run, he can just about fly.”

(This first attempt to get rid of him as a yearling remains a distinctly odd feature of The Count’s narrative, especially since Hertz had purchased his sire after seeing him savage another thoroughbred in a race, allegedly declaring, ” I love a fighter, man or horse.”)

Despite Ramsen’s plea, there were no takers at the sale. So Quickly’s baby boy was given a name, registered to owner Mrs. John D. (Fannie) Hertz and sent off to the Hertz’s trainer, Gregory Duncan “Don” Cameron.  The stage was set for one of history’s great partnerships: in 1939, Cameron had contracted Johnny Longden to ride horses owned by Fannie Hertz, as well as another owner, Vera S. Bragg.

 

The stage was set: the paths of Johnny and THE COUNT crossed in 1942. Photo and copyright: The Baltimore Sun.

The stage was set: the paths of Johnny and THE COUNT finally converged in 1942. Here they are working at Belmont. Photo and copyright: The Baltimore Sun.

 

The first time Johnny rode The Count, the colt came close to killing him. As Longden told the story, the pair were working at Belmont Park and Johnny noticed two horses coming towards them on the track. But The Count had running on his mind and Johnny couldn’t get him to either slow down or change lanes, so he somehow managed to guide him between the pair without anyone getting hurt. Telling the story to his biographer, B.K. Beckwith, Johnny still couldn’t envision how he’d pulled it off. But one thing was certain: after this incident, only Longden rode Count Fleet in race preps and actual races. Everyone else was too terrified to even contemplate it, although there are a few rare images of another young lad working the colt when he was in his 3 year-old season.

THE COUNT was a handful, but according to Longden, he was not a mean horse at all. Photographer and source unknown.

THE COUNT was a handful, but according to Longden, he was not mean — just a colt with a mind of his own. Photograph circa 1943. Photographer and source unknown.

 

Despite the Belmont episode, Johnny was adamant that there wasn’t a mean bone in Count Fleet’s body, although this fact went largely unnoticed in the press of the day. Headlines like “NASTY BUT FAST” dogged the colt throughout his brief racing career, even when he was packing fans in like sardines at Aqueduct or Churchill Downs.

In his biography, Longden explained The Count’s personality this way,” He was not, you understand, a mean horse…Just one full of the devil with a mind which was very much his own.”  As a two year-old, Johnny described Count Fleet as a somewhat sorry looking individual though, “He really didn’t have the look of a top prospect then…He was a medium size — about fifteen hands three inches — and, though he was deep in the girth and had a good shoulder, he was weedy behind…he looked more like a filly than a colt.”  In addition, Count Fleet at two weighed in at only 900 lbs., reaching 1,000 lbs. by January 1943. John Hervey (“Salvator”) was more complimentary, describing the colt as one who, though not handsome, sported a very fine head and a character both intelligent and inquisitive.

 

"...He looked more like a filly than a colt." COUNT FLEET as a two year-old. Photo from THE VAULT'S private collection.

“…he looked more like a filly than a colt.” COUNT FLEET as a two year-old. Photo and copyright: Bert Morgan, KEENELAND .

 

In 1942, before Count Fleet had made his first start as a juvenile, Johnny recalled another trainer, Sammy Smith, coming to Cameron’s barn at Belmont one morning. The Count was led out for Smith to look over and Longden understood that the colt was being offered for sale; the asking price was $4500. Now Johnny had been working for the Hertzes for almost two years at this point, and he had established a trusting relationship with John D. Hertz. When he realized The Count was up for grabs, he picked up a bicycle from the yard and pumped muscle to the nearest phone booth to call John D. Fortunately, Johnny got hold of him and begged Hertz not to sell the feisty youngster.

Hertz replied that he considered the colt dangerous and was afraid that he would kill Longden one day, to which Johnny replied, ” I’m not afraid of him.” There was a long pause. Then came the words,“All right…If you’re game enough to ride him, I’ll keep him.” 

At first, Hertz may well have regretted his decision: in his two year-old campaign, Count Fleet had a kind of seesaw year, breaking his maiden by four lengths in his third start followed by other wins as well as a few upsets. However, throughout the season the colt never finished worse than third. Said Longden of The Count’s juvenile year, ” He beat himself…He never should have lost a race, but he was a tough customer to handle, green and rough in those early starts, and you couldn’t take hold of him –you couldn’t even properly guide him. You had to let him run, and if you didn’t have racing room, he’d go to the outside or just climb over horses. If you were in close quarters with him, you were in trouble.” 

Actually, Count Fleet’s similarity to the most respected speedball of all time, The Tetrarch, was remarkable. It was just as though the “great grey” had come back in the form of a deceptively unremarkable brown colt.

 

"I'm not afraid of him." Johnny and COUNT FLEET. Photographer and source unknown.

“I’m not afraid of him.” Johnny and THE COUNT. Photographer and source unknown.

 

THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings ("chubari spots"), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire.

THE TETRARCH was selected one of the best thoroughbreds of the last century, even though he only raced for a single season. Ridiculed for his markings (“chubari spots”), THE TETRARCH would have the last laugh by becoming a prepotent sire and BM sire. COUNT FLEET carried his blood in the fourth generation of his pedigree.

 

But The Count wasn’t only a speed devil — he was also a lover boy.

In the Belmont Futurity, as Longden manoeuvred the two year-old toward the lead, he drew alongside the filly, Askmenow, a daughter of champion Menow. As Johnny told it, “…The Count decided he didn’t want to leave her. She was in that delicate condition that appealed to him. I couldn’t budge him. He just galloped along beside her and let Occupation steal the race.” 

It was the last race Count Fleet would ever lose.

The colt’s next start was in the historic Champagne Stakes in New York. That day, he really took a toll on Johnny’s patience, acting up behind the gate and sending the track lads scurrying. It was the only time he would feel Longden’s whip, which was applied to get his mind on the job at hand.

And The Count got the message: he led from gate to the wire, setting a world record for two year-olds in the process of 1:34 and 4/5. After this victory, Johnny felt he’d found “the key to him” — get the colt out on top and just let him run. “…It was what he loved to do more than anything else.”  In other words, Count Fleet needed to own the track from the first break. And it was exactly this that his gifted jockey would guide him to do. Not that this was always that easy to pull off: “…that horse {The Count} did horrify me on occasions,” Johnny once confided to his biographer.

COUNT FLEET wins the Champagne stakes, Longden up, and sets a new track record.

COUNT FLEET wins the Champagne Stakes, Longden up, and sets a world record for two year-olds. Photographer/source unknown.

 

In the Pimlico Futurity, The Count faced his rival, Occupation, once again. Although he broke on top, Occupation was soon overtaken by the Hertzes little whiz kid, who flew by to win by five and equal the course record. The Count’s last start of 1942 was in the Walden Stakes. If there had been any doubt as to his ability, it all ended that day: the bay who looked more like a filly than a colt won by roughly thirty lengths, carrying weight of 132 lbs. This performance, together with his other wins that season, made Count Fleet good enough to abscond with the title that, at the beginning of the racing calendar, looked to be Occupation’s — namely, U.S. Champion Two Year-Old (colt).

 

count-fleet-before-wood-memorial__57

 

The Count went into 1943 as the favourite to win the Kentucky Derby, a feat that would allow his sire, Reigh Count, entry into the elite club of Derby sires of Derby winners. Other very good three year-olds of 1943 included Blue Swords, Slide Rule and The Count’s nemesis, Occupation. Older horses who added to the spirit of the sport that year were Equipoise’s son, Shut Out, who had won the 1942 Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, Belair Stud’s Apache and Marise Farms’ Market Wise, a son of Broker’s Tip who had famously defeated Whirlaway in the 1941 Jockey Gold Cup in track record time.

 

Edgemere Handicap, 1943: APACHE (blinkers) edges SHUT OUT to take the win, with MARKET WISE and Johnny Longden coming in third. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Older horses running in 1943 did much to keep the sport an exciting one: Edgemere Handicap, 1943 — APACHE (blinkers) edges SHUT OUT to take the win, with MARKET WISE and Johnny Longden coming in third. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

After claiming an easy victory in the St. James Purse, the colt and his team were off to Aqueduct to compete in the Wood Memorial, then run at a distance of 1m, 7yards. These were, of course, the War Years and there were many restrictions on travel being enforced America-wide, all of which seriously threatened the running of the Kentucky Derby, which dilemma Colonel Matt Winn, the President of Churchill Downs, was wrestling with even as the gates swung open for the Wood Memorial.

countfleetapr_1943

Rare photo of COUNT FLEET in 1943, breaking in either the Wood Memorial or The Withers. THE COUNT is the first arrow closest to “Copywritten Image.” Photo from the private collection of THE VAULT.

The anticipation of spectators at the Wood, according to John Hervey, seemed to set Aqueduct on fire and derived from The Count’s performance — and new track record — in the slop in the St. James Purse. Both Blue Swords and Slide Rule lined up at the gate, but before The Count was loaded, he was either kicked or grabbed in his hind leg: “…It was low down, near the fetlock. We went on and won easy anyway, but it filled up pretty bad afterwards, and for a times we were afraid we might not make the Kentucky Derby. I sat up and tubbed him in ice all the way to Louisville. We went down in a boxcar. It was nip and tuck, but we made it to the race…” (Longden as quoted by Beckwith, his biographer).

But however uncomfortable the colt might have been, he took the Wood in 1:43, and made two excellent colts look more like cart horses than thoroughbreds.

A look at COUNT FLEET'S hind leg following his win in the Wood Memorial. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

A look at COUNT FLEET’S hind leg following his win in the Wood Memorial. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Matt Winn had now resolved with authorities that, although the horses would arrive by boxcar and/or on wheels for the Kentucky Derby, only local people would be in attendance at the track that day. As those who crowded Churchill Downs on the first Saturday of May 1943 would remember it, the “Streetcar Derby” was worth it, even though they had to leave their cars at home.

The Count did not disappoint, rolling passed Blue Swords and Slide Rule to a victory that bespoke his class. Below, silent footage of the race:

 

 

COUNT FLEET wins the Kentucky Derby and makes his sire, REIGH COUNT, a Derby-winning sire of a Derby-winning son. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

COUNT FLEET wins the Kentucky Derby and makes his sire, REIGH COUNT, a Derby-winning sire of a Derby-winning son. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

 

Johnny and COUNT FLEET festooned with roses. Photographer/source unknown.

Johnny and COUNT FLEET festooned with roses. Photographer/source unknown.

 

And then it was on to Pimlico, where the colt scored an even more decisive victory in the Preakness, beating Blue Swords by 8 lengths. Routing Blue Swords still again brought The Count’s reputation to its next level, since the former was a beautifully-bred son of Blue Larkspur whose dam was a daughter of Man O’ War. Blue Swords was the Sham of his day, confronted with a determined athlete who tended to wear his opponents down before the race was even half over. As The Blood-Horse put it, “If Count Fleet is the spectacular comet in the racing skies of 1943, then Blue Swords is the comet’s tail.”

 

THE COUNT arrives at Pimlico with trainer,

THE COUNT arrives at Pimlico with trainer, Don Cameron. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

Leading them on a merry chase, COUNT FLEET swings into the turn at Pimlico.

Leading them on a merry chase, COUNT FLEET swings into the turn at Pimlico. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

Wearing the black-eyed Susans. Photographer and source unknown.

Wearing the black-eyed Susans. Photographer and source unknown.

 

Trainer Cameron decided to run him next in the Withers, just to “keep him sharp.”  And The Count might have been at least a tad to blame: after a race — any race, from the easiest to the Derby and Preakness — it was not unusual for the colt to tire out two hot walkers as he cooled down. He never once came back from a race worn out.

Again, in what was becoming an all-too-familiar story, Johnny and The Count came home ahead of the competition in the Withers, leaving Slide Rule — who had skipped The Preakness — six lengths behind. The press — keen to exaggerate anything peculiar or interesting in an otherwise dark time — had already elevated The Count to the status of Man O’ War following his Preakness romp. But when the three year-old took the Withers, they were dumbfounded. This was due also to the fact that only one other Triple Crown winner had pulled off the double, the great Sir Barton. It was “a feat so difficult that any turfman who has witnessed it once need not expect to see it again during his lifetime.”²

Streaking home in The Withers, the second-to-last race of his career.

Streaking home in The Withers, the second-to-last race of his career. Photographer and source unknown, but possibly The Baltimore Sun.

 

John and Fannie Hertz with their champion. Photo circa 1943.

John and Fannie Hertz with their champion. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

 

Count Fleet went to the post for the very last time in the 1943 Belmont Stakes, although no-one anticipated that it would be his final start. The high rolling colts like Blue Swords and Slide Rule had stayed home, leaving The Count to face a field of two who were truly only going to win if, in Johnny’s words, “… he’d have to fall down … and even then I thought he could get up and win. He was that good.”

Those who ride will tell you that horses react to resistance like dogs — in the case of horses, they just run faster. So it was that when Fate joined the dance, Count Fleet decided to fight back.

“He fractured a bone in his left front leg. I felt him bobble in the long stretch and knew he had hurt himself…I started to pull him up but he’d have none of it. He just grabbed the bit in that bull-headed way of his and took off again.” (Longden as quoted by Beckwith, his biographer).

 

 

You'd never know that there was anything wrong with him at all: COUNT FLEET comes home in the Belmont Stakes to become America's sixth Triple Crown winner.

You’d never know that there was anything wrong with him at all: COUNT FLEET comes home in the Belmont Stakes to become America’s sixth Triple Crown winner. Photo and source unknown.

 

Count Fleet’s performance was so devastatingly good that the Hertzes were, of course, delighted to welcome their Triple Crown champion into the winner’s circle. But the next morning, the Count was so badly off that neither trainer nor groom could get him out of his stall. The injury involved a tendon and the limb was fired. The colt was then kept at Belmont until October, when he was shipped to the Hertzes Stoner Creek farm in Kentucky. The racing world waited, praying that the champion would return in 1944. But the Hertzes were owners who always put their horses first and when the risk to The Count appeared too great, it was with deep regret that the decision was made to retire him. In the Hertzes’ mind, there was never any question of risking his life on the track.

 

Johnny and THE COUNT, in living colour. Source unknown, although probably a journal or magazine of the day.

Johnny and THE COUNT, in living colour. Source unknown, although probably a journal or magazine of the day.

 

Whether it was his brief career or just the realities of war time, The Count’s story has been woefully neglected over the decades since he won the Triple Crown. In fact, researching Count Fleet’s racing career — in terms of coming up with something other than the obvious — represents the second longest project THE VAULT has ever undertaken. Insight into the character of the horse came principally from two sources: Johnny Longden’s biography and the superb record of John Hervey aka “Salvator,” as provided in “American Race Horses, 1943.” The former reference I owe to the great Steve Haskin, to whom I am deeply indebted.

Another issue pointed out by Hervey that likely had some impact on Count Fleet’s reputation was that criticism of his career was often based on “But whom did he beat?” In Hervey’s view, the Belmont aside, these doubters clearly weren’t much up on their game, since individuals like Occupation, Blue Swords and Slide Rule were extremely worthy competitors. It was more, in Hervey’s view, the fact that Count Fleet made it look too easy. Referencing the wisdom of the incomparable W.S. Vosburgh when writing about America’s latest Triple Crown winner, Hervey also had this to say: “…As racing goes, the enthusiasts have short memories. They require new gods to worship, and if, a season or two hence, these deities show feet of clay, by that time still newer ones will have displaced them.”³ 

Critics of his racing career there may have been, but Count Fleet would triumph again as a sire.

In 1951, a son, Counterpoint, won the Belmont Stakes and the Jockey Club Gold Cup. He was also chosen as 1951 Horse of the Year. And again in that same year, a daughter, Kiss Me Kate, was named Champion Three Year Old. But perhaps sweetest of all was Count Turf’s win in the 1951 Kentucky Derby. Then, in 1952, One Count shared Horse of the Year honors with the two year-old Native Dancer for his wins in the Belmont, Travers and Jockey Club Gold Cup.

 

 

COUNT TURF. Source unknown

COUNT TURF. Source unknown.

 

KISS ME KATE with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. Source unknown.

KISS ME KATE with Eddie Arcaro in the irons. Source unknown.

 

Nor would The Count’s legacy end here. Through his daughters, Count Fleet was BM sire to one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time, Kelso, as well as to champions Lamb Chop, Quill, Prince John, and the 1965 Kentucky Derby and Santa Anita Derby winner, Lucky Debonair.

KELSO with owner, Allaire DuPont. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

KELSO with owner, Allaire DuPont. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Count Fleet lived to be thirty-three when, after foundering for three days, he was laid to rest at Stoner Creek Stud on December 3, 1973.

…… And I learned exactly why my beloved grandfather’s eyes shone so brightly when he spoke about Count Fleet and Johnny Longden: the same year that The Count departed, I watched Secretariat and Ron Turcotte win the Belmont.

 

COUNT FLEET at thirty years of age, as captured by the genius of the late Tony Leonard. Photo and copyright, the estate of Tony Leonard.

COUNT FLEET at thirty years of age, as captured by the genius of the late Tony Leonard. Photo and copyright, the estate of Tony Leonard.

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

 

A Visual Story of Count Fleet:

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Longden’s last ride:

 

 

 

Footnotes

¹As Titanic buffs will know, the ship set sail from Southampton, not from Liverpool. But this is how Johnny told the story to his biographer and Longden had a reputation for being an honest man, unlikely to grandstand by telling a lie. One has to wonder if the “lower deck” passengers weren’t taken on in Liverpool, where the Titanic’s crew boarded the ill-fated ocean liner. Or, was the plan to get a “connecting” ship from Liverpool to Southampton, unlikely as that would seem. Or, is it possible that Mary Longden was employed to work on the Titanic, in turn for passage for herself and her children? Or, was this simply a fanciful tale that young Johnny was told and believed to be true?

² John Hervey, in American Race Horses 1943, pp. 107

³ Ibid, pp 99

Sources

Beckwith, B.K. The Longden Legend. 1973: A.S. Barnes and Co., Inc.

Hervey, John. American Race Horses 1943. 1944: The Sagamore Press.

Archives of the Daily Racing Form in the University of Kentucky Digital Library.

Archives of the Milwaukee Journal.

Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall Of Fame: http://www.spiletta.com/UTHOF/countfleet.html

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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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Bateau was one of the very best of Man O’ War’s daughters when it came to racing, but she risks being forgotten because of one failure that was completely beyond her control. Hers is also a cautionary tale: the same fate often befalls great thoroughbreds today.

George Conway, pictured with Man O' War at Saratoga.

George Conway, pictured with Man O’ War at Saratoga.

Bateau was referred to at least once as “…the Amazon daughter” of Man O’ War (The Barrier-Miner, November 26, 1929) suggesting that she was a large, powerful individual. Thank goodness for The Barrier-Miner paragraph! The super filly of the early part of the last century barely exists in photographs and of the ones here at THE VAULT, it is often tough to judge her height.

Bateau came into the world in 1925. The daughter of the French-import, Escuina (1919), must have been an impressive foal. Her dam had been imported from France by Walter Jeffords, who was married to a niece of Samuel Riddle and who, with Riddle, owned and operated Faraway Farm. Escuina proved a Blue Hen for the Jeffords-Riddle stable, producing the very good Jean Bart as well as Bateau. Too, her daughters were largely excellent producers themselves and this was no accident, since Escuina was bred in the purple, carrying St. Simon(1881) and the exceptional broodmare, Fairy Gold (1896), by Bend Or in her third generation.

Fairy Gold was the dam of Friar Rock (1913) by Rock Sand and Fair Play (1905) by Hastings, the sire of Man O’ War. Imported by August Belmont Jr., Fairy Gold died in 1919 together with her foal by Hourglass(1914) and is buried in an unmarked spot on the grounds of Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. But her power in the blood remains unmistakeable and it found expression in Escuina and her daughters.

Fairy_Gold-big

A very blurry image of FAIRY GOLD, from the Thoroughbred Heritage website.

At two, Bateau was put into the hands of trainer Scott P. Harlan. In 1926, just prior to the arrival of Bateau, Harlan had earned $205,681 — an extraordinary sum in those days — and a fair portion of those earnings were thanks to Man O’ War’s offspring, specifically the 2 year-old Scapa Flow, as well as Edith Cavell, whose 3 year-old campaign was nothing short of sensational.

The filly, whose name means “boat” in French — possibly another reference to her size and confirmation — was exquisite. With her deep bay coat, the white star on her face and her intelligent expression, she was undoubtedly the gift of an exquisite mingling of bloods.

Who better to picture the champion than the great C.C. Cook? Here she is in

Who better to picture the champion than the great C.C. Cook? Here she is in 1928 with jockey Kelsay in the irons. Photo and copyright, C.C. Cook/Keeneland.

Back of the photo, signed by C.C. Cook.

Back of the photo, signed by C.C. Cook.

In her first stakes start in 1927, the Schuylerville, Bateau finished second to Pennant (1925), but she beat the Hertz’s Anita Peabody (1925) who would be named Champion two year-old filly of 1927. Anita Peabody’s most famous victory came that same year, when she defeated another Hertz entry, Reigh Count, in the Belmont Futurity. Reigh Count, as our readers will know, sired Triple Crown winner Count Fleet.

ANITA PEABODY, a gift to Mrs. Hertz from her husband, was a spectacular filly in her own right.

ANITA PEABODY, a gift to Mrs. Hertz from her husband, was a spectacular filly in her own right.

Next came the 1927 Fashion Stakes which Bateau won, followed by two thirds in the Matron and Spinaway. Drama punctuated the Pimlico Futurity, where Bateau finished third, when Earl Sande who rode her in that race was accused of slamming violently into the Hertz colt, Reigh Count, costing him the race. Sande’s license was initially suspended, although he was subsequently reinstated and Bateau was DQ’d. Pimlico aside, by the end of her 2 year-old campaign, both Jeffords and Harlan knew they had a very special filly in Bateau. She had her sire’s will to win and his strong mind, and she was courageous.

1928 blossomed for the three year-old, with wins in the Coaching Club American Oaks and Gazelle. In the former, she beat another exceptional filly by Man O’ War in Valkyr (1925), the Champion Handicap Mare of 1928, and the future dam of  champion Vagrancy (1939). Bateau’s performance was sufficient to get her noticed, and she was awarded Co-Champion 3 year-old honours with Easter Stockings (1925), the best of Sir Barton’s daughters.

BATEAU with Frank Coltiletti up in 1928,

BATEAU with Frank Coltiletti up in 1928. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

 

The grey VALKYR as a broodmare was still another impressive daughter of MAN O' WAR.

The grey VALKYR as a broodmare. She was still another impressive daughter of MAN O’ WAR whose sons and daughters were invariably good on the track and in the breeding shed.

Her four year-old season saw some impressive wins for Jeffords’ champion filly. Racing against the boys, Bateau beat the older Display(1923) to win the Whitney in a thrilling finish. (Since 1928, when Black Helen became the first filly to win the Whitney, only five others, including Bateau, have ever won it to the present day. The last was the incomparable Personal Ensign, who won it in 1988.) Bateau then went on to beat the 1928 Preakness winner, Victorian (1925), in the South Maryland Handicap and battled the excellent Petee-Wrack (1925) to victory in the Suburban. This would be Bateau’s last stakes race before her retirement, but it was enough to have her honoured as the Champion Handicap Mare of 1929.

Expectations were high as Man O’ War’s champion daughter headed off to the breeding shed. But after a few tries and much frustration, Bateau was declared barren. Rather than risk losing her on the track, Bateau was given a new job, that of the Jeffords’ hack, or riding horse, and kept in the same stable as other Jeffords’ pleasure horses.

Since it is through their progeny that many great thoroughbreds live on through time, this failure of Bateau’s has seen her relegated to something close to obscurity. Biographical notes about her are thin on detail and surviving narratives almost non-existant.

 

BATEAU with jockey Ambrose up after her win in the Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park.

BATEAU, with jockey Ambrose up, after her win in the 1929 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park. When were the blinkers added? Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

Press reports of Bateau’s exploits are similarly hard to come by, but evidence was found from New South Wales, Australia and England that suggests her reputation was international. Too, the Daily Racing Form wrote a lengthly article on her Suburban win:

 

DAUGHTER OP MAN O’ WAR WINS FAME IN DIG RACE

New York, November 23, 1929

Bateau, a daughter of Man o' War, has achieved fame on'the snow covered Bowie tracie hy winning the South Maryland Handicap of £8000. Repeating the performance of her great sire, Bateau 
finished gamely, winning by a nose. The Amazon daughter of the super-stallion galloped the mile and 110 yards in lm. 46 2-5s. (The Barrier-Miner Newspaper, New South Wales, AUSTRALIA)

EXTRAORDINARY RACE

 

Two Noses and a Head Separate Four Horses in Suburban.

Bateau Wins by a Nose, Petee-Wrack Second by a Nose, Toro Third by a Head.

 

NEW YORK, N. Y., June 1.




With four thoroughbreds fighting it out furiously in one of the greatest finishes ever seen on any race course, Walter M. Jeffords* Bateau dropped her nose down in front of J. R. Macomber's Petee-Wrack, Edward B. McLean's Toro, and Richard T. Wilson's Sunfire to win the old Suburban Handicap, over one mile and a quarter.

Then after the finish there came a claim of foul, lodged against Ambrose, who rode Bateau, and there was some delay before the stewards confirmed the order of the finish. The running had a 
new value of $14,100 to the winner and Bateau finished the distance in 2:03%, making it an excellent performance.

The Suburban renewal was the big event of a holiday card offered by the Westchester Racing Association at Belmont Park today and it attracted a crowd that approached that of Decoration Day.

The claim of foul that was lodged by O'Donnell, who rode Petee-Wrack, was that Ambrose had pushed him out of the way to come through on the inside with Bateau. The Ambrose defense was that he had pushed Petee-Wrack away to avoid being put over the inner rail. In any event, the claim was not allowed.

…Little time was lost at the post in the Suburban Handicap and with the exception of Chicatie, which left slowly, the others left in excellent alignment and Petee-Wrack was the one to show theway with Soul of Honor and Sunfire following him closely, while Bateau was also in the front division. Chance Shot began well and was not far back, while, Toro was slower to find his racing 
legs and he was well back.

It was going to the turn out of the back stretch that it became apparent that Chance Shot, the topweight, would not do. There Willie Garner shook him up in an effort to improve his position, 
but the big son of Fair Play did not respond and from that stage of the running he began to drop back well beaten.
Petee-Wrack was still forcing the pace under a slight restraint and Sunfire was close after him on the outside. Soul of Honor ran closely lapped on the Wilson colt, but it was evident he was 
doing his best.

Ambrose still had Bateau close after the leaders and the daughter of Man o' War was racing kindly.

Old Display was holding his position, while Toro was beginning to make up ground on the outside in threatening fashion.

There was a general closing up as the field turned for home and Petee-Wrack was holding resolutely to his lead, but it was a scant one. Sunfire was right with him, while Ambrose had Bateau on the inner rail and the filly had her nose at the saddle of the Macomber colt. Soul of Honor was beginning to tire, while Toro was swooping along outside of him in gallant fashion.

TORO MOVES UP.

Well inside the final sixteenth Soul of Honor was through, but Toro had moved up until he was in the fight to the finish. Bateau was holding her place on the inside, but in remarkably close quarters, with Petee-Wrack almost on top of her. Then it was that the alleged foul was committed when Ambrose, to protect himself and his mount, pushed the colt over to find room.

Right to the end the four battled along and in the last stride Bateau had squeezed through to earn the verdict by a nose, while Petee-Wrack was no further before the fast finishing Toro, and Sunfire a head further back. Then right on the heels of Sunfire came Sortie, which had been forced to race wide all the way.

It was a magnificent renewal of a great race and the first victory for a filly since the victory of Beldame in 1905. (DAILY RACING FORM, June 1, 1929)




 


Author and artist C.W. Anderson can still be counted on today as a faithful ethnographer of racing in the first part of the last century. Anderson was passionate about Man O’ War, recording aspects of his life and legacy with details he undoubtedly took from the newspapers of the day. Including her in his classic book, Big Red, Anderson’s evaluation of Bateau speaks for itself and provides a fitting conclusion to the story of an exceptional filly.

 

BATEAU by CW ANDERSON_

 

 

Sources

Anderson, C.W. Big Red. The Macmillan Company, New York: 1943

Hunter, Avelyn: American Classic Pedigrees (online: http://www.americanclassicpedigrees.com) related to Bateau and Valkyr

Daily Racing Form in University of Kentucky Archives, June 1, 1929

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