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

 

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

 

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

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

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

He was, indeed, special.

 

BLOODLINES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Tetrarch winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue u

 

ROMAN SOLDIER’S RACING CAREER

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

1935 Kentucky Derby program.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rockingham Park’s clubhouse in 1933

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IN CONCLUSION

 

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

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

The final tribute to Roman Soldier goes to John Hervey:

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

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

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

 

BONUS FEATURES

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

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

 

 

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

4) 1938 Opening Day At Santa Anita:

 

SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

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

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

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

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

 

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I owe Steve Haskin for this article because his story, “For The Love of a Horse,” got me thinking about the horse that first grabbed my heart. 

(Link to Steve Haskin’s narrative: http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/horse-racing-steve-haskin/archive/2019/05/19/-For-the-Love-of-a-Horse.aspx)

The cover of Sports Illustrated featuring the 1962 Derby favourite, Meadow Stables’ Sir Gaylord.

His name was Greek Money and I laid down my very first bet on him to win the 1962 Preakness. I was 12 years old and the bet, a nickel, was lodged with Grandpa in the livingroom of my grandparents’ home, minutes before the field started to load.

It had become an annual ritual, Grandpa and me watching the Triple Crown races together. Inevitably, he would ask me for my pick and on Preakness day it was a handsome colt named Greek Money. I was feeling confident: I’d picked Roman Line to win the Kentucky Derby, and although irritated that Decidedly had robbed me of a Derby winner, I was proud that a colt no-one had much bothered with in the pre-Derby show had come in second. As importantly, I wanted to convince Grandpa that the “horse gene” we shared gave us a deep affinity.

It was tough to really connect with my grandfather, at least in part because he was the last of the Victorians — those born at the end of the nineteenth century — and his sensibility was almost a century behind mine. He believed that children “…should be seen but not heard” and he would have enforced that addage had my parents not tempered him some. But what brought us together, nurtured by my grandmother, was a passion for horses. He had watched me grow up with Breyer horses, cowboy outfits, Marx Wild West play sets and books like Misty of Chincoteague and The Black Stallion. He even tuned in on Saturdays to watch Fury, Champion the Wonder Horse, Roy Rogers and My Friend Flicka with me.

It was always so much fun — that’s how I remember watching my earliest Triple Crown races with Grandpa. Right up there with comfort food. There was no place better than to be sitting beside him in front of the black and white television console for the Derby, Preakness and Belmont. The big house grew quiet and those not interested took their leave.

Eddie Arcaro was a great favourite in the Wheeler household; Citation was one of Grandpa’s personal “Pantheon of Greats” and he loved to reminisce about “Cy” and Eddie. But Eddie was no longer riding. And for the millions who had followed his career with the kind of reverance usually reserved for places of worship, Arcaro’s retirement in 1961 signalled a sea change to the racing world as they had known it.

On Derby day in 1962 Grandpa would likely have said something like, “I sure don’t see another Citation in this bunch.” Cy was unquestionably the contemporary standard against which every promising 3 year-old was judged. (Were he alive today, Grandpa would be both annoyed and disheartened that the racing world seems to have all but forgotten his beloved Citation.)

Eddie Arcaro and CITATION wearing the roses.

His pick was the Derby favourite, Ridan. But we’d both lost out to Decidely, a son of Determine, a superstar who had won the 1954 Derby. Determine was a “little guy,” but the son of the mighty Alibhai (Hyperion) was a steel grey rocket who also won the San Gabriel, the Santa Anita Derby, the San Felipe, the San Jose and another 5 stakes in his native California that same year.

 

By Preakness Day 1962, the oval coffee table in the “sitting room” was piled high with thoroughbred magazines and race tables, attesting to my grandfather’s studious analysis of the field. As we watched the beginning of the telecast, it was his habit to tell me about some of the contenders. That year, Grandpa was still most interested in Ridan, but Jaipur was also on his lens. As a 2 year-old, Jaipur had won the Hopeful as well as the Flash and Cowdin Stakes under Eddie Arcaro. Knowing my grandfather, he likely picked Ridan over Jaipur because Arcaro wasn’t riding the latter any longer. He had followed both colts through their 2 year-old seasons, as he had Christopher Chenery’s Sir Gaylord, a prohibitive favourite to win the 1962 Derby before he was injured and retired.

2 year-old JAIPUR and Eddie Arcaro. The great jockey retired at the end of the 1961 season.

There would be no Triple Crown, but the Preakness field was still comprised of several very good colts, the best of which were arguably the aforementioned Jaipur and Ridan.

Ridan, a son of Nantallah (Nasrullah) and the excellent Rough Shod (Gold Bridge), the dam of champions Lt. Stevens, Moccassin, Gambetta and Thong, and grandam of Nureyev, certainly had an outstanding pedigree. Bred by Claiborne Farm and owned by Mrs. Moody Jolley, Ernest Woods and John L. Greer, Ridan was trained by HOF Leroy Jolley, who had primed him to victory in the Florida Derby and Blue Grass Stakes before finishing third in the Derby. On Preakness Day he was partnered by Manny Ycaza and it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a better performance from him.

RIDAN, held by Henry Gervais, returns to Claiborne Farm upon his retirement. Photo & copyright, Keeneland Library.

Jaipur was owned by the eminent owner-breeder George Widener and trained by future HOF Bert Mulholland. The son of Nasrullah (Nearco) and Rare Perfume (Eight Thirty) had an equally outstanding pedigree and 1962 was another great year for the colt, who had already won the Hopeful, the Cowdin and the Flash Stakes in 1961. Jaipur came into the Preakness with big wins in the Withers and the Gotham already under his belt. He headed to the post in the Preakness with his regular rider, Bill Shoemaker, in the irons.

Jaipur and Ridan were poised to enter into a rivalry that, if not legendary, was certainly noteworthy and destined to become the central narrative of the 1962 racing season. It hit a pitch in the 1962 Travers, as they battled for victory and 3 year-old Champion honours.

Buddy Raines (white hat) pulls post position 1 for GREEK MONEY. He’s flanked by Eddie Arcaro and Horatio Luro, who trained DECIDEDLY, the 1962 Derby winner.

As for the rest of the Preakness Field, aside from the Derby winner, Decidedly, there was also the very game Admiral’s Voyage (whose future daughter, Pas de Nom, produced the great sire Danzig), as well as a colt named Crimson Satan, the future sire of the swift Crimson Saint, dam of Terlingua (the dam of Storm Cat), Pancho Villa (Secretariat) and Royal Academy (Nijinsky). Crimson Satan was a speedball and best at shorter distances, but not the equal of the other runners in my grandfather’s view. Pedigree aside, Grandpa also quietly dismissed Decidedly’s chances, viewing his Derby win as a fluke. Roman Line was running as well, but for some reason I chose Greek Money, very likely because he was the one who most impressed me physically on the day.

But who was Greek Money — other than the strking chestnut on whom I had invested a nickel’s worth of hope?

GREEK MONEY on his way out to the track.

To begin with, Greek Money’s bloodlines were anything but shabby. By Greek Song, the winner of the Dwyer and Arlington Classic as a three year-old, Greek Money was a great grandson of Hyperion. The colt’s dam, Lucy Lufton, was by the Epsom Derby and Two Thousand Guineas winner, Nimbus, a son of Nearco.

Nimbus’ win in the 1949 Epsom Derby was witnessed by HM Queen Mary, HM Princess Elizabeth, Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Derby and the newly-weds Rita Hayworth and Ali Khan, among others:

 

 

GREEK SONG (above) ridden by John Oxley. Donald P. Ross, the owner-breeder of GREEK MONEY, also owned his sire, GREEK SONG.

Greek Money’s owner-breeder, Donald Peabody Ross, purchased his dam sight unseen at Newmarket and shipped her to the USA, where she was breed to Greek Song, who was also owned by Ross. A businessman who had co-founded Delaware Park, Ross’ Brandywine Stable might not have been a household name, but his enthusiam for breeding and racing thoroughbreds was clear.  He served as President of the Thoroughbred Racing Association, as steward of The Jockey Club and was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.

Donald P. Ross bred and owned GREEK MONEY.

In 1962, Virgil W. “Buddy” Raines was the trainer for Brandywine Stable. As a child, Raines was handed over first by his parents to serve as an endentured servant to an itinerant trainer in what was the beginning of an 80-year long career in the industry. He was subsequently passed on to one “Whistling” Bob Smith, trainer for the prestigious Brookmeade Stable and its owner, Isabel Dodge Sloane. Raines did all the usual menial jobs around the stable, but as he grew into adolescence, Smith began to mentor him and trusted him to work the great Cavalcade, a Brookmeade star. Under Smith’s guidance, Raines rose to become his assistant trainer.

During his time with Brandywine Stable, Raines not only trained Greek Money but had also trained his sire, as well as other Brandywine stars, notably the champions Cochise (Boswell X New Pin by Royal Minstrel) and his daughter, Open Fire (Cochise X Lucy Lufton), both greys and descendants of The Tetrarch sire line, a precursor of speed and stamina. In addition, from 1989-1991, the now senior Raines trained three consecutive winners of the Maryland Million Classic for Andrew Fowler, Master Speaker and dual winner, Timely Warning. The latter was ridden to victory by Raines’ grandson, Mike Luzzi.

Throughout his career, Buddy Raines was a popular personality, noted for his storytelling ways. Nominated to the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2006, Raines lost out to Carl Hanford, trainer of the incomparable Kelso.

A young Buddy Raines aboard CAVALCADE, the star of Isabel Dodge Sloane’s Brookmeade Stable.

Greek Money was ridden on Preakness day by John Rotz, a HOF who won most of America’s important races at least once during his 20-year career. Although Rotz was never the household name that contemporaries like Arcaro or Shoemaker became, he did receive the George Woolf Jockey Award in 1973, given to a jockey who demonstrates high standards of personal and professional conduct, on and off the racetrack.

“Gentleman John” Rotz, as he was known, the jockey for GREEK MONEY.

So it was that on that third Saturday in May, I watched with intense interest as my Preakness choice was loaded and locked into the starting gate:

I jumped to my feet, yelling “He won! He won!” but Grandpa put a cautionary hand on my arm.

“Maybe not. The stewards need to look at it again.”

“Why?” I countered, incredulous.

“We’ll see what happens. Sit still now.”

Joseph di Paola’s image of GREEK MONEY and RIDAN just before they hit the wire is arguably one of the most dramatic ever — note Ycaza’s elbow, overlapping Rotz’s arm. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As we waited, along with all those gathered at Pimlico that day, photographer Joseph di Paola’s lens had indeed seen what happened. di Paola had decided to move down from the finish some 30-40 feet, and aimed his camera at the finish line. He was a crack photographer, who worked for the Baltimore Sun for some 50 years, and he wanted something a little different than the usual finish photo. Well, he sure got it. The image is one of the most iconic in the history of racing photography, and shows Manny Ycaza reaching over to apparently interfere with Rotz as Greek Money and Ridan neared the finish.

Oddly, it was neither the stewards nor Rotz who lodged the claim of foul: it was Ycaza, who stated that Greek Money had interefered with Ridan in the stretch. In his senior years, John Rotz told an interviewer that he didn’t believe that Ycaza had actually made contact with him. Rotz added that if Ycaza had concentrated on aiming Ridan at the finish line, instead of leaning over and stretching out his arm, Ridan would likely have won.

After an agonizing delay, the stewards ruled in favour of the winner and Greek Money was led into the winner’s circle to accept his wreath of black-eyed Susans. However, when di Paola’s photograph hit the front pages of every North American newspaper, a hearing was conducted into the matter and it was di Paola’s photo that became a primary source, since it captured something that the film of the finish didn’t allow the stewards to see. Manny Ycaza was handed a suspension.

GREEK MONEY’S win, as it was reported in the Winnipeg Free Press, featuring Joseph di Paola’s photograph.

My pride was visceral: Greek Money was “my” colt and his victory belonged to me.

Actress Joan Crawford presents the Preakness trophy to jockey John L. Rotz, rider of GREEK MONEY.(Clarence B. Garrett/ Baltimore Sun)

I won back my nickel plus Grandpa’s, and shortly thereafter used my winnings to purchase a Drumstick ice cream cone.

That it tasted like no Drumstick before it, I’m certain.

 

Selected Bibliography

Knauf, Leslie. “1962 Preakness: The Stretch Duel In Which ‘All Heck Broke Loose’ ” The Rail, May 16, 2012.  https://therail.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/16/1962-preakness-the-stretch-duel-in-which-all-heck-broke-loose/

Campbell, Cot. Stories From Cot Campbell: Virgil W. “Buddy” Raines. The Blood-Horse, February 27, 2013. http://cs.bloodhorse.com/blogs/cot-campbell/archive/2013/02/27/buddy-raines.aspx

Aiken Thoroughbred Racing and Hall of Champions: Open Fire. https://www.aikenracinghalloffame.com/Open_Fire.html

 

Bonus Features

Jaipur Documentary:

The 1962 Travers: Jaipur vs. Ridan

 

Jockey Mike Luzzi (Buddy Raines’ grandson) and Timely Warning (two-time winner, the Maryland Million Classic)

 

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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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As the incomparable WINX marches on, in a campaign that has us all witnessing history-in-the-making, what is it that keeps us coming back to watch her race again?

The psychology of sport is arguably as fascinating as the sport itself. And while those of us who follow horse racing think we do it out of a passion for thoroughbreds or standardbreds, what gets our cranial pleasure centre pumped is the risk that our champion of the day might lose. It could be convincingly argued that without the potential for loss, sport might not exist at all. Because winning — especially winning all the time, despite the odds — is boring.

As much as metaphors of horse racing extol its capacity to inspire hope, the possibility that our four-legged hero or heroine might be conquered is as intoxicating. In a sense, we repeatedly tune in for a Winx or a Rachel Alexandra or a Frankel race because the possibility that they’ll be defeated is irresistable. Which is not to say that we think about this consciously: we don’t think “Will Zenyatta lose?” rather, what we tend to write, speak and ask ourselves is more like “Can Zenyatta do it again?”

Case in point was Zenyatta’s bid for a second consecutive win in the 2010 BC Classic. Even though the loss was painful for fans and her team, broadcaster Trevor Denman spoke a text rich in the nuanced possibility that defeat might, indeed, happen.

Since 2010, it has been the thinking of most racing experts that the great mare ran the best race of her career in defeat. But what most of us remember about that day is the anticipation — and the foreboding — as Blame and Zenyatta near the wire. And Denman’s words, “…Zenyatta ran her heart out…”

The part of the brain that controls pleasure is the amygdala and when we are in contexts that excite us or move us to a level of “brain happy”, as in intense physical workouts or deep meditation, the amygdala releases dopamine into our system. Dopamine is a natural “high” that gives us feelings of intense, emotional well-being, relieving stress and anxiety in a matter of nano-seconds. Arguably, our excitement watching a big race like the 2010 BC Classic is as much about the thrill of the loss as it is about the thrill of the win — and the amygdala cooperates by responding to our heightened senses as we watch to see what will happen.

And the “what” in “will happen” is written in the tension between win and loss, victory and defeat. In the great Frankel’s last race, the ground was less than ideal, and the colt was caught “sleeping” at the start:

Granted, the “nail-biter” of Frankel’s last appearance on the track resolved itself fairly quickly when the colt made his big move in the stretch against a valiant Cirrus des Aigles.

But many of the greatest, most beloved thoroughbreds have come perilously close to sufferring defeat at least once in otherwise brilliant careers.

One instance of this would be Personal Ensign’s victory in what would be her final race, the 1988 BC Distaff, where with heart-thumping courage she struggled in the slop against the winner of the 1988 Kentucky Derby. This race stands as arguably the best performance ever seen in a Breeders Cup Distaff/Ladies Classic. The stakes were high: Could the undefeated Personal Ensign finish off her career with a win against the Kentucky Derby heroine?

The 1978 Jockey Club Gold Cup was still another battle to the wire. It featured two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed, as well as Nelson Bunker Hunt’s Exceller. Although, sadly, many know Exceller because of his end in a slaughterhouse in Sweden, the colt was a champion who had won races in Europe as well as America.

As you will see in this (rather poor quality) footage of the 1978 Jockey Gold Cup, Seattle Slew ominously rushes out of the gate before the start, although this didn’t appear to dampen his ability in the slightest as the race gets underway. But as viewers in the moment we, of course, don’t know this. And the “Can Slew do it?” is in the forefront as the race gets underway. The track conditions are sloppy but racing fans were firmly entrenched in either the Seattle Slew or Affirmed court:

 

Champion EXCELLER portrayed by Richard Stone Reeves.

The rare defeats of champion thoroughbreds only seem to make racing enthusiasts respect them more. This might be because a champion has proved his/her vulnerability, making them appear a little more like the rest of their human following. The poet Sylvia Plath wrote, “Perfection is terrible … Cold as snow breath..” and, in a sense, our passion for a particular thoroughbred champion is also based on their overcoming the stasis of perfection, which they do by bravely facing the music again and again and risking everything.

The corollary of hope is despair, and loss is one of the experiences that triggers feelings of despondency. Perhaps no other event in the last century of racing in England was as keenly felt as Nijinsky’s narrow loss to Sassafras in the 1970 Arc.

The British people had easily fallen for the brilliance of their Triple Crown winner and so much hope was placed on a triumph in the Arc. But what most had no way of knowing was that Nijinsky had fallen ill to an extreme case of ringworm during the season and that his run in the St. Leger, the last leg of the British Triple Crown, was against the advice of his trainer, Vincent O’Brien. But as owner Charles Engelhardt wanted Nijinsky to run in the Arc — another request frowned upon by O’Brien — the St. Leger was the only decent prep moving forward.

Had O’Brien’s sage advice been heeded, there would have been no Triple Crown winner of 1970. And, as it turned out, the trainer’s judgment about the champion’s fitness for the Arc was also correct.

Still another lacune was Lester Piggott’s ride on Nijinsky in the Arc: he held the colt back too long and whipped him near the finish, causing Nijinsky to shy and lose any chance he may have had to beat Sassafras:

 

The 1970 Arc. It was this close — NIJINSKY on the outside in a photo finish.

Still, it was a photo finish. But when Sassafras was declared the winner, the despair of Nijinsky’s handlers was visceral. They were not alone. Just across the English Channel, England and Ireland felt the loss every bit as keenly.

Had he won under circumstances that would stop most horses cold — from a poor post position to the distance he was asked to travel to reach Sassafras – Nijinsky would have gone down in history as THE thoroughbred of the century. But such was not to be. However, Nijinsky’s courage and raw ability could not be denied: in defeat, he was glorious.

The Hero’s Journey is played out in myth,religions, literature, film and popular tv series around the world.

Since the beginning of time, myths of the hero’s journey have been written. It’s a formula that we all know very well, however we might have learned it: the hero/heroine is born but orphaned early in life — to realize his/her true heroism, s/he must accept and overcome a series of challenges — triumphing over all, the apprentice becomes a true hero/heroine.

In modern times, we recognize the pattern of the ancient hero myths in Shakespeare, in George Lukas’ original Star Wars trilogy, in book series such as Harry Potter and author Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials,” in Marvel characters (Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman et al.) and in television series like Game of Thrones.

But it was theatre and sport that first popularized the hero myth for enthusiastic spectators in the ancient world, pitting individuals against challenges both psychological (as in the Greek tragedy, Oedipus Rex) and physical (marathon runs, chariot races, etc.) That tradition has continued to the present.

GOSHAWK walks onto the track. The image evokes the hero entering the fray, and few capture it better than the incomparable C.C.Cook. Date: 1923. (Source: The Vault, private collection)

The pageantry of a horse race echoes, in microcosm, the journey of the hero. Out the horses come, one by one, in the pre-race parade. Each is a warrior going into a battle where the outcome is far from assured. And as we watch them, we can’t help but imbue each one with the courage they so rightly deserve. Once the race is on, we are presented with a micro-battle scene, as horse and jockey overcome all that is thrown in their way to cross the finish line first. If they come home leagues ahead of the field, or fight it out to get their nose down first, they triumph as only a hero or heroine can.

BATEAU (Man O’ War) seems dwarfed by the enormity of the track, reminding us of the challenge she faces — and will be asked to overcome. Another of C.C. Cook’s “racing portraits.” (Source: The Vault private collection.)

 

The Dwyer, July 1920. MAN O’ WAR, with Clarence Kummer up, on his way to the post. Cook frames the colt’s readiness for battle in an image that depicts his taut body and pricked ears, underlying the determination that was so much a part of Man O’ War’s character. Keeneland Library: Cook Collection. Used here with permission.

The drama of a race in which we have invested our hopes and fears is cathartic because we, too, have run races in our own lives. We have funded courage against the odds and struggled to overcome them, and we have succeeded or failed in the process.

Win or lose, the thoroughbreds we have grown up with and come to love, go on. And as we participate in their campaigns, we are also subconsciously reliving places in our own lives. How else to explain our unerring understanding of the grammar of loss and our enthusiastic reception of the crucible through which thoroughbred champions come to be?

 

 

 

BONUS FEATURES

Out of the past: A few of the many other breathtaking performances that are personal favourites (below), listed at random.

We’re certain that our readers have their own favourites. Many of these are available on YouTube if you’d like to relive them.

 

Secretariat — The Belmont

 

Ruffian — The Mother Goose

 

Rachel Alexandra — The Kentucky Oaks

 

Barbaro — 2006 Kentucky Derby

 

 

Tiznow & Giant’s Causeway — 2000 BC Classic

 

Dance Smartly — 1991 BC Distaff (following her winning the Canadian Triple Crown)

Invasor & Bernadini — 2006 BC Classic (also features Lava Man, Flower Alley, George Washington, Giacomo, Lawyer Ron & Brother Derek):

 

Zenyatta — 2009 BC Classic

 

American Pharoah — 2015 Belmont Stakes, winning the Triple Crown

 

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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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Named after an infamous spy for the Germans in WW1, this mighty filly leaves her imprint on the 2018 Kentucky Derby, as well as on international thoroughbred racing.

 

MATA HARI was a brilliant grandaughter of MAN O’ WAR. Photo: DRF, May 23, 1934.

 

A solid bay filly with a feminine head, Mata Hari came into the world in 1931, sired by Peter Hastings out of War Woman, by Man O’ War. It is difficult to wager what her owner-breeder, automotive pioneer Charles T. Fisher, who had purchased the fabled Dixiana Farm in 1928, might have expected from a filly born to a pair of unraced thoroughbreds. What was certain, however, was that her sire descended from the Domino sire line. James R. Keene’s Domino had come into the world at Dixiana Farm, bred by the farm’s founder, Major Barack G. Thomas, from his brilliant thoroughbred sire Himyar.

Perhaps there was a little fairy dust falling from Dixiana’s rafters onto the newborn filly’s head. Too, her BM sire was a national treasure, quite capable — at least potentially — of getting good colts and fillies through his daughters.

 

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

Named Mata Hari after an infamous Dutch spy who worked for Germany in WW1, the filly was sent to the training stables of Clyde Van Dusen. Van Dusen had been a jockey before getting his trainer’s licence. His claim to fame was to train the first Kentucky Derby winner for Man O’ War, a gelding named after himself: Clyde Van Dusen. When the 1929 Derby winner was retired, Clyde continued their relationship by taking him on as his personal pony.

 

Greta Garbo portrayed MATA HARI in the 1931 film of the same name.

 

CLYDE and Clyde: Trainer Clyde Van Dusen rode his Derby winner as a stable pony when the gelding was retired.

 

Van Dusen’s connection to Mata Hari’s owner came through work: shortly after winning the 1929 Derby with his namesake, he went to work for Charles T. Fisher at his automotive plant in Detroit. In 1930/-31, he took over training duties for Fisher and his first success came with Sweep All, who ran second in the 1933 Kentucky Derby to the great Twenty Grand.

Sweep All and Mata Hari would have been stablemates in 1933, and both were escorted to the track by “the Clydes” for their works.

 

MATA HARI at work, circa 1933-1934.

The daughter of War Woman’s two year-old campaign was sensational, earning her Co-Champion Two Year-Old Filly honours in 1933 with Edward R. Bradley’s filly, Bazaar. The title handed Man O’ War second place among BM sires in 1933. It was his first appearance in the top ten of BM sires nationwide. Mata Hari began her juvenile season by winning three in a row, culminating in the Arlington Lassie Stakes. In the Matron and Arlington Futurity, the filly was hampered by weight and this caused her to swerve badly, resulting in third place finishes in both cases.

 

Two year-old MATA HARI in the winner’s enclosure at Arlington after winning The Arlington Lassie Stakes.

In October, Mata Hari won the Breeders’ Futurity Stakes at Latonia, beating HOF Discovery, setting a new 6f. track record in the process. One week later, she became only the second filly to win the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, where she once again dismissed Discovery who came in second, one better than his third place the week before in the Jockey Club.

That Mata Hari beat a colt of this calibre not once but twice within a period of seven days speaks volumes about her stamina and speed. And she seemed to scorch her rivals so easily. Her two year-old campaign had made her a sensation in the West.  Nicknames like “A Juvenile Princess” (Toledo News Bee, 1933) were used to celebrate her winning ways in the local press. Further afield, The Vancouver Sun in Canada added to the accolades.

DISCOVERY at work. As a BM sire, his daughters produced the champions NATIVE DANCER, BOLD RULER and BED O’ ROSES. Copyright The Baltimore Sun.

 

MATA HARI was the darling of the West. Article + cartoon from the archives of the Toledo News Bee.

 

Expectations were high for Mata Hari in her three-year old season and she did not disappoint. Arguably the most publicized of her performances came in the 1934 Kentucky Derby:

 

She didn’t win it — finishing just off the board in fourth place — but she sure made a race of it.

Following the Derby, Mata Hari ran in the May 23 Illinois Derby against males at Aurora Downs, where she once again broke an existing track record by more than three seconds with a time of 1:49 3/5 for a mile and an eighth on dirt. Then, on June 23, the filly took the Illinois Oaks at Washington Park. Her victory in the Oaks was superb, gaining the praises of The New York Times, who hailed her as the “…queen of the 3 year-old fillies.”

So impressive was she that Mata Hari was named Champion Filly for the second straight year, once again sharing three year-old honours with Colonel Bradley’s Bazaar.

 

MATA HARI again was awarded Champion Filly, this time in the 3 year-old division, in 1934. Once again, she shared the honours with Colonel Bradley’s BAZAAR. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Retired to the breeding shade, Mata Hari was courted by the likes of Eight Thirty, Sickle and Bull Lea. But her best two progeny came through matings with Balladier and Roman. The former mating produced the champion colt, Spy Song (1943), and the latter another very good colt in Roman Spy (1951).

SPY SONG was MATA HARI’s best son. Sired by BALLADIER, the colt would run up an impressive race record, running against the likes of Triple Crown winner, ASSAULT.

The handsome Spy Song had the misfortune of being born in the same year as Triply Crown champion Assault. But despite that, he carved out his own place in the sun, winning the Arlington Futurity in his two year-old season, followed by a campaign at three that saw him running second to Assault in the Kentucky derby and winning the Hawthorne Sprint Handicap. At four, he again won at Hawthorne in the Speed Handicap, as well as annexing the Chicago and Clang Handicaps and the Myrtlewood Stakes. He raced into his five year-old season and retired after thirty-six starts, of which he won fifteen, and earnings of $206,325 USD.

Here is Spy Song’s run in the 1946 Kentucky Derby:

 

At stud, Spy Song proved a solid sire. His most successful progeny was Crimson Satan, a speedster who undoubtedly benefitted from the influence of Commando through Peter Pan in his fourth generation sire line.

Crimson Satan, like his sire, met up with two mighty peers in his three year-old season: Ridan and Jaipur. These two dominated the Triple Crown races in 1962. But Crimson Satan was a hardy colt who had been named Champion Two-Year Old in 1961 and by the time he retired, he’d chalked up victories in the Laurance Armour, Clark, Washington Park and Massachussetts Handicaps, as well as the San Fernando Stakes and the Michigan Mile And One Sixteenth Handicap.

 

CRIMSON SATAN (hood) eyes fellow Preakness contender ROMAN LINE in the Pimlico shedrow. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

It is as a sire that Crimson Satan arguably made his most notable mark, through his graded stakes-winning daughter, Crimson Saint. Retired to the breeding shed, Crimson Saint’s meetings with two Triple Crown winners, Secretariat and Nijinsky, produced Terlingua and Royal Academy, respectively. Another colt by Secretariat, Pancho Villa, was also a stakes winner.

Terlingua, an accomplished miler, is arguably most famous for being the dam of Storm Cat. Royal Academy’s son, Bel Esprit, is equally renowned for siring the brilliant Black Caviar.

 

CRIMSON SAINT, the dam of TERLINGUA, PANCHO VILLA and ROYAL ACADEMY, was a brilliant sprinter as well as a Blue Hen producer.

 

Crowds stood 3-deep to see Secretariat’s daughter, TERLINGUA. Photo reprinted with the permission of Lydia A. Williams (LAW).

 

Mata Hari’s grandson, Crimson Satan, established the bridge from this mighty mare to Storm Cat. “Stormy,” as he was affectionately known, pretty much made the now defunct Overbrook Farm and although he died in 2013, his influence as a sire through sons like the late Giant’s Causeway and Hennessey, together with the late Harlan and 2 year-old champion, Johannesburg, the sire of the prepotent Scat Daddy, remains noteworthy.

GIANT’S CAUSEWAY gets a bath as his young trainer, Aidan O’Brien (back to camera) helps out. The gorgeous colt stands out as one of the greatest that O’Brien ever trained.

 

The great Mick Kinane gives JOHANNESBURG a well-deserved pat after the 2 year-old’s win the the 2001 BC Juvenile.

Storm Cat daughters also continue to make a splash of their own, represented by Caress and November Snow, as well as the dams of Japan’s King Kanaloa and Shonan Mighty, while in America, Bodemeister and In Lingerie number among his best as BM sire. The stallion is also the grandsire of Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah through his dam, Littleprincessemma.

With trainer Bob Baffert at Saratoga, AMERICAN PHAROAH won the Triple Crown in 2015.

In addition, Storm Cat mares have proved a very good match with super sire Galileo. The Galileo-Storm Cat nick has been particularly lucrative for Coolmore, attesting to the fact that Storm Cat can get excellent turf runners too.

 

This tapestry of STORM CAT and owner-breeder William T. Young, The Master of Overbrook Farm, hangs in the library, named after Mr. Young, of the University of Kentucky.

 

At Royal Ascot in 2015, Storm Cat lineage accounted for the winners Acapulco, Amazing Maria, War Envoy, Balios, Ballydoyle and Gleneagles. More recently, Mozu Ascot, a son of Frankel ex. India, whose grandsire is Storm Cat, is proving to be a serious contender on the turf in Japan.

2018 Kentucky Derby contender, FLAMEAWAY. The son of SCAT DADDY was bred in Ontario by owner, John Oxley. He is trained by Mark E. Casse.

So it comes as no surprise that Storm Cat also brings the imprint of Mata Hari straight into the field of the 2018 Kentucky Derby, principally through his son, Scat Daddy. However, “Stormy” also appears in the third generation of the female family of Noble Indy, another contender in the Derby field.

The three Scat Daddy’s that have made the Derby roster are Justify, Mendelssohn and Flameaway and all three have a chance at winning.

Arguably the most impressive is Aidan O’ Brien’s Mendelssohn, who is a half-brother to the American champion Beholder, and the excellent sire, Into Mischief. That alone would have peaked interest in this rising 3 year-old star, who the North American public got to know in his 2 year-old performance on turf in the 2017 Breeder’s Cup, where he beat 2018 Derby hopefuls Flameaway and My Boy Jack:

 

 

“On a dizzying ascent to greatness…” is the lightly-raced and undefeated Justify, shown here in his last pre-Derby race, the million dollar Santa Anita Derby:

 

 

Flameaway may not carry the enigma of either Mendelssohn or Justify, but he’s got the experience and determination to be a serious threat if he can cope with the deep track at Churchill Downs. But, then again, the same could be said of the superstar Mendelssohn.

Here’s a punter’s look at Flameaway:

 

 

We’ve ventured a fair distance in time and place from the heroine of this piece, Mata Hari. And it’s easy to forget the ancestors of today’s future champions, who have left their imprint, if not a direct influence, on exceptional colts and fillies.

But a pedigree is like a living puzzle, where every piece needs to fit into place to produce a champion.

And as the first Saturday in May draws nigh, will Mata Hari have a say on who wears the roses?

 

MATA HARI: this superb mare rides once again in the 2018 Kentucky Derby.

 

Selected Bibiliography

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

The Blood Horse.

— Article on the death of Crimson Saint. https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/193186/prominent-broodmare-crimson-saint-dead-at-32

— A Quarter Century of American Racing and Breeding: 1916 Through 1940. Silver Anniversary Edition.

 

 

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Imagine, if you will, the world of thoroughbred racing without sires like Northern Dancer, Sunday Silence, Halo, Mr. Prospector, Seattle Slew or their descendants: Sadler’s Wells, A.P. Indy, Galileo, Tapit, Sebring, Deep Impact, Medaglia d’Oro, Snitzel, Dubawi, King Kamehameha,  or the late Street Cry…………. 

Named the top two year-old of the last century (John Randall and Tony Morris in ” A Century of Champions”) The Tetrarch ran only as a juvenile and proved a shy, disinterested stud, siring only 130 foals before retiring to become a pleasure horse.

Remarkably, his influence is such that The Tetrarch appears in the pedigrees of most modern thoroughbreds worldwide, making him a huge influence on the breed. Each entry in the 2017 Kentucky Derby carried The Tetrarch in his pedigree. And you can bet that the winners at Royal Ascot 2017 have a 95% or better chance of carrying The Tetrarch in their pedigrees too.

The Tetrarch might well have been the very best there ever was. 

 

THE TETRARCH_BblDvz0CAAILoEn.jpg-large

THE TETRARCH displays his famous chubari, or Tetrarch, spots. In the early decades of the last century, these markings were so strange that they sometimes inspired fear among the superstitious. Shown here as a two year-old.

 

Of course, The Tetrarch did not rise to legendary status on his own. He was an unruly individual and it took three other equally tough, Irish characters — the renowned trainer Henry “Atty” Persse, stable lad Dick McCormick and the legendary jockey, Steve Donaghue — to get him right.

But before Atty, Dick or Steve laid eyes on him, The Tetrarch began life as the offspring of a stallion described as a “plodder,” who had been purchased by one Edward Kennedy of Straffon Stud in County Kildare, Ireland. Kennedy was a rich cattle owner who developed a taste for thoroughbreds and was determined to revive the Herod male line in Great Britain. This determination may well have stemmed from the fact that Herod was a direct descendant of the Byerly Turk, who, with his owner, Captain Robert Byerly of the Sixth Dragoon Guards, had spent time in Ireland in the late seventeenth century. In 1690, records show that the “Byerly charger” won a flat race, the Silver Bell,  on Down Royal in Northern Ireland.

The BYERLY TURK, one of three sire lines to which all thoroughbreds can be traced.

 

Herod_(horse)

HEROD, together with MATCHEM and ECLIPSE, is a foundation sire of the thoroughbred breed. HEROD was a direct descendant of the BYERLY TURK.

Herod (originally King Herod, 1758-1780) is one of three foundation stallions from which the thoroughbred descends. Like the better-known Eclipse, Herod was also bred by Prince William, The Duke of Cumberland, the youngest son of King George II.

Herod is the foundation sire who represents the Byerly Turk sire line and he was a fine racehorse who began his career as a five year-old, the usual age that thoroughbreds started their racing careers in the eighteenth century. He raced until he was eight, winning at a preferred distance of four miles in several races at Newmarket. But it was really as a sire that Herod would make his lasting contribution to the sport. Although he sits very far back in The Tetrarch’s pedigree, Rouge Rose, a direct descendant of Herod appears in the colt’s pedigree on both top and bottom.

ROI HEROD_550b3b2b552ff5d634dae6e3122bc21f

ROI HERODE, sire of THE TETRARCH.

Always on the lookout for a Herod descendant, Edward Kennedy finally found a horse that caught his eye at Doncaster in 1909, where the French-bred Roi Herode finished in second place in the Doncaster Cup. This race was arguably Roi Herode’s absolutely best lifetime performance and Kennedy bought him, intending to race the five year-old for at least another year before sending him to the breeding shed. But, as luck would have it, Roi Herode broke down shortly thereafter.

The breeding season was almost over, so Kennedy bred him to one of his own mares, Vahren, a granddaughter of the great Bend Or, another Herod descendant. But Kennedy’s expectations regarding the union were likely moderate. Vahren had produced two decent fillies before The Tetrarch, but neither could have been considered brilliant.

VAHREN_8919d93345857b9c4ad4a924cbdef954

VAHREN, by the 2000 Guineas winner BONA VISTA (BEND OR) was lightly raced, winning only three minor races before retirement.

The Tetrarch came into the world on April 22, 1911 as a chestnut with dark spots. It is an irony in the narrative of so many great thoroughbreds that they are often dismissed at birth by their breeders for any number of reasons, including their lack of beauty. And The Tetrarch was no different: not particularly appealing as a youngster, his “coarse looks” were only exacerbated by the changes in his coat. Already huge for his age at six months, the emergence of a peculiar grey coat made him look distinctly odd, so much so that this was all anyone really seemed to notice about him. The youngster’s coat featured huge Chubari (later renamed “Tetrarch”) spots that gave an overall appearance described best by Steve Donaghue:  “…he was a sort of elephant grey with big splotches of lime colour, looking as though someone had splashed him all over with handfuls of wet lime…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 138)

Little surprise, then, when a fellow horseman advised Kennedy to geld the yearling and train him for the chase, rather than send him to the sales at Doncaster.

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THE TETRARCH as he may have looked during his racing career.

But Edward Kennedy had his mind made up and off the colt went to auction, where he was promptly purchased by Henry Seymour aka “Atty” Persse. Of course, Kennedy had a pretty good idea that the hammer would fall to the trainer. Atty had conditioned both Roi Herode for Kennedy, as well as the colt’s half-sister, Nicola, and the trainer liked the family. The colt was, as Atty saw, well-made with a broad, intelligent head and looked like a 3 year-old. However, Atty wasn’t the only bidder impressed by the Roi Herode-Vahren colt and he had to go to 1300 guineas to secure him. But, as was usual for the trainer, Atty planned to sell The Tetrarch on at a higher price, thus making a profit, albeit a small one, given the handsome sum he had originally paid. Before the year was out, Atty had sold The Tetrarch to his cousin, Major Dermot McAlmont. He made no profit on the transaction.

Atty was forty-three years old when he first laid eyes on The Tetrarch. The Persse family of County Galway were large in number and wealthy. They had interests in everything from real estate to local governance to high culture. The fifth of ten children, Atty was brought up like an aristocrat, graduating from Oxford with an M.A. before turning his heel on England and heading off to America to ride steeplechasers with the Meadowbrook Hounds. Returning to his homeland, Atty continued to build a reputation over courses in Great Britain and Europe until debilitating injuries put an end to his riding career.

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Young ATTY PERSSE.

In 1902, he began training horses in a yard near Dublin and by 1906 he had set himself up on the downs at Chattis Hill near Stockbridge in Hampshire, England. Atty already had a reputation for excellence well before The Tetrarch came along, but his relationship with his employees has been variously described as cruel, bloody-minded, mean and dictatorial.

Some speculate that the chronic pain of his jumping injuries may have been largely responsible for this; others, that he was an aristocrat dealing with a dime-a-dozen work force of boys — and treated them accordingly.

His stable lads, most of whom were under fifteen years of age, signed contracts to work for Atty that stipulated what they could and could not do. Working hours were of indeterminate length; sleeping quarters were above the stable, where the boys were locked in overnight; and they entitled to one day off a year. However, there were meals and wages provided, and for boys with neither prospects nor training, this seemed to be enough, even though few lasted for more than a year.

Secrecy was as paramount in Atty’s yard as hard work, mainly because the trainer made a small fortune at betting. A favourite strategy was to place a very good horse that no-one knew anything about in a race where his odds were say, 60-1, and then bet on him/her to win. The resulting income may not have been essential, but Atty really got a kick out of taking the bookmakers to the cleaners.

However, when it came to training thoroughbreds, Atty Persse was arguably a genius. Trainers like Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, the stepfather of the late Sir Henry Cecil, apprenticed under him and considered him comparable to none. (Boyd-Rochfort was Champion British flat racing trainer five times and perhaps most famously, was trainer to George VI, the father of HM Queen Elizabeth II.)

Dick McCormack, one of the lads in Atty’s yard who would rise to the position of head lad and apprentice trainer, attempted to welcome the colt with the funny spots on his arrival, but that proved almost impossible. Given his imposing size, The Tetrarch was so unruly as to be dangerous.

But Dick was one of Atty’s most trusted apprentices and the trainer let him get on with gentling the colt and giving him his early training, begin with lungeing. As The Tetrarch and the boy got to know one another, trust grew. Throughout his brief racing career, Dick was the only other person who could ride The Tetrarch other than jockey and fellow Irishman, Steve Donoghue. According to McCormick’s son, Richard, “My father was one of only two people to ever to ride The Tetrarch…The other one was his racecourse jockey Steve Donoghue who later wrote Dick was the only man able sit on him long enough to stay there. If he hadn’t been around, the horse may well have been cut (gelded) and that would have changed things a lot.” (Excerpt from Colin Greaves’ article in the Irish Examiner, March 2017)

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Dick McCormick riding THE TETRARCH. Dick was the only other person to ever ride the colt and knew him best of all.

 

Even in Dick’s able hands, The Tetrarch had shown something of himself that was rather unique: he essentially trained himself. Jockey Steve Donoghue, who likely heard a recount from Dick McCormick, tells it like this:

“…Even when first in the side-reins, he seemed to know all about it beforehand and to require no teaching, and as for going through the starting-gate, he only saw the tapes once before he ran and won at Newmarket…I always said from the first day I rode him that this was ‘his second time on earth’! He had in my opinion experienced it all before, in everything connected with racing…” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 139)

Atty brought each individual along at their own pace. The Tetrarch was still growing and even when Dick had the colt well in hand, he wasn’t really put into a training regimen, with the result that he was far behind the other two year-olds in the Chattis Hill stable.

As the story is famously told, a day came when Atty asked Dick to saddle up The Tetrarch for a run across the downs with some of the trainer’s other two year-olds.

It was not easy to surprise Atty, but the day of The Tetrarch’s first run sure did.

The colt jumped out with the others and in less than two furlongs, he left them behind in the dust. Atty couldn’t decide if this was a fluke.

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THE TETRARCH, Steve Donoghue up.

So he sent him out again with a very good, seven year-old called Captain Symons whom Atty relied upon to help him cull out really promising youngsters. To make it a fair contest, Atty applied weight-for-age, meaning that The Tetrarch was weighted down with an additional twenty-one lbs. in lead weights. Added to the mix were two other very good horses. In addition, Atty asked jockey Steve Donoghue to ride The Tetrarch for the first time. Off they went and the same thing happened, Steve reporting that the colt almost pulled his arms out of their sockets as he galloped along.

Below, a taste of “the gallops” today. The Tetrarch did his gallops over the grass on the downs near Atty’s stable where there was likely little fencing, as you see here:

The third time out, racing against a very good and speedy four year-old mare, Noramac, Steve thought he heard Atty shouting at him half-way through the trial. As The Tetrarch sailed along, Noramac was nowhere in sight. When jockey and colt returned to the trainer, Donoghue inquired whether or not something was wrong.

To which Atty responded, “Oh, no. I was only shouting to the lad on the mare to tie her onto the grey’s tail!” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp. 141)

The Tetarch

At two, THE TETRARCH was as big as a four year-old. For this reason, trainer Atty Persse was slow to start his training regime. But it didn’t seem to matter. The colt seemed to know how to do everything without anybody teaching him how to do it.

A rare and lovely silent video of the 1923 Derby at Epsom, won by the great Steve Donoghue and Papyrus. The two would later travel to the USA to race against Zev:

The Tetrarch’s first start came at Newmarket, on April 17, 1913. As might have been expected, Donoghue and the big grey were teased before the race, some asking if The Tetrarch wasn’t actually a much older horse, others referring to him as a “Rocking Horse” because of his unique markings. The pair took it all in good fun.

But when the tape went up, The Tetrarch jumped out, blazing along to take his maiden race by a good four lengths. But it could have been by twenty  — and everyone knew it. Even the other jockeys, riding out after the finish, pronounced The Tetrarch a “wonder-horse.” (Below: The Tetrarch shares a page in The Illustrated London News [1913] with the higly-rated Prince Palatine.)

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And so it went all through The Tetrarch’s two year-old season, and the public fell in love with him. One distinguished stakes race after another fell to the “dynamic duo” of British racing: the Coventry, the Champagne, the Woodcote, the Rous Memorial and the National Breeders Produce Stakes.

The last of these saw The Tetrarch’s closest finish — he won it by a neck.

But the reason for that was simple enough to explain and Donoghue did so publicly, in an effort to dispel some of the opinions in the press: The Tetrarch had misjudged the start. The colt was always speedy at the jump out, quick to anticipate when the tape was about to drop. But in the National Breeders Produce Stakes, he moved forward too quickly, forcing Donoghue to pull him back and as he did, the tape went up and the race was on. Leaping forward, The Tetrarch was caught on the shoulder by another horse and nearly toppled forward.

It was a cloudy day and no-one in the stands really saw the start. It was also a holiday, so Sandown Park was packed with people, many of whom had come there to see The Phenom of 1913. Too, it was a valuable race and as the field rushed away from them, Donoghue knew he had to get his colt balanced and then coax him to run.

“Coax” was the operative word: The Tetrarch needed to always be on the lead. He had won every race before this one on the lead because he tended to “sulk” if asked to rate off the pace. By the time that Donoghue had the colt ready to go, the rest of the field was 20 lengths away. By mid-field, the colt had managed to pass two stragglers. With only 100 yards to the finish, The Tetrarch had two lengths to make up. He began a furious charge, with Donoghue urging him on with his hands, to win by a neck.

Many felt it was the best performance of The Tetrarch’s brief career.

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Steve Donoghue and “The Spotted Wonder.”

Having ridden many champion thoroughbreds, among them Papyrus, Brown Jack and Captain Cuttle, Steve would always say that The Tetrarch was one of the greatest he ever rode. No small bow from the man who had won six Epsom Derbies, two Epsom Oaks and St. Legers, as well as three 2000 Guineas:

“…He was a magnificent creature — a super-horse. I have never during the whole of my career ridden another horse that gave me the feeling of immense power behind the saddle that The Tetrarch did. The leverage of his hind quarters was so great that as he galloped one was fairly lifted from the saddle. The terrific speed he displayed seem to be all impelled from behind. To be on him was like riding a creature that combined the power of an elephant with the speed of a greyhound. He was, indeed, a ‘wonder-horse.'” (in Just My Story by Steve Donoghue, pp 139)

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THE TETRARCH winning the Woodcote Stakes, Steve Donoghue up.

The “Spotted Wonder” as he was fondly dubbed enjoyed the popularity of a Zenyatta or a Treve or a Caravaggio. The colt was already in the betting to win most of the three year-old classics, including the Epsom Derby. None expected that the final race of his two year-old season would be his last.

Then, suddenly, it all went terribly wrong.

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THE TETRARCH’S two year-old season, captured in photo and drawing.

The Tetrarch had a bad habit of crossing his forelegs — or “plaiting” — when he walked or slowed up after a work or a race. Unable to correct this, Atty Persse had special shoes put on the colt’s forelegs that were shaved back, so that, should he catch himself, The Tetrarch would escape injury. The trainer was quoted as saying that you could “actually hear it” when the colt plaited and that it had been a serious concern since he had first arrived in Persse’s yard.

And it was, indeed, the plaiting that would end The Tetrarch’s career. It first happened shortly after the end of his two year-old campaign. Even pin-firing the foreleg didn’t help, as the colt struck himself again and this time, the injury was career-ending.

In Atty’s view, it was best to retire him and so, with his public jolted from worry to despair about first the silence surrounding their hero’s preparation for his three year-old season and then the announcement of his retirement, the colt was sent back to Ireland, to Thomastown Stud in Kilkenny where he stood his first season in 1915. The following year, The Tetrarch moved to Ballylinch Stud, where he lived until his death in 1935.

The Tetrarch proved an indifferent stud, or a “shy” breeder, siring only 130 foals during his breeding career. Although he never reproduced himself, he got some very good colts and was the leading sire in 1919. One son, Stefan the Great, is a great grandsire in the female family of Triple Crown winner Count Fleet, himself a superb sire and the BM sire of Kelso.

But his most brilliant offspring was “The Flying Filly,” Mumtaz Mahal, who was purchased by the Aga Khan, to whom is owed the founding of a thoroughbred dynasty through the Mumtaz Mahal’s daughters: Mumtaz Begum (Blenheim) dam of Nasrullah (Nearco); Mah Mahal (Gainsborough) dam of Mahmoud (Blenheim); Mah Iran (Bois Roussel) dam of Migoli who sired Gallant Man and also the dam of Star of Iran and grandam of champion Petite Etoile; and Rustom Mahal (Rustom Pasha) dam of Abernant (Owen Tudor), from whom a number of champions of the British turf descend. In the USA, two other daughters of The Tetrarch, La Dauphine who got champion Anita Peabody(Luke McLuke) and Herodias from whom Prince John and Lamb Chop descend, also made their mark.

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The brilliant MUMTAZ MAHAL was dubbed “The Flying Filly” by British racegoers. Painting by Lionel Edwards.

But when we say that thoroughbreds worldwide carry The Tetrarch in their pedigrees, including those running in 2017, we refer principally to the overwhelming influence of Nasrullah and Mahmoud on the breed.

From the Nasrullah sire line comes Grey Sovereign, Bold Ruler (sire of Secretariat, grandsire of Spectacular Bid, great grandsire of Seattle Slew, great great grandsire of A.P. Indy), Nashua (BM sire of Mr. Prospector and Roberto), Nantallah (dam of Moccasin, Thong and Ridan, grandam of Nureyev and great grandam of Sadler’s Wells), Red God (sire of Blushing Groom) and Never Bend (sire of Mill Reef, grandsire of Shirley Heights). From this Tetrarch descendant alone comes any thoroughbred who descends from any of Nasrullah’s sons and their individual sire lines.

From the Mahmoud sire line comes most importantly Northern Dancer, through his dam Natalma, a granddaughter of Mahmoud. Any thoroughbred who descends from Northern Dancer — including names like Nijinsky, Sadler’s Wells, Istabraq, Danehill, Galileo, Yeats, and, of course, the mighty Frankel — would never have come to be without some help from The Tetrarch.

In addition, Cosmah (whose sire Cosmic Bomb was also a Tetrarch descendant) out of Almahmoud, Mahmoud’s daughter, was the dam of Queen Sucree (Ribot), herself the dam of Cannonade. The brilliant HOF Tosmah (Tim Tam) was also a daughter of Cosmah. But Cosmah’s most influential progeny was undoubtedly Halo (Hail To Reason) who is, most importantly for this discussion, the sire of Sunday Silence. In other words, the Japanese thoroughbred champions that descend from Sunday Silence, including the prepotent Deep Impact, owe their existence — at least in part — to The Tetrarch as well.

Simply put, the world of contemporary thoroughbred racing would be impossible to imagine without these champions, all descendants of The Tetrarch.

And, for those who only focus on the first five generations of a champion’s pedigree, consider this: without The Tetrarch’s influence, all of the individuals featured here would never have come into being.

And the list goes on and on and on…………

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References

The Tetrarch. The Spotted Wonder. AuthorHouseuK, 2014

(Note: Yes, The Tetrarch is the narrator of his own biography and that fact led me to debate on reading the book. But when I decided to buy it, I was pleasantly surprised. Beautifully researched and the “horse’s voice” is never soppy or humanized — it’s simply the vehicle for telling The Tetrarch’s astounding story. Available also on Kindle.)

Mortimer, Roger. Twenty Great Horses of the British Turf. New York: A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc., 1967.

Donoghue, Steve. Just My Story. London: Hutchison & Co. No publication date.

Karen, Frances J. The Tetrarch: The Story Behind The Spotted Wonder. In Trainer Magazine, Issue 50, July-September 2015.

Greaves, Colin. Charles Haughey’s Balidaress. In the Irish Examiner, March 30, 2017 edition. (Note: Provided some insight into the story of Dick McCormick, The Tetrarch’s best friend and the person who knew him best.)

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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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(Source: Facebook.)

 

The heart and mind process imminent endings before they actually happen. There are reflections, a fondness for the past tense, a sense of distancing the self from the event, because when heart and mind know an ending is upon them, they rehearse.

But eyes and mind are different, as they must be, since the eyes live in an eternal present. On January 29, 2017 California Chrome left his stall on the Gulfstream shed row to begin a new career at Taylor Made in Kentucky. Eyes and hearts watched him go for the final time, saw the empty stall, began to register the absence.

As I watched Chrome leave his home in Los Alamitos, I knew in my heart what Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul were feeling. They had welcomed me into Chrome’s world, closing the space between the far-away me and themselves, and as the van pulled out of Los Alamitos for the last time I was filled with sadness. “The eyes are the window of the soul” and my soul was right there beside the people who made Chrome’s stall a home.

Chrome’s departure for Gulfstream had almost nothing to do with the Pegasus and everything to do with the closing chapter of a brilliant career for me. And along with the Team Chrome family, I knew I’d miss the presence in my life of this magnificent copper horse and his honest, courageous heart.

 

TEAM CHROME: IN THE BARN AND ON THE TRACK

Trainers Art & Alan Sherman, exercise riders Willie Delgado (until April 2015 approx.) and Dhigi Gladney (April 2015-January 2017 approx.), groom Raul Rodriquez and jockey Victor Espinoza comprise the “hands on” of Team Chrome, the people who did everything from picking out his feet to teaching him how to win.

And they did it brilliantly, while always making time for the press and their colt’s devoted Chromies by throwing open windows to the tribulations, trials and excitement of campaigning a great horse.

(Videos: from 2014, produced by David Trujillo and Blood-Horse, respectively):

Art Sherman was not entirely a stranger to the media, having been champion Swaps’ exercise rider in 1955, at the age of eighteen. Between 1957-1979, Sherman was a professional jockey, turning to training thoroughbreds after that. And even though California Chrome was Sherman Stables’ first Kentucky Derby contender, Art brought a depth of knowledge about thoroughbreds to the table. His down-to-earth, straight-shooting and always cordial style set the bar on what it means to be a consummate professional. The Shermans are sportsmen and they love the game. Art’s admiration for Shared Belief and Arrogate was palpable following their victories over Chrome, and bespoke a classy gentleman of the track.

In the three/four years that the colt and his trainers were under the microscope they taught us all so much — not only about California Chrome, but about the life of a trainer responsible for a North American racing icon. Expressions like, “He (Chrome) ran his eyeballs out…” and “He’s just a cool horse,” became part of my lexicon, as did the familiarity of Art in cap and jacket, hands in his pockets, answering still another round of questions.

Of all the interviews with Art, this one, after his colt’s win in the 2016 World Cup, is my favourite. I was so thrilled for Art, Alan, Dhigi and Raul that I danced all around the living room, my eyes glazed with tears.

But glamour of Dubai aside, the largest percentage of Chrome’s racing life happened at the Sherman Stables in Los Alamitos (and before that, at Hollywood Park). It’s easy to forget just how much time thoroughbreds spend in their stalls or in training; a trainer’s greatest skill is keeping his horse happy during the (sometimes) long stretch between races. Keeping a horse “well within himself” is based on familiar routines, appropriate exercise and attention from those who are most important to him/her. Centre stage are the exercise rider(s) and the groom(s) and it is the latter who often become a thoroughbred’s best friend. As with dogs and cats, the person who cares for them is, in the horse’s mind, the person to whom they belong.

Enter Raul Rodriguez, who accompanied Chrome from his very first start to his retirement (video produced by the Blood-Horse in 2014):

Raul’s bonuses from Chrome’s wins have allowed him to purchase a home amid an 80-acre ranch in his home, Jalisco (Mexico), where he intends to retire. As I write this, Raul is with his boy at Taylor Made, helping him to settle in. And I’m remembering Eddie Sweat taking Secretariat and Riva Ridge to Claiborne, and that photo of Eddie in tears, leaning against a stone wall….. May your goodbye be a kinder one, Raul.

Raul and his boy, CALIFORNIA CHROME

Raul and his boy

It was William Delgado and Dhigi Gladney who put the muscle on America’s 2014 and 2016 Horse of the Year. Working in tandem with Art and Alan, they were the ones who taught the juvenile his job. Through their hands and voices, Chrome learned about gallops, works and cooling out. They taught him how to break from the starting gate and how to change leads on the fly. It was from Willie and Dhigi that he received praise, and began to understand how to work with a rider instead of against him. Too, it was from Willie that the colt first heard “the question” — that moment a thoroughbred is invited to really run. With Dhigi came the fine tuning — sharpening Chrome’s sensitivity to his rider’s commands, helping him move fluidly from one “gear” to another. And both of these fine young men had everything to do with the champion’s “attitude” towards racing.

Delgado worked Chrome as a juvenile and then until April 2015, teaching him many key lessons along the way (video produced by America’s Best Racing in 2015) :

And it was Dhigi’s beautiful smile, cordiality and enthusiasm that lit up the last 18 months of Chrome’s career, as he added his skill to the racing repertoire of the champion (video produced in 2017 by Gulfstream Park):

 

The accomplished Victor Espinoza was Chrome’s jockey throughout most of his career. Victor is a man known for his generosity with fans. But he is also the man that guided Chrome home, giving him confidence when he needed it and helping him navigate safely through traffic. There is another kind of intimacy between a jockey and a horse he knows well, and it was when Victor took over the irons in the King Glorious Stakes at Hollywood Park in 2013 that California Chrome began to turn into the Chrome we know and love. There was a chemistry between them. An understanding. And it was Victor who took care of Chrome in his final start, making certain that the horse got back to the barn without sustaining what could have been a fatal injury.

Here they are in the August 21, 2016 Pacific Classic, where they took on an absolutely stellar field:

 

TEAM CHROME: THE OWNERS

Msrs. Steve Cobourn and Perry Martin were the first owners of California Chrome and through the eyes of two new to the sport, we shared the ups and downs of Chrome’s early career. One can only wonder how many newcomers were inspired to get into the game by knowing the enthusiastic duo and their copper-coated colt with his purple silks.

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Mr. Perry Martin and Mr. Steve Cobourn

Although Perry Martin had wanted to retire the colt in 2015, partner Steve Cobourn sold his share in the horse to Taylor Made Farm in Kentucky and the whole game plan changed. When the Taylors joined Team Chrome, the colts silks turned from purple to chrome, literally. Too, following his loss in the 2015 Dubai World Cup, he was sent to Taylor Made after a stint spent in the UK before returning to the Shermans for the 2016 racing season. It was a joy to see him hanging out in Kentucky and I thought the idea a brilliant one: since Chrome would retire to Taylor Made, I wondered whether or not getting used to the place would ease the transition, when it came.

But in Taylor Made, the Champ found a new home. A family business where he was greeted with deep respect and love.

Chrome playing with Taylor Made Stallion Manager, Gilberto Terrazas (video produced in 2015 by Armando Reyes)

This superb Blood-Horse video features the story of post-UK Chrome (2015) right up to the Dubai World Cup win (2016) and gives viewers a great look at what Taylor Made is all about:

 

 

Leading up to California Chrome’s retirement, the new partnership busied themselves setting up a form of “super syndicate,” partners who will make a 4-year commitment to Chrome at stud and assure him great mares.

Through the final campaign in the Champion’s career, Taylor Made were there. And when he arrived at the farm, they found their own way to make it clear that they knew we Chromies were out there.

(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Sales Agency Inc.)

 

 

(Video produced on Jan. 30, 2017 by Taylor Made Stallions)

 

 

THANK YOU, TEAM CHROME.

Thank you for your warmth and kind generosity.

Thank you for reaching out and “seeing” me — and understanding what it is to love a horse.

And thank you, Chrome. You made my heart soar. You made me feel wonder.

And I will love you forever.

 

 

(Video by David Truhillo, Nov 2016)

 

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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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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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