Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘war admiral’

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

The PHAR LAP photo.

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

snow-storm-big__57

wj-gray_3s-l1600

wj-gray_s-l1600

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy coincidence? Certainly.

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

As she went on to say:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

wjg-ad_-ms-dad_-post-1921_fullsizerender

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

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

 

charlie-chaplin-et-al-by-wjg_fullsizerender-2-copy

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

 

charlie-chaplin-et-al-info_wjg_fullsizerender-3

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

racing-at-santa-anita_fullsizerender

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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.

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

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

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

NORTHERN DANCER by Brewer, Jr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

KINCSEM (filly, 1874-1887)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more on this remarkable thoroughbred:

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

And on the film:

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

 

IMP (filly, 1894-1909)

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

For more about Imp:

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

 

PHAR LAP (gelding, 1926 – 1932)

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

WAR ADMIRAL ( colt, 1934-1959)

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

War Admiral [2006 Calendar, Nov]

 

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

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

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

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

For more on War Admiral:

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

 

ZENYATTA (filly, 2004)

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

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

Prophetic words.

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

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

 

“UGLY DUCKLINGS” #2: STANDING IN THE SHADOWS

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

 

EXTERMINATOR (gelding, 1915 -1945)

 

 

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

EXTERMINATOR. Copyright The Estate of Bob Dorman.

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

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

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

 

DISCOVERY (colt, 1931- 1958)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

SEABISCUIT (colt, 1933-1947)

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

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

 

RED RUM (gelding, 1965- 1995)

 

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

JOHN HENRY (gelding, 1975-2007)

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

JOHN HENRY at work.

JOHN HENRY at work.

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

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

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

 

ISTABRAQ (gelding, 1992)

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

The foal she was carrying was Istabraq.

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

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

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

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

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

John Durkan started his career as a jockey.

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

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

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

"No soft

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

As the National Hunt season overseas builds to its apex, the Cheltenham Festival, we thought it might be fun to tell readers everywhere about Blockade (1927), a chestnut son of the great Man O’ War who participated in America’s most prestigious National Hunt races and was, from 1938-1940, an absolute superstar.

BLOCKADE shown well in the clear in his first

1938: BLOCKADE shown well in the clear in his first of three consecutive wins in the gruelling 4 mile/ 22 jump Maryland Hunt Cup. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

This is the story of a little horse with a heart as huge as that of his far more famous relative, Battleship.

But because his National Hunt career in the USA overlapped that of Battleship, who won the Grand National at Aintree in 1938, Blockade — whose career took place exclusively in North America — had to settle for second-best. In addition, as famously protested by John Hervey, aka “Salvator” in American Race Horses 1937 and again in the 1938 publication of the same name, National Hunt racing was in serious decline in the USA, with seemingly no will to save it on the part of those who patronized the sport.

But in 1938, when Blockade took the Maryland Hunt Cup in record-shattering time, he still had a lot to do to get himself noticed. That year his sire, the beloved Man O’ War, celebrated his twenty-first birthday — complete with cake and a live radio telecast of the event, moderated by the legendary Clem McCarthy.

The year before, another son of Man O’ War, War Admiral, had won the American Triple Crown; and Battleship famously took the 1938 Grand National at Aintree for owner Marion DuPont. But THE event of the year was unquestionably the Seabiscuit-War Admiral Match Race — a son and grandson of Big Red battling it out in a race for the ages. Here’s Clem McCarthy’s call:

It was no wonder, then, that Blockade was hardly in the forefront of public attention in 1938 despite an accomplishment that would have wowed National Hunt devotees throughout the United Kingdom. In fact, even though Battleship’s Grand National was a romantic tale of the grandest proportion, it could be argued that Blockade’s Maryland Hunt Cup victory was by far the more impressive…..

Blockade was born at Faraway Farm in 1927. His dam, Rock Emerald (1915), was a daughter of Trap Rock (1908), son of the great British champion, Rock Sand (1900). Rock Emerald’s colt was a chestnut with a small white blaze in the centre of his forehead. Like other famous Man O’ War progeny, Blockade was small, standing just over 15 hands at maturity. There is precious little on the colt’s early years, but he was sold by Sam Riddle as a yearling or two year-old, started running on the flat, showed little promise and was described as “unruly,” was gelded and then changed hands several times, as well as careers. An attempt was made to train him for show jumping and he was also tried as a hunter, but both of these initiatives fell flat.

It was at this point that Blockade was purchased by Mrs. E Read Beard and sent to the stable of Maryland horseman, Janon Fisher Jr., with the idea of training him for National Hunt racing.

"He jumps big," trainer Janon Fisher said of BLOCKADE.

“He jumps big,” trainer Janon Fisher Jr. said of BLOCKADE — and this is what he meant.

Blockade was what is called “washy” — very highly strung and inclined to sweat up, “leaving his race in the paddock.” The gelding was also bothered by a weak ankle, a problem that had plagued Blockade from the start of his flat racing career and was not uncommon among Man O’ War progeny. Scapa Flow (1924), one of the best runners ever produced by Man O’ War, was similarly troubled and after breaking down in his three year-old season, was destroyed; Battleship was another who had issues with his legs, ankles and feet.

Another great American horse who competed in the Grand National in 1928, BILLY BARTON was also inclined to be "washy." This, however, never dampened his brilliance: despite falling at the last fence, BILLY came home second to TIPPERARY TIM at Aintree. They were the only two horses to finish the course that year.

Another great American horse who competed in the Grand National in 1928, BILLY BARTON was also inclined to be “washy.” This, however, never dampened his brilliance: despite falling at the last fence, BILLY came home second to TIPPERARY TIM at Aintree. They were the only two horses to finish the course that year.

Blockade couldn’t have done any better than falling into the hands of Janon Fisher Jr.

A graduate of Princeton, Fisher founded the Maryland Horse Breeders Association and served as VP, Treasurer and Director of the Maryland Jockey Club. He was also Master of the Green Spring Valley Hunt Club for five years and Secretary of the American Trainers Association for thirty, working closely alongside the legendary Preston Burch to improve track conditions for horses and the people of the backstretch. A veteran of WW1, Fisher had started breeding horses in 1929 and by the time Blockade came along, he was also training them.

Fisher determined to build up Blockade’s fitness with regular hunting over the hills and dales of Maryland’s National Hunt country. The first winter the gelding spent with Fisher he was routinely taken out and over hunt jumps and by the spring, Blockade was still highly strung but less so than he had been when he’d first come to Fisher. In 1937 the gelding began to learn his new job, starting in five timber races, none of which he won. But Fisher had to have been pleased with the little gelding’s effort, because Blockade’s training continued into 1938 where the hours and hours of practice would all come together in a dramatic fashion.

In training method, C. W. Anderson compared Fisher to the equally unorthodox Hirsch Jacobs. Writing about Blockade in his book, Twenty Gallant Horses, Anderson says:

“Fischer never bothered to school Blockade over fences. ‘He’s a natural jumper and he knows his business. All he needs is a lot of galloping to get fit. It’s no use to school him over small fences. He has no respect for them and gets careless.Give him big, solid fences and a real pace. Then try to catch him.’ “

"Then try to catch him" BLOCKADE leaves the field far, far behind in the Maryland Hunt Cup.

“Then try to catch him” BLOCKADE leaves the field far, far behind in the Maryland Hunt Cup.

In April of 1938, with the lush scent of spring in the air, Blockade went down to the start of the Maryland Hunt Cup, run over a distance of 4 miles with 22 jumps along the way. His jockey, J. Fred Colwill, came from a family of seven and was about to graduate from the ranks of amateur to celebrated jockey, thanks to the little chestnut prancing under his 150-lb. frame.

The Maryland Hunt Cup is a steeplechase. In America, there are two types of steeplechase: hurdle and timber. Whereas the hurdle steeplechase is jumped over plastic and steel fences, as well as brush jumps of up to 52 inches in height, timber racing is conducted over solid and immovable wooden rail fences that, in the most extreme case, may reach five feet. The distance of a timber steeplechase is also longer than that of a hurdle, ranging from three to four miles (6 km). Timber jumps require horses to jump in an arc, in deference to the unyielding nature of the rail fences. An important factor in success at timber racing is for the horse to land in stride, so that it can carry its speed forward on the flat part of the race course.

Tight shot of BLOCKADE clearing a rail fence.

Tight shot of BLOCKADE clearing the last rail fence in the American Grand National in 1939, which he won. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Here’s C. W. Anderson’s account of Blockade’s win:

“…He went off in front and stayed there. The pace was terrific for such difficult fences, but it suited him. Blockade jumped big, much bigger than most horses. Those who took off head and head with him usually went down. He was cut on the pattern of his great sire: he did things in a grand way. His only mistake in this race was at the seventeenth fence…Blockade failed [to judge its breadth] by a foot and took out the top rail completely…[after which] Blockade drove on to a brilliant victory.”

And “brilliant” it was. Blockade and his jockey covered the 4 miles in a record 8:44 — a time that stood for 22 years. It was the little gelding’s first win for Janon Fisher Jr.

BLOCKADE and jockey J. Fred Colvill clearing one of the rail fences.

BLOCKADE and jockey J. Fred Colwill clearing one of the rail fences. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Coming home, BLOCKADE and Colvill are all alone.

Coming home, BLOCKADE and Colwill are all alone. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Close-up of BLOCKADE and Colvill just after crossing the finish.

Close-up of BLOCKADE and Colwill just after crossing the finish.

BLOCKADE meets his appreciative fans.

BLOCKADE meets appreciative fans.

 Finally, a horse who had failed at everything he had tried came up a winner. It may well have been Man o’ War’s best birthday present of all.

MAN O' WAR celebrates his twenty-first birthday with a cake. He is flanked by his beloved Will Harbut and radio sportscaster, the legendary Clem McCarthy.

MAN O’ WAR celebrates his twenty-first birthday with a cake. He is flanked by his beloved Will Harbut and radio sportscaster, the legendary Clem McCarthy.

Blockade’s stupendous career continued. In 1939 and 1940, he won the Maryland Hunt Cup again. To win it once was outstanding. To win it three times was unprecedented. (Ironically, the next horse to do it, Mountain Dew, was out of a mare who was a daughter of War Admiral, bred by Janon Fisher Jr. and ridden by Fisher’s son. Mountain Dew and the great Jay Trump ran against one another in the Cup, placing first and second in alternate years. However, the year after Mountain Dew’s retirement, Jay Trump also completed “the triple.”)

Blockade’s 1939 win — in which the gutsy gelding edged out a superstar in Coq Bruyere — went down as the most exciting horse race of the season. As the Miami News of April 29, 1939 reported it:

“…Four miles over the toughest timber course in the country and the chestnut beat the gray by a bob or two of his silken head. It was by far the most thrilling race in this country in many years and the oldest Maryland inhabitant had to go back a long time to find something to parallel this 46th running…But there never has been one to match this throat-catching struggle of Coq Bruyere, John Strawbridge’s pet, which won everything else last year, to catch the front-running 1938 winner, on top from drop of flag to judges’ eye.”

BLOCKADE leads the field in a dramatic win in 1939.

“…on top from drop of flag to judges’ eye” — BLOCKADE leads the field in the dramatic 1939 Maryland Hunt Cup. COQ BRUYERE is the second gray in the frame.

BLOCKADE leads COQ BRUYERE to the finish.

BLOCKADE leads COQ BRUYERE to the finish.

The third win gave the 11 year-old Blockade’s owner, Mrs. E. Read Beard, permanent possession of the Gold Challenge Cup, donated to the Maryland Hunt Club in 1913 by Rose Whistler. In 1939, Blockade also won the Maryland Grand National, a race which — like the Maryland Hunt Cup — is still run today under its new name, “The Breeders Cup Grand National Steeplechase.”

By now, Mrs. Read’s gelding had become a legend in his own time. His victories made headlines across the country, and his groom, Walter Tyndall, was fond of saying, “Blockade? He’s diseased with speed.”

The 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup. BLOCKADE is shown in the foreground.

The 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup: BLOCKADE is shown in the foreground. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

BLOCKADE and Colvill in the 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup, running behind the blinkered horse.

BLOCKADE and Colwill in the 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup, running slightly behind the blinkered horse.

 

In 1941, the 12 year-old Blockade took the year off to recover from a tendon injury. Although remaining in Fisher’s stable, Blockade had been sold again, to a Mr. Charles Ewing Tuttle, Fred Colwill’s father-in-law. The sale took place in the same year (1941) that Colwill married Tuttle’s daughter, making it possible that Blockade was a gift to a new son-in-law.

BLOCKADE leads at the 11th jump in his 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup win.

BLOCKADE (outside) leads at the 11th jump in his 1940 Maryland Hunt Cup win.

1942 got off to a sorry start when jockey Colwill made a mistake on course, forcing horse and rider to watch as Winton, owned by Stuart Janney, galloped to victory in the 1942 Maryland Hunt Cup. The decision was made to start Blockade in the prestigious Virginia Gold Cup a week later.

Blockade went down at the seventeenth fence. As described by William Myzk in his book, “The History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup” :

“The crowd was hushed, waiting for word that their hero had only been knocked out, but no word came. The great Blockade had jumped his last fence and run his last race. A saddened audience went slowly home, knowing that they had witnessed the passing of one of the gamest sons of the great Man O’ War.”

C.W. An derision's lithograph of BLOCKADE and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

C.W. Anderson’s lithograph of BLOCKADE and the Maryland Hunt Cup he retired, after winning it for three consecutive years. Those familiar with Anderson’s work will recognize the author-illustrator’s tribute to Blockade: he has given him an even greater likeness to Man O’ War than the gelding had in real life.

 

 

BONUS FEATURE:

Ride The Maryland Hunt Cup with a jockey and his horse, Twill Do. This is rather long (19 minutes) but even watching part of it gives a sense of what it took — and takes — to win the Maryland Hunt Cup three times in a row. And perhaps, as you watch, you will take a moment to remember a great little horse whose heart was as deep as the 4-mile course and whose courage dwarfed its 22 fences. (NOTE: I have watched the footage before posting it. One horse goes down and there are two refusals but no-one is hurt.)

Related articles on THE VAULT:

(BATTLESHIP) https://thevaulthorseracing.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/battleship-the-pony-who-conquered-aintree/

REFERENCES

Anderson, C.W. Twenty Gallant Horses (ISBN-10: 0027055302; ISBN-13: 978-0027055306)

Winants, Peter. Steeplechasing: A Complete History of the Sport in North America  (ISBN – 10: 1461708222; ISBN – 13: 9781461708223)

: 100 Years of the Maryland Hunt Cup (http://www.equiery.com/archives/Steeplechase/100YearsHuntCup.html)

McCausland, Christianna. Maryland Steeplechasing (ISBN-10: 0738542008;ISBN-13: 978-0738542003)

Myzk, William. The History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup (Virginia: The Piedmont Press)

NY: The Sagamore Press. American Race Horses 1938

The Miami News (April 30, 1939) “Blockade Wins In Close Race Maryland Hunt” 

Chicago Tribune (April 28, 1940) “Blockade Wins Steeplechase And Hunt Cup”

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.

 

Read Full Post »

AUGUST 14, 2015
Dear VAULT reader: As you know, THE VAULT published its very first article in 2011 and now enjoys a readership of over 280,000 worldwide. I cannot thank you all enough for your support and enthusiasm.
THE VAULT is a non-profit endeavour written out of love for the horses and the sport.
I felt it was time to find a way to give ‘payback,’ to use my efforts as a means of making a permanent contribution to the welfare of horses. Accordingly, I inaugurated a fund, in the name of THE VAULT, which will collect monies to be contributed towards organisations who specialize in horse rescue.
THE VAULT will feature the link below from this time on. Every few months I will post the monies that have been collected.
http://www.gofundme.com/8d2cher4
I thank you all for taking part in this endeavour. No donation is too small — every penny will help.
Thank you.
*****************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

All one has to do is imagine the anticipation that will greet the sons and daughters of today’s thoroughbred champions when they first set foot on the track to understand the hope and emotions that followed Man O’ War’s progeny to the races.  

Although Man O’ War’s stud career was strictly supervised — limited to 25 mares a season — leading to severe critiques of Samuel Riddle’s breeding practices, it would appear that much of the criticism is unjustified. The proof lies in statistics like these: Man O’ War’s first crop of two-year-olds won 14 races; and in 1925, with 2 crops and 21 individuals running, Big Red stood fourth on the sire list with winners of 51 races and earnings of $213,933. By 1926, with the arrival of a third crop, Man O’ War crowned the sire list.

Credit for the stallion’s success at stud goes to horsemen like John Madden and bloodlines specialist William Allison, who Riddle consulted regarding Man O’ War’s first book of mares. There is no reason to think that Samuel Riddle did anything but seek the expertise of knowledgeable people throughout Man O’ War’s breeding career. 

Today, even though his name still appears in the pedigrees of some really fine thoroughbreds — and that, largely due to WAR ADMIRAL and WAR RELIC who perpetuated the Fair Play line — the majority of Man O War’s successful sons and daughters have been largely forgotten. There are at least two reasons for this. Depending on the colt in question — such as Mars or Crusader — breeders tended to prefer The Legend himself to even his very good sons. As well, given the modest number of his progeny by today’s standards, the impact of sons and daughters who didn’t accomplish much, if anything, in the breeding shed was particularly severe. 

This article is the first in a series that looks at some of Man O’ War’s best progeny. Subsequent articles in this series will appear throughout 2013-2014. 

1922: AMERICAN FLAG, FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE & MAID AT ARMS

By all accounts, American Flag was truly his father’s son. Foaled in Man O’ War’s first crop, American Flag was a chestnut with a faint star on his brow who, according to the accounts of the day, held an uncanny resemblance to Big Red when he was posed and when he was racing.  For those who had seen Man O’ War in action, the delight at American Flag’s exploits was palpable. True, it wasn’t exactly like watching Man O’ War, but in style and talent, American Flag came very, very close.

From his sire's first crop, AMERICAN FLAG was said to be cast in MAN O' War's image.

From his sire’s first crop, AMERICAN FLAG was said to be cast in MAN O’ WAR’S image.

American Flag’s best year on the track came in his 3 year-old season, where he was unbeaten, winning the Withers, Dwyer and Belmont Stakes, among others. Horse of the Year in 1925, American Flag raced once at 4, but after a second-place finish to another son of Man O’ War, Crusader, the colt was retired to stud.

As a sire, American Flag was the most successful of all of Man O’ Wars’ sons until the emergence of War Admiral.  The stallion made a big splash as the sire of the Champion 2 year-old Filly of 1934, Nellie Flag. Nellie’s dam, the outstanding Nellie Morse (1921), had herself been Champion 3 year-old in 1924, after winning The Preakness, Black-Eyed Susan and Pimlico Oaks that same year. So, although American Flag couldn’t take complete credit for Nellie Flag, his daughter carried Man O’ War’s blood over the decades, appearing in the pedigrees of champions Mark -Ye-Well (1949), Forego (1970),  Bold Forbes (1973) and Bet Twice (1984).

Nellie Flag, the royally-bred daughter of American Flag and Nellie Morse.

Nellie Flag, the royally-bred daughter of American Flag and Nellie Morse.

Nellie Flag’s contribution to perpetuating the Fair Play sire line notwithstanding, arguably the most famous of American Flag’s descendants was grandson Raise A Native, whose 2 year-old career ended abruptly due to injury. Raise a Native’s dam, Raise You (1946) was a granddaughter of American Flag and an excellent producer: of 14 foals she had 11 winners, 2 of which were stakes winners. But her most influential progeny was Raise A Native, who sired Mr. Prospector, Alydar, Majestic Prince and Exclusive Native, who, in turn, sired both Affirmed and Genuine Risk.

Florence Nightingale

The gorgeous Florence Nightingale, one of the stars of Man O’ War’s first crop.

The fillies Florence Nightingale and Maid At Arms were the other superstars of Man O’ War’s first crop.

Maid At Arms, whose BM sire was another son of Rock Sand (1900) named Trap Rock (1902) was impeccably bred and sallied that blue blood on the track, winning the Alabama and Pimlico Oaks, as well as the Maryland Handicap against the colts. The filly claimed Champion 3 year-old Filly honours in 1925.  However, unlike American Flag, Maid At Arms had no real impact in the breeding shed.

Florence Nightingale was a tall, elegant filly, the second foal of The Nurse (1911), a great granddaughter of the outstanding Hanover (1884). The Nurse was inbred to Mannie Grey (1874), dam of the legendary Domino (1891), together with St. Simon (1881) and Hampton (1872). So to say that Florence Nightingale was royally-bred would be somewhat of an understatement. Named after a famous figure of the day, the filly would make 34 starts, with a record of 5-2-4 and retired with earnings of $18,650 USD. Her most prestigious win came in the Coaching Club American Oaks of 1925. This win resulted in Florence Nightingale sharing Champion 3 year-old Filly honours with Maid At Arms.  Like Maid At Arms, Florence Nightingale did little in the breeding shed. Of 3 foals, only Florence’s daughter, Knight’s Nurse (1933), after a visit to the British Triple Crown winner, Bahram (1932) who was standing in the USA, produced the colt Bovard (1945,) who retired with earnings of $48,855. However, Bovard appears to have had no progeny.

Hampton

HAMPTON stood only slightly over 15h and began his turf career as a hurdler. Switched to the flat, he would win the Goodwood Stakes, the Goodwood Cup as well as the Epsom Gold and Doncaster Cups. He was Champion Sire in the UK in 1887 and some his best-known progeny include AYRSHIRE, LADAS, BAY RONALD, MAID MARION and PERDITA II. FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE was inbred to HAMPTON 5 X 5.

1923: MARS, CRUSADER & EDITH CAVELL 

The brilliant CRUSADER, shown here in the winner's circle after taking the Ohio Derby. Photo and copyright,

CRUSADER, shown here in the winner’s circle, with EARL SANDE in the irons, after taking the CINCINNATI DERBY, July 24, 1926. DISPLAY ran second and BOOT TO BOOT ran third. Photo and copyright, P & A PHOTOS.

Crusader is actually among the better-known of Man O’ War’s offspring. But neither Mars nor the filly, Edith Cavell, enjoy the same privilege despite the fact that both excelled on the track.

Mars was actually a “brother-in-blood” to Crusader: his dam (like Crusader’s) was also sired by Star Shoot (1898). The British-born Star Shoot was most famous for siring the Triple Crown Winner, Sir Barton; his second best runner was the great Grey Lag, Horse of the Year and champion 3 year-old of 1921. But Star Shoot was a very solid sire in general, topping the sire lists 5 times between 1911-1919 and the BM sire list for 5 consecutive years, from 1924-1929.

The handsome STAR SHOOT, sire of SIR BARTON and GREY LAG.

The handsome STAR SHOOT, sire of SIR BARTON and GREY LAG. Two of his daughters went to Man O’ War, producing MARS and CRUSADER.

Champion GREY LAG

Champion GREY LAG had the unusual marking of white splashes on his belly. As a 3 year-old, GREY LAG posted 8 consecutive wins, including the Belmont Stakes and the Dwyer. Champions whom GREY LAG defeated include EXTERMINATOR, JOHN P. GRIER, MAD HATTER and PRUDERY.

Between them, Crusader and Mars took most of the stakes of their seasons, including the Travers and Saratoga (Mars) and the Belmont, Dwyer, Suburban (twice), Jockey Gold Cup and the Cincinnati Derby (Crusader). Mars, like the more notable War Admiral and Battleship, was the size of a pony at 15.2 h, but he nevertheless scooted to win the Junior Championship Stakes in a new track-record time (1:37). No 2 year-old in America had ever run this fast at a distance of a mile before him. In second place on that day was a name familiar to many: Chance Play, the 1927 Horse of the Year, another son of Fair Play who would go on to become a sire of champions like Psychic Bid (1932), Grand Slam (1933), Pot O’Luck(1942) and Now What (1937).

The ill-tempered DISPLAY was defeated by MARS twice.

The ill-tempered DISPLAY was defeated by MARS twice.

SARAZEN was another colt who saw defeat when he raced against MARS.

Horse of the Year in 1924 and 1925, SARAZEN was another champion who tasted defeat when he raced against MARS in the Dixie Handicap.

But Mars’ prowess didn’t stop there. After running third in the Preakness, fourth in the Withers and without distinction in the Belmont, Mars came home in the Saranac Handicap at Saratoga, carrying 120 lbs. He then won the Travers, defeating fellow 3 year-olds Pompey, Display and his Crusader. At 4, Mars again defeated Display, as well as the fabulous gelding, Sarazen, before retiring with earnings of $128,786 USD. Although a champion, Mars was pretty much ignored at stud and, as any racing enthusiast will tell you, unless you’re a Man O’ War or a Secretariat, immortality lies in progeny. And there were none of any merit from Mars.

CRUSADER_XX

CRUSADER, as he appeared in the racing annual, American Race Horses. CRUSADER died in 1940, at the then Rancho Casitas in California, where he was also buried. The property is now under Lake Casitas.

Unlike the diminutive Mars, Crusader was a big, strapping 16 h. chestnut who was reputed to be one of the most beautiful thoroughbreds of his day. Through his dam, Star Fancy, Crusader traced back to the foundation mare, Maggie B. B. (1867), a daughter of Australian (1858) and granddaughter of the very first British Triple Crown winner, West Australian (1850). Originally called Magpie, Maggie B. B.’s name was changed to honour a long-lost love of one of her several owners. Maggie B.B. is an otherwise nondescript name for a mare who made one of the most lasting contributions to the North American thoroughbred. Through her sons Iroquois (1878) and Jaconet (1875), as well as a daughter, Red And Blue (1880), Maggie B. B. exercised important influences on the breed. Red and Blue appears in Crusader’s 5th generation.

Maggie B.B. -- named after her owner's lost love, this plucky lady went on to carve her own name into the very foundation of North American thoroughbred bloodlines. At her death, her current owner James A. Kittson wrote, "...her death is a loss that we can never replace. We will find a place for her under the magnolias." And he did, laying her to rest near another legendary mare, the great Flora Temple.

MAGGIE B.B. — named after her then owner’s lost love, this plucky lady went on to carve her own name into the very foundation of North American thoroughbred bloodlines. At her death, her owner James A. Kittson wrote, “…her death is a loss that we can never replace. We will find a place for her under the magnolias.” And he did, laying Maggie to rest near another legendary mare, FLORA TEMPLE.

Crusader did his important ancestress –as well as his legendary sire — proud.

It was said that he had a sweet disposition but, like Big Red, Crusader also had a tendency to act up at the start. He usually broke slowly and this, combined with his ornery behaviour at the start, cost him several big stakes. But his usual jockey, the great Earl Sande, best known for his Triple Crown mount, Gallant Fox, understood Crusader and the affection was returned. Crusader seemed to want to win for Earl, whose smooth, steady hands buoyed him with self-confidence.

It’s easy to imagine the excitement Crusader brought to the races. Here he was, a gorgeous son of the beloved Man O’ War, seemingly touched by the same magic. Crusader’s stride was exceptional and he convincingly dispatched really good horses like Display, Mars, American Flag, Chance Play, Espino and Sarazen, as well as a pair of incomparable fillies in Princess Doreen and Black Maria. Crusader posted the fastest Dwyer (2:29 3/5) in its history when the race was run at 1 1/2 miles. He ran in the mud and won; in fact, he ran under any conditions and won, often carrying weight as high as 126 lbs. and giving as much as 16 pounds to the horses he beat.

Crusader was a superstar and was voted Champion 3 year-old Colt and Horse of the Year in 1926.

CRUSADER_cQ-0g~~60_57

Said Walter S. Vosburgh, then an official handicapper in New York, of the champion:  “Crusader was so emphatically the colt of the year that few will dispute it. As a matter of opinion, he was not as great a colt as his sire, but as a matter of record he was greater, for Man O’ War did not go out of his class. This Crusader did. He boldly went out to race the all -aged class for the Suburban and defeated them…Crusader set the seal to his greatness by winning the (Jockey) Gold Cup.”

Crusader began his stud career at Colonel Phil Chinn’s Himyar Stud, in Kentucky, having been leased to Chinn by Samuel Riddle. He was then leased to the Californian, Walter Hoffman, who moved him to Rancho Casitas in California, where Crusader stood until his death in 1940. Sadly, Crusader had little luck as a stallion. A daughter, Heatherland (1930), is one of the few direct descendants to still appear in contemporary pedigrees.

EDITH CAVELL_WWI Nurse

A propaganda postcard, commemorating the execution of the British nurse, Edith Cavell, at the hands of the Germans during WWI.

The Nurse’s second Man O’ War filly was named after another heroic nurse.

Edith Cavell was an English nurse who worked in Brussels during WWI. She was a nursing teacher, later starting her own nursing school in Belgium. After the war started, and the Germans invaded Belgium, she began to hide Allied soldiers and help them to cross the border into safe territory. The Germans eventually captured the hospital and turned it into a Red Cross hospice, keeping Cavell on as matron. But Edith Cavell had no time for wounded men branded as “the enemy” and she cared for the German soldiers just as she had the Allied soldiers.

Cavell continued to hide English, Belgian, and French soldiers, despite German suspicions. By 1915, she had helped at least 200 soldiers leave enemy territory to return to their units. However, the German secret police discovered what she was doing, and had her arrested.  Edith Cavell was shot before a German firing squad on October 12th, 1915 as a traitor. But, given her heroic exploits, Cavell’s execution lifted her from mortal to saint, inspiring an increase in morale and recruitment within the Allied ranks.

EdithCavell_clearer shot

As is noted in the photo of her above, the filly Edith Cavell beat Crusader in the 1926 Pimlico Cup Handicap. What should be added is that she also established a new track record for 2 1/2 miles, reducing by four fifths of a second the previous record held by none other than the fabulous Exterminator. That same year Edith Cavell also took the Latonia and Coaching Club American Oaks and tied with Black Maria for Champion 3 year-old Filly honours in 1926.

Sadly, the brilliant filly only had one registered foal, by Edward R. Bradley’s champion Bubbling Over (1923). Edith Cavell died in 1937 and was laid to rest at Faraway Farm, near her dam:  (http://www.tbheritage.com/TurfHallmarks/Graves/cem/GraveMattersFaraway.html).

1924: SCAPA FLOW

The magnificent SCAPA FLOW.

SCAPA FLOW prancing to the start. Photo and copyright Keeneland-Cook.

Not to be confused with the famous British mare of the same name, Scapa Flow is arguably the least well-known of Man O’ War’s really good offspring today. However, Samuel Riddle revered the colt as the best son Man O’ War ever sired. (Not even War Admiral’s Triple Crown could alter Riddle’s point of view. ) But Scapa Flow had an Achilles heel that was like a time bomb, waiting to explode: from the very beginning, he was plagued by bad ankles. And, as the photo above suggests, those frail ankles needed to carry a very solid frame.

Out of Florence Webber(1916) by Peep O Day(1893), Scapa Flow was another Man O’ War who traced back to Maggie B. B. Owned by Walter M. Jeffords, who was married to a niece of Samuel Riddle and who, with Riddle, owned and operated Faraway Farm, the big beautiful bay colt was put into the hands of trainer Scott P. Harlan. Harlan had already trained Edith Cavell for Jeffords, and would go on to train another exceptional Man O’ War daughter, Bateau (1925) for him as well. Harlan had also trained another Champion 3 year-old Filly for Helen Hay Whitney, Untidy (1920). In 1926, Harlan’s best year, he earned $205,681 — an extraordinary sum in those days — and a fair portion of those earnings were linked to 2 year-old wins by Scapa Flow and Edith Cavell’s extraordinary 3 year-old campaign.

HOF Jockey FRANK COLTILETTI would pilot SCAPA FLOW to victory during his 2 year-old campaign.

HOF Jockey FRANK COLTILETTI would pilot SCAPA FLOW to victory during the colt’s 2 year-old campaign. Upon his retirement, COLTILETTI would confide that the best horse he ever rode was another son of Man O’ War — MARS.

Bad ankles aside, Scapa Flow not only had the benefit of a great trainer but also the services of HOF jockey, Frank Coltiletti. The darling of the Bronx’s closely-knit Italian community, Coltiletti was born in 1900 and began his career as a 59-lb. 14 year old.  Two years later, at the ripe old age of 16, the young jock rode 115 winners to stand third in the national jockey standings. Coltiletti made his name by turning colts and fillies into champions. Greats like Crusader, Black Maria (1923), Edith Cavell, Broomspun (1918), Mars and Sun Beau (1925) passed through his hands. In an interview that he gave at the time of his retirement, Coltiletti revealed that Mars had been the best horse he ever rode. High praise, coming from a hard-working jockey who had notched up a lifetime record of 14.5 % winners.

The champion BLACK MARIA was piloted by COLTILETTI and shared Champion 3 year-old Filly honours with

The champion filly BLACK MARIA was piloted by COLTILETTI. She shared Champion 3 year-old Filly honours with EDITH CAVELL in 1926.

Scapa Flow’s 1:14 2/5 win in the United States Hotel Stakes at Saratoga in 1926 brought him out of obscurity. With Coltiletti in the irons, the colt charged out of the gate as though launched by a cannon. He would go on to win the Belmont Futurity that same year, as well as placing 2nd and 3rd in the Saratoga Special and Hopeful, respectively.  His spectacular showing as a juvenile earned Scapa Flow Championship 2 year-old Colt honours.

During 1927, the colt appears to have been lightly raced, likely due to sore ankles, although he did win the Bowling Brook Purse. By 1928, however, he was back in action, running 2nd in the Dixie, Harford and Toboggan Handicaps and coming in 3rd in the Metropolitan and the Suburban. On June 17, 1928, Scapa Flow broke down during the running of the Brooklyn Handicap and had to be destroyed. His loss was shattering for both the Jeffords’ family and Samuel Riddle, who had a kind of sixth sense that Scapa Flow was destined to be a superlative sire.

Other talent from the 1924 crop included the colts Broadside, War Eagle and Son O Battle, as well as an exceptional filly named Mix-Up, who started 59 times and closed off her career with a record of 17-11-7. None of these did much at stud, however, making the loss of Scapa Flow even more poignant.

SCAPA FLOW was named after the spot in the Channel Islands where the British Navy was stationed during WW1.

SCAPA FLOW was named after a body of water in the Orkney Islands where the British Grand Fleet was stationed during WW1. Rich in history, the Vikings sailed into Scapa Flow some thousand years ago.

RESEARCH SOURCES

“Man O’ War’s Other Sons” by Betty Moore published in the Thoroughbred Record (January, 1965)

“Man O’ War” by Page Cooper & John L. Treat. NY: Julian Mesner Inc. 1950

Read Full Post »

We can’t be absolutely certain that War Admiral is trainer John Shirreffs all-time favourite thoroughbred of the past. But we do know that the distinguished trainer of 2010 Horse of the Year, Zenyatta, has a vast collection of racing memorabilia that reflects his passion for the history of thoroughbred racing. In a Thoroughbred Times article about John Shirreffs and his wife, Dottie Ingordo-Shirreffs, the Mosses Racing Manager, entitled “Zenyatta’s People” (11/04/2010), it was pointed out that one of the “jewels” in John’s collection is a program from a banquet held in the 1930’s to honour War Admiral, that features a portrait of Man O’ War on the cover and is signed by Samuel Riddle. 

THE VAULT ‘s mission is to celebrate the role of history in shaping the sport of racing and the thoroughbred as a breed. So what better way to celebrate the start of a new year than by dedicating our War Admiral narrative to an appreciative historian of the sport, John Shirreffs?

To our fabulous readers: without your support and encouragement, there would be no inspiration to go on spinning stories. I write for each and every one of you. 

Enroute on his "private coach" from Florida back East, War Admiral pauses during his breakfast to pose for photographers.

Contrary to his portrayal in the most recent movie about Seabiscuit, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s wonderful book of the same name, War Admiral was a small, brown colt who at 3 yrs. stood slightly over 15.2 hands. Clearly, the decision in the movie to depict him as a Titan was a kind of figurative gesture, calculated to add suspense, while indicating to those movie-goers unfamiliar with thoroughbred racing history that “The Admiral” was a champion of giant-esque proportions.

And that he was.

The diminutive brown yearling, who resembled his dam far more than he did his legendary sire, was so woefully unlike Man O’ War in conformation that Samuel Riddle despaired and actually tried to convince his partner, the distinguished Walter M. Jeffords Sr., to take the colt off his hands. For not only did The Admiral resemble his dam, but the exquisitely built little mare had actually only run in three races and failed to win; Samuel Riddle, who owned Brushup with the Jeffords, connected the brown colt’s looks with intimations of his dam’s mediocrity. Riddle jealously guarded the reputation of Man O’ War and one way he attempted to assure that Big Red would achieve immortality was to disperse any offspring that did not appear to meet the standard of excellence of their sire.

However — and happily for Riddle — Jeffords Sr. showed little interest in the tiny son of Brushup.

(Brushup is the bay mare, on the left.)

Unremarkable as her racing career was, Brushup came to Riddle with a lovely pedigree. Her sire, Sweep (1907), descended from the likes of Himyar (1875) and his great son, Domino (1891), as well as Kentucky Derby winner, Ben Brush (1893) and the founder of the Fair Play line, Australian (1858). Himyar (1875) was such an outstanding sire and made such a lasting contribution to the breed itself that he certainly deserves his own spot on THE VAULT! Briefly, he was a speedball on the turf, winning 14 of his 28 starts and was without a doubt the fastest thoroughbred of his generation. Sweep’s dam, Pink Domino (1897) was a granddaughter of Himyar and a daughter of Domino. Sweep won the Belmont Stakes and other top contests during his racing career, but is likely most famous for being the broodmare sire of two Triple Crown winners — War Admiral and Whirlaway.

A lithograph of the great Himyar.

Beautiful Domino, caught here burning up the track!

Ben Brush, sire of Sweep.

Sweep, the son of Ben Brush and grandson of Domino. Sweep would make his mark as the broodmare sire of 2 American Triple Crown winners!

War Admiral with his trainer, George Conway. Copyright The Baltimore Sun.

The blood that raced in The Admiral’s veins was a treasure-trove of great, great thoroughbreds. But despite that, the colt would have to earn the respect of his owner and the horse racing public, most of whom would brook no equal to their hero, Man O’ War, even while they awaited a son or daughter stamped with his greatness. The one person who took the little colt as he was, allowing him to grow and develop into the individual he became, was trainer George Conway — and The Admiral blossomed under his tutelage.

Conway was in the final years of his career when War Admiral came along. He was a quiet, thoughtful and focused professional of few words, but he had an eye for good horses and it didn’t take very long before Conway knew that the tiny son of Man O’ War was destined to be one of the giants of thoroughbred racing. At the beginning, however, Conway doubted that any other thoroughbred could ever be as accomplished as another son of Man O’ War who was dear to his heart, Crusader.

George Conway had learned his trade from a number of trainers before arriving at Glen Riddle, working his way up from the very bottom of the pecking order. Man O’ War’s trainer, Louis Feustel, saw Conway’s potential and made him stable foreman. During those magical years, it was often George Conway who led the always-restive Man O’ War to the start of one of his races. In fact, Conway spent so much time with Big Red that it was he, rather than Feustel, who really accounted for Big Red’s conditioning and overall mental outlook. Following Feustel, Gwyn Tompkins became the head trainer at Glen Riddle and started Man O’ War’s son, Crusader, as a 2 year-old. When Tompkins retired, it was Conway who was asked by Samuel Riddle to take the reins. So it was that George Conway raced Crusader until the champion’s retirement and, in so doing, established himself in the eyes of the sporting public.

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

Crusader, the mighty -- very much the namesake of his sire and who, as a colt, was the first to win George Conway's heart.

 

Conway treated all his horses as individuals, working to build a program that would suit their abilities and their needs. He was a patient man and he lavished this patience on his charges. As a rule, Conway only raced his 2 year-olds lightly, understanding that, at two, thoroughbreds are still growing into themselves physically, while caught somewhere between babyhood and maturity mentally. However, “lightly” in 1936 meant something quite different than it does today — The Admiral started 6 times as a 2 year-old, winning one stakes race as well as two others in the process. That year, the small bay was among a triad of promising Man O’ War progeny to hit the track running; the other two were Matey and Wand. A fourth youngster, Over The Top, had also been seen as a good prospect for Glen Riddle. But it was the appearance of Wand, Matey and War Admiral that most impressed, hinting that perhaps the ageing Man O’ War still had a champion or two left in him, after years of mediocre crops.

War Admiral (inside) works with stablemate, Over The Top (1937).

Who loves you baby? George Conway feeding sugar to the little champ after his win in the Chesapeake.

War Admiral’s “fiery” temperament, contrary to the myth, was not a signature trait. His worst temper tantrums appear to have been provoked by the imposition of a starting gate, although he was also unnerved by noise and camera flashes. In the quiet of his barn with its familiar smells, routines and humans, the little bay was no different than most 2 year-old colts. He even tended to be more relaxed than most, indulging in long naps at least twice a day. His groom called him “sweet” and noted his intelligence. His trainer found him more like his dam in overall personality than his sire. In fact, if photographs can be considered a kind of visual history, it must be said that photos of a quiet, well-behaved War Admiral vastly outnumber the few that depict him misbehaving.It seems likely that the exaggerated myth about his explosive personality might well have been the stuff of folkways, motivated by the desire to connect a noble son to a beloved, fiery American legend.

In his juvenile season, it became clear that The Admiral had an indomitable determination to win. He was always “on his toes” on race day and although the colt acted very badly at the starting gate, when the race was on he switched to a completely focused running machine. His regular jockey, Charley Kurtsinger, was impressed with how War Admiral handled himself on the track that year: he was responsive, eager to learn and always tried his best. As it would turn out, what Man O’ War had bequeathed to the little guy was stamina, heart and courage. Nowhere was this more apparent than in War Admiral’s victory in the Eastern Shore Handicap, where the colt strutted his stuff, running a quarter-mile in :22 3/5 and the half in : 45 4/5. In the end, the 2 year-old won by 5 lengths and in so doing, garnered a modest though enthusiastic following. Despite that victory, it was Pompoon (1934) who took the honours for 2 year-old champion that year.

It was during his 3 year-old campaign that the diminutive colt raced into the pantheon of thoroughbred champions, earning the respect and admiration of his owner and trainer and winning the hearts of the thousands who saw him run. It is impossible to think that George Conway, who had struggled to reach what would be the apex of his career in 1937, was not naturally drawn to this son of Man O’ War who would be called upon to show something greater than ability to earn his own rightful place in the history of American thoroughbred racing. Conway watched as The Admiral won his first two starts of the season at Havre de Grace with relative ease. In his second victory, the Chesapeake Stakes, the Daily Racing Form carried the annotation of  “Easily best.” But beating the likes of Court Scandal, or his stablemate, Over The Top, certainly didn’t mean that The Admiral was something special.

But the nimble bay’s march through Kentucky, Maryland and New York on the Triple Crown Trail was still to come.

War Admiral boards the train on his way to Kentucky.

The champion at work.

On May 8, 1937, one of the largest crowds ever assembled saw the favourite, War Admiral, make all the running to win the Kentucky Derby in the second fastest recorded time ever, on what was only his second experience racing at over a mile. It was also Samuel Riddle’s first Kentucky Derby win; the sportsman generally frowned on running his horses outside of Maryland and New York states and felt that running a 3 year-old in May over the Derby distance was asking too much of most young thoroughbreds. But the little Admiral would prove him wrong, soundly defeating the 2 year-old champion of 1937, Pompoon, along the way.

Winning the 1937 Kentucky Derby, Pompoon in second place.

Always happy to watch what was going on around him and curious to a fault, The Admiral waits for his turn on the track.

The 1937 Preakness was run just a week after the Kentucky Derby that year. Again, the race was essentially War Admiral vs. Pompoon in what turned out to be quite a stretch dual, much to the excitement of the fans. War Admiral won by a short head against his stalwart rival, but George Conway must have seen the heart of a champion in his tiny colt’s refusal to give up, no matter how determined the competition.

War Admiral (outside) rushes down the stretch with Pompoon at his throat latch in the heart-pounding finish of the 1937 Preakness.

But the real drama of War Admiral’s Triple Crown occurred in the Belmont, where the colt stumbled leaving the starting gate and then went on to win in a time that surpassed the record set by his sire in 1920. The win was breathtaking and other than his jockey, no-one knew that the 3 year-old was running wounded. War Admiral had been his usual self at the starting gate, charging through it prematurely and helping to hold up the race for a full 8 minutes. But when he finally stood still long enough for there to be a proper start, The Admiral darted out so quickly that, as John Hervey (Salvator) described it, “…he struck the quarter of his right front fore-foot and sheared off it, as with a knife, a portion of the wall of the hoof an inch or more square, leaving a gaping wound from which blood was flowing…” In actual fact, The Admiral had spurted blood from the damaged hoof throughout the race, leaving his underside a bright red, something Kurtsinger and Conway noted just before the colt entered the winner’s circle.

Here is War Admiral, in all his glory, winning the Belmont and securing the Triple Crown.

After the Belmont, it was clear that Brushup’s courageous son was a legend in his own right, with a devoted following for whom he would always reign supreme. His every move was now the subject of a dizzying array of photographs, camera footage and sports commentary. And the little fellow? Well, he was given a well-deserved time out to heal and replenish, before returning in October 1937 to win an allowance race, the Washington Handicap and the Pimlico Special. Then he was shipped to Florida with the rest of Conway’s stable, where the warmer temperatures and the blessing of the sun ushered in his 4 year-old campaign.

War Admiral gallops home to win the Belmont Stakes and the American Triple Crown

Following the Belmont, a proud George Conway and jockey Kurtsinger walk into the winner's circle. (The arrow indicates the injured forefoot.)

The Admiral enjoyed Hialeah where he began working in preparation for the first of two wins of the Widener Cup. He would annex his second Widener victory in 1939. As well, in 1938 the champion finally made it to Saratoga, the favourite horse racing venue of Mr. Riddle and company, having been derailed from racing there after his Belmont injury. At the Spa, The Admiral continued to chalk up victory after victory, winning all four of his starts, including the Whitney, the Saratoga Cup and the Saratoga Handicap. An utterly spellbound Hervey wrote of the 4 year-old’s triumphal return passed the grandstand after his stunning Saratoga Cup victory, “…when he came prancing back to the stand…it rose to him and he was applauded to the echo.” From here it was on to Belmont, where War Admiral won the prestigious Jockey Club Gold Cup, his eighth win in 9 starts as a 4 year-old.

As most know, this was also the year of the famous Seabiscuit-War Admiral Match Race, won handily by the West’s hero. It took two tries before the contest finally went off, at Pimlico, on November 1, 1938. In publicity shots for the May 30th race between the two (which was canceled) War Admiral showed his feisty self off to a barrage of noisy and jostling reporters. He did, however, cool off enough for the press to get a few portraits as well, of which one is below.

War Admiral acts up!

A few minutes later, an AP photographer grabs a lovely head-shot.

Before Samuel Riddle would agree to the November date, the concession was made to have a walk up start and the reason was that The Admiral had gotten some harsh treatment at Pimlico when he showed his usual reluctance to be loaded into the starting gate and the little fellow had never forgotten it, making Pimlico not a very popular track for the Triple Crown winner. As well, to quote Edward Bowen, ” War Admiral was thus coming into the race off four consecutive victories and had won sixteen of his past seventeen races. Seabiscuit’s run up to the race could be cast in whatever light appealed to the opinion of the individual: one win in his past three races, or three wins in his past five, five of his past eight, but also five of his past eleven.”
However, none of this should detract from the fact that two great horses went to the start that day and either one deserved to win.
After it was all over, Kurtsinger declared that his mount had just not had it in him to win, while Woolf declared that he had looked into The Admiral’s eye and seen “…something that was pitiful…He looked all broken up.” Following his defeat, there was much deriding of War Admiral in the press, including those who felt his career was one of a spoiled, little rich kid who had only ever faced “soft” competition. And so the myth was born that War Admiral, the privileged, had been defeated by Seabiscuit, the “working man’s” turf hero.
To their credit, the Glen Riddle Stable soldiered on and the racing public, who would never abandon The Admiral based on the fickleness of the press, sent him to the post in the last two races of his career a clear favourite. Of course, the gutsy little bay won.
As a sire, his contribution to the breed was as definitive as was the impact of sons and daughters like Busanda, Busher, Bee Mac, Searching, War Jeep and Blue Peter on the sport, together with another 36 stakes winners he sired. War Admiral led the general sire list in 1945; the 2 year-old sire list in 1948 and the broodmare sire list in 1962 and again in 1964.
Although The Admiral’s sons were not influential as sires, both Busanda and Searching made a huge impact. Their descendants include the likes of Swaps, Buckpasser, Numbered Account, Iron Liege, Hoist the Flag, Gun Bow, Striking and Crafty Admiral, as well as two Triple Crown winners, Seattle Slew and Affirmed. Other descendants of note from the War Admiral line include Dr. Fager, Alysheba, Cigar and, most recently, Zenyatta.
To this day, breeders point with pride to War Admiral in the lineage of their thoroughbreds. What the name connotes is timeless, synonymous with the very essence of the thoroughbred.

War Admiral and the groom who adored him. Here we see how those who knew the little bay colt better than anyone felt about him.

NOTE: I am searching for the name of War Admiral’s groom (pictured above) during his racing career and any other information related to him and/or their relationship. If you can help, please leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.


Read Full Post »