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SEABISCUIT with Marcella Howard. Photo and copyright, Chicago Tribune

SEABISCUIT shares a moment with (Mrs.) Marcella Howard. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

I have often wondered what our knowledge about horse racing would be like without the images of C.C. Cook, “Skeets” Meadors, Bert Clark Thayer, Bert Morgan, Tony Leonard, Bob and Adam Coglianese, Lydia Williams (LAW), Patricia McQueen, Barbara Livingston and L.S. Sutcliffe, or of Canada’s Michael Burns, Australia’s Bronwyn Healy and the UK’s Edward Whitaker, to name but a few of those whose lens’ are central to the construction of racing history.

Can you imagine taking this to the track? Photojournalist Jessie Tarbox and her camera, circa 1900.

Can you imagine taking this to the track? Photojournalist Jessie Tarbox and her camera, circa 1900.

Before I retired from a career in education, I spent a good deal of time researching the visual image and discovered, among other things, that photographs play the important socio-cultural role of holding memories in place. And perhaps because the visual image can be a “closed” representational system — and here I mean the photographic image in particular — it is adept at recording aspects of our social, cultural and universal histories in a way that all can understand. By “freezing” time in this way, photographs give us purchase on something as precious: the construction of a social and cultural history of just about everything.

If there were no images of the horses that we have loved and lost or the people and events that marked the progression of racing on the flat or over jumps from its rough beginnings to today, our collective memory would be rendered null and void. The role of the work of professional track photographers worldwide (from the famous to the fledgling) is that of a cultural ethnologist — people who record the workings of a culture so that others, outside of it, can come to understand what makes it tick. Track photographers take us into the culture of horses and people, evoking a world few of us will ever experience as intimately.

The great TONY LEONARD (back to camera) captures a moment for all time: GENUINE RISK being led in after her win in the Kentucky Derby.

The great TONY LEONARD (back to camera) captures a moment for all time: GENUINE RISK being led in after her win in the Kentucky Derby. Photograph and copyright The Chicago Tribune.

This image (below) brought me up sharply when I first saw it. C.C. Cook has captured an entire narrative in what seems, at first glance, a straightforward depiction of a thoroughbred coming on to the track. From the deserted and vast contours of the track that frame man and beast we are given to understand that both are about to confront the very essence of the game. But there is more — Cook has embodied the moment with a suggestion of anticipation, of infinite possibility, since the race itself lies ahead, in the future.

GOSHAWK walks onto the track. Taken in 1923 by the incomparable C.C.Cook.

GOSHAWK walks onto the track, with a young jockey whose last name is Keogh in the irons. Taken in 1923 by the incomparable C.C.Cook.

Goshawk (1920) is beautifully turned out, perhaps by the man walking beside him. His bandages are neat, his tail and mane braided, and his coat gleams. The son of Whisk Broom (1907) was bred by Harry Payne Whitney and sold, before this photograph was taken, to Gifford A. Cochran for the tidy sum of $50,000 USD. In the privately published “The Thoroughbred Stud of H.P. Whitney Esq.” (1928), Whitney describes the colt thus: “Goshawk was a colt of extreme speed and of stakes class.” As a two year-old, the Carol Shilling-trained Goshawk won the Saratoga Special and the Great American Stakes; at three, he won the Quickstep Handicap and ran second to the 1923 Kentucky Derby winner and Horse of the Year, Zev, in the Pimlico Fall Serial #1. Other than these few facts, little else is known of him.

But though Goshawk’s story remains obscure, Cook has given the colt immortality by setting his image in the landscape of his time.

Who knew? MAN O' WAR and Will Harbut in what seems to be an ad campaign for Dodge! Photo and copyright, the digital library of the University of Kentucky.

Who knew? MAN O’ WAR and WILL HARBUT in what seems to be an ad campaign for Dodge. Date unknown. Photo and copyright, the Digital Library of the University of Kentucky.

They were children, their bones and hand-eye coordination still developing.  Why weren’t they in school, or within the safety of their families? What brought them to the track? It seems almost unbelievable that children were competing in one of the most dangerous sports of the day — in the Twenties and Thirties, boys of twelve and thirteen were professional jockeys.

Jockey BASIL JAMES.

Jockey BASIL JAMES. In 1936, at the age of 16, James led all American jockeys in winnings. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

BOBBY JONES (centre) and two other unidentified jockeys at trackside in 1926.

BOBBY JONES (centre) and two other unidentified jockeys at trackside in 1926. The son of a thoroughbred owner, Jones led all jockeys in earnings in 1933. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Jockey EARL PORTER with an unidentified woman.

Jockey EARL PORTER with an unidentified woman. Porter was a champion jockey in the 1930’s in the USA. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Jockey IRA HANFORD (rode Bold Venture to win the Kentucky Derby) with Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch.

Jockey IRA “Babe” HANFORD, who rode Bold Venture to win the 1935 Kentucky Derby, with Max Hirsch and daughter, Mary Hirsch. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Innumerable track images convey aspects of racing history that are iconic, even though they were often taken before anyone had a sense of why they might matter in the future …..

MAN O' WAR'S sire, FAIR PLAY, is shown here receiving a visit from ELIZABETH KANE.

MAN O’ WAR’S sire, FAIR PLAY, is shown here receiving a visit from Riddle farm manager, ELIZABETH KANE. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

The champion filly, MRS. RUSTOM, shown here in 1934. Bred by the Aga Khan, MRS. RUSTOM was brilliant at two, winning the Gimcrack, Dewhurst and the Ham Stakes.

The champion filly, MRS. RUSTOM, shown here in 1934. Bred by the Aga Khan, MRS. RUSTOM was brilliant at two, winning the Gimcrack, Dewhurst and the Ham Stakes.

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

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

Few remember that NORTHERN DANCER ran most of his life with a debilitating hoof problem. Here, the arrow indicates the troublesome hoof as the colt grazes, circa 1964.

Few remember that NORTHERN DANCER ran most of his life with a debilitating hoof problem. Here, the arrow indicates the troublesome hoof as the colt grazes, circa 1964.

These white thoroughbreds are the first to be caught in a photographer's lens. They are WHITE BEAUTY and her brother,

These white thoroughbreds are among the first to be caught in a photographer’s lens, circa 1966. They are WHITE BEAUTY and her half-brother, WAR COLORS (outside), who was also categorized as a roan.

FERDINAND with WILLIE SHOEMAKER, pre-Derby. Several informal photos of the pair make it clear they loved each other.

FERDINAND with WILLIE SHOEMAKER, pre-Derby. Several informal photos of the pair make it clear they loved each other.

1973: GUNSYND, the "GOONIWINDI GREY" was only ever defeated once in starts of over one mile. He was then -- and remains -- beloved.

1973: GUNSYND, aka the “GOONDIWINDI GREY” was only ever defeated once in starts over one mile. He was then — and remains — beloved by Australian racing fans.

Lord Derby's stud, showing four outstanding stallions out for their daily walk with their lads: ALCYDION,

Lord Derby’s stud, showing four outstanding stallions out for their daily walk with their lads: ALYCIDON, NEVER SAY DIE, HYPERION and RIBOT.

1966: The injured ARKLE visits with his owner, Anne Grosvenor, the Duchess of Westminster. Three years later, succumbing to severe arthritis, ARKLE was gone.

1966: The injured ARKLE visits with his owner, Anne Grosvenor, the Duchess of Westminster. Three years later, succumbing to severe arthritis, ARKLE was gone.

BATTLESHIP and another son of MAN O'WAR, WAR VESSEL, depart for England aboard ship where the former would win the Grand National at Aintree.

BATTLESHIP and another son of MAN O’WAR, WAR VESSEL, depart for England aboard ship. BATTLESHIP was on a journey that saw him win the Grand National at Aintree,inscribing his name into a pantheon of champions.

Australia's legend, PETER PAN, shown here reading the morning paper.

Australia’s racing legend, PETER PAN, shown here reading the morning paper.

RUFFIAN being led in by owner Stuart Janney after her win in the last of American racing's Triple Crown For Fillies.

RUFFIAN being led in by owner Stuart Janney after she completes American racing’s Triple Crown For Fillies. Photo and copyright, NYRA.

 

Other images capture thoroughbreds, trainers and handlers interacting at work and play.

Canadian Michael Burns' fine shot of SECRETARIAT and Ronnie Turcotte working at Woodbine, in Toronto, before the colt's final race.

Canadian Michael Burns’ fine shot of SECRETARIAT and Ronnie Turcotte working at Woodbine, in Toronto, before the colt’s final race. Moments later, Turcotte would be set down, denying him one last ride on the colt he loved. Photo and copyright, MICHAEL BURNS.

The great ALYDAR with trainer, John Veitch.

The great ALYDAR with trainer, John Veitch, who makes no secret of his high regard for a colt who never gave up.

SUNDAY SILENCE and Charlie Whittingham.

SUNDAY SILENCE and HOF trainer Charlie Whittingham share a secret. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

GREYHOUND with his Dalmatian dog.

GREYHOUND with his Dalmatian dog.

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

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

"SUNNY JIM" FITZSIMMONS trains youngsters at the starting gate before it went high-tech.

“SUNNY JIM” FITZSIMMONS trains youngsters at the starting gate before it went high-tech. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

The gallant SWAPS meeting fans after a work out.

The gallant SWAPS meeting fans after a work out. Could this be a young Art Sherman in the saddle, trainer of 2015 HOTY CALIFORNIA CHROME? Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

IMPERATRICE (centre), grandam of SECRETARIAT,

IMPERATRICE (centre), grandam of SECRETARIAT, wins the Fall High Weight Handicap at Belmont in 1942. Note her uncanny resemblance to Secretariat’s daughter, TERLINGUA, born over thirty years later. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

Minutes after his birth, baby IRON LEIGE and his dam,

Minutes after his birth, baby IRON LIEGE and his dam, IRON MAIDEN (daughter of WAR ADMIRAL). IRON LIEGE grew up to win the 1957 Kentucky Derby.

 

The romance of the turf gives these old photographs a patina all their own…..

Celebrated photographer and author, BERT CLARK THAYER, appears to be studying his subject's interest in his camera.

1940’s: Celebrated photographer and author, BERT CLARK THAYER, appears to be studying his subject’s interest in his camera.

COLONEL MATT WINN pictured in 1937.

COLONEL MATT WINN pictured in 1937. In 1902, when Churchill Downs in Kentucky was in serious financial difficulty, Winn formed a syndicate of investors to save it. A brilliant marketing manager, it was Winn who convinced Harry Payne Whitney to bring REGRET to Churchill for the Kentucky Derby, which she won.

1927: Lord Durham leads in his Epsom Oaks winner, BEAM, who broke the existing track record.

1927: Lord Durham leads in his Epsom Oaks winner, BEAM, who also broke the existing track record.

Two members of an American racing dynasty, FOXHALL AND JAMES KEENE at the races. KEENELAND is named after this distinguished American family.

Two members of an American racing dynasty, FOXHALL AND JAMES KEENE at the races.

OGDEN PHIPPS leads in Withers winner, WHITE COCKADE. The Phipps family remains prominent in American racing today.

OGDEN PHIPPS leads in Withers winner, WHITE COCKADE. The Phipps family remains prominent in American racing today.

Trainer GINGER McCAIN walking his champion, RED RUM. Ginger faithfully visited "Rummy" until the end of his days.

Trainer GINGER McCAIN walking his champion, RED RUM. Ginger faithfully visited “Rummy” until the end of his days.

WILLIAM WOODWARD at the track. The Woodward is named after him.

WILLIAM WOODWARD at the track. The Woodward is named after him.

1950: A dramatic shot of fillies rounding Tottenham Corner in the Epsom Oaks that same year. ASMENA was the winner.

1950: A dramatic shot of fillies rounding Tottenham Corner in the Epsom Oaks that same year. ASMENA was the winner. Photo and copyright, REUTERS.

1930: Horses go to the post in the Massachusetts Handicap, won by MENOW. Triple Crown winner WAR ADMIRAL is also in here somewhere.

1930: Horses go to the post in the Massachusetts Handicap, won by MENOW. Triple Crown winner WAR ADMIRAL is also in here somewhere.

Although women were either forbidden or else given restricted access to the track in 1925, Laura Walters found an innovative way to show her enthusiasm.

Although women were either forbidden or else given restricted access to the track in 1925, Laura Walters found an innovative way to show her enthusiasm.

1927: Mrs. John D. Hertz, who would later race Triple Crown winner COUNT FLEET, is shown here congratulating Chick Lang who guided her champion filly, ANITA PEABODY, to another win.

1927: Mrs. John D. Hertz, who would later race Triple Crown winner COUNT FLEET, is shown here congratulating Chick Lang who guided her champion filly, ANITA PEABODY, to another win.

Australian superstar TULLOCH, trained by TJ Smith, coming right at you.

HOF and Australian superstar, TULLOCH, trained by the great Tommy J. Smith, Gai Waterhouse’s father. TULLOCH is rated with the likes of champions PHAR LAP, CARBINE and BERNBOROUGH.

 

As newspapers and magazines worldwide go digital, their press photographs are turning up at auction, where some go for as much as $400 – $500 USD. And it’s not public libraries that are buying them but private collectors, thereby making them basically inaccessible to the rest of us.

We wonder if this dispersal might have sad consequences for those studying the thoroughbred and its history in the future. Perhaps it’s a generational “thing” to wonder if every photograph is being digitalized — as opposed to someone guessing what ought to be saved. Or to question the logic behind dispersals of this nature, as in: Why is there nothing to compel newspapers to turn their photo archives over to an institution like the Keeneland Library, that already holds the work of several important track photographers?

But perhaps that’s not state-of-the-art thinking in 2015.

The champion BILLY BARTON arrives from America to run in the Grand National. Only he and the winner, TIPPERARY TIM, would finish the race that year.

The champion BILLY BARTON arrives from America to run in the 1928 Grand National at Aintree. Never an easy horse to handle, brilliant BILLY is looking like he’ll kick up a fuss. On race day, only BILLY and the winner, TIPPERARY TIM, would cross the finish line. Photo and copyright, THE BALTIMORE SUN.

This may look like a typical shot, but it isn't. It shows the three gaits used by trotters and pacers all in the same frame.

This may look like a typical shot, but it isn’t. It shows the three gaits used by trotters and pacers — all in the same frame. Now imagine capturing this image in the 1940’s.

1941: SEABISCUIT leaves the track for the very last time.

1941: SEABISCUIT leaves the track for the very last time. Photo and copyright, THE CHICAGO TRIBUNE.

 

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My grandfather, Carl Leroi Boynton Wheeler, was born at the end of the nineteenth century with what my family called “the horse gene” deep in his blood. As a little girl, I sometimes bugged him to tell me “horse stories.” There were four thoroughbred colts my grandfather cherished: Man O’ War, Gallant Fox (“The Fox”), Count Fleet (“The Count”) and Citation. They garnered his love and respect until the last days of his life. Whereas Man O’ War was incomparable, “The Fox,” “The Count” and Citation were the benchmark against which all other thoroughbreds — including Canada’s hero, Northern Dancer — were measured. 

As we move closer to the 2013 Triple Crown races, THE VAULT joins in the excitement with this weave of Grandpa Wheeler’s reckonings, together with other credible sources of the time, to tell the story of the unlikely colt who brought joy to North America in a time of fear and uncertainty. 

Gallant Fox, shown here in a rare portrait without the famous Belair stable blinkers! Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Gallant Fox, shown here in a rare portrait without the famous Belair stable blinkers! That white around one eye (“wall eye”) was said to intimidate other horses — one of those popular beliefs of the day that has never really been proven. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

Sir Gallahad III raced in France, where he was brilliant, and shortly after going to stud, was sold to a partnership of William Woodward, A.B. Hancock.

The Fox’s sire, Sir Gallahad III, raced in France where he was brilliant. Shortly after going to stud, Sir Gallahad III was sold to the American partnership of William Woodward Sr., A.B. Hancock, Robert A. Fairburn and Marshall Field III. The stallion stood mainly at Woodward’s famous Belair Stud and at Hancock’s Claiborne. He is best remembered as the sire of three Kentucky Derby winners (Gallant Fox, Gallahadion and Hoop Jr.), as well as one Triple Crown winner (Gallant Fox).

The broodmare Marguerite was a Blue Hen, but her partner was only Sir Gallahad III

The broodmare Marguerite (shown here with Gallant Fox as a colt) was a great granddaughter of Domino, through Celt, a son of Commando. A Blue Hen, she was bred twice to Wrack and produced the champion, Peetee-Wrack. Other than Wrack, her only other matches were to Sir Gallahad III. As Hancock put it, “If you’re trying to strike oil, you drill in the same field where it’s been struck before.” The “first strike”was Gallant Fox. Although Marguerite never produced another like him, sons Fighting Fox and Foxbrough won races on both sides of the Atlantic. Her daughter, Marguery, is the tail-ancestress of modern-day champions Generous (Caerleon), Imagine (Sadler’s Wells) and Albertus Maximus (Albert the Great).

This story is about a great thoroughbred, but not one in the tradition of Seattle Slew, Affirmed or the immortal Secretariat.

This colt was a dreamer….always more interested in the world around him than he was in racing. Like Hyperion, he hated to be in training unless there was another horse to chase and catch. And once he’d moved on by the other horse, our subject was inclined to slow to a languid canter, while his eyes hunted the landscape for something really interesting. Fortunately, he had a kind nature and so would do what was asked of him on the track….most of the time.

Exciting as horse racing may be for humans, the life of a typical race horse, then as now, is filled with structure and routine. Not terribly interesting for a colt who, in another life, was almost certainly an explorer or a poet or even a philosopher.

As those who knew him best would expect, even after winning the Preakness, our boy (blinkers and all) is scouring the spectators for something far more interesting than their smiles or applause. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

As those who knew him best would expect, even after winning the Preakness, our boy (blinkers and all) is scouring the environment for something more interesting than the smiles of his fan club. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Marguerite’s boy was a big, handsome colt with a wide, white blaze that ran from his forehead to curl around each nostril, a “wall eye” and four white coronets. Of the eye, it would be said that it gave him a fierce, wild look that put paid to any horse who dared to draw up beside him.

Named Gallant Fox, the colt foal was born on March 23, 1927 and was quick to show his intelligence and the kind of curiosity that goes with it. By the time he hit the track in his 3 year-old season, Gallant Fox was walking into a world of shattered dreams. It was 1930 and North America needed something that transcended a faltering economy and lives lost to the cruelty of the unforeseen.

His bloodlines were impeccable. His sire, Sir Gallahad III was by Teddy (Ajax) out of Plucky Liege (Spearmint), one of the most important broodmares of the 20th century. Plucky Liege (1912) boasted the prepotent St Simon as her broodmare sire, as well as three crosses to another influential stallion, Stockwell. Other than Sir Gallahad III (one of America’s most influential sires), Plucky Liege also produced Bull Dog (sire of the brilliant Bull Lea), Derby winner Bois Roussel (broodmare sire of champion filly, Petite Etoile) and Admiral Drake (leading sire in France in 1955).

Bull Dog was another American foundation sire, produced by Plucky Liege.

Bull Dog was another American foundation sire produced by Plucky Liege.

Gallant Fox’s dam, Marguerite, was a direct descendant of Domino through her sire, Celt. As well, illustrious names filled her pedigree:  Bend Or (Derby and St. James Palace Stakes, Epsom Gold Cup), Doncaster (Epsom Derby, Ascot Gold Cup), St. Simon (champion sire and undefeated in 10 starts in the UK) and Lexington (leading American sire 16 times).

St. Simon was said to have perfect confirmation, a seemingly indefatigable fighting spirit and an exceedingly high-strung temperament.

St. Simon was said to have perfect confirmation, a seemingly indefatigable fighting spirit and an exceedingly high-strung temperament.

The legendary Domino line was responsible for Gallant Fox's dam, Marguerite, who was a direct descendant.

The legendary Domino line was responsible for Gallant Fox’s dam, Marguerite, who was a direct descendant.

Sculptor Gwen Reardon's figure of the stallion, Lexington, adorns Kentucky's Horse Park.

Sculptor Gwen Reardon’s figure of the stallion, Lexington, adorns Kentucky’s Horse Park.

There was no question that powerful blood ran in the veins of Marguerite’s curious son.

As a juvenile, Gallant Fox aka “The Fox of Belair,”or simply”The Fox,” was sent to one of America’s greatest trainers, James Edward (“Sunny Jim”) Fitzsimmons. “Mr. Fitz,” as he was fondly called, had come up through the ranks the hard way, beginning as a stablehand at the age of 10. He knew his thoroughbreds inside-out by the time The Fox arrived in his stable. Mr. Fitz was one of those trainers who was most himself around the barn with his horses. Gallant Fox, he was quick to discover, only trained his best in the company of another horse. Left on his own, the youngster was happier to watch the world go by and this meant, in turn, that he was never keen to be interrupted in order to head out to the track. The Fox wasn’t really a fractious colt, but like so many great thoroughbreds he didn’t like to be pushed around. You couldn’t dominate him — you had to partner up with him. So, Mr. Fitz selected a training trick that seemed to suit them both: the relay race. It involved a number of colts, each of whom took The Fox on at a different point around the track. The colt responded mightily to the challenge, refusing to be headed by another horse.

It was a good thing that Mr. Fitz was running a large stable, because not one of his other horses could keep up with The Fox all the way around the track.

Gallant Fox was more interested in everything going on around him than he was in racing. Although Sunny Jim never doubted his courage, intelligence or ability, it took some doing to train him for competition.

Gallant Fox was more interested in everything going on around him than he was in racing. Although Mr. Fitz never doubted his courage, intelligence or ability, it took some doing to train him. Shown here at trackside, just checking out the action, The Fox is so intent that he poses all alone for the camera — barely moving a muscle.

Trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons (foreground) pictured with his 1939 Derby winner, Johnstown. "Mr. Fitz" dominated American horse racing's "Golden Age." He trained two Triple Crown winners (Gallant Fox and Omaha), as well as winning the Derby 3 times, the Preakness 4 times and the Belmont, 6 times. Other notables trained by Mr. Fitz include Bold Ruler, Nashua and Granville. All told, the trainer sent out 155 stakes-winning horses who captured 470 stakes races.

HOF trainer, “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons (foreground) pictured with his 1939 Kentucky Derby winner, Johnstown. “Mr. Fitz” dominated American horse racing’s “Golden Age.” He trained two Triple Crown winners (Gallant Fox and Omaha) and won the Derby three times, the Preakness four times and the Belmont, six times. Other notables trained by Mr. Fitz included Dark Secret, Bold Ruler, Nashua and Granville. All told, the trainer sent out 155 stakes winners to capture 470 stakes races during his career. As well as training for Woodward’s Belair Stud, Mr. Fitz also trained many champions who ran in the colours of the Phipps’ family.

In his 2 year-old campaign, Gallant Fox continued to be calm, friendly….and insatiably curious.

In the second start of his career, the colt was left at the starting gate — looking at an airplane in the sky overhead. He did, eventually, get going but it was too late to finish in the money — the only time in his career that he wouldn’t.

It was in the Flash Stakes, on his third try, that The Fox broke his maiden, although the second-placed Caruso would beat him four days later. In his fifth start, the Futurity Trial, the Woodward colt seemed to get the hang of it and he put in a good effort, almost catching the winner, Polygamous, at the wire. Next came the Futurity itself, where the 2 year-old star of the 1929 racing season, Whichone, hooked up with The Fox for the first time.

Artist Art Krentz's sketch of champion, Whichone, done in 1929.

Artist Art Krentz’s sketch of champion, Whichone, done in 1929.

As it turned out, The Fox couldn’t quite catch Whichone. But he gave it his best shot, ending up in a tie for second place which he lost by a nose, to place third. The Fox’s last start of the season was in the Junior Champion Stakes at Aqueduct, which he won going away. Whichone captured Champion 2 year-old honours that year, but Gallant Fox was on the radar as “one to watch” in 1930. His flip-flop juvenile season didn’t faze either his owner or his trainer: like many in their day, neither William Woodward Sr. nor Mr. Fitz saw a colt’s 2 year-old season as a more than a dress rehearsal for what lay ahead.

The Fox at three was stronger and more experienced. Photo and copyright, The Chicago Tribune.

The Fox at three was stronger and more experienced. Of the colt, Grandpa Wheeler said, “He could look a bit like a plough horse but he was a blue-blood through and through. He got the Triple with his ears pricked forward.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

As youngsters do, Gallant Fox grew into his 3 year-old year a stronger, more experienced horse. He was joined by jockey Earl Sande, who had been persuaded to come out of retirement to ride him. Sande had been a champion jockey in his day, riding horses like Zev, Flying Ebony and the great Man O’ War (once) to victory. Damon Runyon had even penned him a poem, “There Never Was A Guy So Handy As Sande.” Retiring in 1927, Sande decided to try his hand at training, but his wife died that same year and the champion jockey fell apart. Overweight and almost penniless, Sande headed back to what he knew best, only managing a single win in the 1929 season.

In the meantime, Mr. Fitz was working hard with The Fox to get him to focus on racing rather than sightseeing. He positioned him in the stable so that the 3 year-old could watch all the action and when Mr. Fitz was talking to someone, he’d often acknowledge the colt by reiterating, “Isn’t that so, Mister?” And The Fox would nod his head in agreement. The trainer also indicated to Woodward that it would be ideal if they could land a single jockey for the colt’s 3 year-old season. It was his feeling that The Fox would do his best in the hands of an experienced rider, one who would form a real relationship with him and learn to handle his strengths and quirks.

Mr. Fitz and The Fox.

“Isn’t that so, Mister?” Mr. Fitz and The Fox.

The colt didn’t have a mean bone in his body. But he was a character and although Mr. Fitz had managed to improve his attitude and work ethic, The Fox still had his moments. For one thing, the coppery bay with the wild eye had a tendency to dawdle once he got on the lead: if there was nothing in front of him, The Fox just couldn’t see the point of knocking himself out. It was equally tricky to get him to rate just off the pace. Too, he was quite capable of coming to a sudden halt if something of interest caught his attention, blinkers or no. Heeding Mr. Fitz’s advice, Woodward, acting on the recommendations of his trainer as well as that of Doc Pardee, manager of the Biltmore Stable in Arizona, approached Earl Sande.

Gallant Fox with Earl Sande in 1930. The two would form a partnership as legendary as that of Ron Turcotte and Secretariat.

Gallant Fox with Earl Sande in 1930. The two would form a partnership as legendary as that of Ron Turcotte and Secretariat.

It was, as they say, “a match made in heaven.” Not only did Sande ride Gallant Fox into thoroughbred legend, he also groomed and worked him. Sande taught the colt to play guessing games, hiding treats behind his back. And they seemed to be in a constant conversation that often ended with the colt butting Sande out of his stall. Best of all, Sande adored Marguerite’s handsome son and the colt revelled in his attentions. It was fun when Sande was around and Mr. Fitz began to notice that The Fox’s attitude was improving, largely because he wanted to please his new buddy. For the first time, in a consistent way, Mr. Fitz saw his colt show a competitive edge when training with other horses.

Earl Sande wasn’t one to use his whip unnecessarily. He had quiet hands and a patient way of working with his young horse. The combination of Mr. Fitz’s wisdom and Sande’s quiet confidence in The Fox framed what was to be an absolutely brilliant 3 year-old campaign.

The Fox’s season began with the Wood Memorial, where he met up with the dashing Crack Brigade, owned by Thomas Cassidy. Despite getting a less-than-ideal trip, Gallant Fox beat Crack Brigade by 4 lengths. Next, it was on to the Preakness, which in that year was run before the Kentucky Derby at a distance of 1 3/16 (the same distance as today).

The Fox and Earl Sande after winning the Wood Memorial.

The Fox and Earl Sande after winning the Wood Memorial. As Sande had told the press, “As long as there is a horse in front of The Fox, you can ride him backwards. He’ll use his competitive spirit to find a way to win.” Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The Fox would again take on Crack Brigade, as well a really lovely filly named Snowflake, who came home third. Snowflake, owned by Walter J. Salmon, would end her 3 year-old campaign taking champion co-honours with the more famous Alcibiades, owned by Hal Price Headley. She was that good.

Here’s an excerpt from turf writer and CBS (radio) broadcaster Bryan Fields’ report of the race that appeared in the New York Times:

BALTIMORE, Md., May 9    

William Woodward won his first Preakness and Earl Sande rode his first Preakness winner when Gallant Fox captured Maryland’s greatest turf classic before 40,000 persons at Pimlico today.

The son of Sir Gallahad III and Marguerite came from next to last position at the half-mile mark to the heels of Thomas Cassidy’s pace-making Crack Brigade at the mile. Three-sixteenths further, the end of the race, and Gallant Fox was the winner by three-quarters of a length and had earned $51, 925. The time was 2.00.35. 

… The snapping of pictures at the finish and a talk over the radio took considerable time and quite obscured the quiet stroll in from the infield of a smiling , middle-aged figure. It was Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, trainer of the winner. Asked if he ever was worried when Gallant Fox ‘s prospects looked so poor, he said: ” No, he’s a fine colt and when he got close to the leaders I knew it was all over. But that Crack Brigade is a nice horse too.”

Gallant Fox comes home in The Preakness, ears pricked forward. Crack Brigade is at the rail. The Fox won it in the second quickest time ever recorded.

Gallant Fox comes home in The Preakness, ears pricked forward. The Fox won it in the second quickest time ever recorded. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Next up was the Kentucky Derby. Other runners included second-place finisher in The Preakness, Crack Brigade, as well as the filly Alcibiades and Tannery, the “pride of the Bluegrass” and the colt thought to be the best hope of defeating The Preakness winner. Gallant Knight and Ned O. rounded out the favourites the field of fourteen.

The day was rainy and grey, but this didn’t deter the fans, who began rushing in at 7 a.m. when the gates opened. By race time, an estimated 60,000 had assembled. Among the spectators, the most distinguished was undoubtedly England’s Lord Derby, who was housed in a glass pagoda near the finish line with William Woodward and other luminaries of American racing.

In the winner's circle, wearing the famous wreath of roses. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

In the winner’s circle, wearing the famous wreath of roses. Gallant Fox had come home to win the Derby in the pouring rain, with Earl Sande’s gentle hands encouraging him on. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Gallant Fox swung into the top of the stretch at Churchill Downs today, running free in the van [vanguard] of the Kentucky Derby field, while a quarter of a mile away in a glass-enclosed pagoda near the finish line a big-shouldered man dropped a pair of binoculars from his eyes with a throaty exclamation, ‘ Great stuff! I’m glad!’ 

It was Lord Derby of England turning to William Woodward , owner of the horse, which stands alone tonight as the champion 3 year-old in America.

Sixty thousand persons massed at the track were still roaring themselves hoarse for Gallant Fox or one or more of the fourteen thoroughbreds behind him when Lord Derby made his remark to Mr. Woodward. The race was far from over, but Lord Derby’s ancestors have been racing horses for centuries and he had seen the best in the Derby field challenge Gallant Fox only to be beaten off in the backstretch and on the bend…He knew the race was over and said so. Perhaps ten seconds later the big bay colt swept passed the little glass house to the finish line…

… Gallant Fox and Sande saluted the stewards, were drawn into the tiny protected oblong of greensward next to Lord Derby’s pagoda and Mr. Woodward stepped out into the rain. Without a topcoat, he strode across the lawn and grasped Sande’s hand and congratulated him on riding his third Derby winner, the first jockey to do this since Isaac Murphy in the previous century.

Then he caressed Gallant Fox, undefeated this year…Photographers by tens scaled the fence and in three minutes Mr. Woodward and Sande were surrounded…” (Bryan Field, The New York Times)

There were other “firsts” attached to the Derby win. It was the first Derby where the horses started from an electronic starting gate. And Gallant Fox became the first thoroughbred in the twentieth century to annex both The Preakness and The Kentucky Derby, in that order. (Sir Barton had won the first Triple Crown in 1919, but the order of Derby and Preakness were reversed. Too, The Preakness was 1 1/8 miles in 1919.)

All seemed as it should be for Gallant Fox’s Belmont, until — just two days before the race — Earl Sande was involved in a horrendous car crash with fellow jockey, Harry Gross. Sande got away with cuts to his hands and face, so it was a bandaged Earl Sande who rode “The Fox of Belair” — the latest monicker picked up by the Woodward colt — onto Big Sandy on Belmont Stakes day.

Rain was lashing down in thick, grey sheets. And back to contest the Belmont was The Fox’s nemesis, Whichone, still considered by many to be the best 3 year-old in the country. But the red-hooded Fox strode past the stands to the start with his typical nonchalence, Sande sitting quietly, the reins slackened over the colt’s withers.

The first fractions were slow, but The Fox was on the lead and held it throughout. Each time another horse tried to get close to him, Sande let out the reins a notch and The Fox was off again. There was no speed duel between Whichone and Gallant Fox, as had been anticipated. Instead, The Belmont became a procession, with a champion in the lead. William Woodward’s colt crossed the finish line 4 lengths ahead of Whichone, going away. The Fox had won the “triple crown” under a hand ride and his victory marked the christening of the term “Triple Crown” to describe a winner of the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes.

The running of the Belmont Stakes of 1930. Gallant Fox is just getting ready to leave Whichone behind in the stretch in this shot. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

The running of the 1930 Belmont Stakes. Gallant Fox is just getting ready to leave the Whitney’s Whichone behind in the stretch. The Fox’s win set a Belmont Stakes track record. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

William Woodward leads in his Triple Crown winner. The Fox got a little fractious in the winner's circle even though his owner managed to hang onto him until Mr. Fitz arrived to take charge. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

William Woodward leads in his Triple Crown winner. Gallant Fox got a little fractious in the winner’s circle, even though his proud owner managed to hang on to him until Mr. Fitz arrived. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

For a re-cap of Gallant Fox’s Triple Crown, enjoy this great piece of old newsreel footage. (Some highlights include The Fox and Sande breaking through the barrier at the start of the Preakness — twice! And there is also some superb footage of Alcibiades and Snowflake (white blaze) coming up to get third in the Preakness. In the Belmont footage, the blur is rain!!!!)

Following his Triple Crown, Gallant Fox went on to take the Dwyer and to win a hard-fought battle with Gallant Knight in the Arlington Classic. The latter endeared him to fans and turf writers alike, and he began to be compared to the great Man O’ War. The New York Times’ Bryan Field made the following observation: “Gallant Fox is a horse of individuality and magnetism, and thus far has behaved in the opposite manner to the tempestuous Man o’ War, who was a devil to break and a big, raw colt to handle and train as a two-year-old. He gives the impression of unusual grace and distinction and his symmetry and harmony have attracted thousands of admirers, as did Man o’ War’s effervescent temperament.”  

In the Lawrence Realization, the colt met up with the brilliant Questionnaire, who had only lost once — to Gallant Fox in the Belmont, where he finished third. It was a match-up that showed the greatness of the nation’s second Triple Crown winner. Trailing at the start of the race, Gallant Fox and Questionnaire went eyeball-to-eyeball in a driving finish, with Belair’s red-hooded super horse crossing the finish first by a head. The Fox also annexed the Saratoga Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup, in which only one other horse stepped up to race him. He was declared the 1930 Horse of the Year or, as many preferred to say, the “Horse of the Century.”

Questionnaire, shown here at stud, gave Gallant Fox one of the toughest challenges of his career.

Questionnaire, shown at stud, handed Gallant Fox one of the toughest challenges on the track.

The biggest upset of The Fox’s career came in the Travers (1930) when he and Whichone duelled each other from the start, enabling a rank outsider, Jim Dandy, to leave them both behind — by some 8 lengths. In the silent footage below, you get a sense of what transpired. (NOTE: Clearer at thumbnail size than on a full screen.)

Gallant Fox was retired to Claiborne Farm after his Gold Cup win when he came up with a fever and cough. His all-too-brief appearance on the stage was always recollected with a certain melancholy by my grandfather, who stressed that the champion was “just starting to show his real mettle” late in his 3 year-old season.

At stud, Gallant Fox produced a third Triple Crown winner in his very first crop, at the age of 5: Omaha. He also sired Flares, a full brother to Omaha, who won the Ascot Gold Cup, as well as the 1936 Horse of the Year, Granville. He was a moderately successful sire; his full brother, Fighting Fox, was less successful as a runner but more consistent in the breeding shed. Still, Gallant Fox remains the only Triple Crown winner to sire a Triple Crown winner and that only adds to his cachet.

Gallant Fox's full brother, Fighting Fox. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

Gallant Fox’s full brother, Fighting Fox. Photo and copyright, The Baltimore Sun.

" He was a meteor who swept across the sky of racing in 1930."

” He swept like a meteor across the racing sky of 1930.”

When he died in 1954 Gallant Fox was laid to rest at Claiborne, where he had first come into the world.

His epitaph reads, “He swept like a meteor across the racing sky of 1930” — a fitting tribute to a thoroughbred whose dignity, determination and capacity to dream illuminated the darkness of the Great Depression.

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