Thanks to my friend Judy Jones, herself a talented artist and horse lover, I was able to pop into the Red Mile, a one-mile harness racing track located near the University of Kentucky in Lexington. What an evening!
Gnome was a horse on a hot streak. Coming off a win in the Champlain Handicap, the chestnut colt counted the great Exterminator amongst those he had beaten at Saratoga that August. Now, still the beneficiary of a break in weights, Gnome faced the barrier alongside Sir Barton.
Sir Barton had started August with a track record in the Saratoga Handicap at a mile and a quarter. He had then run that distance again at Fort Erie, winning easily, but now he was back at Saratoga for this race, the Merchants and Citizens Handicap. Again laden with 133 pounds, Commander Ross’s champion horse stood at the barrier, Gnome to his left and Jack Stuart to his right. Ahead lay a mile and three-sixteenths. One more race, another step closer to a potential meeting with the juggernaut that was Man o’ War.
Ninety-nine years ago, Sir Barton and Gnome met on the Saratoga oval for a record-setting performance, a finish so close that only the judges could determine the winner. Luckily photographer Charles Cook snapped the combatants as they battled to the wire.
A world record, a close finish, and a die cast for a match race. Read more about Sir Barton’s turn in the Merchants and Citizens Handicap in Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown (Chapter 13).
The 150th edition of the Travers Stakes, the Midsummer Derby for three-year-olds, will be run at Saratoga Race Course this Saturday. The Travers trophy has legendary origins of its own, as I discussed here, but 2019 features something new for racing fans: an epic book on the history of the Travers Stakes, written by Brien Bouyea and Michael Veitch.
I have the privilege of visiting Saratoga Spring, New York and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame this weekend for two events:
Author Talk: Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown — Friday, August 16th at 6:30 pm. After my presentation, I will be signing books.
I hope you can come by and see me! I would love to talk about all things Sir Barton and racing history with you!
Every time Triple Crown season rolls around, Kenny Rice is there, reporting for NBC Sports. You can catch his familiar cadence and expert coverage on their broadcasts so imagine my thrill when I discovered that Mr. Rice had a show of his own! Streaming on YouTube, you will find all 29 episodes, featuring names like Bill Parcells, Mike Smith, Bill Mott, Larry Collmus, and more. Imagine my delight when I was able to part of Mr. Rice’s Horse Racing Show! Below you can find my interview with Mr. Rice.
You can find the show on YouTube and subscribe to their channel or stream the audio here. Thank you to Kenny Rice and his staff for this chance to be a part of a great show!
Eternal had had enough of Sir Barton. As the day of the mile-and-an-eighth Dwyer bloomed gloomy with the summer rain, Kimball Patterson, the colt’s trainer, took the weather as a sign that perhaps it was time to say when. Eternal had faced Sir Barton three times in 1919 and all three times the son of Star Shoot had gotten the better of the juvenile co-champion of 1918. Sir Barton was simply the better of the two now.
Almost a month after his Belmont Stakes victory, Sir Barton was still a perfect four-for-four in 1919. After reeling off all of his victories in only 32 days, the winner of what we now know as the first Triple Crown had had a break, but now was ready to face the barrier for the Dwyer, Commander Ross eager to add another laurel to his champion’s resumé. The rain had driven all but two other horses from facing Sir Barton on July 10, 1919. Crystal Ford was clearly out of his element, but, hey, with only three horses in the field, the colt was bound to win some money. The show, though, belonged to Sir Barton and Purchase, two colts on hot streaks that begged for something extraordinary to happen.
It’s July 4th weekend! Summer is already half over, but you still have plenty of time to kick back, relax, and enjoy some downtime before you get back to the grind. What better way to enjoy your free time this weekend than with Sir Barton? I will be around the Lexington/Frankfort area on July 5th and 6th. I hope you will come by, say hi, and talk all things Sammy and racing!
July 5 @ 12 pm — Kentucky Historical Society, Frankfort, KY
July 6 @ 10 am — Paul Sawyier Library, Frankfort, KY
July 6th @ 2 pm — Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY
If you can’t make it out to the Lexington/Frankfort area, why not pick up a copy of Sammy’s story for your beach reading? Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown is available from your favorite bookseller or library. If your library doesn’t carry the book, you can request it.
Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown is out! You can find it at the University Press of Kentucky, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million. If you find it in your local bookstore, let me know! I’m on Twitter and Instagram (@thesirbarton).
If you’d like a cool piece of Sir Barton swag, look no further than Old Smoke! Their line of t-shirts is a personal favorite of mine. Check them out!
JUNE 11, 1919
This Wednesday in New York dawned bright and warm, the almost-summer sun beating down on the regal space of Belmont Park. The trains brought in more and more people, to the point that the grounds swelled with 25,000 in attendance, twice the usual number of fans for mid-week at the track we know as Big Sandy. The first race went off at 2.44 pm, with a steeplechase and a stakes race to follow, but the throng wasn’t there for that. No, they had turned out for one race and one horse. The fourth race was the Belmont Stakes and the horse they all came to see was racing’s newest star, the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, Sir Barton.
After Book Tour Part I took me around the Commonwealth, I had a blissful week at home recovering before I headed back to Kentucky for the tremendous honor of participating in the Keeneland Library Lecture Series and then buzzing over to Baltimore for Preakness weekend, where I had a signing on Black-Eyed Susan Day at Pimlico and then got to yell “Riders Up!” for the Sir Barton Stakes on Preakness Day. It was a whirlwind week of traveling, one that I will definitely never forget.