The University Press of Kentucky’s Warehouse Sale ends Monday! Here is what I’ve bought so far, my last chance to talk you into buying some great books.
After splashing through the mud beneath the Twin Spires, Loftus guided Sir Barton over to the winner’s circle, where a uniformed attendant draped a blanket of greenery and roses over his withers. His groom stood by his head, slipping the cupped hood off so that the crowd could see their new champion in full. On a gray day, the burnished chestnut had only a cascade of white down his elegant face to interrupt the coppery coat. Was he blowing from the effort? Or had it felt like a workout, a joyful gallop around the track leading the herd home?
In the wee hours of the following morning, he walked through the dark to the waiting car, his hooves clopping on the ramp up into the stall that would be his home for the coming journey. How many of them yawned as the wiry man oversaw their efforts? He wasn’t called “Hard Guy” for nothing: did he snap at them if they tarried? Did he pat the noses of his charges, maybe even manage a smile for his Kentucky Derby winner? Did H.G. Bedwell tick down his checklist of what needed to be done once they arrived? Had he already worked out a strategy for Wednesday’s race? It was the Preakness after all, with its $25,000 purse waiting.
The train wound its way from Kentucky to Maryland, from the Bluegrass to the home of the blue crab. Did the horses sway in their stalls, lulled by the ambient motion of the train over the steel tracks? Did they know they were off to their next test, another meeting at the barrier? As they slid into Pimlico, were they tired from their journey or were they ready to run? For his part, Sir Barton seemed “as proud as a peacock and did not seem a bit sore after his win of the Derby on Saturday.” (Washington Herald, May 13, 1919). Did he walk into his stall aware that all of their eyes were on him?
On a warm late spring day, with the sun shining down on the crowd of thousands, he lined up at the barrier with eleven others, standing toward the middle of the undulating crowd of horses. When the start came, his feet were the fastest, finding the front and not allowing another horse to get near him. He flashed under the wire, triumphant and unprecedented: he was the first to win the Kentucky Derby AND the Preakness Stakes. After his show, he returned to the ovation of the thousands, Loftus tipping his cap to the thunderous hands of the race’s witnesses. Commander Ross and H.G. Bedwell beamed, posing with the vaunted Woodlawn Vase for the cameras. Loftus beamed, his young face untouched by the Pimlico dirt this day.
In the background, a man climbed up to the Pimlico weathervane, paint cans in hand, and splashed the Preakness with Ross orange and black, a visible reminder of history made this day, May 14, 1919.
On this day in 1916, Lady Sterling gave birth to a golden chestnut colt with a wide blaze, a son of Star Shoot that destined to make history three years later. One hundred and four years later, let’s celebrate Sir Barton’s birthday with twenty-six fun facts about our first Triple Crown winner.
- Both Star Shoot and Lady Sterling both were blind or nearly blind at the time of Sir Barton’s conception.
- Sir Barton was named for Sir Andrew Barton, the Scottish privateer whose letter of marque allowed him to attack ships from enemy nations and then potentially keep their cargo.
- Trainer H.G. Bedwell would tease Sir Barton whenever the horse stuck his head out of his stall. The trainer would slap the colt on the muzzle and Sir Barton would try to catch his hand. This led to the horse’s tendency to grab for people when they got too close.
- Star Shoot died in November 1919 at age 21. Lady Sterling died in 1920 at age 21. Sir Barton died on October 30, 1937 at age 21.
- Sir Barton set a track record in the 1920 Saratoga Handicap. He ran the mile and a quarter in 2:01 4/5. Man o’ War duplicated that time in the Travers Stakes that same year.
- Sir Barton set a world record for 1 3/16 miles in the 1920 Merchants and Citizens Handicap. His time was 1:55 3/5.
- Sir Barton and Man o’ War met in a match race at Kenilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario on October 12, 1920. The Educational Film Corporation set up fourteen cameras to film the race in its entirety, combining that with pre-race footage of both horses. The resulting film was called The Race of the Age and was shown in theatres across the United States.
- After his retirement in 1921, Sir Barton stood for one season at Commander J.K.L. Ross’s Maryland farm before his sale to Audley Farm near Berryville, VA. Brothers Montfort and B.B. Jones wanted Sir Barton to head their new breeding operation.
- Sir Barton is buried in Washington Park in Douglas, WY. How the heck did our first Triple Crown winner end up in Wyoming? Read Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown to learn all about it!
- Sir Barton’s April 26th birthday is not the latest of our thirteen Triple Crown winners. War Admiral was born on May 2nd.
100 years ago, 1920 — The Maryland state legislature was considering the Burke Measure, also known the Burke-Janney law, creating the Maryland Racing Commission and putting racing in the state of Maryland under more state oversight. Once the bill passed, the state’s racetracks — Havre de Grace, Bowie, Pimlico, and Laurel — shared 100 racing days a year and were required to pay $6,000 a day in taxes to the state.
Read more about that in Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown, chapter 11.
75 years ago, 1945 — Racetracks in the United States were dark on orders of the War Department. In England, however, Ascot was open, leaving American soldiers wondering why the Brits were able to race when racing here had been closed for the duration.
Read more in the Louisville Courier-Journal, April 3, 1945.
50 years ago, 1970 — Peter Fuller’s pursuit of Dancer’s Image’s share of the 1968 Kentucky Derby purse continues in Kentucky.
Read the article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, April 3, 1970.
The dark, dank trenches of France behind him, imagine your doughboy stepping off a ship onto American soil. For the first time in many months, he is back in his own country, but he can’t come home to you just yet. Instead, he reports to his unit’s headquarters and finds himself surrounded by frantic doctors and nurses trying to squelch an epidemic.
In the late fall of 1918, as the Great War was winding down and American soldiers were boarding ships back to the United States, they brought with them an unwelcome gift: a new and more virulent strain of the Spanish flu. The previous spring had seen an outbreak of the same flu, but the intervening months had mutated the virus into something more deadly, striking the young and healthy as it spread among soldiers and then civilians so quickly that it overwhelmed cities.
In 1918, the horse racing world was much smaller than it is today. By the fall, events like the Kentucky Derby and Saratoga’s late summer meet had already come and gone, but meets at Latonia in northern Kentucky and Laurel in Maryland were at the mercy of measures that governments had to take to stem the tide of this deadly epidemic.
No, No, You Can’t Go
By early October, newspapers were awash in reports about the outbreak of this new strain of the flu, detailing the rise in cases as well as the measures being taken to treat those stricken. Wartime policies had prevented the spread of information about the virus’s movements until it was too late in some areas. The city of Philadelphia had gone ahead with a parade celebrating Liberty Bonds, which the government had sold to help fund the war effort. Days later, a spike in reported flu cases were a direct result of that decision.
That realization led local authorities in both Maryland and Kentucky to limit public gatherings in that crucial first part of October. That meant that both Laurel and Latonia would have to wait. This delayed a number of stakes races, including the match race between two-year-olds Billy Kelly and Eternal that was to decide the best juvenile of the year. The Daily Racing Form updated readers on the latest regarding each meet, optimistically reporting each time the ban might be lifted.
Finally, the bans were lifted in late October, allowing each meet to go forward. Both were delayed by two or three weeks, but racing resumed nevertheless and quickly returned to normal. The Spanish flu would linger for another six months, with another outbreak in the spring of 1919. By that point, the virus had again evolved to a less serious version, marking the end of a nightmarish epidemic in the United States. No corner of the country had been untouched by the Spanish flu: even President Woodrow Wilson endured his own case as he prepared to sign the Treaty of Versailles.
Our ability to diagnose viral infections and understand how they spread is years from where it was a century ago. This knowledge means that we know what we need to do to deal with an epidemic like the COVID-19, including something unprecedented for most of us: the cancellation or postponement of our favorite sports. While we wait for the First Saturday in September and mourn the loss of familiar joys, let us remember that racing eventually returned to normal in 1918 and that will happen again in 2020.
Pete Fornatale and Jonathon Kinchen have a brilliant podcast called the In the Money Podcast, where they talk about handicapping, racing previews, and more. I recently appeared on the show to talk about books, artwork, and other gift ideas for the horse racing person in your life. Here are the books that I recommended!
Happy Giving Tuesday! With Thanksgiving behind us and the winter holidays in front of us, Giving Tuesday is a day to celebrate those who make a difference in our communities by giving a little to help them continue their missions. If you are looking for racing-related charities to give to today, look no further! Here is a list of some worthwhile organzations doing great work in all aspects of the sport:
- National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame — Today, they’re looking for 452 donors to give a little or a lot in honor of each of their 452 honorees.
- Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance — This organization provides a list of aftercare organizations accredited by the TAA if you are looking for a local equine charity.
- Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation — The GJC conducts research that is fundamental for solving ongoing health issues for all horses. They have funded over 300 projects at a number of universities across the world.
- Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund — The PDJF relies solely on donations to provide financial assistance to jockeys who have suffered catastrophic on-track injuries.
- Belmont Child Care Association — The BCCA provides childcare for all workers at Saratoga, Aqueduct, and Belmont Park. Since most workers rise quite early and can work late into the day, this organization provides both childcare and early childhood education to these racetrackers.
- Backside Learning Center — The BLC at Churchill Downs provides educational opportunities to both employees and their families. They offer everything from ESL education for both children and adults to after-school and summer programs for the children of Churchill Down’s equine workers.
- Thoroughbred Charities of America — The TCA provides grants to nonprofit organizations that benefit the thoroughbred and the people who work with them. You can give to the TCA and know that the funds will go to any number of organizations within the industry, including research, aftercare, therapy, and equine employee assistance.
- Saratoga WarHorse — The Saratoga WarHorse program provides equine-assistance therapy to veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress. Working with the horses can provide physical, mental, and emotional relief from the symptoms of PTS for these people who have given so much to our country.
These are only a few of the many organizations out there, but I know all of these will appreciate any and all donations. Big or small, whatever you can give will find its use in many worthwhile initiatives that benefit both the horses and the humans of our sport. I hope you will consider giving on this Giving Tuesday!
Churchill Downs, Pimlico Race Course, Saratoga Race Course, Kentucky Downs, Keeneland Race Course.
The Kentucky Derby Museum, the Keeneland Library, Audley Farm, Long Branch Historic House and Farm, and the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
From Kentucky to Alabama to Maryland to Virginia to New York, thousands of miles via my trusty minivan or leaving on a jet plane.
By early November, 1919 had become a year of mixed blessings for jockey Johnny Loftus. He had been aboard Man o’ War for all of his victories — and his lone defeat. Loftus had ridden winners for a number of racing’s top stables and trainers, everyone from Sam Hildreth to H.G. Bedwell. He had won a Kentucky Derby on Sir Barton but also lost the Dwyer Stakes to Purchase, who Loftus also had ridden to victory that year. Loftus had been set down for rough riding, yet he also had served as trainer Louis Feustel’s go-to rider for a fractious and challenging Man o’ War. With the year winding down, Loftus was looking forward to 1920, possibly his final year in the saddle. Years of fighting his weight left the jockey ready to consider what’s next. In the meantime, he was ready to finish out 1919 on a high note.
The Autumn Handicap on November 5th would prove to be anything but.
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!