One hundred years ago today, in a foaling barn on Hamburg Place in Lexington, Kentucky, Lady Sterling gave birth to one of only a handful of foals she was able to produce in her lifetime. His coat was chestnut and his face had a crooked blaze that flared to the right, covering the right side of his muzzle. His foal number was 187-16, 187 his dam’s number and 16 the year he was born.
Welcome, Harry Hale?
John E. Madden, the colt’s breeder, wanted to name Lady Sterling’s foal, a son of Star Shoot, then one of America’s leading sires, Harry Hale after his son’s commanding officer. Concerned about the appearance of brown-nosing, his son convinced Madden to name the foal Sir Barton, after Sir Andrew Barton, noted privateer and High Admiral of the kingdom of Scotland in the late 15th century. The colt was a half-brother to Sir Martin, Madden’s own champion who was standing stud at Hamburg Place as well. Much like his half-brother, Sir Barton’s pedigree held promise, with two English Triple Crown winners and other champions in his lineage.
From the get-go, Sir Barton stood out. A visitor to Hamburg Place asked about the yearlings currently there; the operation regularly turned out hundreds of thoroughbreds in a year. Frank Brosche, the farm’s colt breaker, brought out the chestnut colt and declared him “king of them all.” Madden took Sir Barton to the races at age two, but, as a late spring foal, it took him several races before he began to show any glimmer of the potential Brosche saw.
At the Races
John E. Madden’s philosophy was that it was better to sell than to hold on to his horses, no matter how dear to him they might be. He knew J.K.L. Ross was trying to build a championship stable and so Madden approached him about adding Sir Barton to his burgeoning string of racers. The Canadian purchased the colt in August 1918, for a reported $10,000 (though some newspapers had the purchase price as $20,000). At first, the colt didn’t do much for Ross; he didn’t like to work so trainer H.G. Bedwell had to stage races as workouts for Sir Barton, using other horses in the stable to round the colt into form. During one workout, he got too close to another horse, Foreground, and received a kick in the stifle for it. The wounds from that kick festered and Sir Barton nearly died of blood poisoning in the fall of 1918. Bedwell nursed him back to health himself, but it meant that Sir Barton went to Louisville for the 1919 Derby still a maiden.
Bedwell wanted Sir Barton in the Derby to set a fast pace and wear out the other favorites so that Billy Kelly would have a chance to score, but, if Sir Barton seemed to be able to win on his own merits, the trainer encouraged jockey Johnny Loftus to let him. The colt did, breaking his maiden in one of the racing world’s biggest events. Some dismissed the win as a fluke, with a maiden allowance of ten pounds possibly giving Sir Barton an advantage. The son of Star Shoot was no flash in the pan, though, as he proved four days later in Baltimore.
Sir Barton followed up his unexpected win in the Kentucky Derby with another win in the Preakness Stakes, a double that had never happened before, and then wins in the Withers Stakes and the Belmont Stakes, all coming within a month. He set the world on fire with his new form, named the top three-year-old of 1919 and then became a highly regarded older horse at age four. He might even be counted among one of the greats of his era had he not run up against the 20th century’s greatest thoroughbred, Man O’War, who was one year his junior. After a defeat at the hands of Man O’War in an October 1920 match race, Sir Barton ran three more times, losing each race, and then was retired the following year.
After the Glory
Ross then sold the champion to Audley Farm and the Jones brothers, who themselves had a fledgling racing and breeding operation. When his stud career failed to match the luster of his racing career, the Jones brothers turned Sir Barton over to the Remount Service, which supplied horses for the military. Sir Barton started out at Fort Royal in Virginia, then went to Nebraska, and finally ended up in Wyoming, at the ranch of Dr. Joseph Roy Hylton. There, Sir Barton spent his remaining years, showing little of the cantankerousness that he had had during his racing career. The champion died October 30, 1937 after a bout of colic. He was twenty-one years old. Hylton buried him on the family’s property in the Laramie Mountains.
Dr. Hylton passed away in 1946 and eventually the ranch changed hands. Concerned about Sir Barton’s grave being lost, Douglas, WY resident Gordon Turner worked along with the Douglas Chamber of Commerce to raise the funds to move Sir Barton’s remains from that near-anonymous grave to his current resting place in Washington Park.
Above All, the Legacy
For all of the things that this son of Star Shoot and Lady Sterling was – sore-footed grouch, lackluster stallion, or second fiddle to the greatest horse of an entire century – Sir Barton’s legacy of winning the Triple Crown, the first to claim all three and only the second horse ever to run in the three classics, has shaped thoroughbred racing as we know it today. As we celebrate American Pharoah’s feat in 2015, as we look forward to asking Can it can happen again? this year and every year, we can look toward Douglas, Wyoming and the final resting place of the first Triple Crown winner and contemplate his place in racing history.
Happy 100th Birthday, Sir Barton!