Sir Barton Wins the Preakness Stakes!

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When he crossed the finish line first in Louisville on May 10th, Sir Barton earned himself a trip to Baltimore and Pimlico for the Preakness on May 14th. It was a path that only four other horses had taken before him, but the $25,000 purse made the 600-mile trek worth it. With only four days separating the two races, it was a big question mark for H.G. Bedwell and J.K.L. Ross whether or not the chestnut colt could duplicate his Derby victory, but they seemed willing to try. Sir Barton was put on a train and shipped to Baltimore as soon as possible after his Derby victory. Stablemate Billy Kelly, who had finished second in the Derby, was not eligible for the Preakness because he was a gelding so the connections decided to send the good filly Milkmaid with Sir Barton instead.

Johnny Loftus was back on Sir Barton’s back for the Preakness and Earl Sande, the Ross Stable’s contract rider, had the mount on Milkmaid. The track was fast this time and Sir Barton carried the full 126 pounds, no longer running with the benefit of the maiden allowance. Supporters of horses like Eternal thought of Sir Barton’s performance in the Derby as a fluke, that the maiden allowance or the muddy track explained the whole thing. This was a one-off like other horses who just happened to run their best race that day and then never again. They were wrong, though: Sir Barton was no flash in the pan.

He proved it from the start of the Preakness. Sande and Milkmaid were there to help ensure that Sir Barton would get a good start since another starter, Vindex, tended to be fractious at the barrier. If Sir Barton looked to be compromised in any way, then Sande was to shake his mount up so that the starter wouldn’t be able to drop the barrier. This had to be done, though, without the judges catching him so Sande wouldn’t get in trouble. Finally, the field was still enough for the barrier to lift and the race to begin.

Sir Barton shot to the lead and, much like the Derby, never relinquished it. He was a length ahead of King Plaudit until the three-quarters mark when Eternal, who was supposed to get his revenge in this race and prove his backers right about his ability, made his move. In the stretch, Sir Barton pulled out to a six-length lead and then Loftus eased the son of Star Shoot, flashing under the wire four lengths ahead of Eternal. In winning the Preakness, he did something that no one else had done at that time, winning the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness. At this point, only one other horse had made the trek from Louisville to Baltimore to New York, that being War Cloud in 1918, and only three others had traveled from Louisville to Baltimore for both races. Never had anyone won both. The double was quite a feat at the time.

Of course, Sir Barton would go on to win the Belmont a little over three weeks later and become our first Triple Crown winner. Despite his stellar credentials on the track, Sir Barton was less successful in the breeding shed. Eternal, for all of his lack of success in what we now know as the classics, made his mark on racing by siring enough good horses that he appears in the pedigrees of some of the 2016 Kentucky Derby starters.

Ninety-seven years ago today, we were that much closer to the racing world being changed forever. One more race laid between Sir Barton and immortality. Two more lie between Nyquist and his own place in racing history.

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Sir Barton Wins the Kentucky Derby!

The 1919 Kentucky Derby was supposed to be a battle between Billy Kelly and Eternal. Both colts had been the best of the juveniles the year before and both were highly regarded, so much so that notorious gambler Arnold Rothstein bet J.K.L. Ross, Billy Kelly’s owner, that Eternal would win. The bet was $50,000, a sum that would be closer to $700,000 in today’s money.

Ross had several three-year-olds in training, but his trainer H.G. Bedwell elected to bring Billy Kelly and Sir Barton, who hadn’t raced since his start in the Belmont Futurity the previous September, to Louisville for the big race. Billy Kelly had had a good spring, winning his last three races prior to arriving at Churchill Downs. Sir Barton, still a maiden, had shown quite a bit of speed in his workouts, but his long layoff, a result of his fight with blood poisoning the fall before, made him a question mark still. Bedwell saw Sir Barton’s speed as a potential tool for eliminating Eternal and making the way for Billy Kelly. Cal Shilling, a former jockey and now Bedwell’s assistant trainer, was advocating for Sir Barton, but Billy Kelly was Bedwell’s favorite. When the skies opened up over Louisville, Bedwell got antsy about starting the son of Star Shoot; he wasn’t sure how Sir Barton would handle the muddy track. But, at 5.10 pm on May 10, 1919, twelve horses went to the post, with Billy Kelly and Sir Barton coupled in the betting.

Sir Barton broke in front and no other horse got a nose in front of him throughout the mile and a quarter. This son of Star Shoot held off all comers, including his stablemate Billy Kelly, to win the Kentucky Derby in 2:09 4/5 on a track rated as heavy. He carried 112.5 pounds, his jockey Johnny Loftus unable to lose that last 2.5 pounds to get to 110 pounds, the weight maidens carried. The next day, Sir Barton went to Baltimore for the Preakness, set for May 14th, just four days after the Derby.

With his win in the Derby, Sir Barton set off on his path toward the first Triple Crown. Ross collected on his bet with Rothstein, a $50,000 check arriving soon after Billy Kelly beat Eternal while finishing second to his stablemate.

1933 Kentucky Derby — The Fighting Finish

Have you ever seen this photograph, the Fighting Finish of the 1933 Kentucky Derby? On the right is Broker’s Tip, ridden by Don Meade, and on the left is Head Play, ridden by Herb Fisher. As the field headed for home in the Derby, Meade on Broker’s Tip took his mount inside, taking advantage of Head Play’s swing wide on the turn, which also took a couple of horses with him. Head Play had gained the lead about halfway through the race, at the 3/4 mile mark, but Broker’s Tip had been toward the back, first hanging out in 11th, then 8th, and then just behind the leaders going into the turn. His inside move meant that Meade was now on the rail and Fisher and Head Play was on the outside. Charlie Corbett, on Charley O, yelled at Fisher to look on his inside. By then, Broker’s Tip and Meade were already level with Fisher and Head Play

The horses were together going down the stretch and Fisher, incensed that Meade had made that move, decided to try to intimidate his opponent and tried to push Broker’s Tip into the rail. Determined to fight back, Meade shoved back and grabbed at Head Play’s saddlecloth in the process. Fisher took a couple of swings at Meade with his whip and then it turned into a free-for-all as they approached the wire. The finish was close, what we would call a photo finish, though, during this era, tracks didn’t have cameras mounted to capture the finish and determine the winner. Still fighting, Fisher whacked Meade with his whip after they had crossed the wire and then rode up to the judges’ stand to lodge a foul claim against Meade.

The judges denied the foul and declared Broker’s Tip the winner by a nose. Meade and Fisher continued their conflict into the jockey’s room, where Fisher attacked Meade and the two had to be separated. Each received a 30-day suspension for their rough riding in the Derby and Fisher got an additional five days for fighting.

Thirty years later, in 1985, the jockeys returned to Churchill Downs and the site of their infamous fight down the stretch. They talk about the finish of the 1933 Kentucky Derby in this video.

Happy Derby Week! Derby Day is just two days away!