Sir Barton & the Travers Trophy


This past weekend, Arrogate dazzled Saratoga and inserted himself into the three-year-old championship conversation by winning the 1 1/4 Travers Stakes in 1.59.36, the fastest time ever in the race’s 147 years. In the winner’s circle, Arrogate’s connections accepted the Travers trophy, pictured above. Even though Sir Barton didn’t run in the Travers in 1919 (Hannibal won), he has a connection to the ‘Midsummer Derby’ every time the winning owner accepts that gold trophy.

On October 12, 1920, Man O’War and Sir Barton met on the dirt track at Kenilworth in Ontario. The purse was $75,000 with a $5,000 Tiffany gold cup promised to the winner by promoter Abe Orpen. Man O’War dominated the match race, coming home seven lengths in front of Sir Barton. Samuel Riddle accepted the gold cup from Orpen and then poured champagne into it, allowing Big Red to drink some as shown here in this post-race photograph.


Mrs. Elizabeth Riddle, wife of Man O’War’s owner Samuel Riddle, presented the trophy to Saratoga in 1936, asking only that a member of the Riddle family present the trophy to the winner of the Travers Stakes each year. A smaller version of the trophy is presented to the winning owner each year. That means that each year the racing world is reminded of the match race and each year we remember Sir Barton and Man O’War and ‘the Race of the Century’ and what it means to thoroughbred racing.

Congratulations to Arrogate on his sizzling performance and to his connections, Juddmonte Farms, Bob Baffert, and Mike Smith, on their victory in the Travers!

I found this fun little video of Arrogate as a yearling in the sales ring at Keeneland in 2014. Enjoy!




Sir Barton Wins the Merchants & Citizens’ Handicap


Fresh off a victory in the Dominion Handicap, Sir Barton had made the trip from Fort Erie back to Saratoga, where he had won the Saratoga Handicap earlier in the month. His Dominion victory was a special one for owner J.K.L. Ross, who was deeply involved in growing racing in Canada now that the War was over. Sir Barton was the most accomplished horse in his stable and Ross was thrilled to be able to show him off in his native land. Now, though, it was back to business as the Triple Crown champion marched toward a date with the ascendant Man O’War.

The Merchants and Citizens’ Handicap was a 1 3/16 mile feature on the card for August 29, 1920. Sir Barton originally had four other competitors, including his stablemate, Boniface. By post time, though, the field was down to three: the champion, Gnome, and Jack Stuart. Earl Sande was back on Sir Barton, as he had been for much of 1920, and Frank Keogh was on Gnome. The purse was about $7,000, with $5,200 going to the winner.

As the three horse rolled toward the barrier for the start, rumors persisted that Sir Barton had not shipped well, reducing his backing in the betting somewhat. A lackluster warm-up before the race further solidified doubts about his condition. Couple that with the weight he was carrying (133 pounds) and the weight he was giving to his competition (18-24 pounds) and it was clear to see why Sir Barton wasn’t as sure of a bet as he might have been.

From the start, Sir Barton jumped out to the lead and never let it go. His fractions were fast: 23 2/5, 47 2/5, 1.12 3/5, 1.36 2/5. He led by a length for most of the race, with Jack Stuart behind and then Gnome. In the stretch, though, Keogh sent Gnome to challenge the champion and it took all of Earl Sande’s talent as a rider to keep Sir Barton’s head in front of Gnome’s. As they thundered down the stretch, as depicted in the photo above, the Triple Crown winner bobbed his nose just in front of Gnome’s, finally flashing under the wire to the roar of the Saratoga crowd. The photo finish system had not been invented yet and so close finishes came down to the judges, who ruled in favor of Sir Barton. The time? 1.55 3/5, a new American record.

With this race, Sir Barton set his second American record in a month and the calls for a match race with Man O’War grew in volume. Rumors of their meeting in the Saratoga Cup among other races would finally give way to a match race at Kenilworth within six weeks of this race, Sir Barton’s last win.

Why I’m Working on This Book in One Quote…

“Sir Barton, chestnut colt by Star Shoot – Lady Sterling, was the outstanding three-year-old of 1919 and even such good horses as Eternal, Dunboyne, and Sweep On were overshadowed in performance by the Ross crack. His name on the roll of Preakness winners is a credit to the stake even though his performances were doomed to fade in brilliance before the coming of a mightier champion in 1920.”

Daily Racing Form, 5/14/1922

The 1918 Sanford Memorial Stakes

On August 14th, 1918, Billy Kelly, a gelding recently purchased for the Ross Stables by trainer H.G. Bedwell, went to the barrier at Saratoga for the Sanford Memorial Stakes. With him at the barrier, in post seven, was Sir Barton, still part of the John E. Madden barn, though that would soon change. Billy Kelly stalked the leader, Lion D’Or, for the majority of the race and then overtook him in the stretch, pulling away to win by five lengths. Carrying 130 pounds and giving weight to the other seven starters, it was another emphatic win for Billy Kelly, Bedwell’s purported favorite.

As for Sir Barton, it was another performance that didn’t quite hint at what was to come. He finished seventh out of eight horses, barely beating Pastoral Swain by a neck. He didn’t even merit a mention in the Daily Racing Form’s form chart for the Sanford Memorial. It was Sir Barton’s fourth start as a two-year-old, but, in only a few days, John E. Madden, breeder and horse dealer extraordinaire, would sell the chestnut son of Star Shoot to J.K.L. Ross. The major players would finally all be in place.


(By the way, the 1919 version featured a future King of All the Things Man O’War and Upset. We all know how that one ended…)

Sir Barton Wins the Dominion Handicap


On August 11, 1920, Sir Barton went to the post at Fort Erie Race Track in Ontario for the Dominion Handicap. He faced a field of three other horses in this mile-and-a-quarter handicap with a purse of just over $11,000. Carrying 134 pounds, the Triple Crown winner gave each horse in the field anywhere from 10 to 38 pounds — and still beat them all.

He jumped out to the lead at the start and never let another horse out in front over that mile and a quarter. At the finish, he was a length and a half in front under a hand ride from Earl Sande, the great jockey who would go on to ride Gallant Fox to his Triple Crown in 1930. Commander J.K.L. Ross, Sir Barton’s owner, was especially happy about this victory, as his champion had won in his home country. The time was 2.06, though clockers claimed it should have been faster given that the track was running at least three seconds slow on that particular day.

Sir Barton immediately shipped back to Saratoga, where the rest of the Ross horses were, where speculation abounded that the Triple Crown winner would meet super horse Man O’War in the Saratoga Cup. That particular meeting wasn’t meant to be, but the drumbeat for a match grew louder as the month of August came to a close.