Coming Back After a Triple Crown

The term ‘Triple Crown’ was coined in the decade after Sir Barton’s springtime domination of the classics, which, at the time, had yet to solidify their reputation as such. Though War Cloud completed the triple first, showing that making the trip from Louisville to Baltimore to New York was worth the trouble, the money that Sir Barton amassed in purses in his pursuit of the first Triple Crown is really what set the stage for the classics and the Triple Crown to become the gold standard for thoroughbreds. The chestnut son of Star Shoot* completed the triple in only 32 days — throwing in the Withers in between — a schedule that no trainer today would dream of following. By the time he got to the one-mile Dwyer in early July, Sir Barton was sore and tired and his performance in that race showed it. He earned a much-deserved long layoff, until September 11th, 1919, when he ran in the Hip Hip Hooray Purse.


When American Pharoah came back from his Triple Crown triumph in 2015, his owners chose the Haskell Invitational, another mile-and-a-quarter race, for his return after eight weeks off. In all honesty, American Pharoah could have retired the moment he crossed the finish line at Belmont and no one would have batted an eye, such is the rarity of the accomplishment. AP had two more starts after the Haskell in 2015, the Travers Stakes and then Breeders Cup Classic, where he completed the first-ever Grand Slam. After he walked out of the winner’s circle at Keeneland, American Pharoah took his place at Coolmore Ashford Stud and hasn’t been under saddle since. For Sir Barton, though, it was a different time, where the Triple Crown wasn’t a thing yet and horses ran well into their fourth and fifth years and even beyond. He would run eight more times after the Dwyer in 1919, the first of those being the Hip Hip Hooray purse.

His performance showed that he needed a race to round him back into shape. Sir Barton took the lead at the race’s start, but faded by the end of the six-furlong dash, holding on to finish second behind his stablemate Billy Kelly. Both of them gave weight to their competition, 15 to 18 pounds, and both outlasted the others, but the eight-week layoff showed in Sir Barton’s performance. Two days later, though, he would be back on the track for the Potomac Handicap, also at Havre de Grace.


1918 Belmont Futurity

With five starts behind him, Sir Barton’s shiny pedigree with its English Triple Crown winners and juvenile superstar half-brother was starting to look a bit tarnished. All of the flash and form he showed to clockers in the morning had yet to make an appearance in the afternoon when it truly mattered. John E. Madden sold the colt to his friend J.K.L. Ross with the promise of pedigree and performance, but with 1918 on its way out, Sir Barton needed to make good on those promises.

He had been in the barn of H.G. Bedwell for not quite a month, but the Hard Guy must have seen something starting to unlock in the Star Shoot* colt for they took advantage of Madden’s foresight to nominate the colt in the Belmont Futurity as a foal and entered him for the 1918 edition of the most prestigious juvenile race of that era. Sir Barton had fourteen other competitors on the sandy oval of Belmont that day, including Duboyne and Purchase, two other good juveniles who promised to make waves in 1919 as well. The fifteen went to the barrier at 3.46 pm on Saturday, September 14th, with Sir Barton in the thirteenth post, far on the outside, and a young Earl Sande on his back.

At the break, Sir Barton came out in sixth and then eased in behind the front runners, Duboyne, The Trump, and Pigeon Wing. At the half-mile pole, he was fourth; at the three-quarters, he was third. In the stretch, as Pigeon Wing began to fade, Sir Barton moved up into second, only a length and a half behind Duboyne, who had been on the lead for the whole race. Andy Shuttinger shook up Duboyne and the colt increased his lead to 2 1/2 lengths over Sir Barton at the finish, but, as J.K.M Ross writes in Boots and Saddles, Commander Ross “seemed more pleased with the result than I had ever seen him. […] Even on the following day, while lunching with Duboyne’s owner at the old Ritz-Carlton, my father was still smiling so broadly that anyone would have thought it was his horse and Mr. Clark’s that had won” (132).

Sir Barton’s first finish in the money portended even more when Earl Sande recounted his experience at the start of the Futurity. Had Sir Barton not been boxed in by the general tangle of a large field, he likely would have had a chance to move into a position that would have allowed him to catch and even pass Duboyne.

In October 1918, before Sir Barton could get another start in at two, a kick from another horse opened a cut on his stifle, which soon became infected. The resulting blood poisoning sent the colt’s temperature to a dangerous 105 degrees, but Bedwell, who had lived intimately with horses since he was a young man, nursed Sir Barton until he recovered. The illness put the son of Star Shoot* on the shelf for the rest of 1918, not to be seen again until Derby Day 1919.

A Writer’s Job

sbfrombook09142016I found this image in a book on the Triple Crown winners (10 at the time) published in 1978. I literally had never seen this photo before I got that book so I’m going a-hunting for it. The book credits the image as coming from UPI and I’ve already contacted them in an attempt to find it. It looks similar to this image so I’m thinking these are from the same day in October 1920, when Sir Barton was at Kenilworth for the match race with Man O’War.

This is part of the job of chronicling Sir Barton’s story. I’m determined for it to be complete and I’m endeavouring to track down leads for anything that might be a vital part of the story.

Thank you for joining me on this journey!


Sir Barton in the 1918 Hopeful Stakes

Yesterday, Saratoga’s last day of racing for 2016 featured the 112th running of the Hopeful Stakes, a seven-furlong race for two-year-olds. This year’s winner was Practice Joke, a colt who showed that breaking his maiden in his first start was no joke.


The Hopeful’s history is long and storied, its list of winners including many legendary horses, including Regret, Man O’War, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Secretariat, and Affirmed. If you look up the 1918 running of the Hopeful, you’ll see that the winner was a horse named Eternal, who would go on to become one of the winter book favorites for the Kentucky Derby, along with Billy Kelly. Another starter in the 1918 version was a chestnut colt named Sir Barton.

Ten days or so earlier, Sir Barton had gone from the barn of his breeder John E. Madden to that of Commander John Kenneth Leveson Ross, his reported price tag to be around $10,000. The colt’s workouts had promised many good things, but his race performances had fallen well short of that promise. Now, in the Ross barn, his preparation was turned over to trainer Harvey Guy Bedwell, who figured out that the Star Shoot colt didn’t respond to workouts unless he had company. They entered Sir Barton in the Hopeful, hopeful that he would break his maiden and make good on all of his promises.

He would finish 16th out of 20 horses, rewarding his new owner with another lackluster performance. His pedigree held prestige, his workouts demonstrated speed, but Sir Barton wasn’t ready yet. When he was, though, this son of Star Shoot showed everyone what being the right horse in the right place at the right time could become.