Racing (and Retiring) a Classic Winner

Yesterday, Winstar Farms announced that 2016 Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator (Curlin-Dawn Raid, by Vindication) was retiring from active racing to stand at Winstar. The colt retires with six wins in fifteen starts, including the Santa Anita Derby and the Haskell Invitational, and a number of finishes in the money, including finishing second in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. He joins Belmont Stakes winner Creator (Tapit-Morea, by Privately Held), who was sold to breeding interests in Japan and retired from racing to stand there, much like Sunday Silence and I’ll Have Another.

Today, classic winners like Exaggerator, Creator, and others who retire at three years old go that route because their genetics prove to be more valuable long term than their prowess on the track might. For Sir Barton, though, in 1919, the expectations were a bit different. Since the Triple Crown as we know it did not exist yet, though Sir Barton had conquered it just a few weeks before, his stock at stud wasn’t yet proven. In the Golden Age of racing, this early part of the 20th century, a horse made his reputation through speed and weight, i.e., handicaps. Ross and company turned their attention to running Sir Barton and his stablemate Billy Kelly in the day’s most famous races, handicaps like the Potomac Handicap at Havre de Grace.

The Potomac’s field was small: only five horses, three of which were from Ross’s own stable. Sir Barton was assigned 132 pounds, giving weight to them all of his competitors — even Billy Kelly, his accomplished stablemate — anywhere from seven to thirty-two pounds. This start was only two days after his previous effort in the Hip Hip Hooray Purse, a timeline that is almost unheard of today.

None of it mattered. He started from the outside post and jumped out to a flying start, taking the lead immediately. The others never threatened him, jockeying for position behind him, but still a length and more back of Sir Barton. The Triple Crown winner took home $6,900 for his efforts, adding to the rich purses he had already won in 1919.

The Potomac would not be Sir Barton’s last start for 1919; he had six more to go in his three-year-old season. Toward the end of the year, Commander J.K.L. Ross contemplated retiring his big-money horse, the unexpected star of his stable, but Sir Barton would go on to run one more season before retiring to stud. For horses like Exaggerator and Creator today, though, we bid them both ‘Adieu’ before they even see the end of their three-year-old season. Thanks to Sir Barton and the tradition of the Triple Crown that started with his win in 1919, those two colts and their status as classic winners means that the potential inherent in their genetics is now far more valuable than the money they would bring home on the track.




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