(This blog post is the third in a series of four, profiling the first horse to traverse what we now know as the Triple Crown trail. In 1918, War Cloud started in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes for the first time, inspiring Sir Barton’s run in all three the following year. You can read part one here and part two here.)
In 1917, the Woodlawn Vase, prized trophy with antebellum origins, came into the possession of Colonel E.R. Bradley after his colt Kalitan won the Preakness Stakes. Previous owners had passed the Vase to the next one via whatever race they chose. Thomas Clyde decided to give the Vase to the Maryland Jockey Club, who, in turn, designated the trophy for the Preakness. It was the birth of yet another tradition for Maryland’s most prestigious stakes race. In 1918, the Woodlawn Vase was supposed to go to the winner of the Preakness Stakes, but unique circumstances would see it stay in Maryland rather than traveling home with a winning owner.
Those unique circumstances were the end result of another Maryland Jockey Club decision. On January 12, 1918, the MJC announced that it would add $15,000 to the Preakness’s purse that year, putting the race on par with the Kentucky Derby. That rich prize attracted the attention of so many in racing that a number of owners expressed interest in sending their horses to run in both races, provided the schedule allowed for it. Wisely, the powers that be behind each race decided on a week’s gap between the two races, plenty of time for eager owners to move horses from Louisville to Baltimore in pursuit of these rich purses. Top-class thoroughbreds like Sun Briar, Escoba, War Cloud, and more were set to start in the Derby and then immediately head for Pimlico and the Preakness. Nominations for the race topped 144 horses. The Maryland Jockey Club had a juggernaut on their hands and they decided to capitalize on it:
They split the Preakness into two division, each with a $15,000-added purse.
It was an unprecedented move, but it also meant that the Woodlawn Vase would have two owners rather than just one. No one seemed to mind, though, as the two Preaknesses went to the post on May 15, 1918. In the first division was A.K. Macomber’s War Cloud, fresh off his fourth-place finish in the Kentucky Derby. None of his competition from the Derby was among the other nine horses in the field; as a gelding, Derby winner Exterminator was ineligible for the Preakness and no other Derby starter had come to Baltimore to face him. The track was fast this time too, another advantage for Macomber’s colt after his poor showing in the Derby was likely owed to the sloppy conditions in Louisville.
The field that came to the barrier with War Cloud included Johren and Foreground, Commander J.K.L. Ross’s representative (a horse who would later be better known as one of Sir Barton’s workout partners). Even though he had started the day as the favorite, War Cloud went to the post as second-choice, with bettors gambling that the train ride from Churchill Downs to Pimlico had taken something out of Macomber’s colt. In the eighth post, with only two horses to his outside, War Cloud reared up on his hind legs, impatient to be off and running. At the break, jockey Johnny Loftus got the colt off in the middle of the pack, but quickly took his place in third, just off the front-runners.
He stayed there, waiting for George Starr and Flags to tire, until the far turn. As the field entered that last phase of the race, Loftus took War Cloud to the outside, going around the tiring horses, with Lanius and Sunny Slope making runs of their own behind him. Their efforts were futile: Loftus rode War Cloud out to stave off those final challenges, but the colt repelled each with vigor and talent that he had not displayed in the Kentucky Derby. With this victory, Macomber’s imported son of Polymelus returned to the top of his division, regaining the regard that his earlier performances had earned him. Now, he was to return to Belmont Park, where he had trained for the Kentucky Derby, and run into the prestigious races of their spring meet. Included on his schedule were the Withers Stakes in late May and then the venerable Belmont Stakes in June.
War Cloud’s victory in the Preakness brought him closer to a milestone that would leave an impression on many in racing, including H.G. Bedwell, trainer for Commander Ross. Foreground might not have brought home the prize in the Preakness, but the orange and black had it sights once again set on Pimlico in May, ready to bring home the race in 1919.
In the interim, as War Cloud boarded a train for New York and Belmont Park, neither A.K. Macomber and the other of the winner of the other Preakness Stakes, William Applegate, could agree on a new home for the Woodlawn Vase so the trophy remained in Baltimore, awaiting a home in 1919. The horse that would bring home the Woodlawn Vase that next year was hot on the heels of history as the cool silver vase went home in his owner’s hands, alongside a check for $25,000.
His trip from the Run for the Roses to the race for the (Woodlawn) Vase was not quite the stuff of history yet, but, with one more stop in New York, War Cloud was set to push horse racing closer to its most elite pursuit, so vaunted and coveted that thousands were in pursuit of it even after only twelve have been able to do it.