(This blog post is the fourth and last 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. Read part one here, part two here, and part three here.)
After the muck of Churchill Downs and the crowded field of Pimlico, owner A.K. Macomber and trainer Walter Jennings sent War Cloud northward, to New York City and the ivy-covered walls of Belmont Park. The spring meet started on May 27th, and Macomber moved his stable into Gotham for the triumvirate of Jamaica, Belmont, and Aqueduct meets. For his three-year-olds, the next target became the Withers Stakes on June 1st. War Cloud, on seventeen days of rest, went to the post for the one-mile stake with his stablemate, Motor Cop.
He had started the journey as the favorite in the Kentucky Derby on May 11th and then second choice at Pimlico, but, in the Withers, he failed to run to his status as one of the best of his age. War Cloud, again with Johnny Loftus in the saddle, parlayed his poor start into an even poorer performance, finishing in seventh. Just ahead of him was Willis Sharpe Kilmer’s Sun Briar, Exterminator’s stablemate and the colt that Kilmer had assumed would be his Derby horse until he wasn’t. Their poor showing meant that the three-year-old division was now wide open, with Motor Cop, Escoba (second in the Derby), and others toward the top of the list. Only a win in race like the Belmont Stakes could send War Cloud back to the front of the line.
Fifty years in, the Belmont Stakes had risen in prestige, though the purse was still half of what Pimlico had offered for the Preakness. But the name Belmont made anything shine brighter and Macomber could not resist a chance to win that stake race. So, two weeks after his start in the Withers, War Cloud joined only three others at the post for the Belmont Stakes.
On a beautiful June day, twenty thousand witnessed George Loft’s Cum Sah rushed to the front of the four, setting a fast pace on a lightning-fast track. War Cloud sat just behind him, Loftus biding his time, knowing that the fleet colt could not maintain that pace. When Cum Sah tired after a mile, Loftus was ready to pounce, taking the lead with only three furlongs left to go. Right behind him came Johren, H.P. Whitney’s colt who had finished ahead of War Cloud in the Withers. As the four entered the stretch, War Cloud sputtered, giving Johren the chance to pull ahead and win by two lengths. Spent from trying to keep pace with Cum Sah, War Cloud’s second-place finish was far from the dazzling show that Sir Barton would put on a year later, but A.K. Macomber’s colt had done something historic nevertheless: he had become the first horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes.
In 1919, at age four, War Cloud would continue his career in America, appearing in handicaps alongside horses like Exterminator and Sir Barton and others. Macomber’s continued investment in post-war France led him to buy the Haras du Quesnay farm and a chateau near Carrières-sous-Poissy from William Vanderbilt. In 1920, Macomber sent War Cloud to France, and, after several poor performances there, the son of Polymelus was retired to Haras du Quesnay, where he stood stud for two seasons before being sent back to the United States. In 1923, Arthur B. Hancock leased War Cloud from Macomber, standing him at Claiborne Farm for a season, his last. The stallion broke his shoulder in a paddock accident and was euthanized.
Of the 30 named foals registered, War Cloud had twenty winners, including Nimba, the best three-year-old filly of 1927. Even though Nimba won several prestigious races, including the Lawrence Realization, she was War Cloud’s only progeny of note. At one point in the 1940s, Belmont Park had a handicap named for her. She had a few foals, but neither she nor her sire were able to leave their mark on racing via the breeding shed. War Cloud did leave his mark on racing with his starts in the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes in 1918.
Inspiring the Chase
Though he won only one of the three, War Cloud set a precedent that Commander Ross and H.G. Bedwell would decide was the right path for Sir Barton and, over the next century, many other horses would follow the same route in pursuit of a single goal: the Triple Crown. We will remember the names of the twelve that have done it and carry the heartbreaking images of those who almost did with us, but all of those horses follow the path of War Cloud, a British-bred colt who inspired the chase of horse racing’s most difficult and elite accomplishment, the Triple Crown.
Good luck to Justify, Mike Smith, Bob Baffert, Winstar Farm, the China Horse Club, & the others in the colt’s ownership group. Let’s hope that we will be greeting #13 as we count down to the 100th anniversary of the First, Sir Barton.