In 1898, at the prestigious Eyrefield Lodge in Ireland, Astrology foaled a chestnut colt by Isinglass. The son of an English Triple Crown winner, the little foal soon came down with a fever, his survival uncertain. The Lodge’s stud groom, Dan McNally, wrapped the wee colt in so many blankets that he could barely move and placed him in the front of a fire in the tack room. Thanks to McNally’s attention, Astrology’s foal survived to become Star Shoot, a good racer with several stakes wins at two. By three years old, though, Star Shoot had developed a breathing issue, much like his damsire, and, was retired to stud. English and Irish breeders assumed that breathing issues were hereditary so they solved the problem of Star Shoot’s questionable genetics in their customary way: by shipping the colt abroad.
American breeders were not so dismayed by any infirmities Star Shoot might have, betting that his talent and speed would be passed down instead. After John Hanning brought the stallion to the United States, he started his stud career in America at Runnymeade Farm, where Catesby Woodford and Ezekiel Clay had bred horses like Miss Woodford, the first American thoroughbred to earn $100,000, and Hanover, who won the 1887 Belmont Stakes and later became a leading sire. By 1911, he was the leading sire in the United States, his stature as a top-20 sire (from 1908-1923) making his a desirable stallion for another prestigious American breeder, John E. Madden. Madden brought Star Shoot to Hamburg Place, where he became the breeder’s flagship sire for most of the next decade.
During his years at Hamburg Place, Star Shoot sired a number of stakes winners, including Uncle (sire of Old Rosebud, 1914 Kentucky Derby winner); Grey Lag, 1921 Belmont Stakes winner; and, of course, Sir Barton, America’s first Triple Crown winner. Like Star Shoot, all three were dominant on the racetrack; like Star Shoot, all three also suffered from the thin-walled hooves that made their soundness precarious. Because Star Shoot himself ran on the turf, any issues with his hooves likely were minimized, but his progeny ran on dirt, which exacerbated any hoof issue. Indeed, Jim Ross, Commander Ross’s son, suggests in his memoir Boots and Saddles that many of Sir Barton’s defeats likely were as a result of the discomfort his hooves caused him.
In November 1919, while he was away at the National Horse Show, John E. Madden received word that Star Shoot was ill with pneumonia. On November 19th, at the age of twenty-one, the chestnut son of Isinglass, who had survived a fever in his earliest days, succumbed to his illness, leaving Hamburg Place without a flagship sire. Because of Sir Barton, likely the best of his many foals, Star Shoot topped the list of leading sires in the United States for the last time in 1919.
Star Shoot’s legacy a century later includes Sir Barton’s Triple Crown, the first of thirteen in 99 years. As a sire of sires, his record is lackluster; none of his sons made the same impact on the breed. As a broodmare sire, he left more of a lasting mark, with mares like Star Fancy, who was mated with Man o’ War to produce Crusader among others, and Thunderbird, whose son Jim Dandy famously beat Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers Stakes at odds of 100-1.
Nearly a century on, Star Shoot is best remembered for his role in siring the colt that made what we know now as the Triple Crown one of the elite accomplishments in horse racing.