Crystal Ford, Herald of Defeat?

This past weekend, the Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots on a last-second series of laterals that ended with a touchdown, the final score 34-33. It became the fifth time that the Patriots had lost in Miami, giving Tom Brandy a record of 7-10 lifetime against a team that tends to underperform the rest of the regular season. For whatever reason — be it the weather or something else altogether — playing in Miami has become an Achilles heel for the Patriots, a portent that something odd this way comes for one of the NFL’s most consistent teams. Strangely, for Sir Barton, a horse named Crystal Ford seemed to be a similar token of ill luck.

Crystal Ford was not a star horse by any stretch, even though his sire, Clifford, had participated in a match race with Domino and Henry of Navarre to determine the year’s best three-year-old in 1894. Crystal Ford would prove to be less consistent on the racetrack than his sire, running up and down the East Coast, usually at the lightest of weights. Twice this son of Clifford & Glitterglass raced against Sir Barton, taking his place amongst a litany of almost-anonymous horses that take a shot at the big boys and maybe, just maybe, catch them on an off day. Most of the time, though, a horse like Crystal Ford would be an extra in a performance where the featured players all finished up the track from him. Most of the time — except for the 1919 Dwyer Stakes and the 1920 Philadelphia Handicap.

Indeed, Crystal Ford’s presence in the 1919 Dwyer Stakes was largely ignored: everyone’s eyes were on Sir Barton versus Purchase, the only other top three-year-old that the Triple Crown winner had yet to face. Purchase was on a hot streak, winning three of his four starts in the last month; Sir Barton had completed the first Triple Crown (and won the Withers), but was showing signs of soreness after his record run. The morning of the race, rain and a muddy track had forced three of the six horses entered for the Dwyer to scratch, leaving the Clifford colt as the race’s third wheel. Yet, as Sir Barton ran on the lead, Clarence Kummer on Crystal Ford kept his mount at Sir Barton’s flank, hemming in Purchase and Willie Knapp. In order to make his move on the front-running Sir Barton, Knapp had to take Purchase wide around the turn and hope that the colt had enough to run down the leaders. Purchase managed to eke past Crystal Ford and then Sir Barton in the stretch, taking advantage of the nine-pound break in weights that he received from the Triple Crown winner. Crystal Ford took home third place and $300 for his efforts. Sir Barton’s prize for his second place finish was uncertainty about his place as the best three-year-old of 1919.

Almost a year later, at Havre de Grace, Crystal Ford and Sir Barton met at the barrier once more, this time in the Philadelphia Handicap. This was Sir Barton’s fourth start in less than two weeks, and again he was carrying 132 pounds, with Crystal Ford assigned only 100 pounds. Friday, April 30th was the thirteenth day of the Havre de Grace meet and the lightweight Crystal Ford, carrying Elmer Fator (brother of the Hall of Fame jockey Laverne Fator), wore the number 13 despite the scratches of five others. #13 on the 13th day? A local barber bet five $10 tickets on Crystal Ford, no doubt hoping that 13 would indeed be his lucky number.

The field of ten stood at the barrier, with Sir Barton, stablemate Billy Kelly, and A. K. Macomber’s Star Master the race’s favorites next to an assortment of lightly weighted extras — Crystal Ford included. At the break, Elmer Fator held Crystal Ford just behind the front-runners, while Tetley and then War Mask had their turns on the lead, Billy Kelly challenging. In the stretch, Billy Kelly was on the lead with Star Master driving, but, to everyone’s surprise, Crystal Ford powered by all of them, gliding down the stretch on their outside. Fator’s patience paid off as his mount held off Star Master by a neck, with Billy Kelly just a length behind them. Sir Barton was fourth, a head back of his stablemate, running a dull race under his heavy impost.

As Crystal Ford outran his record and Star Master, the skies opened up over Havre de Grace, soaking the track and the deflated crowd, their trio of favorites beaten by the 106-to-1 shot who carried only 100 pounds and the hopes of one lucky spectator. That barber carried his five $10 tickets to the window and collected over $6000 from his #13 horse. For the horse that had spent 1919 dominating his competition, the Philadelphia Handicap became Sir Barton’s second finish out of the money in 1920, again showing that, for some reason, the stamina and speed of 1919 was simply not there . For Crystal Ford, it was an impressive reversal of fortune: only days earlier he had finished third in a claiming race with no takers, again straggling home behind other lightweight horses.

If the Patriots feel a slight sense of unease each time they enter Hard Rock Stadium, perhaps the people around Sir Barton felt the same each time they spied Crystal Ford’s name in the list of entries.

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