Sir Barton Wins the Dominion Handicap

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On August 11, 1920, Sir Barton went to the post at Fort Erie Race Track in Ontario for the Dominion Handicap. He faced a field of three other horses in this mile-and-a-quarter handicap with a purse of just over $11,000. Carrying 134 pounds, the Triple Crown winner gave each horse in the field anywhere from 10 to 38 pounds — and still beat them all.

He jumped out to the lead at the start and never let another horse out in front over that mile and a quarter. At the finish, he was a length and a half in front under a hand ride from Earl Sande, the great jockey who would go on to ride Gallant Fox to his Triple Crown in 1930. Commander J.K.L. Ross, Sir Barton’s owner, was especially happy about this victory, as his champion had won in his home country. The time was 2.06, though clockers claimed it should have been faster given that the track was running at least three seconds slow on that particular day.

Sir Barton immediately shipped back to Saratoga, where the rest of the Ross horses were, where speculation abounded that the Triple Crown winner would meet super horse Man O’War in the Saratoga Cup. That particular meeting wasn’t meant to be, but the drumbeat for a match grew louder as the month of August came to a close.

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Welcome to the Sir Barton Project!

 

When I was ten years old, my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Scott, read The Black Stallion to my class and, thus, a love affair began. I remember my mom taking me to the bookstore and I bought the Black Stallion series one at a time. Then I discovered that a movie version had been made in 1978 and I rented the videocassette of that film weekly for months. Not too long after, I caught the Breeder’s Cup on television and fell head over heels for thoroughbred racing. But, as a racing fan living in Alabama, I am at a significant disadvantage. The closest racetrack currently running thoroughbreds is either in New Orleans, Hot Springs, or Lexington, five or six hours away. Needless to say, even though my love for thoroughbreds is unusual in this area, I pursue and cultivate it and now it’s brought me – and you – here.

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In July 2013, I contemplated starting a project that I had thought about off and on over the years, but had not done any research on until that moment. I searched Amazon, Google, and more and discovered that the first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton (pictured above), did not have his own book. The horse that started it all and put us on the path that we’re on now still had not had his whole story told in the nearly 100 years that have elapsed since he crossed the finish line on June 11, 1919, the first Triple Crown winner. Sure, each book that profiles the Triple Crown winners has a chapter on the champion and, of course, his story is exorably linked with that of Man O’War, the Triple Crown winner that surely would have been had Samuel Riddle sent him to Louisville.

Since Sir Barton crossed that finish line, the Triple Crown has become the ultimate goal, the impossible made possible only twelve times in the history of American thoroughbred racing. However, in order to understand how we got here, we need to see where we’ve been. To fully comprehend the impact of American Pharoah in 2015, we need to understand what happened in 1919. We need to see how the right horse was in the right place at the right time to create history.

And that’s what this biography of Sir Barton, tentatively titled First, will do. It will show how America’s Triple Crown evolved from a series of disparate races to the ultimate pursuit in thoroughbred racing. We’ll meet War Cloud and Billy Kelly. We’ll see how a Canadian businessman rose to the zenith of thoroughbred racing thanks to a legendary trainer and a string of champion horses, including the chestnut son of Star Shoot and Lady Sterling. We’ll see how the first Triple Crown winner rose so high only to be eclipsed by Big Red and then knocked down into near obscurity.

This blog will accompany the journey of this book from research to realization. The goal is that, at journey’s end, you’ll be holding a copy of First starting May 10, 2019 (or June 11, 2019), the 100th anniversary of the first Triple Crown.

Thanks for being here. I hope you enjoy the ride!