Can You Imagine?

SirBartonPostcard04242020After splashing through the mud beneath the Twin Spires, Loftus guided Sir Barton over to the winner’s circle, where a uniformed attendant draped a blanket of greenery and roses over his withers. His groom stood by his head, slipping the cupped hood off so that the crowd could see their new champion in full. On a gray day, the burnished chestnut had only a cascade of white down his elegant face to interrupt the coppery coat. Was he blowing from the effort? Or had it felt like a workout, a joyful gallop around the track leading the herd home?

In the wee hours of the following morning, he walked through the dark to the waiting car, his hooves clopping on the ramp up into the stall that would be his home for the coming journey. How many of them yawned as the wiry man oversaw their efforts? He wasn’t called “Hard Guy” for nothing: did he snap at them if they tarried? Did he pat the noses of his charges, maybe even manage a smile for his Kentucky Derby winner? Did H.G. Bedwell tick down his checklist of what needed to be done once they arrived? Had he already worked out a strategy for Wednesday’s race? It was the Preakness after all, with its $25,000 purse waiting.

The train wound its way from Kentucky to Maryland, from the Bluegrass to the home of the blue crab. Did the horses sway in their stalls, lulled by the ambient motion of the train over the steel tracks? Did they know they were off to their next test, another meeting at the barrier? As they slid into Pimlico, were they tired from their journey or were they ready to run? For his part, Sir Barton seemed “as proud as a peacock and did not seem a bit sore after his win of the Derby on Saturday.” (Washington Herald, May 13, 1919). Did he walk into his stall aware that all of their eyes were on him?

The_Edwardsville_Intelligencer_Sat__Jul_5__1919_On a warm late spring day, with the sun shining down on the crowd of thousands, he lined up at the barrier with eleven others, standing toward the middle of the undulating crowd of horses. When the start came, his feet were the fastest, finding the front and not allowing another horse to get near him. He flashed under the wire, triumphant and unprecedented: he was the first to win the Kentucky Derby AND the Preakness Stakes. After his show, he returned to the ovation of the thousands, Loftus tipping his cap to the thunderous hands of the race’s witnesses. Commander Ross and H.G. Bedwell beamed, posing with the vaunted Woodlawn Vase for the cameras. Loftus beamed, his young face untouched by the Pimlico dirt this day.

In the background, a man climbed up to the Pimlico weathervane, paint cans in hand, and splashed the Preakness with Ross orange and black, a visible reminder of history made this day, May 14, 1919.

 

10 Fun Facts about Sir Barton on His 104th Birthday

SirBartonAloneOn this day in 1916, Lady Sterling gave birth to a golden chestnut colt with a wide blaze, a son of Star Shoot that destined to make history three years later. One hundred and four years later, let’s celebrate Sir Barton’s birthday with twenty-six fun facts about our first Triple Crown winner.

  1. Both Star Shoot and Lady Sterling both were blind or nearly blind at the time of Sir Barton’s conception.
  2. Sir Barton was named for Sir Andrew Barton, the Scottish privateer whose letter of marque allowed him to attack ships from enemy nations and then potentially keep their cargo.
  3. Trainer H.G. Bedwell would tease Sir Barton whenever the horse stuck his head out of his stall. The trainer would slap the colt on the muzzle and Sir Barton would try to catch his hand. This led to the horse’s tendency to grab for people when they got too close.
  4. Star Shoot died in November 1919 at age 21. Lady Sterling died in 1920 at age 21. Sir Barton died on October 30, 1937 at age 21.
  5. Sir Barton set a track record in the 1920 Saratoga Handicap. He ran the mile and a quarter in 2:01 4/5. Man o’ War duplicated that time in the Travers Stakes that same year.
  6. Sir Barton set a world record for 1 3/16 miles in the 1920 Merchants and Citizens Handicap. His time was 1:55 3/5.
  7. Sir Barton and Man o’ War met in a match race at Kenilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario on October 12, 1920. The Educational Film Corporation set up fourteen cameras to film the race in its entirety, combining that with pre-race footage of both horses. The resulting film was called The Race of the Age and was shown in theatres across the United States.
  8. After his retirement in 1921, Sir Barton stood for one season at Commander J.K.L. Ross’s Maryland farm before his sale to Audley Farm near Berryville, VA. Brothers Montfort and B.B. Jones wanted Sir Barton to head their new breeding operation.
  9. Sir Barton is buried in Washington Park in Douglas, WY. How the heck did our first Triple Crown winner end up in Wyoming? Read Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown to learn all about it!
  10. Sir Barton’s April 26th birthday is not the latest of our thirteen Triple Crown winners. War Admiral was born on May 2nd.

Today in Racing History — April 3rd

IMG_20190525_104332100 years ago, 1920 — The Maryland state legislature was considering the Burke Measure, also known the Burke-Janney law, creating the Maryland Racing Commission and putting racing in the state of Maryland under more state oversight. Once the bill passed, the state’s racetracks — Havre de Grace, Bowie, Pimlico, and Laurel — shared 100 racing days a year and were required to pay $6,000 a day in taxes to the state.

Read more about that in Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crownchapter 11.

75 years ago, 1945 — Racetracks in the United States were dark on orders of the War Department. In England, however, Ascot was open, leaving American soldiers wondering why the Brits were able to race when racing here had been closed for the duration.

Read more in the Louisville Courier-Journal, April 3, 1945.

50 years ago, 1970 — Peter Fuller’s pursuit of Dancer’s Image’s share of the 1968 Kentucky Derby purse continues in Kentucky.

Read the article in the Louisville Courier-Journal, April 3, 1970.

Shut Down by the Spanish Flu

The dark, dank trenches of France behind him, imagine your doughboy stepping off a ship onto American soil. For the first time in many months, he is back in his own country, but he can’t come home to you just yet. Instead, he reports to his unit’s headquarters and finds himself surrounded by frantic doctors and nurses trying to squelch an epidemic.

In the late fall of 1918, as the Great War was winding down and American soldiers were boarding ships back to the United States, they brought with them an unwelcome gift: a new and more virulent strain of the Spanish flu. The previous spring had seen an outbreak of the same flu, but the intervening months had mutated the virus into something more deadly, striking the young and healthy as it spread among soldiers and then civilians so quickly that it overwhelmed cities.

In 1918, the horse racing world was much smaller than it is today. By the fall, events like the Kentucky Derby and Saratoga’s late summer meet had already come and gone, but meets at Latonia in northern Kentucky and Laurel in Maryland were at the mercy of measures that governments had to take to stem the tide of this deadly epidemic.

No, No, You Can’t Go

By early October, newspapers were awash in reports about the outbreak of this new strain of the flu, detailing the rise in cases as well as the measures being taken to treat those stricken. Wartime policies had prevented the spread of information about the virus’s movements until it was too late in some areas. The city of Philadelphia had gone ahead with a parade celebrating Liberty Bonds, which the government had sold to help fund the war effort. Days later, a spike in reported flu cases were a direct result of that decision.

That realization led local authorities in both Maryland and Kentucky to limit public gatherings in that crucial first part of October. That meant that both Laurel and Latonia would have to wait. This delayed a number of stakes races, including the match race between two-year-olds Billy Kelly and Eternal that was to decide the best juvenile of the year. The Daily Racing Form updated readers on the latest regarding each meet, optimistically reporting each time the ban might be lifted.

Sound Familiar?

Finally, the bans were lifted in late October, allowing each meet to go forward. Both were delayed by two or three weeks, but racing resumed nevertheless and quickly returned to normal. The Spanish flu would linger for another six months, with another outbreak in the spring of 1919. By that point, the virus had again evolved to a less serious version, marking the end of a nightmarish epidemic in the United States. No corner of the country had been untouched by the Spanish flu: even President Woodrow Wilson endured his own case as he prepared to sign the Treaty of Versailles.

Our ability to diagnose viral infections and understand how they spread is years from where it was a century ago. This knowledge means that we know what we need to do to deal with an epidemic like the COVID-19, including something unprecedented for most of us: the cancellation or postponement of our favorite sports. While we wait for the First Saturday in September and mourn the loss of familiar joys, let us remember that racing eventually returned to normal in 1918 and that will happen again in 2020.

Bookin’ It Bluegrass-Style: Book Tour Part I

Little Sir Barton and I loaded up the swaggin’ wagon (i.e., my minivan) for my first series of appearances in support of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown. My first stop was the Southern Kentucky Book Fest (SOKYBF) in Bowling Green, Kentucky on April 26th & 27th. I then skipped up to Louisville for Fan Fest at the Kentucky Derby Museum and rounded out this first part of this promotional swing with a presentation as part of the Kentucky Proud Evening program at the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service office in Lexington.

Continue reading “Bookin’ It Bluegrass-Style: Book Tour Part I”

Winning Ponies with John Engelhardt

Whew! It has been a whirlwind month! I am woefully behind on posting here. I have had a number of events to celebrate the publication of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown with more to come! I will do a write-up of those events soon, but, in the meantime, I appeared on Winning Ponies with John Engelhardt last night. You can listen to that interview here:

https://www.voiceamerica.com/episode/115276/wp-welcomes-writer-jennifer-kelly-and-radio-host-ralph-siraco

 

 

Welcome, Little Sir Barton!

My birthday was this past weekend and I got a lovely little gift from my talented sister-in-law: Little Sir Barton. He will join me at my appearances in support of Sir Barton and the Making of the Triple Crown. I hope you can come by and see us at any of the events listed on the Appearances page.

Many thanks to the amazing Krystal for this lovely gift!

Author Answers: Dorothy Ours

Earlier this month, I featured Dorothy Ours’s book Man o’ War: A Legend Like Lightning here on the Sir Barton Project. That book became one of my essential sources for writing Sir Barton & the Making of the Triple Crown and author Dorothy Ours herself became a valuable and welcome friend to the project as well, providing answers to a plethora of questions over the last few years. Today, I wanted to lead off my series profiling authors of these wonderful books on racing with a few questions for Dorothy. Here are her Author Answers!

Continue reading “Author Answers: Dorothy Ours”

Inspiring the Chase, Part IV

(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.

Continue reading “Inspiring the Chase, Part IV”

Happy Birthday, American Pharoah!

When I was in 11th grade, we were required to write a formal research paper, replete with note cards, documentation style (MLA), thesis, and more. Fortunately, our teacher allowed us to pick the subject of this long-form assignment — within reason, of course. Before she had finished giving us the requirements for the paper, I already knew what I wanted to write about: the Triple Crown. The perfect subject for this racing nerd who lived in a virtual racing desert.

By this point, almost twenty years had elapsed since Affirmed, with a number of unsuccessful bids in those intervening years. I watched Sunday Silence duel for the Preakness with Easy Goer only to come up short in the Belmont. I felt the keen, gutting disappointment of watching the Derby-Preakness winner passed on the turn, in the stretch, at the wire. The distress of Charismatic’s injury. California Chrome’s mishap at the start. Each year, I hoped against hope, and, as I grew older, as I saw more of those who came so close, I began to wonder if I would be lucky enough to ever see a Triple Crown.

And then he came sweeping into our lives, the Pharoah, the ruler of the American classics. American Pharoah drew us in and never let us go, keeping us entranced by his sweet demeanor and his effortless stride. Like Secretariat, like the Affirmed-Alydar rivalry, he mesmerized us, keeping us all enthralled well past the wire.

As I finish up this book on America’s first Triple Crown winner, I grow more and more grateful for the chance to have seen American Pharaoh’s domination of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness, and the Belmont. I cry each time I watch that stretch run, as Frosted looked like he might spoil it all and then the marvelous acceleration as American Pharoah showed us what the pinnacle of thoroughbred racing looks like, a legend in flight with each strike of his hooves on the humble earth.

Happy Birthday once again, AP. Happy birthday to the horse that hit the highest of highs and took us all with him. Once again, we celebrate you, “the horse of a lifetime.”