That’s right! My first book, tentatively titled First: Sir Barton and the Birth of the American Triple Crown (also known as The Sir Barton Project), now has a home with The University Press of Kentucky. You will be able to find the book at your local bookstore and online in Spring 2019. In the meantime, I will be sharing more moments from Sir Barton’s career here as well as more details about the book itself as we get closer to the publication date.
Journeys start with a step. Sometimes, you don’t realize you’re on them until a moment lights up your life, illuminating the scene so you finally can see it all clearly. I didn’t know I was on this journey until I got an email that showed me this path. That was four years ago today. Happy Birthday to The Sir Barton Project!
My name is Jennifer Kelly, the author of this blog and First: Sir Barton and the Birth of the American Triple Crown (tentative title). I hope to bring you big news about what’s next for Sir Barton in the coming days. For now, I am glad for unexpected journeys and for the many moments of clarity that have brought you and me here today.
It all started with a book. This book, to be precise.
I suppose that’s how stories like mine often start, with a seminal event: a book, an image, something small. Something that might not mean anything to anyone else at that moment, but, to you, changes everything.
My teacher, Ms. Scott, read The Black Stallion out loud to my fifth-grade class during the fall of that school year. The clouds of time obscure the specifics, but I remember it had to be the fall because another seminal moment happened about the same time. I had our television to myself on a Saturday, a rare treat indeed, and, as I flipped channels, I saw horses congregating on a dirt oval, entering the gate, and flying like lightning down the track. Entranced, I watched what had to have been an afternoon’s worth of racing, unable to catch names, but nevertheless addicted. (Later, I figured out it was the 1987 Breeder’s Cup.)
On June 6, 2015, I sat in my living room, watching the broadcast for the 147th Belmont Stakes. My sister was over, my kids were playing, and my husband had just left for his evening with friends. The last thing I said to be him before he left was “You’re going to miss the race!”
Literally, ten minutes later, history had been made.
I awaited Saturday’s premier running of the Pegasus World Cup Invitational with the same jumpy nervousness and trepidation that I feel each time I leave the kids with the babysitter. What was going to happen? Was everyone going to behave and do their thing or would disaster in some form ensue? I paced. I worked through the possible outcomes, steeling myself for the chance that my horse could lose. I promised myself that I wouldn’t jump up and down and scare my kids again like I did during the Breeder’s Cup Classic. Frankly, my bladder can’t take that much jumping anyway.
While I waited, I thought back to the post I published on Friday. Sure, the idea that the Arrogate v. California Chrome has parallels with Sir Barton v. Man O’War might seem tenuous, but I’ve been living with Sir Barton and his career for more than three years. I’ve been a thoroughbred racing fan for thirty years. Nothing in my time following this sport has been closer to what fans at Kenilworth Park witnessed on October 12, 1920 than we all saw at Gulfstream Park on January 28, 2017. The story of Arrogate v. Chrome played out much like the Kenilworth Gold cup did, with the older horse running at a disadvantage and the young speedster showing everyone yet again that he definitely deserves the title of Best Racehorse in the World.
This past Saturday evening, thoroughbred racing gathered together to honor the best of the best from the past year with the announcement of the 2016 Eclipse Awards. The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing, and the National Turf Writers Association created the Eclipse Awards, named for British racer and sire Eclipse, in 1971 to honor elite horses and their human counterparts each year. California Chrome followed up his 2014 Horse of the Year win with another Horse of the Year honor for 2016, after his record of seven wins in eight starts. His only loss came behind the speedy wonder Arrogate in the Breeder’s Cup Classic.
California Chrome’s 2014 Horse of the Year honor follows his unsuccessful attempt at winning the Triple Crown, when he came in fourth in the Belmont after a shaky start which saw him stepped on at the start by Matterhorn. Of course, the next year saw American Pharoah dominate all of the awards with his 2015 Triple Crown victory, the first in 37 years. The 12th Triple Crown winner was the unanimous Horse of the Year, the unquestioned best horse of 2015. Ending the Triple Crown drought and then following that up with victories in the Haskell Invitational and the Breeder’s Cup Classic sealed the HOY deal for Pharaoh. Our first Triple Crown winner was not quite so fortunate.
Newspapers of the time give Sir Barton three-year-old champion honors, though none of these awards were officially recognized until 1936. Despite winning the Triple Crown (as we know it now) and a number of other victories, Sir Barton’s record of 13-8-3-2 was not quite as stellar as another three-year-old, Purchase, who had a record of 11-9-2-0 for 1919. Thus, for some, the Triple Crown winner’s supremacy wasn’t quite total. The doubt came from July’s Dwyer Stakes, where Purchase beat a sore Sir Barton, who was carrying nine more pounds and turned a shoe during the race. Despite winning four races in thirty-two days and setting a precedent that is racing’s central focus for the first half of each year, Sir Barton was not good enough for some in his own time to be unanimously the best of his class.
Years later, of course, Sir Barton was awarded both his Triple Crown trophy and Horse of the Year honors. He was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in its initial class in 1957 and then into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame in 1976. It speaks to the difference between Sir Barton’s time and ours that America’s first Triple Crown winner didn’t quite dominate the minds of racing back then as he might have today.
When American Pharoah crossed the finish line at Belmont Park on June 6, 2015, the new King of the Track, the 12th Triple Crown winner, it was a given that breeders would be seeking the chance to catch their own bit of history by pairing their mares with the horse that broke the thirty-seven-year drought. Sure enough, in early 2016, American Pharoah covered a number of mares and, this week, the first of his foals made his appearance.
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah's first reported foal was born at Brookdale Farm Jan. 3. The colt is out of Kakadu, a half-sister to multiple graded stakes winner Protonico. "You walk in the stall and he comes right up to you and starts chewing on your hand," said Brookdale Farm's Fred Seitz Jr. Read more on BloodHorse.com. 📸: Kyle Johnson/Brookdale Farm
This little guy, as yet unnamed, is but a harbinger of the potential to come, the promise of another American Pharoah that, given the right time and connections, may bring us more of the excitement his sire showered us with.
For Sir Barton, his time at stud was more average than anything else; he produced a decent number of stakes winners, but none duplicated his success. Easter Stockings won the 1928 Kentucky Oaks, among her many career wins, and stands as probably his most successful progeny. Sure, he had others, but, compared to the pedigree legacies of his rival Man O’War, his stud career was deemed a failure. Though he may not have a produced another Triple Crown winner, he was a good enough sire that the word ‘failure’ belies the truth of his time. His final years were spent with the Remount Service, where he served his country by siring more horses for the military.
I look forward to the successes of this new little guy and all of American Pharoah’s foals to come. I hope they bring us as much joy as their sire did for his shining year on the Triple Crown trail.
With five starts behind him, Sir Barton’s shiny pedigree with its English Triple Crown winners and juvenile superstar half-brother was starting to look a bit tarnished. All of the flash and form he showed to clockers in the morning had yet to make an appearance in the afternoon when it truly mattered. John E. Madden sold the colt to his friend J.K.L. Ross with the promise of pedigree and performance, but with 1918 on its way out, Sir Barton needed to make good on those promises.
He had been in the barn of H.G. Bedwell for not quite a month, but the Hard Guy must have seen something starting to unlock in the Star Shoot* colt for they took advantage of Madden’s foresight to nominate the colt in the Belmont Futurity as a foal and entered him for the 1918 edition of the most prestigious juvenile race of that era. Sir Barton had fourteen other competitors on the sandy oval of Belmont that day, including Duboyne and Purchase, two other good juveniles who promised to make waves in 1919 as well. The fifteen went to the barrier at 3.46 pm on Saturday, September 14th, with Sir Barton in the thirteenth post, far on the outside, and a young Earl Sande on his back.
At the break, Sir Barton came out in sixth and then eased in behind the front runners, Duboyne, The Trump, and Pigeon Wing. At the half-mile pole, he was fourth; at the three-quarters, he was third. In the stretch, as Pigeon Wing began to fade, Sir Barton moved up into second, only a length and a half behind Duboyne, who had been on the lead for the whole race. Andy Shuttinger shook up Duboyne and the colt increased his lead to 2 1/2 lengths over Sir Barton at the finish, but, as J.K.M Ross writes in Boots and Saddles, Commander Ross “seemed more pleased with the result than I had ever seen him. […] Even on the following day, while lunching with Duboyne’s owner at the old Ritz-Carlton, my father was still smiling so broadly that anyone would have thought it was his horse and Mr. Clark’s that had won” (132).
Sir Barton’s first finish in the money portended even more when Earl Sande recounted his experience at the start of the Futurity. Had Sir Barton not been boxed in by the general tangle of a large field, he likely would have had a chance to move into a position that would have allowed him to catch and even pass Duboyne.
In October 1918, before Sir Barton could get another start in at two, a kick from another horse opened a cut on his stifle, which soon became infected. The resulting blood poisoning sent the colt’s temperature to a dangerous 105 degrees, but Bedwell, who had lived intimately with horses since he was a young man, nursed Sir Barton until he recovered. The illness put the son of Star Shoot* on the shelf for the rest of 1918, not to be seen again until Derby Day 1919.
I found this image in a book on the Triple Crown winners (10 at the time) published in 1978. I literally had never seen this photo before I got that book so I’m going a-hunting for it. The book credits the image as coming from UPI and I’ve already contacted them in an attempt to find it. It looks similar to this image so I’m thinking these are from the same day in October 1920, when Sir Barton was at Kenilworth for the match race with Man O’War.
This is part of the job of chronicling Sir Barton’s story. I’m determined for it to be complete and I’m endeavouring to track down leads for anything that might be a vital part of the story.
Thank you for joining me on this journey!
Yesterday, Saratoga’s last day of racing for 2016 featured the 112th running of the Hopeful Stakes, a seven-furlong race for two-year-olds. This year’s winner was Practice Joke, a colt who showed that breaking his maiden in his first start was no joke.
(Photo: Adam Coglianese/NYRA)
The Hopeful’s history is long and storied, its list of winners including many legendary horses, including Regret, Man O’War, Whirlaway, Native Dancer, Secretariat, and Affirmed. If you look up the 1918 running of the Hopeful, you’ll see that the winner was a horse named Eternal, who would go on to become one of the winter book favorites for the Kentucky Derby, along with Billy Kelly. Another starter in the 1918 version was a chestnut colt named Sir Barton.
Ten days or so earlier, Sir Barton had gone from the barn of his breeder John E. Madden to that of Commander John Kenneth Leveson Ross, his reported price tag to be around $10,000. The colt’s workouts had promised many good things, but his race performances had fallen well short of that promise. Now, in the Ross barn, his preparation was turned over to trainer Harvey Guy Bedwell, who figured out that the Star Shoot colt didn’t respond to workouts unless he had company. They entered Sir Barton in the Hopeful, hopeful that he would break his maiden and make good on all of his promises.
He would finish 16th out of 20 horses, rewarding his new owner with another lackluster performance. His pedigree held prestige, his workouts demonstrated speed, but Sir Barton wasn’t ready yet. When he was, though, this son of Star Shoot showed everyone what being the right horse in the right place at the right time could become.