Colin is Still King, Belmont Stakes 1908

Jun 3rd 2008 11:29 pm |

PART 3 of 3 | Read: Part 1 | Part 2

This year marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most dramatic Belmont Stakes of all time. In 1908, the undefeated Colin, whose racing career was declared over because of injury just three days before, made a miraculous recovery to win the Belmont. It was his 14th straight victory. Colin’s Ghost celebrates the 100th anniversary of the 1908 Belmont Stakes with a three part series.

Headline from New York Evening World May 30, 1908:

The New York Daily Tribune best summarized the events leading up to Colin’s unlikely recovery and victory on May 31, 1908:

“James R. Keene’s unbeaten Colin, the horse which was thought to be hopelessly broken down on Thursday, went to the post in the rich Belmont Stakes of $25,000 at Belmont Park yesterday and won his fourteenth straight race, amid a perfect bedlam of cheers. He made all the running and came swinging into the stretch some three or four lengths in front. August Belmont’s Fair Play gave determined challenge, however, so that Notter drew his whip and shook up the son of Commando—Pastorella at the last furlong pole, only to put it down when the great colt responded. Then Colin began to loaf again, and Notter, mistaking the regular finish line for the real one, in front of the clubhouse for this particular race, almost brought about the colt’s defeat, as he began to ease him up. E. Dugan wide awake to the opportunity to snatch the rich prize, drove Fair Play out and Colin only won by a scant half length, but with pounds in reserve.

“The scene at the finish almost beggars description. Between 30,000 and 35,000 persons out for a holiday, were packed and jammed in the two big stands, and each one stood up and cheered and shouted and clapped, carried away by the desire to express full appreciation for the victory of the king of thoroughbreds, which only the day before was said to be lost to the turf. When Notter brought Colin back to the stand after pulling up the cheers broke out afresh and men waved their hats, while some went so far as to throw theirs in the air. It was the most remarkable greeting ever accorded to a racehorse in this country, and attested full well the wonderful popularity of the unbeaten son of Commando.

“The race was run over a sloppy track and in a driving rain, and little could be seen of the horses in the run around the tortuous S-shaped track over which this particular race alone is run. The horses looked like wraiths in the mist and the colors could not be distinguished. Even after the turn into the straight was made there was some question about whether it was Colin or some other horse racing along in front. Once the colors of the vice-chairman of the Jockey Club were recognized, however, the cheering began, and it did not end until Colin was safely past the winning post, and then only subsided long enough for those who were shouting to get their breath. Fair Play fought on in earnest fashion and ran a brilliant race, but King James and Robert Cooper, the other starters, were hopelessly beaten off.

“Colin’s share of the rich prize was $20,765 which brings his total winnings up to $163,442.25. James R. Keene was at the track to see Colin run and for once he lost his wonted calm and actually threw away his umbrella in the excitement of the finish as it looked for a moment as if Colin would be beaten, in spite of the fact that he was hardly more than galloping through the last few strides. Once the finish line was passed, however, Mr. Keene was his old quiet self again, and accepted the congratulations of his friends who crowded around him with hardly a sign of elation. He followed the horse out to the paddock through the driving rain, and stood around while Jimmy Rowe superintended the cooling out. He looked him over with critical eye and turned away satisfied as to all all appearance Colin was as sound and his legs were as clean as the day he was foaled.

Image: Colin’s legendary trainer Jimmy Rowe, from New York Evening World, June 1, 1908

“In talking of the race Mr. Keene said that he feared that Notter mistook the finishing point, which might have cost Colin the race, and added that he did not think the horse showed to his best advantage in the mud. Jimmy Rowe had instructed Notter to keep Colin up to his work to the end, and remarked afterward, when someone suggested that it was a close shave: ‘Yes, but not through any fault of the horse. He could have gone another turn of the track.’

“The coming back of Colin was almost as unexpected and sensational as the announcement last Thursday, that he would never race again. Late Friday night the first intimation came that the injuries which it had been feared would mean his retirement had been found to be only superficial. The news quickly spread that Colin was at the track and the big crowd waited with eager interest to see if Mr. Keene would add him to the Belmont Stakes under the unfavorable conditions. When his name was posted on the jockey board this interest increased and when he came out of the paddock gate on the way to the post be was greeted with a cheer that was second only to the one which hailed his victory a few minutes later.

“Mr. Keene decided to start Colin after a long and careful examination yesterday morning when there was not the faintest sign of the trouble which had caused so much concern only two days before. The horse had been carefully pointed for this particular race, and insamuch as he appeared to be in perfect condition Mr. Keene determined that as a test was necessary if Colin was to be kept in training he might as well take a chance of breaking him down permanently in a race rather than in a hard workout. While Colin pulled up sound and cooled out well. Mr. Keene said that he would not be entirely satisfied until tomorrow that the great colt was all right.”

The New York Daily Tribune and New York Evening World articles from the Library of Congress reporting Colin’s win in the Belmont Stakes

POSTSCRIPT: On June 13, 1908, two weeks after the Belmont Stakes, the state of New York passed the Agnew-Hart Antiwagering Bill. Colin ran once more after the gambling ban on June 20th, winning his 15th straight race in the Tidal Stakes at Sheepshead Bay. James Keene shipped him to England with the hopes of a 4-year-old campaign but another injury ended his career. His perfect race record wouldn’t be matched until Personal Ensign retired undefeated in 1988. One of the most repeated anecdotes about Colin speaks volumes about his greatness. Jimmy Rowe, who trained a virtual who’s who of the era, requested the following for his epitaph: “He trained Colin.”

READ MORE: Images of Colin from the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. Colin’s wikipedia page includes a detailed list of his 15 career wins. Colin’s page at the Unofficial Thoroughbred Hall of Fame. On the effects of the anti-gambling wave of the early 1900s, see Thoroughbred Times article Racing Through the Century 1911-1920. Steve Crist’s New York Times article about Personal Ensign (August 9, 1988) mentions Colin’s undefeated season.

Filed in Belmont Park,Belmont Stakes, 1908,Keene, James,Rowe, Jimmy

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