Citation’s 16, 1948

Oct 9th 2008 12:00 pm |

Citation after 1948 Kentucky DerbyOn Saturday Peppers Pride made it 17 in a row at Zia Park to surpass the “modern” North American winning streak for a Thoroughbred. If she races two more times, (as planned) she has a chance to break Hindoo’s record of 18 straight set in 1881 (the “pre-modern” record?…more on that in a future post). Sixty years ago Citation set his streak of 16 while capturing the Triple Crown during what many believe the greatest 3-year-old season ever. Here is a recap of Citation’s 16.

Image: Citation after winning the 1948 Kentucky Derby. Courtesy of Kentuckiana Digital Library

This timeline was compiled using Citation’s past performances as documented in DRF’s Champions. Other details and quotes are courtesy of legendary announcer Phil Georgeff’s outstanding biography Citation: In A Class by Himself.

April 17, 1948 – Chesapeake Futurity at Havre de Grace
Citation avenges his 2nd career loss in a six furlong sprint over a muddy track. Citation beat a field of four including Saggy, who beat him in a controversial race at Havre de Grace on April 12. It was Citation’s 5th victory in 6 starts during his 3-year-old season.

April 27, 1948 – Derby Trial at Churchill Downs
Citation tunes up for the Kentucky Derby with a win in the Trial.

May 1, 1948 – Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs
Citation faces a short field of six that included his stablemate the undefeated Coaltown. Citation wins by 3 1/2 lengths. Coaltown, by Bull Lea the same sire as Citation, would go on to win stakes races from 6 furlongs to a mile and a quarter during his career (23 wins from 39 starts). He ran second in the Derby.

May 15, 1948 – Preakness at Pimlico
Citation wins in a gallop over three rivals

May 29, 1948 – Jersey Stakes at Garden State Park
Citation trainer Hall of Famer Jimmy Jones, son of Hall of Famer Ben Jones, decides to keep him sharp for the Belmont Stakes by running him in a mile and a quarter stake at Garden State Park. He wins with with ease – breaking the track record by over a second

June 12, 1948 – Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park
Trainer Jones tells jockey Eddie Arcaro in the paddock: “The Triple Crown’s ours, so don’t fall off.” Citation stumbled out of the gate but Arcaro stayed on. He wins by eight lengths, equaling Count Fleet’s track record of 2:28 1/5.

July 5, 1948 – Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park
Facing older horses for the third time in his career (he beat older horses twice in February 1948), Citation uncharacteristically begins to slow coming down the stretch but is urged by Eddie Arcaro to victory. After crossing the wire, he slowed again and began limping noticeably. Unknowing to Aracro, Citation had sprained his ankle and wrenched his hip at some point during the race.

August 21, 1948 – Allowance race at Washington Park
After the longest layoff of his three-year-old season, Citation returns from his injury to win an allowance race in Chicago.

August 28, 1948 – American Derby at Washington Park
Eddie Arcaro, back on board for the first time since Citation’s injury, sensing a slow pace moved him to the front early and repelled a late run by stablemate Free America to win by a length. Chicago sports writer Elmer Polzin wrote of his performance, “It took him two, maybe three, strides to accelerate and match Free America’s closing surge – not on his life would he allow the other guy to head him.”

September 29, 1948 – Sysonsby Mile at Belmont Park
Citation returned to Belmont where he won twice as a two year old (Futurity Trial and the Futurity). In the Sysonsby, Citation faced old foe Coaltown who had been running consistently well in races under a mile since finishing second in the Kentucky Derby. Citation goes from six lengths back to two lengths ahead in less then a quarter mile and wins by three lengths matching Belmont Park’s fastest mile time of the season (1:36).

October 2, 1948 – Jockey Club Gold Cup at Belmont Park
Just days after putting away some of the nation’s quickest horses in the Sysonsby, Citation lined up against the best “stayers” in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Arcaro told Phil Georgeff about the big race at Belmont, “Cy was wired as never before….Now, he wasn’t an angry horse or hateful horse; once in a race he was merciless, but never like he was that day. Every time someone challenged him, he simply broke their heart by grinding their challenges into the dirt.” Citation won eased up by seven lengths.

October 16, 1948 – Empire City Gold Cup at Belmont Park
Two weeks after the two mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, Citation won another Gold Cup. This one at a 1 5/8.

October 29, 1948 – Pimlico Special at Pimlico
The Special was, at the time, an invitation only event created by Pimlico owner’s A.G. Vanderbilt in an effort to create an end of the year championship race. Citation chased away all competition and won the race in one of the most memorable walkover’s in the history of the sport.

December 3, 1948 – Allowance at Tanforan
Against the instincts of trainer Jimmy Jones, Citation was shipped to Tanforan in San Francisco. According to Phil Georgeff, Calumet Farms owner Warren Wright sent Citation – the most famous horse in America -out west as a favor to a business associate who had a stake in Tanforan.

December 11, 1948 – Tanforan Handicap at Tanforan

Citation’s final win of 1948 would mark the end of Citation dominance of American racing. Tanforan’s surface was notorious among horsemen for being as hard as concrete. He came out his sojourn to the west “gimpy.”

Citation spent all of 1949 in Kentucky recovering from a significant injury to his ankle. Most, including Eddie Arcaro and Jimmy Jones, thought he should have been retired. Warren Wright had other ideas. He wanted Citation back racing so he could reach the unprecedented million dollar mark in earnings. Citation returned to racing in 1950 and added the final win to his streak of 16:

January 11, 1950 – Allowance race at Santa Anita

Citation wins in a tune-up race for the winter stakes at Santa Anita. He would go on to run 2nd in 5 straight races before finally winning again in June at Golden Gate Park.

According to Phil Georgeff, Warren Wright’s obsession with reaching the one million mark in earnings (a feat he eventually reached) ruined Citation’s legacy. After winning 27 of 29 races in 1947-48, he won only 5 out of 16 races in 1950-51. Three of those wins came in 1951 when he reeled off victories in his final three starts, capping off his career with a victory over the Bewitch in the Hollywood Gold Cup. Georgeff concluded: “Had Citation stayed ‘retired’ following the end of a three-year-old career, a campaign not even Secretariet could match, his achieved fame as racing’s all-time ‘greatest thoroughbred’ would have stood the test of time.”


Phil Geogeff’s book Citation: In a Class by Himself is a must read for any fan of racing history. Much of the book is based on his 50 years of conversation with the major players in Citation’s career.

The Kentuckiana Digital Library is a great source for historic racing images. Check out additional photographs of the great Citation.

For more on Citation’s 1948 season check out Ron Hale’s excellent Remembering Citation

Another article with images, check out Paul Moran’s outstanding Citation: You Can’t Stop a Runaway Train

Thanks for Reading and Good Luck!

Filed in Citation,horse racing,Kentucky Derby, 1948

4 Responses to “Citation’s 16, 1948”

  1. Valerie says:

    Talk about an iron horse! Citation’s 16-race win streak literally took place over the span of 10 months? Wow! I never fail to be in awe of those horses. Gutsy.

  2. OlLineRebel says:

    I truly want to see your comments on this so-called “modern” record. It has never made sense to me where that came from.

    Valerie should look at HINDOO, who raced those 18 races in 3 MONTHS, INCLUDING a DH run-off (makes it really 19, including 2 races in 1 day!)! Citation’s taking off an entire year before that last win looks like mincemeat.

    The real record for American streaks is 23, set by a horse called Leviathan (gelding, not sure when but Roberston mentions him without time or parentage). This was in heat racing, so it’s a bit different, but impressive nonetheless.

    I suspect this 16-race streak was created as some “modern” record for Citation’s sake. Before him wouldn’t it have been Colin at 15 (also perfect)? Yet I never saw Colin mentioned as “holding the American streak record”, and he’s after 1900, what some people claim is the definition of “modern”.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Well, if you forget Cy's loss to Saggy in the Chesapeake Trial of 6 furlongs, in which he was interfered with, had a new jockey (Arcaro, who was under instructions not to use the whip), Cy would have been 20 for 20 in 1948. This includes the easiest Triple Crown in history, 7 for 7 against older horses, two races run on 3 days rest (including the Sysonby Mile followed by the 2 mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, surely one of the greatest feats in thoroughbred history). None of your named horses can match that…

  4. Teddy Lopez says:

    Eddie Arcaro who rode both said ‘Kelso would have beaten the shit out of citation’. He would’ve known he rode both, right? Right! Kelsos’ biggest fan, Teddy.