Mar 12th 2009 10:00 am |
This Saturday the Fairgrounds will play host to the Louisiana Derby. Run for the first time as the Crescent City Handicap in 1894, only two of its winners (in ninety-five runnings) have gone on to win the Kentucky Derby. The first colt to win both was in 1924 when Black Gold won the Louisiana Derby and then became the unlikely winner of America’s most famous race.
Black Gold has been the subject of a Hollywood movie and a children’s book. His humble beginnings along with his success on track coupled with a tragic end have all the elements of a classic drama.
Race historian H.P. Robertson wrote that Black Gold was “the hero of racing’s most romantic true story.” He was bred and owned by Mrs. Rosa Hoots, widow of Al Hoots. Al Hoots raced and campaigned the “unfashionably” bred dam of Black Gold: U-see-it. U-see-it raced at small western meets where she won 34 times. Mr. Hoots had such an affection for the mare that when he lost her in a claiming race, he refused to give her up, a move that got him banned from racing in 1916.
When Hoots died in 1917, his wife kept her husband’s favorite mare and bred her to E.R. Bradley’s Black Toney, a son of Peter Pan from the sire line of the great Domino. The mating produced Black Gold.
In January 1923, Black Gold won his first start at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans and won 9 of 18 starts at 2 including the Bashford Manor on Derby Day at Churchill Downs. He opened his three-year-old campaign with six straight wins and entered stakes company for the first time in the Louisiana Derby.
Here is how the Dallas Morning News reported Black Gold’s win in the Louisiana Derby on March 18, 1924:
“Black Gold, a black colt owned by Mrs. R.A. Hoot of Tulsa, Ok. and a probable contestant in the Kentucky Derby, won the $15,000 Louisiana derby at Jefferson Park Monday in a gallop…
“The track was heavy from an all day drizzle, but Black Gold ridden by J.N. Mooney, who last year piloted Amole to first place in the event, got away freely and was three lengths in the lead at the quarter. The colt never was in danger – at at no time was he permitted to have his head – and remained comfortably in front until entering the home turn when he duck-jumped to the wire, finishing six lengths ahead.”
Black Gold went on to win the Derby Trial and was the favorite going into the 50th running of the Kentucky Derby.
In what H.P. Robertson called “one of the more exciting finishes to the Derby,” Black Gold won by a half length in front of an estimated 80,000 fans, the largest Churchill crowd to that point. In the Derby’s 50th year, it was the first time that a horse bred and owned by a woman had won the prestigious race.
The Dallas Morning News summed up his unlikely victory:
“The racing achievements of Black Gold is one of the amazing stories of track history, The little jet black colt was lightly regarded by the winter forecasters who had such names as Wise Counselor, St. James and Sarazan on which to speculate. Black Gold at one time during the winter book was a 100 to 1 shot in today’s race and, until three weeks ago, the price was 40 to 1. When he flashed across the wire a winner this afternoon his backers cashed $5.50 for every $2 wagered.”
Black Gold would add two more Derbies to his three year old resume winning the Ohio State Derby at Cleveland’s Maple Heights Park and the Chicago Derby at Hawthorne. He won 9 of 13 races as a three-year-old.
Quarter cracks forced him to retire after his three-year-old season. Two seasons at stud found him to be sterile and he was returned to race at six. He started three times at six without a win and only earned $50 after banking over $100,000 in his first two seasons at the track.
In 1927, the Derby winner came to an untimely end in his first race at age seven at the Fairgrounds in New Orleans, the track where he started his career in 1923. The anonymous writer for the Associated Press, filed this heart-breaking report on January 18, 1927:
“Black Gold, a Kentucky Derby winner in 1924, broke his left fore leg above the ankle at the finish of the Salome purse at the Fairgrounds program here Wednesday and the Derby winner had to be killed. The accident happened in front of the judge’s stand.
“Jockey Emery quickly dismounted and unsaddled the famous horse as the animal struggled in vain to get on his feet again.
“Black Gold was running a fine race when the leg snapped. He was fighting for second place in the race. Dead game to the very last, the prize possession of Mrs. R.M. Hoots of Oklahoma, suffering the mishap with but a sixteenth of a mile to go in the Salome purse, tried even on three legs to continue.
“He was led back to the paddock and still was shaking his proud and perfect head in resentment at the tight hold taken on him by an assistant. He flinched as the needle of destruction pricked his skin, tossed his head high and pricked his ears even as the needle was withdrawn, and the next second dropped dead….
“…Black Gold will be buried in the Fair Grounds infield Tuesday, General Manager James Murphy announced, His grave will be dug beside that of the famous race mare, Pan Zareta, which came to her end in New Orleans four or five years ago. It is likely that a gravestone will be erected to the memory of the two highly prized horses.”
SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES
“Black Gold Wins Louisiana Derby,” Dallas Morning News, March 19, 1924
“80,000 See Black Gold Capture Kentucky Derby,” Dallas Morning News, May 5, 1924
“Kill Famous Derby Winner,” Dallas Morning News, January 18, 1928
Chart for 50th Kentucky Derby, 1924
Timeline of Louisiana racing history
The story of Black Gold has been told in a number of online venues. I left out some of the more romanticized parts of the story. I would be curious to know the source of some of these stories (none of the online stories are cited) [UPDATE 3/12: See comments below]. If you would like to read about shot-gun wielding owners and death bed visions of a Kentucky Derby win, check out these pages:
UPDATE 3/12: Check out the comments section for more on the story from reader amateurcapper. I didn’t realize that the story of Black Gold is in “The 10 Best Derbies Book” published by the Bloodhorse.
The Black Gold movie was made in 1947 and starred Anthony Quinn. The producers apparently took some artistic license. According to the IMDB: “The setting is Oklahoma and Quinn plays an Indian who owns a remarkable race horse and takes in a young Chinese orphan who rides the horse to the winner’s circle.” Maybe multicultural for 1947 but probably terribly uncomfortable to watch now. Something tells me it’s hard to find.
The children’s book by Margurite Henry is still in print and can be had for two bucks (plus shipping) at Alibris.com
The other colt to win the Louisiana Derby and the Kentucky Derby: Grindstone in 1996. Funny Cide was the last Derby winner to run in the race. He finished third but was moved up to second by a DQ .
Interesting sidebar regarding the Crescent City (now Louisiana) Derby, according to an article about the 1898 running, a writer for the Houston Daily Post reported: “Presbyterian won the Crescent City derby [in 1898] and he was seen at the post but few times after that. It would seem from this that the early preparation entailed in this race is the next thing to fatal.” The race was run towards the end of March in 1898/99.
If you haven’t checked DRF’s Formulator, now is a good time to do so with the deal being offered on the TBA website. Ten cards for $10 – you can’t beat that. Formulator is an outstanding product and worth a try if you like to go deep into past performances.
Check out my my top ten albums of all time over at Rock and Racehorses, Sarah K. Andrew’s blog. Sarah is the brilliant photographer of all things horses and rock. The image she took below is my favorite of 2008. The joy captured in this photo of Da’Tara winning the Belmont is just so sweet. Sarah’s work is awesome — check out her website www.rockandracehorses.com.
Da’Tara is Da’Spoiler!!!
Originally uploaded by Rock and Racehorses
I was happy to see Einstein win the Santa Anita Derby. He is now a winner of graded stakes on turf, synthetic, and dirt – it will be interesting to follow him this year. Can anyone think of another horse besides Lava Man, Panty Raid, and Monterey Jazz who have won graded stakes on all three surfaces? (Thanks to o_crunk, superterrific, and raceday360 for their recent Twitter-ing on this topic. They were the ones who came up with the three identified so far.)
Speaking of Twitter – if you are looking for an interesting online place to chat about racing with an array of fans, writers, and industry folks you should check it out. The number of racing “tweeters” is growing by the day. My twitter feed is http://twitter.com/colinsghost . Follow me and i’ll return the favor!
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!