Roscoe Goose and the “Knock Down the Favorite Club”

May 7th 2009 08:30 pm |

This year’s crazy result in the Derby had folks scrambling for historical analogies. Since Saturday evening – when the impossible happened in Derby 135 – two horses have been mentioned in several forums.

Mine that Bird’s victory has inspired talk of Donerail – the only other Derby winner at higher odds – and Canonero II – maybe the most improbable Derby winner in history.

Some of racing’s finest writers have chimed in with stories about Canonero. Dan Illman republished Charles Hatton review of the 1971 Triple Crown season from the American Racing Manual. Bill Finley wrote an article about Canonero for the New York Times Rail Blog. had an engaging, and visually stunning, piece by Kellie Reilly. And, a few months back, Steve Haskin (no doubt anticipating the result this year) wrote one of the most detailed accounts yet on the South American colt’s unlikely road to the Churchill winner circle.

Image: Jockey Roscoe Goose who rode Donerail to victory in the 1913 Kentucky Derby (Kentuckiana Digital Library)

Not much has been written about Donerail. You can read a contemporary news story of his Derby win in the New York Times Archives or in the History of the Kentucky Derby, 1875-1921, which is available at the Internet Archive. As secondary source of note is the Greatest Kentucky Derby Upsets published by the Blood Horse in 2007. There the author writes that Donerail’s jockey, Roscoe Goose, like Calvin Borel, knew Churchill Downs well. In fact, Goose rode his first winner there in 1908 and for many years after was one of Churchill’s leading riders.

Goose stopped riding to become a trainer around 1920 after his brother – also a jockey – died when his mount crashed through the rail at Latonia. He died in 1971 after a lifetime in the racing game. Nearly sixty years after his ride aboard Donerail, the headline for his obituary in the Chicago Tribune read: “Roscoe Goose, 80, Dies; Rode Derby Longshot.”

I found a gem of an article on Roscoe Goose in the Washington Post archives by columnist Gerald Strine. Written during Kentucky Derby week in 1972, it celebrated the life of the lifelong horseman who had died the previous June. Under the headline “Goose Flew in Face of Odds,” Strine wrote:

“This was the week, each spring at Churchill Downs, when the little man would call together the informal meetings of the Knock Down the Favorite Club, of which he was president.

“He had the right, Roscoe Goose, rider of $184.90 Donerail in the 1913 Kentucky Derby, still holds a place in racing’s record books as the rider of the longest-priced winner in the classic’s 97-year history. As such, he detested ‘the chalk.’

“‘Did you ever take a look at the Derby footnotes to the chart of the ’13 Derby?’ Goose once asked a young reporter. ‘It starts off saying ‘Donerail, showing startling improvement over his Lexington form…’ and it doesn’t leave it go at that. It says ‘Ten Point (the 6-to-5 favorite which finished second) was ‘distressed’ at the finish.’ When’s the last time you saw that term used?’

“Well, Ten Point and the people who bet on him probably had a right to feel distressed after being beaten by a 91-to-1 shot which, four days earlier, had finished fifth under a different jockey in a 1 1/4 mile race at Lexington. All Donerail had to do to defeat Ten Point was set a Churchill record of 2:04 4/5.

“Goose was born and reared in Kentucky of German parentage. The family name had been Anglicized from Gantz, but when Roscoe’s younger brother, Charlie, began to ride for the legendary E.R. Bradley, ‘the colonel’ didn’t deem it proper for two ‘Geese’ to be jockeys during the same period. Charlie rode as Charlie Gantz….

“…Goose was a journeyman jockey, schooled in the bushes of Elizabethtown and Hopkinsville, who knew how to handle himself against a Johnny Loftus or Charlie Peake or Eddie Ambrose when racing for $100 purses at Palmetto Park in South Carolina, often referred to as Custer’s Last Stand.

“Goose rode two other Derby horses in addition to Donerail. Both were longshots, both were sentenced to the mutuel field and both finished far back although both – Ed Crump in 1915 and Star Master in 1917 – were prominent for a mile.

“Not long after that, Goose retired, to become a trainer. He and his wife had no children, so they occasionally invited young apprentice riders to live in their house.

“A colorful, likable man was Roscoe Goose. His wife died a few years ago of cancer and last June 1, some five weeks after he had held the last session of the Knock Down the Favorite Club in the backstretch here, Goose died of a heart attack. He was 80, and he is missed. He would have had five good reasons why Riva Ridge could not win this Derby, and 10 good reasons why Hassi’s Image could.

“Not long after Goose died it was revealed he left an estate of $1,130,564. As one of his friends said here this week ‘that wasn’t bad, not bad at all, for a man who rarely got farther than 50 feet from the backstretch. But he bought and sold horses for people, and he was a good spot bettor who liked to have a little the best going for him. You can’t hate a guy for that.'”

Something tells me that Roscoe Goose would have enjoyed Derby 135 and Mine that Bird.


Here are a few more interesting tidbits about the 1913 Derby:

* The favorite in the race Ten Point had never raced farther then an “extended mile”

* Donerail showed some promise at two but ran poorly in his debut at three. When Roscoe Goose rode him the first time in the prestigious Bluegrass Stakes, he finished a solid second. He ran a few days later in the Camden Handicap at Lexington and finished a tiring fifth — under a different jockey. The next race was the Derby. Don’t tell Roscoe Goose (or Calvin Borel) that a jockey can’t move a horse up.

* Donerail went off in the Derby at odds of 91.45 to 1 but he was not the longest shot in the field. That honor went to Lord Marhshall at odds of 183 to 1 –he finished 6th.


“DONERAIL FAST IN KENTUCKY DERBY,” New York Times, May 10, 1913

“Roscoe Goose, 80, Dies; Rode Derby Longshot.” Chicago Tribune, June 12, 1971

“Goose Flew in Face of Odds,” Washington Post, May 2, 1972

History of the Kentucky Derby, 1875-1921 which is available at the Internet Archive

Greatest Kentucky Derby Upsets (Eclipse Press, 2007) — available, in part, via Google Books

I went into this year’s Derby with three live Pick 3 tickets but not one of them had Mine that Bird (I would have had to hit the ‘all’ button). I did not cash a single ticket Oaks or Derby day but walked out of Delaware Park Saturday evening with a smile on my face — a result like that is why I love racing. If you can’t smile for Calvin Borel, Chip Wooley, and a 50 to 1 gelding from New Mexico you better check your pulse. I will be rooting for Mine that Bird in the Preakness (although Jess Jackson did him no favors with his recent purchase).


Filed in Canonero,Donerail,Goose, Roscoe,Kentucky Derby, 1913,Knock Down the Favorite Club,Mine that Bird

8 Responses to “Roscoe Goose and the “Knock Down the Favorite Club””

  1. Anonymous says:

    I have just discovered this blog through a link on Equidaily. What a joy! Thank you for making all of this info available so entertainingly.


  2.    jak Anxiety Sydney says:

    Thank you for making all of this info available so entertainingly

  3. Ken says:

    Many years ago, a book was written about Roscoe Goose called "The Golden Goose." If you're lucky, you can still find it in places. Here is a link to a current used listing in Amazon:


  4. Frederci Roscoe Macdonald says:

    Rosoe was my fathers best freind.As a boy we went to the track in Chicago many times.
    Dad gave me the middle name Roscoe in his honor.
    My first name ,fred was after Fred Burton who owned horses with Roscoe.
    Burton ws the owner of Burton coal compaNY . mY dAD WAS vICE PRESIDENT .wORKING HIS WAY UP FROM OFFICE BOY.


  5. Frederci Roscoe Macdonald says:


  6. Hi my name is Sheryel Gantz. my father James Gantz use to tell me about his Uncle Roscoe and how Roscoe wanted to train my dad to become a jocky. My father also told me our name use to be Goose in Germany until we came to the states. He always talked about his horse with the diamond on his forehead.

    In 1971 after I graduated from high school my father took me to Church Hill Downs. I got to see Roscoes picture on the wall. that was neat. It wasn’t until this last movie “Secretariate” came out that I started to do some research. wow low and behold I have a pretty cool uncle and some one who is named after him.

    I’m glad he did so well and made some smart moves to be able to live a good life. Only wish I could have known him. Oh would I LOVE to have a movie made about him. I just order the book The Golden Goose. Bless you all.

    Sheryel Goose-Gantz

  7. Susan Breidenthal says:

    Hi Sheryel,
    I am also a great niece to Uncle Roscoe. My Great Grandpa Breidenthal was The brother of Nanny Bence Goose. I went to the Derby last year on the 100 anniv of his victory on Donnerail. There was a great article in the Kentucky newspaper that day about him. I hope you have a copy of his book by now. I purchased one off Amazon for my oldest son (he is a Ferrier) and as luck would have it, it was autographed by the author to one of the photographers. My youngest son actually has a Golden Goose Tattoo!! I really enjoyed your utube video !
    Best Regards Suzy

    • Diane Schuler says:

      Hi Susan and all Golden Goose relatives. My great uncle, Tom Hayes, owed Donerail. My horse barn is named Donerail. I also have a copy of the book Golden Goose and love it. What a great guy Roscoe was. Wish I could have met him. I also think his life would be a great movie. Look closely at the picture. There is no saddle. Donerail did not like the roses put over his head and acted up. So they unsaddled him and when he calmed down Roscoe got back on for the official picture. So it looks like he was ridden bareback in the race.

      When I went to Churchhill Downs, they had the actual purse that held the winnings on display, it was blue velvet. It was actually hung at the finish line.

      Hope no ever beats the odds record.

      We went to see my great uncle farm in Lexington. It was so nice. I think they made it a housing development now. Too bad.
      Riders Up!