Jun 2nd 2009 02:23 am |
What I would like to say – if I didn’t care about boring people with little interest in racing or history – is that Colin was the first “super horse” of the twentieth century. He retired a perfect 15 for 15 and won the 1908 Belmont Stakes by resurrecting from a “career ending” injury suffered two days before the race. The drama of that win – run in a driving rainstorm where the “horses looked like wraiths in the mist” – inspired the name for this site.
Image: Colin’s jockey Walter Miller during his riding days (Turf and Sport Digest)
The most often repeated line associated with Colin is from his legendary trainer James Rowe, who is said to have declared that he wanted the following for his epitaph: “He trained Colin.”
Until Man o’ War, Colin was the gold standard by which all horses were compared. If they could have tallied votes from long dead racing people who saw Colin race, I doubt he would have landed #15 in the Blood-Horse’s top one-hundred thoroughbreds of the twentieth century. Makes you wonder where Citation will rank fifty years from now?
Image: Colin with Walter Miller aboard (Turf and Sports Digest)
This year – in what I hope is an annual Colin post – I am going to focus on Walter Miller who rode Colin for 11 of his 15 career wins. In 1958, Willie Ratner told the story of Walter Miller in an article titled “One of the Greatest” for Turf and Sport Digest. Here are some selections from that article:
“Walter Miller is a rarity in two respects, at least. He came from an orthodox Jewish family of New York’s East Side, a time when Jewish jockeys were ‘one in a million.’ His sensational career was crowded into just four years…
“…Miller began his apprenticeship at the old Gravesend racetrack near New York in 1904. Two years later, he amazed the racing world by riding 388 winners, finishing second 300 times and third 199 times in 1,384 races.”
“Miller also led the nation in 1907 with 334 victories, 226 seconds and 170 thirds in 1,194 races. Even that 334 wasn’t bettered until [Joe] Culmone and [Willie] Shoemaker did it in their big year . In 1906, Miller rode five winners out of five mounts on three different days…”
“…The renowned jockey, Jimmy McLaughlin, who had won the Kentucky Derby with Hindoo in 1881, took Miller under his wing and taught him many tricks. Walter improved sensationally. By fall , he was in great demand. He was signed to ride in California by W.A. Stanton, the millionaire Pittsburg brick manufacturer, whose trainers were Sam Doggett and ‘Sunny Jim’ Fitzsimmons, who was also once Miller’s agent.”
“Miller returned East to join Keene stable and, while with that outfit in 1907, he rode the immortal Colin. The writer became well acquainted with Miller around 1918, when he was making his home in Newark, N.J.” [‘The writer’ here awkwardly refers to himself]
“Miller was a great admirer of Charley Weinert, the prominent Newark heavyweight fighter of that era, and we spent many hours with Miller, Weinert and Jackie Clark, the one-time great Australian professional bicycle racer. It was during one of our many gabfests that Miller told the writer he firmly believed that Colin would have gone undefeated had he faced five more years of competition. But Colin went wrong after two years of racing.”
“As a rule, Miller didn’t ride great horses. The jockey ‘made’ himself on bad horses say old-timers. In 1908, when Miller, a tall boy, started to get heavy, he went to Europe, where the scale of weights would allow him more action.”
Miller’s relocation to Europe meant that Joe Notter rode Colin in his only three starts as a three-year-old – including the epic 1908 Belmont Stakes.
Miller ran with some success in Germany but briefly returned to racing in the United States. A 1909 article in the New York Times reported his application for a jockey license being tabled because of an “unresolved incident” at a California Track. In 1910, a Richmond paper reported that both Notter and Miller were among the American riders pursuing mounts in Europe. By 1918, Miller was back in States and his riding career was over. In 1922, Damon Runyan paid tribute to the jockey in one his poems:
“…And Miller was worth his hire.
Seldom he made a blunder
As he rode ’em down the wire.”
In the mid-1930s, Miller suffered a mental breakdown following a series of “financial reverses” that landed him in a New York mental health facility. He remained there until his death in 1959.
He was elected to the Racing Hall of Fame in 1955.
(Turf and Sport Digest)
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
Willie Ratner, “One of the Greatest,” Turf and Sport Digest, April 1958
“Western Jockeys Land Honors,” Times-Dispatch (Richmond, VA), February 13, 1910
Read about Colin’s improbable win in the Belmont Stakes
A bit lax in posting last week – I was busy getting caught up on some non-racing related reading. Along with a pile of magazines, I read an outstanding book called Born to Run about the Tarahumara tribe in Mexico and the sport of ultra-running. I found it absolutely fascinating. If you are not a runner, this book will inspire you to give it a try.
Looking forward to a trip up the turnpike on Saturday to Belmont Park. Belmont Stakes Day is – in my opinion – the best day of racing outside of the Breeders Cup. And even without Rachel Alexandra, I think it is going to be a great day. Hope to see you there.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!