Oct 26th 2010 07:24 pm |
In my post last week, I mentioned that I thought Kelso should be at the top of the list of all-time greats. This inspired a few commenters who made valid points disagreeing with that assessment. I am easily swayed so I didn’t put up much of a fight. Of course, these arguments can never be solved but it’s always fun to debate.
Something that always interests me is where prominent thoroughbred people stand regarding the “greatest ever.”
One commenter mentioned that Hall of Fame trainer and breeder Preston Burch said, in 1973, that Man o’ War was the greatest he had ever seen. I’m sure this came up in the context of Secretariat during his Triple Crown season. [see comments] Back in 1973, there were people alive, like Preston Burch, who had seen Man o’ War race in the flesh — it’s hard to argue with those who had that kind of perspective.
However, there were also those who witnessed the career of Man o’ War, who didn’t put him at the top of their “all-time” list. Grantland Rice, the legendary sports writer, had his start in the news business clocking horses for a Nashville newspaper in 1901. He wrote this over fifty-years later:
“[When] Tennessee abandoned racing…I took little interest in the track until Man o’ War arrived. Man o’ War was something different — something extra — as great a competitor as Ty Cobb, Jack Dempsey, Tommy Hitchcock, Ben Hogan, or anyone else. He struck me always as one who had a furious desire to win. He started running from the post and he was still giving it all at the wire — all the way with all he had.”
Grantland Rice saw all of the greats from Man o’ War to Native Dancer. On the question of the best he ever saw, looking back from 1954, he wrote:
“If you stop all careers at three years, I’d put Man o’ War first — Citation a very close second, maybe even a dead heat. But if there was an edge, it would go to Man o’ War…”
“…A race horse must be judged in three directions — speed, stamina, and time — the time he lasts. So while you might rate Man o’ War or Citation as the greatest three-year-olds, neither should be classed as the greatest race horse. I think that distinction belongs to Exterminator, sometimes known as ‘Old Bones.’ Exterminator raced his first race at Latonia, June 30, 1917. He ran his last race at Dorval Park, June 21, 1924. That makes a total of seven racing years, or more than twice what Man o’ War faced. And in those seven years he was carrying high weight, from 135 to 140 pounds. Yet under this heavy burden he won 50 out of 100 races before he retired….”
“…There was only one Exterminator. Talk with John Partridge, the veteran trainer, one of the best judges of horse flesh I ever saw. John has been looking at them run for over 60 years: ‘I’d like to think what Extermninator would do with this modern bunch,’ he told me. ‘Six furlongs one day – three days later a mile and a quarter – then two miles, then six furlongs again. He didn’t care.’”
In the Bloodhorse’s ranking of the top one-hundred horses of the twentieth century, voters put Exterminator at number twenty-nine. Grantland Rice, and many of his colleagues, would have surely scoffed at that result but history is the domain of the living and living memory plays a huge part in how people (especially when it comes to sports) view the past. It’s hard to imagine a horse winning his three-year-old debut and his fifth career start in the Kentucky Derby — then go on to race ninety-four more times and win half his starts while racing against the best of his generation — that was Exterminator.
Here is a gallery of programs from the great career of Exterminator, courtesy of Ron Micetic:
SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES
Many thanks to Ron Micetic who supplied me with scans of the programs and the image of Exterminator from his collection. He told me he has a huge collection of Exterminator programs and likely has the only existing copy of his maiden program (see above). If you have old programs looking for a home, Ron is your guy, you can email him at: rmicetic [AT] hotmail.com
The quote from Grantland Rice is from his now out-of-print memoir The Tumult and the Shouting published in 1954. It is an outstanding read about the sports scene during the first half of the twentieth century. I bought my copy at a used book sale, it can be purchased online at Amazon for seven bucks — well worth it!
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!