Citation beaten in the “Big ‘Cap,” 1950

Mar 2nd 2011 09:06 pm |

Citation prior to the final start of his brilliant 3-year-old campaign

This weekend, Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California hosts the Santa Anita Anita Handicap, one of the most prestigious races in the United States. The race is full of historic winners but this week I thought i’d take a look at the greatest horse to ever finish second in California’s biggest prize for older horses.

The great Citation won 19 of his 20 races as a 3-year-old, including a Triple Crown sweep in 1948. He also had a near perfect record as a 2-year-old winning 9 of 10. He was injured late in his 3-year-old season and, instead of being sent to stud at Calumet Farms, he sat out the entire 1949 racing season and returned to the races in California as a 5-year-old. Here is how Phil Georgeff described the return in his book Citation: In a Class by Himself.

The grand warrior was five years old, still harbored scars of injury. He convalesced ten months before [his trainer] Jimmy Jones finally acceded to [Calumet owner] Warren Wright’s relentless obsession that Citation needed to go back to racing.

Wright’s “obsession” was that Citation would be the first million dollar horse — his career earnings stood at $865,150 after his stellar seasons at two and three.

According to Ben Jones, when Citation returned to the track in 1950, he “wasn’t totally sound.” He told Phil Georgeff, “He was not really that fit to race big time. He should have stayed on the farm with the mares as the next logical stage of his life — as a sire.”

In spite of the apprehension of his trainer, Citation made his 5-year-old debut in a six furlong allowance race at Santa Anita. He finished first for his sixteenth straight win, a winning streak that began at Havre de Grace, Maryland in April 1948 and set the standard for modern thoroughbreds.

He returned a week a later at Santa Anita in a handicap carrying 130 pounds. He lost to a horse named Miche who carried fifteen less pounds. Then, two weeks later, he lost again, marking the first time in his life that he lost two straight races. This time, he was beaten by Calumet stablemate and 1949 Kentucky Derby winner Ponder.

A year away from the racing followed by a two race losing streak made the once dominate Citation appear mortal. Two weeks later brought the Santa Anita Handicap, the most prestigious and toughest race for older horses during the era. Calumet set the Big ‘Cap as the goal when they brought him back to the track in 1950.

This is how the Pittsburgh Press previewed the race on the morning of Febuary 25, 1950:

The eyes of the turf world world were fixed today on Citation in the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicap.

Victory in the race virtually was conceded to the Calumet entry of Citation, Ponder, and Two Lea, despite eight other horses in the race. But the big question was could Citation pack 132 pounds for a mile and a quarter and beat his stablemates.

Turfmen, sentimental over a champion, were rooting for Citation to win and become the greatest money-earner of all times with $979,200. The horse’s comeback after a 13-month layoff has held the interest of the racing world. And a victory today would move Citation alongside Man o’ War as a turf immortal.

But it wasn’t meant to be, Citation would be beaten by his nemesis Noor. The Irish-bred Noor, who was owned by the same stable that owned Seabiscuit, beat Citation four times during his comeback in 1950.

Los Angeles Times, February 26th 1950

Here is how the Los Angeles Times described Citation’s loss in the 1950 Santa Anita Handicap:

Citation was beaten by C.S. (Seabiscuit) Howard’s Noor in the Golden Gallop at Santa Anita yesterday, but Calumet’s mighty ace ran one of the greatest races of his life in defeat.

Noor took the decision by a length and one-quarter before a howling crowd of 65,000, but he was in receipt of 22 pounds from the Calumet color bearer — 110 to 132 — and had to run in new track record time to earn his thrilling victory.

The Calumets finished in order in the 13th running of the $100,000 Santa Anita Handicap, but it was 2-3-4 instead of the 1-2-3 as anticipated.

Citation took the secondary award of $20,000 by a length over Two Lea to shoot his all-time earnings to $899,200 and maintain his reputation of never having been worse than second in a horse race in his career. Two Lea finished a neck before Ponder…

…Noor’s sensational triumph was accomplished in the new track record time of 2:00 flat for the mile and one-quarter, but it was not a world’s record as announced by the track broadcaster…The old track mark was Seabiscuit’s 2:01 1/5…

…Johnny Longden, giving his mount a perfect ride, said he encountered no trouble but that Noor still runs greenly, “He isn’t used to American ways yet, and its difficult to ease him in and out. I had to keep riding him all the way…

…Noor is the brown son of Nasrullah and Queen of Bagdad which was bred by the Aga Kahn, and whose accomplishments include a third in the Epsom Derby of 1948. Nasrullah, one of the three top stallions on the English sire list, was recently imported by an American syndicate for $372,000.

The big crowd, which began forming outside as early as 6:30 a.m., made the Calumet entry a 1-to-3 choice with Noor second at 5-to-1…

…Longden was a little pale in the winner’s circle, and needed a bit of assistance in getting out of the saddle, but that was explainable. His foot and knee were still bothering him from an injury suffered in a spill before the start of a race last Wednesday, and he reduced four pounds from his customary 114 to make 110 for Noor…

…While the track was fast the smog hung over the mountains all day, and the sun had a tough time breaking through.”

Citation would eventually surpass the one million dollar mark but the man who set that goal did not live to see it. Calumet Farm’s patriarch Warren Wright died in December of 1950.  His family honored his hope that Citation would become the first equine millionaire and kept the horse in training in 1951.

Citation started his career winning 28 of 30 starts in 1947 and 1948. He ended it by winning 6 from 15 in 1950 and 1951 while pursuing the one million dollar earnings goal. He showed moments of brilliance during his comeback including a world record setting performance in the Golden Gate Mile over a track called the fastest in the United States by Time Magazine.  But, even with flashes of his old self, most who saw him then would claim he was not the same horse that dominated early in his career.

On July 4th 1951, he ran his last race, a win in the Hollywood Gold Cup, ending a brilliant career and finally securing a long overdue retirement for one of the greatest competitors in American thoroughbred racing history.


“Turf World Eyes Citation Today,” Los Angeles Times, 25 February 1950

“Noor Beats Calumet Entry in Rich ‘Cap,” Los Angeles Times, 26 February 1950

“Sport: Golden Mile,” Time Magazine, 12 June 1950

Georgeff, Phil, Citation: In a Class by Himself, 2003

A sidenote:  Two Lea, who finished third in the 1950 Big ‘Cap, was a 4-year-old filly.  Calumet never hesitated to run their best fillies and mares against males — Bewitch, who beat Citation as a 2-year-old, is a prime example.

If you haven’t seen Barbara Livinsgton’s piece from DRF weekend on Man o’ War’s funeral, be sure to check it out!  It’s fabulous — Ms. Livingston is not only a talented photographer but a top-notch writer and historian too.

On Saturday night, HRTV premiered a show called Classic Countdown featuring the top ten runnings of the Santa Anita Handicap.  It was the premiere of a show that will highlight the best editions of prestigious American races.  It is hosted by Jon White and looks like it’s going to be a winner.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Calumet Farms,Citation,Santa Anita Handicap,Santa Anita Park,thoroughbred racing history

4 Responses to “Citation beaten in the “Big ‘Cap,” 1950”

  1. gary says:

    Wonderful,as always….I was once told that there was an investigation in that era to double check the measurements at GG to see if that might be the reason why so many world records were being set at GG……..Joe Palmer made a reference to this phenomana in his story: The Importance of Having a Grandmother….Discussing the 1935 match races between Clang and Myrtlewood, he noted that Clang held 2 world records (6f & 7f ) “unless you count time taken in California ” I was wondering if you could dig up the story..if there is one…….thanks for all you do//// garyD

  2. RG says:

    If you are going to be digging maybe you could come up with a video of the 1950 San Juan Capistrano. Maybe the greatest race ever.

  3. Hoffmann says:

    Another great article! Keep up the good work!

  4. […] Here is an article I published a few years back about Citation’s Big Cap in 1950: Citation beaten in the Big ‘Cap, 1950 […]