Apr 6th 2011 08:23 pm |
Well it’s anniversary time here at Colin’s Ghost. After a successful 3-year-old season, I think I’ll stay in training for another year. Since launching in April 2008, we have had approximately 70,000 visitors. Not bad for a marginal topic about a marginalized sport.
To celebrate the anniversary, I’m launching a new feature called “What they said about…” The posts will gather selected quotes from those who were eyewitnesses to the greatest thoroughbreds in history. Like everything we do here, the contemporary voice, the voice of the people who were there at the time, will take precedent over all others.
The inaugural “What they said about…” will go to a horse who won a Triple Crown but whose most memorable race was one he lost. When Gallant Fox was active, some compared him to Man o’ War. Such lofty comparisons are made more significant when we consider that Gallant Fox competed about a decade after Man O War. So, those who made such comparisons were fortunate enough to see them both race.
Gallant Fox was a good two-year-old. He won the Flash Stakes at Saratoga and finished second in the Belmont Futurity. Jimmy Breslin wrote in his biography about Gallant Fox’s trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, on the early career of the future star:
Gallant Fox was in Fitzsimmons barn at Aqueduct, about as lazy an animal as anybody ever came across. He would run with another horse in the morning, then stop dead the minute he passed him….In his first couple of starts, Gallant Fox was well out of it. But Mr. Fitz saw one thing in him: the horse was coming on at the end every time….it looked like he simply needed more ground to cover.
And with more ground, he did indeed get better. At three, Gallant Fox went from good to great, dominating his class of three-year-olds. He won the Wood Memorial and swept the Triple Crown series. It was during his run in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont that the term “Triple Crown” entered the lexicon of American racing (although it’s precise origin is in dispute — see this article from The Rail).
He went on from the Triple Crown series to win the Dwyer and the Arlington Classic in Chicago. He lost the 1930 Travers to a 100 to 1 longshot named Jim Dandy on a muddy track at Saratoga. He started three more times after the Travers, and won all three including two wins over older horses in the Saratoga Cup and Jockey Club Gold Cup. After his record setting 3-year-old season, he retired to William Woodward’s Bel Air Stud and stood as a stallion at Claiborne Farms, per the longstanding arrangement his owner had with A.B. Hancock of Claiborne.
So what did they say about Gallant Fox during his history-making 1930 campaign?
Jockey Earle Sande had this to say before the running of the Belmont Stakes:
Gallant Fox is a great horse, one of the best I ever rode…We’ve still got to beat Whichone at Belmont, and Tom Heale, his trainer tells me that the Whitney colt is training soundly and well…[Gallant Fox] won this [Kentucky] Derby by himself and never gave me a moment’s worry…It was the easiest of the three Derbies I won. (Pittsburgh Press, 30 May 1930)
In the Belmont Stakes, Whichone, owned by H.P. Whitney, went off favored and many thought him superior to Gallant Fox. An International News Service reporter wrote this bit of overcooked prose prior to the Belmont:
If Gallant Fox beats Whichone in the Belmont, then automatically he must be awarded a place on the pedestal of ranking champions before which the gods of racing bend the knee. (The Telegraph-Herald and Times Journal, 1930 May 19)
After winning the 1930 Belmont Stakes, New York Times reporter Bryan Field, wrote:
Few races have caused greater excitement in the East or for that matter, in the country, than the meeting between Gallant Fox and Whichone. The Belmont first was run in 1867 at old Jerome Park, but none of the great duels in its long history aroused as much interest as this one.
And when it came right down to the running, it was not a duel at all because Gallant Fox made a procession of it and never gave the others a chance. To stand off three challenges, from each of the horses running against him, and still have enough speed to come away in fast time under a drizzling rain, is high testimony to his ability. (New York Times, 8 June 1930)
[Sidenote: Whichone would later break down in the infamous 1930 Travers. Whichone survived and was retired to stud.]
Prior to winning the Arlington Classic on July 12th 1930, the Boston Globe called Gallant Fox, “…America’s greatest race horse since Man o’ War…”. Around this same period, the Associated Press declared the combination of Gallant Fox and Earle Sande, “…America’s greatest turf combination since the days of Man O’ War and Clarence Kummer…”
On August 14, 1930, Grantland Rice, ever the contrarian wrote :
So far Gallant Fox has been the Bobby Jones of the track. He has cleaned up from Chicago to Louisville to Baltimore to New York. He has made more money than the Carnera Stable, Max Schmeling or Babe Ruth. He may not be one of the great horses of the track, but he has been one of the great winners, and that’s what they run for. (The Spokesman-Review, 14 August 1930)
In September 1930, Gallant Fox made history in winning the Lawrence Realization Stakes at Belmont Park, as reported by the Associated Press:
Rising to financial heights heretofore unknown to American turf, William Woodward’s Gallant Fox, the three-year-old champion, today won the thirty-eighth running of the Lawrence Realization to climax a brilliant career that carried him from the rank of a mediocre juvenile to the greatest money winner of all time. (St. Petersburg Times, 1930 September 7)
Col. Walter Moriarty of the National Turf Digest wrote at the end of the September 1930:
Few horses in any country have really earned the right to be called ‘great.’ It is a title given somewhat carelessly and often undeserved. One might say here that not half dozen since Man O’ War have demonstrated their right to name of ‘great’…Gallant Fox is a great horse. If he never wins another race, he will go down in history as one of the best ever bred in any country. (National Turf Digest, September 1930, page 917)
In October, Alan Gould, the Associated Press columnist, had an interesting theory about Gallant Fox’s radical improvement in form from his two to three year old seasons:
Gallant Fox is a horse of another color – and temperament. A good, but not great two-year-old, winner twice in seven races and unplaced only once…horsemen believe, he has developed invincible tendencies as a three-year-old chiefly because a complete response to the riding skill of Earl Sande…This is not unprecedented on the turf by any means. Trainers often find their charges doing better for one rider than another….And so it seems that Gallant Fox has found the gallant Sande to his liking. (Gettysburg Times, 1930 October 14)
New York Times reporter Bryan Field, perhaps the most enthusiastic of Gallant Fox’s supporters among the racing scribes, wrote this at the conclusion of the 1930 season:
It doubtless will be many a year before another horse like Gallant Fox comes along. A 3-year-old champion is to be found with each turn of the calender, but not like the son of Sir Gallahad III and Marguerite, which in eleven races came from obscurity to a place where he is ranked with Man o’ War, Reigh Count, and other greats of long ago. William Woodward’s horse, in winning $308, 275, garnered more in a single season than any other horse in any land within the same space of time. (New York Times, 28 Dec 1930)
In 1962, Jimmy Breslin wrote a biography of Gallant Fox’s trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. After spending what must have been countless hours with the aging trainer, Breslin had this:
In his years [Fitzsimmons] has come to handle some of the great race horses, In 1930 there was Gallant Fox, a horse which would run over anything in its way and won everything. He is still Mr. Fitz’s favorite.
Of all the quotes, none carry more weight then the one from Sunny Jim via his biographer. With names like Omaha, Johnstown, Nashua, and Bold Ruler on his list of horses trained, Gallant Fox stood above them all in the eyes of one of the greatest trainers of his era.
Gallant Fox has the honor of having a race named for the only horse to beat him during his brilliant 3-year-old season. The Jim Dandy Stakes has been run as a prep for the Travers at Saratoga in New York every summer since 1964. (I posted this about the 1930s Travers a few years ago.)
Gallant Fox also has the distinction of being the only Triple Crown winner to also sire a Triple Crown winner. In 1935, his son Omaha becomes the third member of the most elite club in American Thoroughbred Racing.
SOURCES, NEWS, AND NOTES
Jimmy Breslin, Sunny Jim: The Life of America’s Most Beloved Horseman (New York: 1962). This book stands as one of my all-time favorite works on racing…outstanding!
All other sources are embedded in the text above
It looks like things are conspiring against me for a trip to Aqueduct this weekend — it seems my schedule and the Wood Memorial never work out. It looks like it’s gonna be a great day of racing and I’m sorry to miss it. Hope to get up to New York again when Belmont Park opens for the Spring meet.
Thanks for reading and good luck!