Whatever happened to Jim Dandy?

Jul 27th 2011 10:25 pm |

This Saturday brings the forty-eighth running of the Jim Dandy Stakes to Saratoga Race Course. Since its first edition in 1964, it has served as an important prep race for the Travers, one of the racing calendar’s marquee events for 3-year-olds.

The race is named for the winner of the 1930 Travers, Jim Dandy, who upset one of racing’s all-time greats, the Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox. Few races sport the name of a horse best known for winning a single race and no races are named for a horse who won at odds of 100 to 1.

From the front page of The Saratogian, 19 August 1930

As I was thinking about a post for this week, I asked myself, whatever happened to Jim Dandy? As I did some preliminary research, I found that his name comes up frequently in the newspapers from the 1930s in relation to his Travers win, but references to his racing career during the same period are few and far between.

He had a race record of seven wins from one-hundred and forty-one career starts and lifetime earnings of $49,570. However, digging up additional details about his career proved difficult to find, but I was able to piece together a skeletal history of the now immortal Jim Dandy.

In 1931, Jim Dandy’s name appeared among the also-rans in the Hawthorne Gold Cup in Chicago. He ran seventeen times that year and earned $3350. By 1933, it appears he had taken a step down from the top tier racing circuit. According to Allan Carter at the National Museum of Racing, Jim Dandy’s final win came on May 30, 1933. He won the Memorial Day Handicap at Riverside Park in Kansas City and collected $700 of a $1000 purse. Three years out from his miraculous Travers win, Jim Dandy paid $39.20 to win in Kansas City.

In 1934, he started twenty-two times and recorded two second place finishes in the Pontchartrain Handicap and Fair Grounds Inaugural Handicap in Louisiana. He earned a measly $625 for his efforts that year. The following year, in 1935, he would start only seven times and earn $25, the last time he recorded any earnings on the track.

In 1936, Jim Dandy appeared in the results from Santa Anita. He ran in at least two $1000 handicaps where he finished among the also-rans. After finishing out of the money in five starts in 1936, Jim Dandy did not race in 1937. It’s possible that the “egg-shell” hooves that allowed him “to cruise beautifully through the Saratoga goo” in the 1930 Travers had finally had enough.

But Jim Dandy returned in 1938 and 1939 for the final two years of his career. Jim Dandy made his way south to race at Agua Caliente in Mexico. In the Los Angeles Times, the race writer Jim Lowry took notice of the famous upsetter and noted this in his preview of the 1938 race meet at Agua Caliente in Tijuana:

An interesting old-timer who will attempt to make a comeback at Caliente is Jim Dandy, an 11-year-old who gained immortal turf distinction by beating Gallant Fox in the mud of the Travers in 1930s.

A few weeks later, Jim Lowry wrote of Jim Dandy’s performance in a six furlong stakes race called the San Joaquin:

Poor old Jim Dandy, which won the Travers in 1930 as a 100-to-1 shot in the mud was never in it. His victory over Gallant Fox is only a memory. Now 11 years old and with no more desire to run than the man in the moon. Jim Dandy finished dead last in the field of 10 horses. The bookies magnanimously opened him at 20 to 1 but when no money showed for the veteran they upped it up to 50 to 1. At one time in the run down the backstretch old Jim was eighth. But that was as close as he could get to the leaders.

The last reference to the career of Jim Dandy I found was in a workout report from the Daily Racing Form. In May 1939, he worked a half-mile at Agua Caliente. We know he raced three times that year, and considering the silence from the racing press, it’s likely he did little of note in the final races of his career.

Somewhere among the countless undiscovered pages of historical documents is more information about the final years of Jim Dandy. We’ll have to wait for a more ambitious historian than me or additional sources to be digitized before that information comes to light. It’s possible that we’ll never know the ultimate fate of the famous winner of the 1930 Travers. Without historical evidence, we can only imagine him racing during the last years of his long career.  Update

By the end of the 1930s, Jim Dandy’s name had become synonymous with the possibility of the impossible in racing. I like to think that someone in every grandstand in which he raced in the later years recognized him for what he did on that rainy Travers day in August. You can’t help but imagine him inspiring a sense of reverence to a race fan or two even when he was running in places not worthy of his status as a living legend, a breathing representation of racing lore.

Read an informative follow-up to this post


“Hawthorne Gold Cup…Won by Sun Beau for second straight year,” New York Times, 121 October 1930

“Santa Anita Derby Draws Field of 12,” New York Times, 15 February 1936

“Whopper is first as 58,000 look on,” New York Times, 1 March 1936

“Agua Caliente Opens Thursday,” Los Angles Times, 20 November 1938

“Two Girls Share $1000 in Agua Caliente Handicapping,” Los Angeles Times, 5 December 1938

“Workouts,” Daily Racing Form, 6 May 1939

“HORSE RACING; The Day Jim Dandy Danced in the Rain,” New York Times, 2001 August 6

Special thanks to Allan Carter from the National Racing Museum and Hall of Fame who provided me with information for this article.

Equibase has an incomplete record of Jim Dandy’s career

For more on the 1930 Travers, see Colin’s Ghost post: Gallant Fox Loses Travers, Sunny Jim Speaks, 1930

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Gallant Fox,Jim Dandy,thoroughbred racing history,Travers Stakes, 1930

5 Responses to “Whatever happened to Jim Dandy?”

  1. Undine says:

    Poor Jim. I had no idea he was among the once-famous racehorses who just disappear from view.

    I guess we can only hope he wound up with someone who thought enough of him to give his story a good ending.

  2. White Camry says:

    Seven wins from 141 starts? Yes, it’s amazing that one of those wins would be the Travers but it’s no wonder that he went off at 100-1.

  3. Lisa says:

    Interesting article! I had just been wondering about Jim Dandy. At least he had his big moment in crushing Gallant Fox in the Travers.

  4. Born Star says:

    Very interesting story, I wonder why they felt obliged to give this horse a graded stakes event if his whole claim to fame was beating a triple crown champion. I mean no one is talking about starting a J.O. Tobin or Onion Stakes. Great article as usual.

  5. T.J. Connick says:

    Dredged up a piece that appeared in the September 17, 1941 edition of the Utica Daily Press. Jim Kelly, sport editor, described the familiar tale of the Travers in his Time Out column, and followed with news of Jim Dandy at age 14:
    Jim Dandy never did much after that. But he’s still an active piece of horseflesh. We have had many of those “What ever became of Jim Dandy?” queries in the last few years but it was only yesterday that we found ourselves in a position to answer.
    A clipping from the Los Angeles Examiner reports that Jim Dandy, although 14 years of age, is making good in a big way as a show horse and jumper, which is the equivalent of a 49-year-old track man making a comeback in fast company.
    Trainer John B. McKee, who bought the horse from
    (sic) Chaffey (sic) Earl in 1929, had turned Jim Dandy out to eat grass and grow fast (sic) after he had retired Jim from racing in 1939 in the face of the horse’s inability to win any kind of a race.
    But he detected a restless spirit in the veteran and finally was persuaded to turn him over to Maj. L.G. Otto, who operated a riding academy near Los Angeles.
    Nine months in training and Jim Dandy is an accomplished jumper. He has ridden to the hounds, jumps flawlessly and appears in horse shows and appears to be enjoying life as much as he did in his racing days.

    McKee had bought Jim Dandy for $25,000 in 1929 from W.S. Dudley on behalf of Chaffee Earl. Earl was new to the game, and reputedly only owned two horses in his time: Jim Dandy and Naishapur — a pretty good batting average.
    Jim Dandy’s relations had good batting averages, too. His dam’s sire, Star Shoot, enjoyed outstanding success as a sire of broodmares. Star Shoot’s daughter Thunderbird (72 starts) may not have produced others as famous as her son Jim Dandy, but she passed along her endurance to others.
    1925: Ormonbird, colt, (by Ormont), does not appear in the Pedigree Online Thoroughbred Database, but was mentioned as a success in the 1929 report of Jim Dandy’s purchase, ran 17 times in 1929, had run 9 races by May 31, 1930, and appeared to be going strong.
    1926: Vimont, a full brother to Ormonbird shows in the database as an earner of $16,318 from a lifetime record of 147-16-12-16.
    1927: Jim Dandy
    1930: Transbird, colt, (by Transmute), earned $15,455 from a record of 221-21-31-21.
    1933: Baby Vivian, filly, (by Sun Flag), unraced, but one of her two offspring, Martha Joan (1937 – by In Memoriam, started 48 times), had a daughter (Joan Mint – 1951 – by Mintson, started 34 times, no offspring), and a son, Joey Bomber (by Bomber). The grandson of Man O’War started a remarkable 176 times, winning 36, and banking $67,820.
    [Aside from Ormonbird, all quotations drawn from Pedigree Online Thoroughbred Database. Thunderbird had a 1929 foal and a 1928 yearling, but they are also absent from the database. The 1929 purchase of Jim Dandy was reported in the Daily Racing Form, and from the same report was drawn word of the 1928 and 1929 progeny of Thunderbird.]
    A final fun fact about Jim Dandy, winner at 30-1 over a muddy Saratoga track of the 1929 Grand Union Hotel Stakes: his sire Jim Gaffney was runner-up (at 30-1) in the 1907 running of the same race. The winner that day was the 1-5 favorite, Colin.