Racing historian “Salvator” researching the American “Thoroughbred”, 1921

Mar 9th 2012 09:00 am |

One of the most valuable sources for writing about racing history is the Daily Racing Form online archives. Since I first posted about the project back in 2009, they have added thousands of pages to the site. So, it’s always a worthwhile to spend some time clicking around the archive to check for new content. This past week, I stumbled upon articles authored by “Salvator,” the pen name for racing historian John Hervey.

Few historians of the race horse can match the volume and quality of John Hervey’s work. He wrote for every major publication during a career spanning five decades. He also wrote the second volume of Racing in America that covered the period from 1922 to 1936. Proving his herculean exploits as a researcher, he followed that by writing the edition that covered 1665 to 1865. If one were to collect all of his writings in a single volume (and include Vosburgh’s edition of Racing in America) you could build a complete anthology of racing history in the United States prior to 1940.

Putting together such a volume would be difficult. However, a search of the DRF archives for “By Salvador” would be a good place to start — such a search produces at least one hundred articles he authored in the 1920s and 1930s. More will emerge as additional pages are added to the archives. In the meantime, as far as I can tell, this is the largest corpus of Salvator’s work to be found in a single place online.

I perused many of Salvator’s articles from the DRF archive and the one that stuck out to me more than any other (so far) is an article written just a few days after the 1921 Kentucky Derby won by a colt named Behave Yourself. The article illuminates the level of obsession for a topic that only the best historical researchers posses. Less then 24 hours after the Derby, Hervey was consulting the pedigree record in an attempt to trace the bloodlines of the winner. Here are a few excerpts from the article (read it in its entirety at the DRF Archive):

I made a trip of ten miles the Sunday morning after the Kentucky Derby was run in order to get my hands on the extended breeding of the winner, Behave Yourself. The ‘ruling passion,’ you observe, and the necessity of gratifying it! I had planned that this particular Sunday morning should be one of rest and relaxation. But there was neither for me with my mind fidgeting persistently over the question: ‘What does Miss Ringlets (the dam of Behave Yourself) run back to?’  To be frank I hadn’t the slightest idea which of the “fust famblies” [“first families”] she belonged to. And I was dying to know. In order to satisfy my curiosity I made the trip returning a wiser and in some respects a sadder man.”

So what would make a student of Thoroughbred pedigrees a “sad man”?  In this instance, researching the dam line of a Kentucky Derby winner and running up against a dead end. The fifth dam of Behave Yourself, Ellen Swigert, had “no exact and authentic information” regarding dams that came before. In perusing multiple editions of the American Stud Book, Hervey found that “concerning Ellen herself there is some dubiety [doubt], to say the least.”

In the article, he meticulously described the conflicting information he found in three volumes of the Stud Book about Ellen Swigert and then concluded:

But what we do know is that Behave Yourself has won the Derby in true race horse style, defeating therein a field that had been acclaimed the best that ever started for such an event in America. Score another for one of the old ‘American families’ which are not ‘thoroughbreds.'”

Yes, that’s right, the 1921 Kentucky Derby winner was not a “Thoroughbred” in the strict definition of the term.

Most myths die hard and the myth that all “Thoroughbreds” trace back to three foundation sires is one that won’t go away anytime soon. Like many historical tales oft-repeated, it doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of real research. Score another one for the determined historian and the great John “Salvator” Hervey.



“Behave Yourself a Native,” Daily Racing Form, 24 May 1921

I have added a few more tracks to the Great American Race Track Project based on excellent feedback I have received through comments and email.  We are up to 232 tracks with many more to add….check it out!

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in thoroughbred racing history

3 Responses to “Racing historian “Salvator” researching the American “Thoroughbred”, 1921”

  1. Anne Peters says:

    Tracing Ellen Swigert’s female line was fun, but it perked my interest on the pedigree of her sire Bulwer, who is only listed as a son of Grey Eagle. So I googled Bulwer and found him in California in 1855 in an article listing his dam’s pedigree! This ad confirms that Sir Bulwer is the same as Bulwer, sire of Ellen Swigert.

    May 1855 Sacramento Daily Union: THE CELEBRATED RUNNING STALLION “SIR BULWER,” will stand ft. at the Franklin Brewery, on X street, near the old Fort, Sacramento, the ensuing summer and fall season. PEDIGREE. Sir Bulwer was sired by the distinguished race horse Grey Eagle (for the pedigree of Grey Eagle, see American Turf Register, edited by Wm. T. Porter, of New York.) The dam of Sir Bulwer was sired by that renowned race horse producer Medoc pedigree of Medoc, see American Turf Register.) Sir Bulwer’s g. dam was by Davis’ Hamiltonion, g. g. dam by Duke of Bedford, g. g. g. dam Lamp Lighter, g. g. g. g. dam (by) old imported Medley. Given under my hand, this 20th day of May, 1852. JOHN L. HOWARD. SIR BULWER Is 15^ hands high: Is a grey horse; was bred in Kentucky, and run his mile In 1.47. He is the sire of Ellen Sweagert, who won five races last fall, in Kentucky, without losing a heat, making the best race ever made at mile heats in Kentucky, over the Lexington Course, in 1.45,V—1.-*»#- Sir B’s colts are thought to be the best of their age in the Union. Gentlemen having mares at a distance, may res: assured that every attention and care will be shown them, at a very moderate charge. The patronage of the public is respectfully solicited. Terms «rj»9— s3o a leap, and $50 for the season. $1 to the groom. JAMES MOORE

  2. Kevin says:

    Hi Anne: Great stuff…thanks for your contribution. The volume of historical information online these days is amazing…thanks for sharing this piece and clarifying one of Mr Hervey’s missing pieces. Kevin

  3. RG says:

    No entries, results or coverage of the 1972 Derby-day card at Churchill. Censorship?