Longshot Apollo wins the Kentucky Derby, 1882

Apr 27th 2012 09:00 am |

Apollo is a horse from racing history who will get a fair share of “airtime” during this year’s Kentucky Derby. The Bob Baffert trained Bodemeister ran the most impressive Derby prep of 2012 in the Arkansas Derby and is the likely favorite for the big race at Churchill Downs on May 5th. Apollo will be resurrected in the same breath as Bodemeister because he did not race as a 2-year-old. Back in 1882, Apollo was the last runner to win the Kentucky Derby without a start at two.

The name Apollo does not make an appearance in reference to his career path to the Kentucky Derby until the 1980s (Air Forbes Won in 1982 was the first unraced 2-year-old evoking the name Apollo that I could find). Some think the “unraced at two” theory is a nonsensical handicapping angle since the number of Kentucky Derby entries without a 2-year-old start are few and far between.

According to Jay Privman, as of 2011, just fifty-five starters since 1944 entered the Derby without a start at two. Such a statistic leads to a conclusion that it’s just a numbers game. Few have run in the Derby without a 2-year-old race, therefore, none have won the Derby without a 2-year-old race. In recent years, as eventual Derby starters race less leading up to the First Saturday in May, it’s likely that the longstanding ‘Apollo rule’ will soon be gone like the old rules recently broken by Barbaro, Street Sense, and Big Brown.

For all the mentions that Apollo will get in the lead up to the 2012 Kentucky Derby, I thought it would be worthwhile to see what I could find out about the eighth winner of America’s most famous horse race. It wouldn’t be surprising if the colt that won the Kentucky Derby way back in 1882 didn’t make much of a mark on the historical record. Sometimes, though, you get lucky. In an article from 1920 in the Toronto World, I found a detailed (and poorly written) account of the 1882 Kentucky Derby winner. Here are my selections from the nearly century old article, written forty years after Apollo’s Derby win (read it in it entirety here):

Perhaps the most interesting of [Kentucky Derby] reminiscences has to do with the first great upset that occurred in the race back in 1882. Previous to that year, all of the favorites for the big race…scored, but up to that time there had been no great surprise in the event.

During the winter of 1881-1882 Runnymede was a strong choice for this important race. He went into winter quarters with the prestige of being the real star among the two-year-olds of 1881…

…Preceding the Derby of 1882 good reports came from the training quarters of [Runnymede], with the result that a fortune was wagered on his chances in the winter books, causing his price to be cut to the shortest figure ever offered against a winter favorite for the race. His owners [the Dwyer brothers] had sent Hindoo to Kentucky the year previous, and the great performer had made a show of his opposition in the stake, so the prestige…of the great Brooklyn stable reached from ocean to ocean…

…As the date of the running of the Derby approached, Runnymede increased in popularity, and on the eve of the race, he was quoted at even money by the layers. At post time he was an odds-on favorite and regarded as a certain winner by all supposed good judges.

There had come from the south that year a rather ordinary looking gelding named Apollo in the stable of Green B. Morris. Mr. Morris bought Apollo in the spring of 1881, when the future Kentucky Derby winner was a two-year-old. He was not raced at all at that age. In the spring of that year Henry Brown, Kentucky trainer, had Apollo in his care, and while working him one morning with another horse…the pair pulled up a mile in 1:48.

This work, of course, was too severe for a two-year-old so early in the spring Apollo was sent by his owner, D. Swigert, to Stockwood Farm, near Midway, Ky., and turned out. In a few weeks Mr. Morris made a visit to the place, and though the colt was poor in flesh, concluded to buy him. He secured Apollo by paying Swigert $1200 in cash, with a promise of $300 more should the colt win the Kentucky Derby the following spring….

…Morris [who now owned and trained Apollo] shipped [him] to New Orleans, and while still a two-year-old had him gelded and made no effort to train him to any extent until the time came to begin giving him hard work for his three-year-old campaign. The gelding proved a generous doer and, having grown and spread out during the winter, looked all over a good horse.

Still, no one was bold enough to even suggest the possibility of the rugged-looking gelding ever being able to beat a colt with the reputation possessed by Runnymede.

Apollo’s first start was in the Pickwick Stakes at New Orleans. He was beaten, but Morris did not like the appearance of the race, and ran him back in a few days in the Cottrill Stakes, against the same sort of opposition, putting up on him his exercise boy, Babe Hurd. Apollo won that stake in a canter, and then, going to Memphis, continued his winning career.

Finally he reached Louisville to meet his Derby engagement. Hurd continued to ride him…and had the mount in the Derby. To this day excuses are offered for Runnymede’s defeat in the great race by Apollo. Heavy track conditions were held to have contributed to [his] downfall. Then again, it had been claimed that he was not just keyed up to a hard race at a mile and a half, the Derby being his first start as a three-year-old.

The truth, however, is that Apollo under all conditions that day was the better horse. He never for a moment left the outcome in doubt, and while Runnymede turned the tables on him a few days back in the Clark Stakes, the distance was a quarter of a mile shorter than the Derby route. [the Clark was run six days after the Derby in 1882]

Rumors circulated later that Runnymede’s jockey, Jimmy McLaughlin had held his mount, throwing the race for bookmakers who took a ton of money on the favorite and stood to lose a fortune should the heavily backed favorite win. Nothing was ever proven, of course, and the rumors were soon forgotten. In 1891, the New York Times called the charges of a crooked race “ridiculous.”

According to the data shared by the folks at kentuckyderby.com, Apollo won twenty-four times in fifty-five career starts. He banked a total of $21,680 in career earnings, $4560 coming from his win in the 1882 Kentucky Derby.

A 1910 article in the Daily Racing Form about past Kentucky Derby winners, wrote this of Apollo:

Apollo, the winner in 1882, was, like Vagrant, a gelding. He was always an honest running horse after his Derby race and captured some stakes and many purses for his owner [and trainer], Green B. Morris, He broke down as a five-year-old and Morris presented him to a friend of his wife at Charleston, S.C., and the last that was heard of Apollo he was carrying his mistress over paths underneath magnolia trees.

On 30 November 1887 The New York Sun reported the end of Apollo in one line in its Sporting News section:

Apollo, the Kentucky Derby winner of 1882, died recently in Charleston of lockjaw.

For all of Apollo’s racing career, and for nearly a century after he died, he was simply a name on a list of Kentucky Derby winners. It’s only in the last thirty years that Apollo has been revived and associated with the difficulty of winning the Derby without racing as a 2-year-old. Whatever the reason might be, it’s always fun to see the name of a horse resurrected from so long ago. It further proves that winning the Derby is one of the few surefire ways to achieve racing immortality.


Statistics from Apollo’s racing career and a chart from the 1884 Ketucky Derby

“When Apollo, Long Shot, Won the Kentucky Derby from Pickwick,” The Toronto World, 1920 April 24 — This is the most detailed article about Apollo’s career leading to the Derby but it is very poorly written

The most detailed description of the running of the 1882 Derby can be found in History of the Kentucky Derby, 1875-1921, by John L. O’Conner. It is available via the Internet Archive

“That Crooked Derby,” New York Times, 1882 February 16

“Kentucky Derby Horse,” New York Times, 1891 March 30 — This is the article where the NYT calls the charges of a Derby fix in 1882 “ridiculous.”

“20 Entered for Richest Kentucky Derby,” Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 1982 April 30 — The first mention of Apollo in the context of winning the Derby without racing at two that I could find

“Kentucky Derby trend continues to stand the test of time,” Daily Racing Form, 2011 March 3

The fine folks at Derby Auctions will launch on May 5th with an auction of outstanding racing memorabilia.  Be sure to check out and register to bid…here is a link to some of the things that will be auctioned starting next Saturday

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Apollo,Kentucky Derby,thoroughbred racing history

One Response to “Longshot Apollo wins the Kentucky Derby, 1882”

  1. lloyd lane says:

    Enjoyed reading your article about Apollo. 1882 was the 8th running of the Kentucky Derby was Apollo the first horse to run in the Derby with out a race at 2?