Looking ahead to the Kentucky Derby, 1937

Apr 20th 2012 08:30 am |

Racing fans in 1937 witnessed a Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes sweep. War Admiral, the son of Man o’ War, became the fourth winner of the elusive series, at a time when the Triple Crown still needed to be explained to racing fans (see below). It was also a time when the idea of the Triple Crown plus one (the Withers) was still considered a possibility (also see below).

When the Turf and Sport Digest published its Kentucky Derby edition in 1937, War Admiral was just one of many good 2-year-olds who had yet to run at three. As I perused the Turf and Sport’s May issue, I determined that the articles were written in late March or early April before most of that year’s crop of promising colts raced. So, at that time, the best of the crop was still Pompoon, the 2-year-old champ who set a course record in the Belmont Futurity in 1936.

In an article by O’Neil Sevier titled “Analyzing the Three-Year-Olds,” he mentioned War Admiral in his second tier of horses based on their 2-year-old seasons. War Admiral had won three of six starts at two and had been beaten by champion Pompoon. After spilling extensive ink on early favorites Pompoon, Reaping Reward, Privilege, and Brooklyn, Sevier did provide his thoughts on the eventual Triple Crown winner:

War Admiral is another son of Man o’ War. He is in the stable of Samuel D Riddle. His mother is Brush Up, a daughter of Sweep and granddaughter, or great granddaughter, of Dolly Higgins, the grandam of Crusader. If War Admiral developed as Crusader did, Riddle will easily have the season’s champ…Most of the good sons of Man o’ War are better three-year-olds than two-year-olds. So why shouldn’t the Riddles hope?…I don’t know anything about the underpinning of this colt, but if he is sound he is as good a bet as any colt his age. He is brown and good looking and in the Kentucky Derby.

Turf and Sport’s Kentucky Derby preview issue also included an article titled “The Derby Road,” where author Nelson Dunston wrote about the history of the big race. He opened his piece with a brilliant paragraph, that perfectly encapsulates all that is great about the First Saturday in May. It was written seventy-five years ago but much of it continues to ring true today:

Again we near that May day when all America will strain to catch radio voices emanating from Kentucky. Once again it will be the descendents of Matchem, Herod, and Eclipse in the age-old battle for supremacy, and on this occasion, the sixty-third running of the Kentucky Derby, the horse race which annually offers America her greatest spectacle.

Some 60,000 spectators will thrill at the sight of the contest, and hardly will the name of the winner be flashed to the waiting world when turf and sports writers will be wondering whether that winner will go on to annex the Preakness, or be the fourth to win the Triple Crown (the Derby, Preakness, and Belmont), or, like Sir Barton, be a three-year-old capable of winning the four races – the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, Belmont, and Withers. For what is horse racing but the severest test ever devised by man for animal, with the Kentucky Derby and other important events but milestones on the equine journey to fame?

In fact, any three-year-old which is started in the Blue Grass classic has already traveled a long way, comparatively speaking, on that road which has a thousand and one by-paths to oblivion.

I love that last line – it states a fact of racing that was around in 1937, is true today, and will be true 75 years from now. More to come on Derby and Triple Crown history in the next few weeks!

Sources, News, and Notes

Quotes above from articles that appeared in the May 1937 edition of the Turf and Sport Digest

Update: Great American Race Track Project
I recently updated the race track spreadsheet. I wanted to thank everyone who has taken the time to send me updates. I have tried to thank everyone personally via email and, of course, continue to welcome any input from readers. After the Triple Crown season is over, my plan is to dive back in and make some additions myself. I have a list of sources that I will be digging into when I find the time. We are up to 258 documented tracks, check it out.

In case you missed it, here is last week’s post Smarty Jones: The Real Philly Flyer, 2004

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Kentucky Derby,Turf and Sport Digest,War Admiral



One Response to “Looking ahead to the Kentucky Derby, 1937”

  1. Angela Guy says:

    You can also add Epsom Downs to your list of tracks! It was on the north side of Houston, TX from 1933 to 1937 (when TX again made pari-mutuel betting illegal). On opening day Nov. 30, 1933, there were 27000 attendees… They’re hard pressed to get half that number today at Sam Houston Race Park. 🙁

    http://www.houstonarchitecture.com/Building/2004/Epsom-Downs.php

    http://blog.chron.com/bayoucityhistory/2009/06/a-look-back-at-epsom-downs/

    http://houstorian.wordpress.com/2008/07/25/epsom-downs-and-arrowhead-park/

    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/1003613/epsom_downs_houstons_first_horse_race_track/

    Apparently the site was later a drive-in movie theater: http://www.arch-ive.org/epsomdowns.php