May 16th 2012 12:08 pm |
On Friday, Pimlico Race Course will card the Pimlico Special as part of Black Eyed Susan Day. The Pimlico Special is a race of major historical significance that has fallen on hard times in recent years. It
will lose its grading this year and hasn’t been run since 2008. The race has two distinct histories, the first from 1937 to 1958 and the second from 1988 to 2007. Even with a thirty year hiatus from 1959 to 1987, it has an impressive roll call of high quality and, in some cases, legendary winners.
According to the Bloodhorse, fifteen Horse of the Year winners have won the Pimlico Special in its forty-one runnings. Four Triple Crown winners (War Admiral, Whirlaway, Assault, and Citation) occupied the winner’s circle during the first era. Horses of some renown have won it during its second era including Cigar, Skip Away, and Invasor.
Two of the Triple Crown winners that won the Pimlico Special did so in walkovers — that is, they were the lone entry in the race. The race’s founder, Pimlico owner and president Alfred G. Vanderbilt, made the purse a winner-take-all so also-rans walked away with nothing. When Whirlaway and Citation entered the race in 1942 and 1948, no other owner felt it worthwhile to send their steeds against those two legends without a payday for running second.
The 1948 Pimlico Special marked the high point for one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all-time. Citation entered the ‘Special’ having won twenty-four of twenty-six career races and twelve straight. By the time the invitations were sent out to owners of the best thoroughbreds in the nation for the Pimlico Special at the end of October, they all concluded it would to be a wasted trip. Citation had proven himself unbeatable.
The great race writer Walter Haight of the Washington Post covered the Pimlico Special with his characteristic attention to detail. Below is a selection of quotes from the Post’s coverage of Citation’s walkover.
On October 25th 1948, before the race was drawn, Walter Haight in an article titled “Who’s Afraid of Citation? Everybody!” wrote:
On Friday comes the $25,000 Pimlico Special. Citation is at the Baltimore track waiting. Trainer Jimmy Jones says he’s ready to meet all comers. But where are the comers? Seems they’re all afraid of the big, bad Citation. At this writing there’s not a single horse owner or trainer who will risk his charge against the season’s 3-year-old champion…
John Heil, vice president in charge of reserve seats, reports an almost sellout demand. He says customers aren’t asking about Citation’s opposition, all they want to know is if Citation will be there.”
A few days later, Haight had this in a race preview titled “Citation’s in a Class by Himself Today at Pimlico”:
Citation drew no. 1 post position. In fact, Citation can break from any part of the starting gate his handlers so desire for the horse of the year, if not the century, runs alone today. No chance to pick a loser in this event, listed as the sixth race at Pimlico and better knows as the $10,000 winner-take-all Pmlico Special…
Despite the lack of a contest the Special will be surrounded with the usual trimmings, which include the appearance of the Maryland Jockey Club band; a special blanket for Citation in the stable colors with his name on the side and the traditional case of champagne for the winning stable.
Citation will go to the paddock to be saddled, just as in a regular race and will be led onto the track in the usual post parade.”
Reporting on the race result on October 30th 1948, Haight wrote:
Citation won today on his press clippings.
The Calument comet ran over the 1 3/16-mile course to score a walkover victory in the famous Pimlico Special and take down the $10,000 purse the easy way.
Owner Warren Wright saw a horse in his colors turn in a solitary special effort for the second time – Whirlaway also turned the trick – and promptly gave the ten grand to the Damon Runyan Memorial Cancer Fund….
Every move of the horse of the year was roundly applauded by a crowd of 11,620 which got a big laugh when Don Reed, the public address system announcer, said ‘the result is official.’
The ‘race’ was put on in big league fashion, including a post parade, a flag start, etc. Citation returned from the little more than a workout to be blanketed with chrysanthemums in the winner’s circle.
Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who conceived the idea for the Special, presented the trophy to Warren Wright as trainers Jimmy and Ben Jones looked on.”
Articles after the Pimlico Special indicate that everyone of sound mind, including trainer Ben Jones, believed Citation’s historic 3-year-old campaign ended with his walkover in Baltimore. However, on the instruction of owner Warren Wright, he did race again in 1948 at Tanforan in California, where he suffered an injury that cost him his 4-year-old season. He returned to the races in 1950, but he was never as good as he was running around the Pimlico track alone on the 29th of October 1948.
Sources, News, and Notes
“Who’s Afraid of Citation? Everybody!” Washington Post, 25 October 1948
“Citation’s in a Class by Himself Today in Pimlico Special,” Washington Post, 29 October 1948
“Purse Given for Runyon Cancer Fund,” Washington Post, 30 October 1948
I will be in the house for the Preakness this Saturday. I am writing a race preview for CBS Local and will send a link to it via the Colin’s Ghost email list as soon as its published. Don’t have a pick yet but I am having a hard time getting past Bodemeister considering the lack of pace signed on for the race. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him wire the field and win by open lengths but will likely convince myself to pick one of the more appealing colts from a betting perspective like Creative Cause or Went the Day Well.
Thanks for reading!