H.G. Bedwell: First Triple Crown trainer and a cheater

May 30th 2012 03:00 pm |

H.G. Bedwell and Sir Barton

The buildup is in full swing for yet another Triple Crown try at Belmont Park on June 9th, the eleventh attempt since the last sweep in 1978. The last try for the Triple Crown at Belmont failed with Big Brown in 2008. That horse’s connections, led by trainer Rick Dutrow, were as likeable as a stomach virus which made their failure with Big Brown easy to swallow. This year is different. I’ll Have Another’s trainer Doug O’Neil and his team seem a likeable bunch.

Unfortunately, O’Neil, like Dutrow, has a record of drug violations which makes him an understandable target for horse racing’s critics.  However, some of the criticisms have gone a bit overboard.  Bill Rhoden wrote in the New York Times that the sport didn’t “merit” or “deserve” a Triple Crown because of the problems with racing .  Another idea being thrown around is that a Triple Crown win by a trainer with a checkered past would further taint the sport — another laughable idea when taking the long view.

Consider this:  H.D. Bedwell, who trained the first Triple Crown winner Sir Barton, was as checkered as they come and yet he is immortalized in racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga. According to racing historian Ed Bowen in Masters of the Turf, Bedwell was “ruled off New York tracks for about six times longer than he was famed on them.” Dorothy Ours in her seminal work on Man o’ War reiterated a long-standing claim that Bedwell overcame Sir Barton’s delicate feet with a shot of cocaine before he raced.

Commentary in secondary sources written long after Bedwell died is one thing, finding a solid case of Bedwell’s method in primary sources is another. Aware of the long-standing accusations against Bedwell, I searched and found an interesting narrative embedded in the historic newspapers at the Library of Congress. If you want to get a glimpse of Bedwell’s method, long before drug testing became common, check this series of events constructed from news reports in 1909 and 1910:

Bedwell, a native of Denver, made his mark on thoroughbred racing in California during the early 1900s. When he moved a string of horses to New York in 1909, the Penscola Journal reported on the western invader’s success:

One of the surprises of the meeting at Empire City race track (New York) is the successful running of the horses owned and trained by H.G. Bedwell, formerly a druggist of Denver Col., which business he gave up a few years ago on account of ill health. Arsenic, a deadly poison, is the secret though which Bedwell had been able to keep his horses in good racing condition and twice a day they receive a small portion in their food as tonic.

The claim that Bedwell was formerly a “druggist” couldn’t be verified and is likely false. The accusation that he used arsenic on his horses was confirmed by none other than H.G. Bedwell. Bedwell was quoted in the Los Angeles Herald saying this:

Horses like men, lose their vital forces through hard work. In order to tone them up, I give them arsenic in small doses. It serves as a tonic for the blood, and with the blood in condition my horses thrive and are able to race at their best speed

The use of small doses of arsenic to improve a horse’s performance was well-known in Bedwell’s day. And, based on Bedwell’s acknowledgement, not illegal. However, his apparent cavalier use of stimulants on his horses caught up with him a year later in 1910. It all began with the acquisition of a horse named Nadzu who he purchased for an “insignificant sum” from a selling (claiming) race in California.

Nadzu went on to win the prestigious Thornton Stakes by thirty lengths at Emeryville in California in March 1910. The four mile Thornton Stakes was called the “most famous long distance feature of the American turf.”

A few months later, the New York Tribune reported this about Nadzu and H.G. Bedwell:

H.G. Bedwell, owner of one of the largest racing stables in the west…was ruled off the Latonia course today. The action by Judges Price and Dillon followed an investigation into the condition of the horse Nadzu, which was excused from the sixth on July 4. At the time Nadzu was apparently under the influence of stimulants, and this was so noticeable that the horse was ordered excused, and did not start.”

Bedwell claimed that he was the victim of foul play. According to the San Francisco Call:

H.G. Bedwell is reported to have enlisted the aid of the Pinkertons in an effort to find the negro stable-hand who he hopes will be able to throw some light on the doping of Nadzu, and thus removing the stigma caused by the action of barring him from the turf. Several clues are being followed, and it is hoped the boy will soon be found. It will be remembered that Bedwell introduced testimony to the effect that the negro told another of the employees that he administered a powder to Nadzu at the request of a stranger, who offered to bet for him.”

You don’t need to be Columbo to determine that the evidence against Bedwell in this case appears strong. The parts of this narrative might sound familiar to the modern race fan: A shady trainer claims cheap horse followed by the  cheap horse making a major improvement.  Trainer then gets caught doping the same horse and denies any involvement.

In Bedwell’s case, he attached his denial to the racism of his day. Most Americans in 1910 would easily believe the story of an unscrupulous “negro” drugging a horse to cash a bet.

The ruling against Bedwell inspired this rant from the El Paso Herald:

While Bedwell was at the Juarez track [in Mexico] he was touted by the official racing paper and the attaches of the race track as ‘the squarest man among the racing gentry.’ The result of the investigation [in Kentucky] shows just how square the squarest is and also throws an interesting light upon the conditions which prevail in the racing game, which allow such things as doping horses and the manipulation of races to permit a certain owner or crowd to win big bets on the outcome of the racing. The Latonia incident is only another proof that horse racing as it is conducted at present, is not on the square…”

Just as the reporter in 1910 used the incident of Nadzu and H.G. Bedwell as evidence that racing was crooked, so too will writers today use Doug O’Neil’s past to implicate the entire sport of racing. No one claims that Thoroughbred racing doesn’t have serious problems but emphasizing certain elements of the sport to represent it as a whole is something that has plagued it for most of its history.



Bowen, Ed. Masters of the Turf (2007).  If you are interested in racing history, Bowen’s book about legendary thoroughbred trainer’s is a must have.

Ours, Dorothy. Man o’ War: A Legend Like Lightning (2007). Ours writes extensively about Bedwell, she makes the claim about Bedwell and cocaine on page 65.

Image of Bedwell and Sir Barton from The Washington Times, 16 May 1919

San Francisco Call, 21 March 1909

The Pensacola Journal, 17 July 1909

Los Angeles Herald, 17 July 1909

New York Tribune, 8 July 1910

El Paso Herald, 8 July 1910

San Fran Call, 26 July 1910

Los Angeles Herald, 4 August 1910

The San Francisco Call, 14 August 1910

Thanks for reading!

Filed in H.G. Bedwell,Sir Barton,thoroughbred racing history,Triple Crown

8 Responses to “H.G. Bedwell: First Triple Crown trainer and a cheater”

  1. Fred says:

    Nice article, but your quote on Dutrow as unlikeable is off. He is actually one of the more popular trainers on the circuit and most media types who have actually spoke to him like him a lot.

  2. Ron says:

    As much as I would like to see another Triple Crown, I find it difficult to root for I’ll Have Another’s connections. Not so much due to Doug Oneil’s suspensions, but with the owner who I find anything but likeable. According to his (Cash Calls) web site, Mr. Reddman will lend you $2,500 at 184%+ interest, plus a $75 loan fee, exploiting those least able to afford the loan sharking. While at the same time he is virtually bragging about how much be wagers through the windows. It’s certainly not the horses fault, but I for one won’t be heart broken if IHA runs up the track.

  3. Kevin says:

    Hey Fred: I respect your opinion and will say that my opinion is based on what I have seen of him in interviews. I will say that I don’t think I am the only one that finds him unlikeable. Thanks

    Ron: Funny you should mention that — I told someone over the weekend that I find Reddam’s loan sharking business far more interesting as a negative story then O’Neil’s record of drug violations. Most trainers have some blemish on their record but its a rare owner who makes their money as a Shylock. Thanks!

  4. Teddy Lopez says:

    There’s a book out by a fellow called Jim Squires called ‘HEADLESS HORSEMEN’, who is well respected in the horse racing world who says Secretariat was juiced up on steroids. He looked big enough to be. He says Sec wasn’t the only horse on the juice and, that it goes back as far as the 1950s. Atleast Kelso looked like a deer so, you could make a case for a case for Kelso. Just go look up Jim Squires’ ‘HEADLESS HORSEMEN’ on the net. Funny, look what happened to Big brown when they took him off the juice. Kelsos’ biggest fan.

  5. Laura from RI says:

    I’d bet Man O’ War was also hopped too after reading Dorothy Ours’ book. Sir Barton had shelly feet, but so did Equipoise and Bedwell’s theory was all abt the American $$$.

  6. Teddy Lopez says:

    Yah but, if Man of war was juiced up or on anything, he wasn’t on the stuff that big brown was on or some of theose other horses later on were. Lsd isn’t the same as it was when it started out in the late 50s’ or 60s, right? You gotta remember that in man of wars’ days the horse shoes where made of steel and not aluminum which made them heavier and, would have slowed him down. Also there were no starting gates when man of war raced, also you better believe the tracks were in worst conditions. He also carried 140 pounds when he was 2 years old! He a big horse about the same size of secretariat but, remember the horse shoes back then, the starting gates, which there were none and the tracks were worst. The only thing I take away from man of war was that they never raced him long enough. His great grandson kelso proved a whole lot more. Oh and, kelso was a little horse who looked like a deer. I still think kelso was better than all of them, inlcuding than his great grandfather man of war but, don’t knock man of war, he raced at a hell of a time. You gotta consider certain things when you talk about man of war. I would think most of the greatest racehorses came out of man of war, from his son war admiral, who won the triple crown, count fleet, seabisquit, gun bow who was related to kelso and, ‘king kelly’ himself the great kelso.

  7. Dorothy Ours says:

    I kept an open mind about whether Man o’ War would have been “hopped,” given how easily that could happen during his era — but also think that it’s unlikely, because, as his trainer said, “He was hard enough to handle without it!” In other words, a bold, sound, willing, very energetic horse who didn’t need a boost. Sir Barton made a much more likely “hop” horse because of his chronic foot problems and lazy temperament.

  8. Don Reed says:

    Hi, Kevin. Your description of Dutrow “as likeable as a stomach virus” is quite charitable. But then again, I suspect your site gets a lot of walk-in business because we appreciate – aside from your story angles & writing – your mellow temperament.

    As far as Fred’s angle goes, this is an old, old, OLD manipulative advertising angle:

    “Everyone likes XYZ-Brand Beer!” [“If you don’t like it, what the heck is the matter with YOU?! Are you DIFFERENT?!”]. Social extortion.

    This goes hand-in-hand with another unscrupulous tactic – manipulative justification: “Everyone’s Got Something To Hide” – which Dutrow himself infamously tried to use when the heat was on.

    Oh yeah, sure, the vast majority of the trainers really enjoyed being around Dutrow during his mental breakdown in the aftermath of the 2008 Belmont Stakes – when he started accusing his entire industry (& specifically, Gasper Moschera) of cheating.

    Without a single iota of proof.

    Enough of this Popular Fellow, Dutrow.

    “Rip-off Reddam” a while back ran Ditech (his former lending company) TV commercials featuring the pathetic, down-&-out Gary Coleman.

    Personally, I think NYRA’s in worse shape than Coleman ever was in.

    Solution: TV CashCall ads featuring the paid endorsements of NYRA management members.

    We’ll get that frozen casino money back, even if we have to install CashCall Payday Advance ATMs in the Belmont lobby.