Citation before the Derby, April 1948

Apr 10th 2013 09:00 am |

Citation with trainer Jimmy Jones from the Turf & Sport Digest, 1948

As I have written here in the past, I think Citation’s 3-year-old season stands alone in racing history. An article from the Turf & Sport Digest published in May 1948 titled “The Latest Calumet Sensation” provides a unique perspective on the amazing Citation during his greatest year.

The article was written during a moment in history when Citation was beginning to create the hype that is all too common for 3-year-olds at this time of year but rarely justified. In the early spring of 1948 the racing intelligentsia made bold claims about the Calumet colt before he swept the Triple Crown and finished his 3-year-old season with nineteen wins from twenty starts.

The Turf and Sport Digest featured Citation in their May issue in an article written prior to him being shipped from Hialeah in Florida to Havre de Grace in Maryland. Citation would lose to a colt named Saggy at Havre de Grace, his  only loss in 1948. Nothing more then a slight mishap, albeit a shocking one, during the most dominant 3-year-old campaign of the 20th century. Here is an early look at that incredible season from writer O’Neil Sevier:

“Calumet’s latest bidder for racing fame may prove the greatest. Anyhow that is the opinion of the writing crystal gazers who pick Kentucky Derby, Preakness,and Belmont winners months ahead of the annual revivals of those races, also of hundreds of shrewd horsemen who have been watching the new three-year-olds do their stuff. Without exception the writers that go in for pre-derby prediction have already conceded the big cuts of the Kentucky Derby and and Preakness purses to Citation.

Frank Ortell, of the Scripps-Howard [news] chain, has gone further. Taking his neck in his hands, so to speak, Ortell has declared that nothing short of a breakdown can prevent Citation’s winning every heavily pursed race for three-year-olds in which he may be pointed…

…I have yet to encounter a racing regular who saw Citation in action at Hialeah who has not been superlatively extravagant in his praise of the son of Bull Lea. According to habit all proclaim him the ‘best three-year-old prospect since Man o’ War…[Trainer] Ben Jones, who is as good a judge of racing material as any horseman extant, has called him not only the best horse he ever had the handling of, but the best of any age in the world today and the best stud prospect of the immediate future…

…Hard headed, ‘show us’ old timers are convinced that Citation could have won the eleventh Widener [Handicap]”

The Widener Handicap was run a week before Citation won the Flamingo Handicap at Hialeah. Citation won the Flamingo, a race for 3-year-olds, under 126 pounds by seven lengths. The Widener was open to older horses and included, among its stellar field, reigning Horse of the Year Armed and Triple Crown winner Assault. The winner of the Widener, El Mono, set the Hialeah track record for 1 1/4 miles while carrying 112 pounds. As a 3-year-old, Citation would have been low weight at 104 pounds and, borrowing the words of O’Neil Sevier, the ‘old hard heads’ thought he would have beaten the best of the breed stabled in Florida during the winter of 1948.

According to Sevier, it was after the Flamingo that trainer Ben Jones began his “big talking” about Citation. Keep in mind that Ben Jones also trained Armed, who was an also-ran in the Widener under 130 pounds, and finished behind Citation in two early season sprint races in 1948. That’s right, Citation beat older horses, including Armed, in his first two starts as a 3-year-old. While Armed was not his best as a sprinter, Citation still gets the credit for beating the reigning Horse of the Year twice in a span of nine days before the calendar turned to March of his second racing season. It’s no wonder that many experts believed that Citation could have beaten any horse of any age before he swept the Triple Crown.

In the Turf & Sport article, Sevier joined the chorus of bold predictions a few weeks away from the first Saturday in May. He agreed with Frank Ortell that nothing but a breakdown would stop Citation from sweeping all of the major 3-year-old races but went a step further when he wrote:

If the Bull Lea colt can keep going through his second season I believe that he will be the first horse anywhere in the world to earn half a million dollars in a single season.”

Sevier wasn’t bold enough. Citation ended 1948 with $709,470 in earnings. More importantly, Sevier correctly predicted that Citation would become the greatest of the many great ones bred and raced by the legendary Calumet Farm.

There is nothing sweeter in racing to watch a 3-year-old out-run his hype. Citation is one of the few who did.



O’Niel Sevier, “The Latest Calumet Sensation,” Turf & Sport Digest, May 1948

Update (4/12) : Great piece from the Baltimore Sun about Saggy’s upset of Citation at Havre de Grace

Be sure to check out the latest Derby Auction that closes on Friday — lots of great stuff for sale including a Genuine Risk riding crop.

Citation has been an frequently covered topic here at Colin’s Ghost, check out all the past Citation posts here

It’s hard to believe that we are less then a month away from Derby…

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Citation,thoroughbred racing history,Triple Crown

10 Responses to “Citation before the Derby, April 1948”

  1. Allan Carter says:

    Saggy’s win over Citation was only one of his two claims to fame. he was also the sire of Carry Back.

  2. My OTTB mare’s damsire is Watch Your Step, a better son of Citation. The prediction that he would become a top stallion sadly didn’t come true, but Citation does live on through a few horses, like my mare.

  3. Helene Conway says:

    Hi Kevin

    Please give us more of this – 1948 is my favorite year in racing.

    Helene Conway

  4. Teddy Lopez says:

    Eddie Arcaro who rode both said straight out that ‘kelso would have beaten the shit out of citation’. Eddie said alot of things but, common sense is who would know better than a jockey that rode both? Let’s look at the two miles, citation did run the two miles but, it was kelso who set the record 3 times and, in the last one breaking his own record, doing so on a sloppy track. You better believe he would have had an even faster timing had it not been a sloppy track! 11 days later the phenomenon set a record on grass at the dc in a phenomenal timing of 2:23 4/5 on three turns againts the very best horses in the world, which included his cousin gun bow who came out secound. I also think kelsos’ great grandfather man of war was better than citation. Go consider all the weight and, disadvantages man of war had back in his time. Kelsos’ biggest fan, Teddy.

  5. Becky Ryder says:

    For Citation Scholars: We just finished processing the Irene McCanliss Collection, who was a Citation enthusiast. It is an extensive collection about his career as a racehorse and a sire. 42.5 linear ft of correspondence, clippings, photos, articles. For some deep dish research, come to Keeneland Library to check it out. An index/finding aid will be available shortly.

  6. Teddy Lopez says:

    There are some fantastic people at the Keeneland library I talk to them once in awhile. Another great place is ‘the grayson jockey club research foundation’ they are located in nyc and, in lexington kentucky. Kelsos’ biggest fan, Teddy.

  7. Brad Telias says:

    Kevin —

    Let’s not forget something unheard of in this and any prior generation. Citation ran and won the Derby Trial 4 days before caputing the Roses and then squeezed in the Jersey Derby between the Preakness and the Belmont.

    There’s a reason that racing’s eighth Triple Crown winner is considered by many as one of the top two “ever to look through a bridle” (my apologies to trainer Buddy Delp).

  8. Teddy Lopez says:

    The two greatest horses to ever look through a bridle were ‘KING KELLY’ alias KELSO and, his great grandfather MAN OF WAR. Nobody wanted to even race man of war anymore and, kelso beat more great and, good horses than any other racehorse in history! When kelso became only the 4th horse to win the handicapp triple crown he was giving away 20 pounds to the runner up. Hope you’re sitting down. Kelsos’ biggest fan ,Teddy.

  9. Teddy Lopez says:

    Hey Brad, I do have more respect for citation than I do for Secretariat but, I don’t know if you know that citation ever won carrying more than 129 pounds. Kelso did and, many times. I know citation got hurt and, when he came back was not quite himself again but, so did forego get hurt and, most of his carear ran on 3 legs. I have alot of respect for forego too but, if you look at who was really carrying more weight, kelso was carrying 12 pct of his body weight that’s for a horse that just made 16 hands at age 4. A horse that weighed maybe 1000 pounds. Kelso also suffered from colic pain most of his carear and, nobody really thought he would turn out to be a real great horse when he was a colt cause he was sceawny and, small and had a stifle the had to correct, which is one of the reasons they gelded kelso. He never really was a nice horse they say. Amazing cause they have to be obedient to be a good horse, it’s not just about speed and, stamina. I can understand that citation might be your favorite and, he was one of the greatest horses ever, I saw the whole documentry on him but, bottom line, the greatest jockey of them all Eddie Arcaro who rode both said ‘kelso would have beaten the shit out of citation’. You think you would know more than Eddie Arcaro? It’s like Willie Shoemaker might have won more races but Eddie won more big races like triple crowns and, more stake races. It’s not only about the great horse as should know. It takes a great smart jockey too. Eddie was the kind of jockey that one time this jockey bumped his horse and, at the end of the race Eddie went up to him and, shoved him about 10 feet and, told him ‘next time you do that I’m gonna kick your ass’. So Eddie was respected. That’s the way to do it cause like in boxing or any other sport there’s alot of dirty tactics jockeys use to try to win, like if you riding by the raill, which is the shortest way around, they might make you think they’re gonna drive you into the rail. Eddie and, kelso were perfect together even Valenzuela rode kelso more times. Valenzuela asked Eddie for advice on how to ride kelso. They say Eddie told him, ‘don’t rush him cause he doesn’t like to be rushed, just the harder you hold him the more he’ll give you when you ask him’. It worked. Funny that dirty rat Valenzuela when asked who the greatest racehorse of all-times to him was said it was kelsos’ great grandfather, Man of war. Well I’ve always said it’s between kelso and man of war. In a simulatated computor race they had kelso winning by half a length. That’s ok with me[laugh]! Kelsos’ biggest fan Teddy.

  10. Teddy Lopez says:

    I was watching the story of citation on cable on the old ‘sportscentury’ program and, by citations’ own owners’ admission on there he said he burned him out. He said he got greedy and, ran him too much. I think he was a great horse, just that he no way was greater than ;KING KELLY’ alias the great KELSO. I t was unbelievable how for a horse that looked like a deer he still was great carrying all that weight and, giving away all that weight in those handicap races, which is where the real test og greatness comes in, when you could give away weight to another great or good horse and, still beat them. Kelso was the greatest. Kelso was a phenomenon, he was a freak and, it we never happen again, ‘ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A HORSE NAMED KELSO BUT, ONLY ONCE’. I thank God I was a kid in the 60s’ when he reigned as ‘KING KELLY’ for ao long. Kelsos’ biggest fan, Teddy.