Colin’s Belmont Stakes, 1908

Jun 4th 2013 09:00 am |

New York Evening World, 30 May 1908

“Great horses have been defeated by mischance, racing luck, injury, and lesser horses running the race of their lives. None of these, however, took Colin. He was unbeatable.” – Kent Hollingsworth in ‘The Great Ones’

Last year, I somehow missed doing my annual post about the mighty Colin, this site’s namesake. As I have written here before, the inspiration for the site’s name came from a New York Evening World article that wrote of Colin as a “wraith in the mist” during his improbable win in the 1908 Belmont Stakes, just two two days after it was reported that he had “broken down badly.” These ideas of a figurative resurrection and running wraiths turned into “Colin’s Ghost” which I thought had a nice ring to it.

For much of the century, the 1908 Belmont was treated with the same reverence that we today hold the 1973 Belmont. Colin and Secretariat both used the Belmont Stakes as a stage for, perhaps, the most inexplicable thoroughbred racing performances of the 20th century. Those with a living memory of 1908 are long gone, this is the only reason it does not resonate like 1973.

The Colin piece for this year comes from an incredible historical document authored by Walter Vosburgh, one of the first chroniclers of American turf history.  Vosburgh wrote a two-part history of the Belmont Stakes covering the period from 1908 to 1921 for the Daily Racing Form. His piece about the 1908 Belmont is especially interesting since it was written in 1922. That is just two years after the retirement of Man o’ War, the horse that drew many comparisons to Colin and whose sire, Fair Play, finished second in the 1908 Belmont Stakes.

Here is Walter Vosburgh’s account of “Colin’s Year, 1908” from the Daily Racing Form:

The Belmont Stakes of 1908 is memorable for the great race it produced between Mr. J.R. Keene’s Colin and Mr. August Belmont’s Fair Play. Colin, the undefeated two-year-old of 1907, had beaten Fair Play for the Withers and had plainly shown that he retained his speed. Fair Play had one run before and shown poorly. But there was a doubt on the part of many whether Colin could stay the Belmont course of one and three-eighths miles.

It was a very stormy day, rain falling heavily, and the track deep in mud. Colin was at 2 to 1 on a favorite. It was a duel between Colin and Fair Play from the start, and Colin won, after a desperate finish, by a neck, Fair Play beating King James ten lengths, with Robert Cooper last. There has always been a story that [Colin’s jockey Joe] Notter made a mistake by easing Colin after passing the judges stand, the finishing post being beyond that point, and but for which, they claimed, Colin would have won much easier. As many more who saw the race deny that Notter ever eased his colt. [For the record, Notter also denied that he misjudged the finish line]

Colin was black-brown, bred by Mr. Keene, a son of Commando, from imported Pastorella, by Springfield. He won all his races at two, including the Futurity, but after the spring of his three-year-old form he went lame. He was stopped and sent to England the next year, but his ailing limb would not stand the ordeal of training.

Fair Play, on the contrary, improved every day, and before the year closed he was about the best horse in training. He won the Municipal Handicap, for all ages, as a three-year-old, with 127 pounds up, a “smashing performance,” in trainers parlance, and then followed Colin over to England. But while Colin went lame, Fair Play turned sour and refused to run and was brought home. He sired the renowned Man o’ War and is canonized among the ‘Fathers of the Stud.’

Colin and Fair Play, which fought out the Belmont finish in 1908, were both sons of Belmont winners, Commando (1901) and Hastings (1896), and Fair Play was also a grandson of a Belmont winner, Spendthrift (1879), and it was fitting that two colts whose ancestry was so greatly identified with the event should have been competitors in one of its most memorable finishes”

I encourage you to take a look at all of Mr. Vosburgh’s Belmont Stakes article (Part 1 | Part 2) from the 1922 Daily Racing Form. He ends the piece by making a case for the importance of the race, writing that the “racing man” knows that it is the “event of the year.” According to Vosburgh, the 55-year history of the Belmont had “produced more great race horses than any other event in this country.”

Colin and Marshall Lilly

The memorable story line surrounding the race and its legendary winner as well as the progeny of its second place finisher will forever mark 1908 among the most historically significant editions of the Belmont Stakes.

For a more detailed account of the 1908 Belmont Stakes from the pages of the New York Evening World, check out this three part series we did here back in 2008.

More about Colin:

What they said about…Colin, 1907-1908

A Day in the Life of Colin, 1908

Colin’s Jockey: Walter Miller

Colin: One of ‘The Great Ones’

Teresa Genaro over at Brooklyn Backstretch wrote about Colin on her site a few years ago, the title of the article is a quote – believe it or not –  from Colin’s owner before the Belmont Stakes: He may as well break down on the track


Sources, News, and Notes

The Belmont Stakes, History of the Oldest and Greatest Sweepstakes from Three-Year-Olds, 1867 to 1921 — From Colin’s Year, 1908, to Friar Rock’s Year, 1916Daily Racing Form, 4 May 1922

The Belmont Stakes, History of the Oldest and Greatest Sweepstakes from Three-Year-Olds, 1867 to 1921 — From Hourless, 1917, to Grey Lag, 1921Daily Racing Form, 5 May 1922

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Belmont Stakes,Colin,thoroughbred racing history,Walter Vosburgh

One Response to “Colin’s Belmont Stakes, 1908”

  1. Marlaine Meeker says:

    Once again my heart skipped a beat when I saw mail from Colin’s Ghost. I cannot thank you enough Kevin for these wonderful stories and info for further research.