The Triple Crown “Great Ones,” 1919-1948

Jun 5th 2014 12:01 am |

I have been hunting for a copy of Kent Hollingsworth’s The Great Ones, a classic work of horse racing history, for many years. A few weeks back, I saw a copy on e-bay and put in my bid. I am happy to report that I have finally nabbed my paper white whale.

The Great Ones was published by the Bloodhorse  in 1970. According to Hollingsworth, the idea for the book came from legendary owner and breeder Walter Jeffords. Hollingsworth wrote in the introduction that, while walking around the Museum of Racing in Saratoga, Mr. Jeffords told him:

What you are going to do, young man, is put down the records of these old champions, their pedigrees, their owners and trainers, their stories. They must be introduced to new generations of racing people who, without having seen Man o’ War, really have had no opportunity to know what a great horse is. Yes, you’ll have to put together a book on the great ones.”

It took ten years but eventually Hollingsworth followed Jeffords order.

The seventy-six horses profiled in The Great Ones originally appeared as a weekly series in the Bloodhorse. The profiles were written by magazine staff with research support from the dedicated crew at the Keeneland Library. The esteemed Edward Bowen was among the contributors.

The horses profiled include American runners covering a time span from Sir Archy (foaled in 1805) to Buckpasser (foaled in 1963). Before the days of Wikipedia and the internet, The Great Ones served as a primary reference book for racing historians.

With this new addition to my racing collection, I thought it appropriate in lieu of an upcoming Triple Crown try in New York, to look at the profiles of the eight Triple Crown winners in The Great Ones. The book was published before the triumvirate of triple winners of the 1970s so it’s an interesting perspective of the elite club before the addition of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed.

Here are a few of my favorite selections about the Triple Crown winners featured in The Great Ones:

Sir Barton, 1919

Sir Barton was a stout and handsome colt, but had shelly [brittle] feet. He was apt to throw a shoe during a race and once lost all four during an outing. [Trainer H.G.] Bedwell had him shod with the greatest care, and strips of piano felt were inserted between hoof and steel…

In Sir Barton’s profile, author Ed Bowen quoted from a biography written by J.K.M. Ross, the son of the colt’s owner, where he wrote this about first Triple Crown winner:

Sir Barton took no personal interest whatsoever of his own kind and he completely ignored and apparently despised all human beings – with the possible exception of his groom, ‘Toots’ Thompson. Sir Baron remained ever disinterested and aloof, a patrician and a snob”

Gallant Fox, 1930

Triple Crown winner of 1930 when he won 9 of 10 starts and set a single season earnings mark of $308,275 that stood for 17 years (until Citation came along), Gallant Fox had his own, very definite ideas about work. He did not like it. [His trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons] used up enough trial horses to stock a fair stable in getting Gallant Fox to train. Always two, sometimes three horses went with him in workouts. They would pick up Gallant Fox in relays, and they had to be ready, for if the second or third trial horse was not in his accustomed place on the track, Gallant Fox would pull himself up. Obviously, Gallant Fox had a better grasp on the fundamentals of the game then did other horses — the purpose of racing was to beat others; if there is nothing out here to run down, why run?”

War Admiral, 1937

Hollingsworth wrote the profile of the great War Admiral and wrote this about the 1937 Belmont Stakes:

War Admiral held up the start eight minutes, dragging an assistant starter through the gate several times. When the field finally was allowed to go away, War Admiral tumbled, grabbed a quarter of his right forefoot and sheared – as with a knife – an inch-square portion of the hoof. Blood spurted from the wound and sprayed War Admiral’s underbelly as he scrambled away from the gate, this was the blood of Man o’ War. Unmindful of the injury, War Admiral took command quickly, moving to a three-length lead after the first quarter-mile and, under skillful rating held the same margin…at the end of the mile and a half.”

Whirlaway, 1941

[His trainer] Ben Jones called Whirlaway ‘my favorite Derby horse,’ H.A. (Jimmy) Jones called him ‘kind of a nut,’ and wartime racing fans in America called him ‘Mr. Longtail.’ They all adored him, but the Jones’, father and son, held no illusions that he was the greatest thing since Man o’ War. Thirty years after Whirlaway began racing, Jimmy Jones even went so far as to say that the colt ‘wouldn’t be compared in any way with a lot of good horses that we had or a lot that other people had.”

Ed Bowen closed his profile of Whirlaway with another quote from Jimmy Jones:

Whirlaway had only one style and you had to set it up this way. He was just a difficult bird to handle, that’s all.”

Count Fleet, 1943

Count Fleet was so good that he made his rivals suffer by comparison, and there was a persistent query: What did he beat? This is a traditional question when one horse overpowers his contemporaries, but, in retrospect, one can believe that Count Fleet’s class would have shown in any year, that he was one of America’s greatest horses.”

Assault, 1944

Of all the champions bred by Robert J. Kleberg at the King Ranch in Texas, Kent Hollingsworth wrote:

…Assault was the best. We have that on the word of the late [trainer] Max Hirsch, who, late in the 19th century, gave up riding to train; subsequently he had his hands on more than 100 stakes winners….’I never trained a better horse,’ Hirsch said in 1968. ‘Man o’ War had everything, but so did Assault.'”

[Assault] was a little horse which met the challenge of physical infirmities, the mighty rush of Stymie, the burdens of handicappers, and he beat them all.”

Citation, 1948

Citation had been an exceptionally good 2-year-old champion, but there was no reason to expect anything more from him at three that was expected, say, from Pavot or Bimelech, both of which were unbeaten at two. Citation’s first two starts at three, however, suggested a greatness the Turf had not seen since Man o’ War…

Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, who has seen Hamburg and Sysonby and Colin and had trained several nice horses himself, including a couple of Triple Crown winners, was asked what he thought of Citation: ‘Up to this point, Citation has done more than any horse I ever saw.’ He paused: ‘And I saw Man o’ War.’



All quotes from Kent Hollingsworth, The Great Ones, published by the Bloodhorse, 1970

We are just days away from try number twelve since Affirmed. Over the last decade, the Belmont has been really tough on colts that run in all three Triple Crown races but I am optimistic. I think California Chrome would make a nice addition to the runners above and the three that followed in the 1970s. It’s about time!

Thanks for reading and good racing luck to California Chrome!

Filed in Belmont Stakes,The Great Ones,thoroughbred racing history,Triple Crown

5 Responses to “The Triple Crown “Great Ones,” 1919-1948”

  1. Tamerie Dewey says:

    My father worked for Glencrest Farm at the time these articles were published. I read every word of every issue and the stories of those great horses were spellbinding.
    Domino became my first thoroughbred hero.
    I also have searched for this book for a long time, and I hope I will be luck out as you have, It gives me hope!

  2. Heidi says:

    Thanks for sharing parts of this book–what a great historical record to have!

  3. Susan says:

    I ran Kentucky Derby games at carnivals for over a decade in the 60’s and 70’s: pinball devices triggered the “horse” to move across a lighted board (long before electronics and high tech).

    I bought and read a broad assortment of horse race related paraphernalia and books and The Great Ones sounds familiar. Unfortunately moisture destroyed most of the books I had stored during a remodel, along with assorted memorabilia from fairgrounds race tracks all over the west coast and Canada.

    Thanks for sharing the bits you have posted here.

  4. Marlaine Meeker says:

    As usual you’ve shared some great tidbits and I thank you. I just love the fact that Man o’ War is mentioned and others are compared to his yardstick. I so wish I could have seen any of these champions in the flesh. Congrats on your great book find. Now we know more great articles could be coming our way!

  5. Dale says:

    Bloodhorse sold this book which was a limited edition in its magazine. I remember buying it through them and loved the book