Watch the 1930 Florida Derby from Hialeah Park

Apr 2nd 2016 02:21 am |

Back in 2011, I wrote an article about the original Florida Derby(s) that pre-dated the one currently run in the great Sunshine State.  The history of the current edition of the race at Gulfstream Park began in 1952 and has been run there every year since.

However, a race under the name Florida Derby had its inaugural (and only) edition in 1926 at Tampa Bay Downs. From 1929 to 1937, Hialeah Park hosted a Florida Derby. In 1938, the Hialeah edition changed its name to the Flamingo Stakes and the rest — as the cliche says — is history. A distinguished history that had a cast of winners that included Citation, Nashua, Buckpasser, Northern Dancer, Seattle Slew, and Spectacular Bid.

When I wrote about the forgotten early history of the Florida Derby, I didn’t know that film existed of the pre-Gulfstream edition of the race. But the same archive that brought us the footage of Clem McCarthy included a start to finish film of the 1930 edition of the Florida Derby at Hialeah Park. Not only does it document the race and the legendary race track in Miami it provides valuable insight into that era of racing.

I mentioned in the post about Clem McCarthy that announcing horse races (and all sports for that matter) was as an evolving art in the 1920s and 1930s. McCarthy clearly stood out among those in the burgeoning profession, evident in his presence at the microphone for all major horse races during the early period of broadcasting. If Clem was among the best, it can be assumed there were some who weren’t that good.

In an account of how McCarthy came to call his first Kentucky Derby, he told the Daily Racing Form’s Evan Shipman in a 1949 interview he replaced an announcer who knew all the “tricks of the trade” but didn’t give the listener “anything more than the finish, and he [was] waiting for the numbers [official results] to be posted at that.” The effort by the unidentified announcer in the 1930 film of the Florida Derby provides an example of the type of race caller that Clem McCarthy proved inadequate. In fact, you can hear chatter in the background that actually identifies horses during the race – something the man with the microphone did not do.

In addition to providing evidence of poor announcing of the era, the 1930 Florida Derby predated the era of the starting gate. The brief glimpse of the start offers a look into the chaos that could (and often did) ensue when horses lined up without the benefit of a starting gate.

The race itself had little impact on that year’s Triple Crown races. According to race historian Kent Hollingsworth, the best 3-year-olds didn’t go to Florida to prepare for the big spring race in Kentucky until trainer Ben Jones sent his Calumet colts to train and race there in 1938. The years that followed saw an influx of 3-year-old classic winners pass through Florida in the winter and spring.

The winner of the Florida race seen in the footage below, Titus, counted the Florida Derby as the biggest win of a five year career where he started eighty-two times with just eight wins. While the field produced little of note for the American flat racing scene, the colt that set the pace and ended up a tiring fourth place, Battleship, went on to make history as a jump horse. In 1938, Battleship, a son of Man o’ War, became the first American horse to win the English Grand National steeplechase over the Aintree Racecourse in Liverpool, England. He is in the white blinkers and can be seen taking the lead as the move into the first turn. Author Dorothy Ours wrote a brilliant book about Battleship that I highly recommend.

Without further adieu, here is the film of the 1930 Florida Derby from Hialeah Race Course in Miami Florida:

It is interesting to see how common Hialeah looks in this film clip. On YouTube you can find a film from the 1934 Florida Derby that came a few years after the major renovations completed by owner Joseph Widener soon after he purchased Hialeah. Here is the silent clip from 1934:

Here is one more of the Florida Derby a year later when future Hall of Fame filly Black Helen crushed the boys at Hialeah Park:


The clip of the 1930 Florida Derby is from an outtake reel found at the Moving Image Research Collection at the University of South Carolina. The full twelve minute reel of outtakes is well worth a look and available here

Reports of the Florida Derby: “Titus Scores Upset in Florida Derby,” Reading Eagle, 1930 March 9. “Titus, 7 to 1, First in Florida Derby,” The Montreal Gazette, 1930 March 10.

Story about how Clem McCarthy landed the job announcing the Kentucky Derby: Evan Shipman, “McCarthy Has Derby Anniversary,” Daily Racing Form, 1949 May 4.

The assertion that Ben Jones of Calumet Farm made Florida a destination for 3-year-old Triple Crown hopefuls is from Kent Hollingsworth, The Kentucky Thoroughbred, 1976.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Florida Derby,Hialeah Park

One Response to “Watch the 1930 Florida Derby from Hialeah Park”

  1. Marlaine Meeker says:

    Wow, what fun to watch. I love seeing Battleship racing, that was really cool. My has Florida changed. Thanks so much for finding and sharing these historical racing gems with us. Always look forward to your posts.