The First Kentucky Derby Winner to Race in Pennsylvania, 1876

Sep 21st 2016 07:15 pm |

Originally published September 19th 2014. Revised and republished September 21st 2016

On Saturday, for the second time in three years, the reigning Kentucky Derby winner will run at Philadelphia Park1 in the Grade I Pennsylvania Derby. In 2012, California Chrome became the first and Nyquist will become number two this year. Take a look at the list of Kentucky Derby winners and you’ll find only three reigning winners that have raced in the great state of Pennsylvania.2

To find the first, you need to go all the way back to 1876 when Vagrant won the Grand Exposition Stakes at the long forgotten Point Breeze Race Track in Philadelphia (Read more about Point Breeze here…). William Astor’s Vagrant was just the second ever winner of the Kentucky Derby so little was made of his entry in the race on the second day of a six day meeting to coincide with the epic Centennial Exposition being held in the city.

After finding very little coverage in a Philadelphia news archive, I found that the New York Times offered the best available contemporary report of the first reigning Kentucky Derby winner to run in Pennsylvania.

The Times previewed the upcoming race day on 25 June 1876 and included a full list of possible entries:

Tomorrow will be the second day of the [Point Breeze Park] meeting, and four races will be decided, and three of them being closed events the day will be an important one. The opening affair will be the Grand Exposition Stakes for three-year-old colts and fillies…Winners of any single three-year-old sweepstakes of the value of $3,000 or over, to carry five pounds extra, one mile and a half. Of the twenty-four nominations six stables have announced their intention to send representatives to the post.”

The rundown of possible starters included the only mention of Vagrant’s win in Kentucky:

W. Astor’s b.g. Vagrant, by Virgil, out of Lazy by imp. Scythian, who will carry five pounds penalty for winning the Kentucky Derby. [Check out the full list of entries in the article from the New York Times archive]

The list of possible entries concluded with the following:

This indeed will be a battle of the giants, and there was a great interest manifested in the pool rooms last night in consequence.”

On 27 June 1896, the New York Times reported on the day where a four race card opened with a field of five for the Grand Exposition Stakes:

Four races were run on the Point Breeze track this afternoon, in the presence of about three thousand persons, a few of whom were women. Excursion trains from this city carried three-fourths or more of the spectators, and the rest rode over a good but dusty thoroughfare in a variety of vehicles…

The weather was intensely hot, and the scarce breezes fell as though they had come straight from a blast furnace. The sun shone as though only a mile off, and out of its rays a thermometer marked ninety-eight. Two of the four races were exciting, and all were interesting. Promptness in the management and a lucky lack of a delay in the starts resulted in a beginning at 2 o’clock and an end at 5. The betting of both auction and French pools was brisk and heavy, though horsemen were the largest constituents of the assembly. The women stayed exclusively in the club-house. and consequently the grandstand lacked the gay appearance that is seen at Saratoga, Jerome Park, and Long Branch. The track was very dusty.

There were five runners in the first race of a mile and half for three-year-olds – McDaniel’s Virginius, Babcock’s Woodland, Lorillard’s Fugitive formerly Bartram,3 Astor’s Vagrant, and Gibney’s Coupon. The betting at first was with Vagrant as a favorite, but just before the start Fugitive led slightly. In the French pools Vagrant held his favoritism throughout in an aggregate of 400 tickets….

…Vagrant won by two lengths in 2:42 1/2, Woodland was second, Virginius was next by half a length, Fugitive was a while length further behind, and Coupon was arrear four lengths by reason of slowing near the close.”

It was reported later that Vagrant was injured during the race in Philadelphia. He never regained the form of his two- and three-year-old seasons. The Daily Racing Form, in an article published on 19 May 1910, reported that the gelding had “a lot of bad training luck” after his injury and “returned to the turf in older years and won a race or two.” The DRF claimed that he died at seventeen while living the life of a saddle horse somewhere on Long Island.


“Racing at Point Breeze Park,” New York Times,  25 June 1876

“Sports out of doors – The Point Breeze Races,” New York Times,  27 June 1876

“Careers of Kentucky Derby Winners,”  Daily Racing Form,  19 May 1910

The race that followed the Grand Exposition Stakes that day, the Leamington Stakes, was named for the sire of Aristides, the first winner of the Kentucky Derby in 1875. Aristides Welch, a prominent Pennsylvanian, was the namesake of the first Derby winner. Welch owned Erdenheim Farm, not far from Philadelphia where he bred a number a number of influential runners.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

  1. I refuse to use the term “Parx” – it is a silly name contrived by a room of marketing people and has nothing to do with a racetrack. I have very little sentimentality towards Philly Park but I can’t bring myself to use “Parx” to describe the place []
  2. Of course, Smarty Jones might be the most famous Pennsylvania horse connected to the Derby. He ran at Philly Park prior to his Derby win but never raced again after the Belmont. His trainer John Service hoped to run him in that year’s PA Derby, if he had it would have been the biggest day of racing in the state’s history. []
  3. Pierre Lorillard’s colt Fugitive was listed in the paper the previous day as Bartram — thus the “Fugitive formerly know as Bartram” explanation in the article. In the days before the thoroughbred naming rules administered by the Jockey Club, a horse’s name could change on the whim of an owner. In this case, the name change appears to have come on or near the day of the race. []

Filed in Kentucky Derby,Point Breeze Park,Vagrant

2 Responses to “The First Kentucky Derby Winner to Race in Pennsylvania, 1876”

  1. Quilla says:

    Vagrant – “…living the life of a saddle horse somewhere on Long Island.”

    Mine That Bird – living the life of a trail horse in Montana!

    Happy endings. 🙂

  2. Paul Joseph Pluth says:

    Sorry that I got to this article so late. A few comments, though.

    Vagrant was out of action after his Point Breeze showing for nearly 2 years. However, he still was a fairly respectable presence at times.

    The Point Breeze appearance was his 10th lifetime start. Afterwards, he ran 79 more times. On 3 separate occasions, he ran twice on the same card: July 20, 1878; November 4, 1879; and August 12, 1880 (he also ran one race the next day!). Nine of them were heat races.

    And he finished ahead of some notable horses during that time, although it was apparent that he never ran at his former peak.