Femme Fatale

in the name of horse racing

Camilla Osterman National Horseracing Museum

Now and again the name Lillie Langtry pops up in various contexts. A mare by that name is the mother of Coolmore’s fantastic filly Minding, and there is the Lillie Langtry Stakes at Goodwood. There have been books and TV-series bearing her name. But the story of the real Mrs Langtry surpasses all fiction. It’s as if her life had been taken straight out of a major soap opera. Born in a rural family she climbed society’s highest echelons and enchanted men with her beauty and wit.

Lillie Langtry was the Kim Kardashian of her era. Always in the spotlight, hanging out with the jet-set, and a member of the Professional Beauties. The PBs were married women of high birth and spotless reputations that London’s social life revolved around. Lillie was also a commercial genius and supposedly the first woman to endorse a product—she was the face of Pear’s Soap. She also had her own theatre company and, most importantly, was one hell of a horse-woman, with her own racing stable in Kentford outside Newmarket and a farm in Northern California complete with a breeding operation and a training track.

Lillie’s first success at the races came when she was still a teenager in her native Jersey. She and her brother Reggie bought a mare with the appropriate name Flirt for £4, fixed her up, and went on to win a seller at the local race meet at Gorey Commons. Later, when she moved to London with her husband, Ned Langtry, as one of the Professional Beauties, she got invitations to private boxes at all the great race meets; Goodwood, Ascot and Epsom. Lillie loved the racing and she was a good handicapper and made some money at the bookies.

Albert, The Prince of Wales, who later was to become King Edward.
Albert, The Prince of Wales, who later was to become King Edward.

As one of the PBs, Lillie was surrounded by men and two of Lillie’s most ardent admirers thought that the gift of a horse would strengthen their chances of attracting her attention. They offered Lillie a horse and riding lessons. She played along and the first time one of them helped her up on the horse, she pretended to faint and fell down on the other side into the arms of the other. But after she revived and galloped off they realized she was no beginner. The horse, Redskin, became a favorite and she rode him on the Rotten Row every day. The Rotten Row in London was what where anybody who was anybody was showing off their newest horse, their newest carriage, and their newest outfits.

During Lillie’s morning rides she was sometimes accompanied by Albert, The Prince of Wales, who later was to become King Edward. They shared a common interest in racing and were often seen together at the races. After a day of racing at Goodwood when Lillie’s husband Ned was out fishing with one of the Prince’s friends, Lillie and the Prince were both invited to stay at Lord Rothschild’s summer house near Goodwood. What happened that night we will never know, but after that Lillie was always invited wherever Bertie went.

“What happened that night we will never know, but after that Lillie was always invited wherever Bertie went”

This relationship lasted for some years, but after a big party were Lillie was supposed to have dropped a piece of ice down the Prince’s neck it ended. After that the credit she had enjoyed as the Prince’s official mistress quickly dried up and tradesmen, seamstresses, and milliners presented Lillie with a mountain of unpaid bills and demanded to get paid immediately, if not sooner. What to do?

Lillie followed her catch-call “Get on with it” and decided to go on the stage. During her years in high society she had met with actors, writers, and other artists so she had the necessary contacts. The public was willing to pay for a glimpse of the Famous Fallen Beauty and she was an immediate hit.

She toured the UK and the public clamored for tickets to her shows. Eventually she formed her own company and was invited to the USA where she had her own luxury rail-way carriage built for her convenience. Of course she went racing both on the old tracks in New York and Saratoga and also on the tracks around the country. She was often seen together with the young heir Freddie Gephard who also enjoyed racing and had his own stable.

Her theater company was a big success and by June 1884 Lillie had about $125,000 to her name. She decided to spend it on horses, so she and Freddie went off to buy a few horses for his racing stable. But she also wrote to her solicitor George Lewis in London about starting a stable of her own. So far she had only been a part-owner of Freddie’s horses, but now she was ready to get her own.

In the summer the traveling circus reached San Francisco where they stopped for a while and had some time off. Lillie and Freddie went looking for a property where they could breed horses and found it at a ranch in Guenoc Valley. They hired a ranch manager, Charles W Aby, who had managed Lucky Baldwin’s ranch at Santa Anita, outside Los Angeles. But when Lillie and Freddie’s horses were shipped out from New York to California tragedy struck. The train with 16 horses on board derailed. 11 horses died on the spot and the rest were badly injured and had to be put down. Freddie’s champion Eole, the winner of the Woodland Vase and other big races, was among the horses that were killed. After that the California-operation never really got off the ground and Lillie lost some of her interest. In the end, she and Freddie broke up and Lillie went back to England.

One day at the races she was placing a bet with a bookie when a man came up to her and told her that his horse was going to win the race. He bought her a win ticket on it and when the horse won he invited her out to dinner. Not that he ate a lot himself for he was the notorious Squire Abington, real name George Baird, the leading amateur rider. He rode just as well as the pros, but he was too tall to make low weights. He survived on various concoctions that were supposed to help him keep his weight low. God knows what they might have contained. Abington was not only a very good rider, he was also a stinking rich dropout from all the schools he had attended, a promotor of boxers, and a beater of women and horses. But with a yearly income of close to £250,000 he could afford to be an asshole.

He bought her a win ticket on it and when the horse won he invited her out to dinner.
He bought her a win ticket on it and when the horse won he invited her out to dinner.

Abington had a string of 150 horses at Moulton Paddocks outside Newmarket—a state of the art establishment. He also kept a string of prize-fighters in his house in London, which cost him £1,500 a week in keep. Add to that the cost of bailing himself and the pugilists out of trouble with the law and buying expensive gifts for the women he beat up. As one of his contemporaries put it, he was a dyed-in-the-wool swine. But for some reason women are attracted by such swine and Lillie was. After being used to twirling men around her little finger, this was something different. Good horse-men have always been attractive to good horse-women. Abington and Lillie often went racing and she enjoyed watching him training his horses in Newmarket.

Lillie still had a string of horses in California trained by Doc Aby, but they didn’t seem to win any races. So the Squire offered to get her one. A good one. Lillie got all excited and one night when they were having dinner in London a man came up to their table and started to talk about buying horses. The man offered £8,000 for Abington’s star Milford, but he wouldn’t sell and gave Lillie the horse instead.

“He is a son of Saraband and should be a winner. He’ll stay at Moulton Paddocks and my trainer Moreton can train him for you.”

In May 1892, Milford was ready for his first race—a big race for 2-year-olds at Kempton and it was time for Lillie to register her colors with Weatherby’s. She was wearing a fawn dress and a turquoise brooch the Squire had given her so that was it. The Squire even filled out the form, “turquoise with fawn hoops and turquoise cap”. She registered them under the nom-de-course Mr Jersey, even though it was possible for women to own their own horse. I suppose Lillie wanted to able to enjoy some privacy—at least for a while.

Milford lived up to the high expectations—he made almost £10,000 as a two-year old and was one of the leaders of his crop. And there was Meddler, he won the Middle Park on his last outing as a two-year old and the Squire promised he would run in the Derby under Lillie’s colors before he set off to the US with his fighters. The trip was a disaster, the American fighters gave the English a sound beating and the Squire’s hard living took its toll as he died of pneumonia March 18th. Unfortunately he had forgotten to sign the will he had made, in which he left Lillie a large sum of money. Now she was left with a yacht, a stable full of horses, and a host of other expenses that she had to take care of. Of course, she still made large sums herself, but she did have to reconsider her style of living. The money Milford had made she had spent on new horses so, with the Squire gone, she had to find her own establishment. She bought Regal Lodge in Kentford outside Newmarket and turned over the training of her horses to Sam Pickering. The death of the Squire meant that she was not going to get Meddler. She tried to buy him at the dispersal, but was prevented by the representative of the family. Meddler was favorite with the bookies for the Derby, but never got to the race—seemingly due to administrative trouble over the ownership. Lillie was able to buy Lady Roseberry at the sale, but she was not of the same standard as Meddler.

The money Milford had made she had spent on new horses so, with the Squire gone, she had to find her own establishment.
The money Milford had made she had spent on new horses so, with the Squire gone, she had to find her own establishment.

So after the a crazy period with the Squire, Lillie resumed her life. Her affairs were in a mess, but with the help of a new business manager, she managed to sort things out. Lillie had almost a year off from the stage and she spent a lot of it at Regal Lodge, where she enjoyed following her horses and their work. But to regain her place in society was another story. She was snubbed by all the hostesses and ostracized in the circles she used to belong to. At the Goodwood meet she visited with the Rothschilds, nobody paid her any attention—until she ran into Bertie. The Prince rushed to meet her when he saw her and, walking at his arm, she was all of a sudden best friends with all the ladies who complimented her on her dress and were so happy to see her again. The Prince and Lillie’s friendship was solid and lasted the remainder of his life.

Sam Pickering had done a fairly good job with Lillie’s horses. Lady Roseberry won the Lanark Cup, the Jockey Club Cup at Newmarket, and ran second in Lillie’s special race, the Cesarewitch. Milford didn’t train on, but she had Nobleman and several “platers” that did their part to pay for the rest. She had a “satisfactory season, and realized more and more the fascination of the national sport of England”.

And then she moved her horses—to Mr William Robertson. They hadn’t won often enough and Lillie aspired to be the Queen of the Turf. Seconds didn’t count.

Bertie, by now Edward VII, had had a good year in 1896, with Persimmon who not only won the Derby but also the St Leger and the Jockey Club Stakes and now Lillie was out to beat him in 1897. She had Merman, whom she had bought from Australia and shipped back to England—a big gamble even for somebody as fearless as Lillie. She had already had a misfortune with the mare Maluma, who she bought from New South Wales and who had fared badly during the trip over the Red Sea and never been the same horse again. But she was persuaded that Merman was worth it and that he would take a cooler route around the Cape of Good Hope. He arrived sound and in good shape and later the same year Lillie also imported a horse named Chesney, but his trip didn’t pan out quite as well. The ship carrying him was wrecked and Chesney had to swim eight and a half miles to shore, landing at Three Anchor Bay. Talk about a hard horse.

Lillie now had a string of 35 horses and she was at the stables every morning to oversee their training. She knew her business having been around horses since her childhood in Jersey and then she had learned a lot from the Squire who, besides being crazy, had been a very good horseman.

“The man offered £8,000 for Abington’s star Milford, but he wouldn’t sell and gave Lillie the horse instead”

Merman made it to the races and was ridden by Tod Sloan, the great American rider famous for introducing the ‘monkey on a stick’ seat. He lost at Nottingham and then he went for the Lewes Handicap. Lillie got an a tip from a Lord William Beresford to try to run him bare-foot since he was probably used to that in Australia. The idea sounded preposterous, but after his dismal performance in his first outing Lillie convinced her blacksmith to give it a try—and it worked. He won the race easily and from there on it was barefoot for Merman. Next time out was Lillie’s race, the Cesarewitch at Newmarket.

But now Lillie was free to marry again and found a new young man who unfortunately didn’t think women should have racehorses.
But now Lillie was free to marry again and found a new young man who unfortunately didn’t think women should have racehorses.

Her Brayhead had won the Liverpool Cup and she decided to work Merman with him to get an idea just how good Merman was. He easily beat Brayhead in an early morning work and Lillie decided to have a big bet on him in the Cesarewitch. Merman with Tod Sloan won the race and paid a good price and Lillie had made over £39‚000 at the bookies. After the race Bertie escorted her into the Jockey Club enclosure—a sanctum previously only open to men. “A toast to Ms Langtry, all hail to Mr Jersey” and the champagne bottles were opened. And that evening there was a big party at the Regal Lodge with a cake complete with a picture of Merman on it. And as Lillie was celebrating her win, her estranged husband Ned died in the asylum. To top it off the wreath that the florist made for Ned’s funeral had flowers in Lillie’s racing colors, fawn and turquoise. Not in very good taste.

“Now she stood with a yacht, a stable full of horses and a bunch of other expenses that she had to take care of”

But now Lillie was free to marry again and found a new young man who unfortunately didn’t think women should have racehorses. It seems Lillie felt that she now had to settle down and live a “normal” life. So here ends our story of the fabulous Ms Langtry.

If this has made you curious there are still a lot of places where you can find mementoes of her life. The reason I found about her is that I lived in her gardener’s house in Kentford when I worked at the headquarters of racing in Newmarket, UK. And if you haven’t visited Newmarket—hurry. It is fantastic.

Where the Turf meets the Surf


Jörgen Nilsson, Amanda Duckworth Getty Images, Del Mar/thoroughbred club

In May 1936, in the aftermath of the American Depression, a hastily convened meeting took place at the Warner Bros. Studio in Burbank, California. The reason for the gathering, however, had nothing to do with movies.

After a prosperous career as a pro football player, William A. Quigley settled down in La Jolla, Southern California, where he turned out to be a great visionary with a nose for business. He had his eye on the fairgrounds in Del Mar, near San Diego, and he sensed a certain potential. The area bordered to the Pacific Ocean and had exhibition facilities, a mile course for different equine stunts and provisional stands. It was by no means an impressive establishment, but its location and surroundings were ideal for Quigley’s purposes, and he was given a verbal promise to lease the area for 10 years.

Del Mar’s Three Musketeers—General Manager Bill Quigley, Chairman Bing Crosby, and Vice Chairman Pat O’Brien.
Del Mar’s Three Musketeers—General Manager Bill Quigley, Chairman Bing Crosby, and Vice Chairman Pat O’Brien.

The ex-footballer had a vision. He saw Los Angeles a 100 miles to the north. He saw people coming in droves for a day of fun in relaxed surroundings. He saw a race track that could be named Del Mar. He also saw who could be the track’s face to the world.

Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor.
Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor.

Bing Crosby was in the middle of a remarkable singing career, and during the 1930s and ‘40s he also found fame as an actor. Harry Lillis Crosby—his real name—more or less invented the singing style of crooning and was the trail blazer for celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. He was the brightest shining star of his time. Crosby also owned Don Juan Osuna Ranch in Rancho Santa Fe to the north east of Del Mar, where he relaxed with his family and a plethora of friends when he wasn’t performing.

Quigley, a socially accomplished charmer, knew this. He also knew Crosby was very keen on racing. Quigley was straightforward and a bit of a snob, too. He was always immaculately clad and changed his clothes several times a day. His style and personality attracted the singer, and William soon became Bill within the Crosby household. The idea of a race track at Del Mar enthused Bing Crosby to no end and not long after, the Del Mar Turf Club was founded in a board room at Warner Bros. Crosby was elected chairman, his brother Everett Crosby treasurer, Hardy secretary and O’Brien vice chairman, while Quigley himself became general manager of Del

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937

Mar. Cooper, who a year later was to decline the leading role in Gone with the Wind, accepted a place on the board. The shares were $100 apiece and the Hollywood in-crowd dug into their pockets. Funding and schedules were in place. Now just the track itself was missing.

It took some juridical quibbling to get started, but after a while the construction was underway. To that end local San Diego architects Sam W. Hamill and Herbert Louis Jackson were engaged. The idea was to build in the style of Spanish colonial splendor, which was so much part of the architecture in Southern California.

“To the initial idea of the Spanish colonial style they soon began to add elements of Venice and Versailles including canals, lagoons and formalistic gardens.”

The architects were given a free hand and to the initial idea of the Spanish colonial style, they began to add elements of Venice and Versailles including canals, lagoons and formalistic gardens. Soon enough the money was gone. Unfazed, Crosby and O’Brien borrowed against their life insurances and each lent $600,000 interest-free to the project. The architects, however, no longer had a free hand.

At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays.
At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays.

Quigley was intimately connected to the events in Arcadia, California, where in 1934 Santa Anita Park had reopened to the public thanks to the initiative of film mogul Hal Roach. That track had developed into a major success with the Santa Anita Handicap, aka The Big Cap, as its main attraction. The Santa Anita meetings were held during winter, and Quigley planned to fill the space between those winter meetings with a summer meeting at Del Mar.

At that time, Southern California was thinly populated and mainly considered a place for summer holidays. The Del Mar project more or less depended on the Santa Anita crowd being willing to travel 60 miles to the new track.

On July 3, 1937, the track opened for business, but the stables and the paddock were makeshift arrangements. The employees had difficulties finding their way round the area and had to take measures to avoid the wet paint on most surfaces. Still, the horses were in place and so were the news boys. Crosby himself was at the turnstiles to greet the first fan through the gate.

After a Quigley- like change of clothes, Crosby went to the judge’s box, picked up the microphone and in his characteristically laid back and spontaneous manner announced:

“We hope you all enjoy the meeting… and have a measure of success at the payoff windows.”

An estimated 15,000 spectators turned up that first day. Crosby, Quigley and O’Brien held court. Hardy was honorary official, and Bette Davis, Robert Taylor, Barbara Stanwyck, W.C. Fields, Una Merkel, Jack Dempsey, Walter Connolly and Mary Carlisle mingled. All agreed Del Mar was a success.

An innovation that became a game changer for the entire sport also debuted that day. Prior to the grand opening, Crosby contacted Lorenzo del Riccio, an optical engineer for the research department of Paramount Pictures, and commissioned him to develop a photo finish camera. He installed the camera at the cost of $300,000, which was an enormous amount of money at the time.

The first photo it took at Del Mar was hardly necessary. High Strike, a 2-year-old gelding sent off at odds of 2-1, immediately went to the front in a maiden race and stayed there. He carried the Crosby colors of blue and gold, which went down well with the crowd, and the horse came home to whooping and applause. Several races later, Stanwyck crowned the winner in the day’s main event, The Inaugural Handicap, and the cheering knew no end.

When a crowd of 18,000 turned over close to a quarter of a million dollars on the second day, everybody thought big time racing had come to stay at Del Mar. The heady days didn’t last, however. Del Mar averaged 5,000 visitors for the remainder of the 22-day meet. The weak point in Quigley’s project was of a logistic nature. The trip from Los Angeles was a pain: the trains went slow, the roads were bad and regular flights were nonexistent.

The project’s financial aspect aside, the atmosphere was good at Del Mar in the summer of 1937. The environment was pleasing. The sounds of the Pacific Ocean’s waves were pleasing. Crosby himself had a soothing effect. A columnist wrote that the singer had to be the most laid back person ever to live. The style was easy going and relaxed and word had it that only the horses were in a hurry at Del Mar.

Bing Crosby himself took tickets on opening day.
Bing Crosby himself took tickets on opening day.

During the mornings, or what counted for mornings, the in-crowd dozed at the beach and analyzed the afternoon’s events together with the regular mortals. At night, the stars danced at the Old Del Mar Hotel or hung out at the town’s only watering hole, La Tienda, which only closed when Bette Davis had had her share. Weekends culminated with the notorious “Bing’s Saturday Night Parties.” Those kicked off at eight in the evening and stars performed at their leisure. It may not only be for religious reasons that Sunday was a blank on the racing calendar during the early years of Del Mar.

The parties that launched each race meeting became legendary, too. The festivities started right after the compulsory walking-the-course and accommodation was at the Old Del Mar Hotel. They were boozy affairs, greeting dawn with red rimmed eyes. Al Jolson, Abe Burrows, Jimmy Durante, Joe Frisco, the Ritz Brothers, Danny Thomas, Tony Martin, Donald O’Connor and Lou Holtz took care of the entertainment.

During one such party, Durante forgot the mini piano he used to pick apart as a part of his act. Instead he rocked a proper piano, and piece by piece threw it from the terrace to the patio below. Pete Townsend of The Who would repeat that feat 30 years on, but the rest of that night at Del Mar the entertainment was strictly a capella.

Journalists often complained of hangovers lasting for days after those parties. Even so, they were back the following year. As for Durante, he was such a regular, the track eventually named its turf course in his honor.

Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937
Barbara Stanwyck and Robert Taylor were there for opening day at Del Mar in 1937

The Crosby movie Sing, You Sinners was a Paramount musical set in a racing environment and had its world premiere at Del Mar during the opening day of the 1938 meet. Crosby also succeeded in persuading NBC to broadcast his radio show, the Kraft Music Hall, which at the time was the most popular in the States, from Del Mar for half an hour on Saturday mornings. The concept was simple: short interviews from the race track, rounded off by a couple of songs by the singer himself.

It was during one of these broadcasts in 1938 that Crosby first sung the tune that would forever define Del Mar. Mrs. Herb Poleisee, the wife of one of Crosby’s staff writers, came up with the phrase “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.” The singer and Johnny Burke came up with the rest of the words, while James V. Monaco set them to music. The refrain goes like this:

Where the turf meets the surf/
down at old Del Mar/
Take a plane, take a train, take a car/
There’s a smile on every face/
and a winner in every race/
Where the turf meets the surf/
at Del Mar.

Crosby sang it live before the races that year and even nowadays “Where the Turf Meets the Surf” starts and ends racing at Del Mar.

As an attraction the presence of Hollywood stars at Del Mar races cannot be overestimated. Still it took two four-legged stars to spread the track’s appeal nationwide in its second year. Charles S. Howard had one of the most successful stables in America, and the legendary Seabiscuit was its star. Howard’s son, Lin, had a racing stable with Crosby under the name BingLin Stables. They had imported an Argentinian top performer by the name of Ligaroti, and Quigley suggested a match race between the two horses.

Seabiscuit, with his tremendous fighting spirit, was the darling of American racing and had been named the 1937 Champion Handicap Male. He had, however, disdainfully lost two “Big Caps” and now rumor had it, he was not quite the same anymore. Howard was of a different opinion and challenged his son to a side bet. His $15,000 against his son’s $5,000.

Quigley’s brainchild of a match race combined with Crosby’s wide network had made Del Mar known from coast to coast.

The press monitored the race like a title match, and the news teams loaded their film cameras. From the roof of the grandstand, Crosby and O’Brien commented on the event to a nationwide radio audience. An estimated crowd of 20,000, many sporting paraphernalia for their pick in the $25,000 winner-take-all event, showed up for the race.

After the match race between Seabiscuit and Ligaroti. Bing Crosby with, George “Ice Man” Woolf and Noel “Spec” Richardson.

Seabiscuit was ridden by George “Ice Man” Woolf and the South American horse by Noel “Spec” Richardson. Race riding at this time was no Sunday School event and this race was no exception. Seabiscuit was in front coming around the final turn, but Richardson grabbed his saddlecloth at the top of the stretch and later went for Woolf’s wrist. Reports claim that in retaliation, Woolf grabbed Ligaroti’s bridle about 20 yards from the wire and didn’t let go until the race was over. Richardson later said Woolf was whipping Ligaroti, which is why he grabbed his wrist. To this day, no one quite knows exactly what happened, except that it was a roughly run race to say the least.

It is known that the crowd loved the spectacle. In the end, Seabiscuit held on by a nose and shaved four seconds off the track record in the process, even though he was carrying 130 lbs to Ligaroti’s 115 lbs. The stewards, however, were livid and declared the race void and warned off both Richardson and Woolf. It took a while of negotiating before the result was allowed to stand and the jockeys got away with a one week suspension each.

Even if the jockeys were not best friends after the race, the atmosphere at the track was electric. Quigley’s brainchild of a match race combined with Crosby’s wide network had made Del Mar known from coast to coast.


Del Mar Thoroughbred Club
2260 Jimmy Durante Blvd
Del Mar, CA 92014
Tel (858) 755-1141

Major races

Pacific Classic (G1), Eddie Read Stakes (G2)
Del Mar Oaks (G1), Bing Crosby Stakes (G1)
Clement L. Hirsch Stakes (G1)
Del Mar Debutante (G1)
Del Mar Futurity (G1)

Getting there
City of Del Mar is on the I-5 20 miles north of San Diego or 100 miles south of Los Angeles (downtown). Amtrak and Coaster have trains to Solana Beach from where there are free shuttle buses to Del Mar.

Bing Crosby on horseback at Del Mar. “Laid-back” seems like a fitting description.
Bing Crosby on horseback at Del Mar. “Laid-back” seems like a fitting description.

Ann Sheridan, Paulette Goddard and Joan Bennett were some of the celebs to turn up in Del Mar’s winner’s circle that summer. Rumor even had it that Greta Garbo was there, though nobody saw her. Edward G. Robinson, Humphrey Bogart and Red Skelton definitely were there, though, and it had become important to one’s film carrier to be seen at Del Mar.

If the second year at Del Mar was a success based on media coverage, crowds and betting turn-over, the next couple of seasons hardly made the shareholders dance in the streets. The net profit for 1939 landed on a modest $69. The real economical breakthrough had to wait until 1941, when the Pacific Highway (US 101) had been expanded and the air traffic to the San Diego area intensified.

Everything came to an abrupt halt, however, in December 1941 when the United States entered the Second World War. Between 1942 and 1944, the track was closed and the grounds were initially used for training by the United States Marine Corps, then as a manufacturing site for parts to B-17 bombers.

Del Mar was back in business as a racetrack in July 1945, but without Quigley, who had passed away after a short time of bad health. A crowd of more than 20,000 turned up on the reopening day, and the rest of the year was a formidable success. The upward trend continued the next year and after nine years Crosby and O’Brien at last had their investments back. Crosby sold his shares and left the board, and he was soon followed by O’Brien.

In spite of that, the Hollywood crowd continued to go racing at Del Mar. Santa Fe Railroad contributed to the effort with a special train from Los Angeles to Del Mar. The “racetrack special” debuted in 1947, and when the train first came into view, a tremendous cheering broke out. That cheering became a tradition for years to come.

The horses that put Del Mar on the map went on to greater things. Seabiscuit headed east, where he trounced War Admiral in the epic match race at Pimlico and was named the 1938 Horse of the Year. He capped off his career by winning the Santa Anita Handicap at long last in 1940.

Ligaroti won the 1938 Del Mar Handicap but like Seabiscuit was a disappointment in the breeding shed. It was not for lack of effort, though, as he ended his days collapsing on top of a mare named Midge. The resulting foal was suitably named Last Bang.

Gary Cooper, who had turned down Gone with the Wind because he felt it would be a resounding flop, could after its premiere in Atlanta 1939 and eight Oscars later note that he had made a serious error of judgment.

Lorenzo del Riccio turned his back on Paramount Pictures and went all in on the new and lucrative photo finish business. The company wanted its share of the pie and sued him, but unabated he continued to install photo finish cameras all over the country with Paramount’s lawyers snapping at his heels. He managed to keep one step ahead and somewhere along the line he disappeared altogether as a wealthy man.

Bing Crosby visited the track one last time in 1977. He died of a heart attack the following year, but the style and spirit he created at Del Mar still lives on. The Bing Crosby Stakes, which was inaugurated in 1946, is run to this day and is a Grade 1 race.

Pat O’Brien kept his movie carrier alive until he in 1983, like his old partner in crime, died of a heart attack. He too has a race named after him at Del Mar. First held in 1986, today it is a Grade 2 event.

Del Mar remains one of America’s most beloved racetracks to this day.
Del Mar remains one of America’s most beloved racetracks to this day.

Today, Del Mar is revered as one of America’s most iconic tracks, and in 2014, it was announced the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, one of Thoroughbred racing’s most prestigious international events, would be held there for the first time in November 2017. Next year, the world’s best will gather at the timelessly beautiful track at the edge of the Pacific Ocean or, as it says in the song, “Where the Turf Meets the Surf.”

The Triple Crown

Three races that bring racing to the front pages

Camilla Osterman NYRA, NYRA/Adam Coglanese, Jim mcCUE/MARYLAND JOCKEY CLUB, horsephotos.com, Churchill Downs

In the world of horse racing, the Triple Crown is the title awarded to a racehorse who wins the biggest three races on the flat for 3-year-olds. In most European countries, those races are local runnings of the 2000 Guineas, Derby and St. Leger. But in the USA, where the Triple Crown is viewed as the Holy Grail of racing, the races the 3-year-olds must conquer are the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes and Belmont Stakes.

The horse that wins all three earns the title of Triple Crown winner.


The expression ‘The Triple Crown‘ is used in a number of different contexts, however, the definition has been used in England since 1830 to describe horse races. The jewels in the English Crown are contested over distances ranging from 1,600 meters to 3,000 meters and take place from May to September.

In the United States, it was the racing journalist Charles Hatton who began using the expression regularly in 1930, even though it had been used earlier during the 1920s.

Like the English version, the American version is raced over three different distances at three different racecourses.

The big difference?

The entire race series takes place over five weeks, not five months.

A horse who manages to win the U.S. Triple Crown is clearly a real “tough guy.”

The Kentucky Derby, the first and most famous of the three races, is 1 ¼ miles (about 2,000 meters) and takes place on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs in Kentucky. The Preakness Stakes takes place two weeks later at Pimlico Racecourse in Maryland. The race is 1 3/16 of a mile (1,900 meters) and is the shortest of the three races. Then, three weeks later the Belmont Stakes takes on New York and clocks in as the longest of the three races at 1 ½ miles (2,400 meters).

Each race has its own history and traditions, however flowers, singing and drinking figure highly in all three instances. The Triple Crown races are famous for their party atmosphere and appeal more to the general public than all other American races.

On June 6 2015, a talented bay colt went to the front of the 1 ½-mile contest and never looked back. With his victory, American Pharoah became the 12th Triple Crown winner and the first since Affirmed in 1978.
(Click here for the full story of all 12 winners)

The Kentucky Derby

The grandstand was built in 1895 and with the two twin spires, a famous symbol known throughout the United States and beyond.
The grandstand was built in 1895 and with the two twin spires, a famous symbol known throughout the United States and beyond.

Churchill Downs opened in 1875, the first year the Kentucky Derby was run. The grandstand was built in 1895 and with the two twin spires, a famous symbol known throughout the United States and beyond.

It came about that The Kentucky Derby (pronounced Durby, not Darby) served as a great advertisement for the state’s main “export” apart from bourbon: thoroughbred racehorses! During his travels in Europe, Colonel M. Lewis Clark visited England and after attending the Epsom Derby, realized that this was precisely what Kentucky needed.

Not to mention, the event could even be used to market and sell bourbon. Mint juleps, which contain bourbon, mint, sugar and water, form an important part of the Derby tradition to this day.

Another beloved tradition involves giving the winner a blanket of roses, which is why the race is also known by the moniker the Run for the Roses.

Track: Churchill Downs
Location: Louisville, Kentucky
Date: 1st Saturday in May
Distance: 1 1/4 miles
Purse: $2 milllion
First run: 1875


In 1980, ABC Sports commissioned folk singer Dan Fogelberg to write a song by the same name. However, the quintessential Kentucky Derby song is “My Old Kentucky Home.” The tune, which also serves as Kentucky’s state song, is played during the post parade and has a reputation for making even the hardest of hard boots tear up. It is also one of the few days at American racetracks where ladies are expected to show up in their finest hats.

The Kentucky Derby is also known as the “most exciting two minutes in sports,” a nod to the approximate length of time it takes to run the race. It is the longest continually held sporting event in the United States and is America’s most popular race.

The Preakness Stakes

The Preakness Infield has developed into a major music event.
The Preakness Infield has developed into a major music event.

The story of how the Preakness Stakes came about isn’t as serious as the Derby. At a dinner party following a race meeting at Saratoga Springs in 1868, Maryland’s Governor, Oden Bowie, announced there would be a race for that year’s foals in Baltimore in two years’ time. In 1870, Pimlico Race Course had been built, the Dinner Stakes was staged, and the losing owner had to pay for dinner.

The race was won by a horse called Preakness.

In 1873, the first Preakness was contested. The race hasn’t always been held at the same time of year, over the same distance, or even the same day of the week. From 1891-1893, the race wasn’t run at all. However, it is now well-established as a race at Pimlico held always on the third Saturday in May each year.

The music that is played before the Preakness Stakes is “Maryland, My Maryland,” and the official drink is known as a Black-Eyed Susan, named after the flowers that decorate the winning horse. The drink is made up of bourbon, vodka, orange juice, and sweet and sour mix. Unfortunately, these flowers aren’t in blossom during May in Maryland.

Three ladies fill their days before the race fastening flowers to the blanket and painting black pistils onto yellow daisies.

Track: Pimlico Race Course
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Date: 3rd Saturday in May
Distance: 1 3/16
Purse: $1 million
First run: 1873 

Since 1909, the Preakness winner has also gotten another honor at Pimlico. As soon as the race is declared official, the weather vane is repainted in the colors of the winner’s silks, and it remains that way until the next running.   

The Belmont Stakes

The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown races.
The Belmont Stakes is the oldest of the Triple Crown races.

The third race, the Belmont, is held at Belmont Park on Long Island just outside New York City.

Belmont Park is named after the banker August Belmont.  His son – August Belmont J:r built Belmont Park and is also know for having bred the legendary Man o’War.

Track: Belmont Park
Location: Elmont, New York
Date: 3 weeks after the Preakness Stakes
Distance: 1 1/2 miles
Purse: $1 million
First run: 1867


First run in 1867, the Belmont is the oldest of the three races and was contested at other courses before Belmont Park was founded in 1905.

The first time the race was staged at Belmont, it caused New York’s first real traffic pile up. The roads that led out to Long Island weren’t really suitable for so many horse drawn carriages and people flocking to see America’s finest 3-year-olds compete. Although it is the oldest of the Triple Crown races, the Belmont was not contested in 1911 or 1912.

There is of course a special drink associated with the race – a mixture of whiskey, sweet sherry and mixed fruit juices known as the Belmont Breeze – but can you really beat a Manhattan? And the song sung by one and all before the races is, of course, “New York, New York.” The winner’s blanket is made with white carnations.

Since 1931, the order of Triple Crown races has been the Kentucky Derby first, followed by the Preakness Stakes, and then the Belmont Stakes. Prior to 1931, the Preakness Stakes was run before the Kentucky Derby 11 times, and twice it was run on the same day!

(Click here for the full story of all 12 Triple Crown winners)

The Triple Crown Winners

12 horses that made history

Camilla Osterman

Each year in May, the racing world is asking the same question: Will we have a Triple Crown winner this year?
Will one three year old horse win the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes?
After the Kentucky Derby the chances are always there. If the winner then goes on to win the Preakness in Baltimore the tickets for the final race – the Belmont Stakes in New York – will sell out.
But in the 98 years that have passed since Sir Barton won all three races, only another twelve horses have managed to do so. Here are their stories:


Sir Barton.
Sir Barton.

Sir Barton, 1919

The first horse to win all three races was Sir Barton in 1919. It happened before one used the expression “The Triple Crown” – but already by then the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont were considered to be the most important races for 3-year-olds, at least to those east of the Rocky Mountains.

The fact that Sir Barton even raced in the Kentucky Derby was down to his owner, a Canadian named Ross, who also owned the races’ favorite, who required a pace-maker. This is how it was that Sir Barton, who had never previously won a race, made his 3-year-old debut in the Derby.

Sir Barton proved to be a more than effective pacemaker, holding the lead right to the finishing line. He won the Derby by five lengths. Four days later he won the Preakness, again by sheer speed alone, by four lengths. Before taking the Belmont, he also ran and won the Withers Stakes. This all took place in the span of 32 days. A real “heavyweight” of a racehorse, in other words.

Gallant Fox.
Gallant Fox.

Gallant Fox, 1930

Eleven years later, in 1930, another Triple Crown winner left his mark in the history books. This time, he was already an established star, and therefore his success was less of a surprise. Gallant Fox was trained by James “Sunny Jim” Fitzsimmons, who during his career trained over 2,275 winners, and owned by William Woodward’s successful Belair Stud. His jockey, Earle Sande, had lost a considerable sum of money in the Wall Street crash of 1929 and came out of a two-year retirement to ride him.

Gallant Fox won two of his starts as a 2-year-old, though this success was to prove just a taste of greater things to come. As a 3-year-old he won nine of his ten starts, including all three Triple Crown races. As it happens, he won the Preakness first, as it was held before the Derby that year. He is the only Triple Crown winner to win the races “out of order” as it were. It was also during his campaign that the term “Triple Crown” came en vogue.

He burnt off the opposition with his sheer speed and scared them with his right eye, which had extra white around the pupil. This feature, called a wall-eye, supposedly used to “spook” the other runners when he glared at them. Additionally, it is said that he stopped during races to look up at passing airplanes in the sky.


Omaha, 1935

Five years later, in 1935, history would repeat itself. Almost the same gang – Sunny Jim, William Woodward and one of Gallant Fox’s sons, Omaha – repeated the feat. And by now the concept Triple Crown was on everybody’s lips.

Sunny Jim followed the same route with Omaha as he had done previously with Gallant Fox. Firstly, a 2-year-old campaign to teach him his trade. Because Omaha was a gigantic horse, he required an especially build horse box, and he didn’t have the respect his father did on the track.

Omaha won just one of his nine races as a juvenile, but it was enough. After a few prep races, it was the Kentucky Derby that counted. Omaha took the lead on the turn for home and held it to the line. The following week he won the Preakness by six lengths. Before the Belmont, the colt finished second in the Withers Stakes, and doubt set in again. No matter, he was good enough to win the Belmont Stakes by one and a half lengths.

One of only 18 foals out of Gallant Fox’s first crop, Omaha is the only Triple Crown winner not to garner Horse of the Year honors. However, he and his sire remain the only father-son team to take the Triple Crown.

War Admiral.
War Admiral.

War Admiral, 1937

In 1937, it was time again! War Admiral, who more recent followers of horse racing will know as the horse beaten by Seabiscuit in a match race, was first a Triple Crown winner. War Admiral’s father – the legendary Man o’ War – won both the Preakness and the Belmont in 1920, but he never had the chance to win the Triple Crown, as he was never entered to run in the Derby. This was because his owner, Samuel Riddle, was not a fan of racing in Kentucky and also felt the race’s distance was too far to ask a 3-year-old to run that early in the season.

However, the Triple Crown had gained prestige by the time War Admiral came around, and the colt was one of the best of his generation. So, after he won his first start as a 3-year-old, Riddle decided to give the Derby a chance. War Admiral was given a “pipe opener” four days before the Derby, winning a lesser race at Churchill Downs. On Derby Day there were no doubts about the way he won, easily taking the Derby by two lengths. A week later, he won the Preakness by a short head.

In the Belmont, War Admiral almost fell at the start and cut himself so badly that he left blood all the way around the track. Despite this, he won the race by five lengths. As a result of his injury, he had a break until the autumn when he notched two further big wins. He won all eight races that year, making him only one of two Triple Crown winners to post an undefeated 3-year-old season.

The following year, War Admiral met Seabiscuit in the famed match race, where he was beaten by four lengths, largely due to the skills of his foe’s jockey, George Woolf. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Seabiscuit also set a track record that day.


Whirlaway, 1941

Whirlaway, or Mr. Longtail as he was also called, was owned by Warren Wright’s Calumet Farm. Wright had sold his Calumet baking powder business to General Foods for almost $30 million and invested his personal fortune into racehorses.

Wright was a perfectionist, and Calumet Farm was a model establishment. Everything was painted white and devil red, and the personnel were handpicked with high demands made upon their work activities and orderliness. It would become one of the most historic farms in American racing lore.

As for Whirlaway, he was a special fellow with much more going on in his mind than just racing. In order to help focus his mind, his trainer, Ben Jones, applied a pair of blinkers which prevented Whirlaway from seeing beyond the outside rail. Without this assistance, the colt was likelier to end up in the grandstand than winner’s enclosure. Whirlaway’s unusual behavior, however, endeared him to the racing public, and he became a big favorite. Will he race around the track or won’t he, they must have often wondered.

Jones used one of the world’s top jockeys, Eddie ‘Banana Nose’ Arcaro for his difficult colt. Arcaro had a very special style of riding, with his right stirrup very short in the saddle and the inner, left stirrup significantly shorter. He was the first jockey to successfully steer Whirlaway around turns without him disappearing out at the periphery. His technique was to take a long rein and use his bodyweight and to leave the reins alone and see how it worked!

Together, the team around Whirlaway – with God’s will and under the guidance of the whip – helped the colt keep his act together during the Triple Crown races. He took the Derby by eight lengths and in record time. A week later took, after winning the Preakness by five and a half lengths, Arcaro described his experience in that race as akin to riding a tornado. He finished the Triple Crown with an easy victory in the Belmont.

Whirlaway may have been a difficult colt, but his team and his talent led him to be named Horse of the Year both in 1941 and 1942.

Count Fleet, 1943

The next Triple Crown winner came as soon as 1943, during the Second World War. As a sign of the times, a sign stood beside the finishing line at Belmont Park that read: “In case of Air Raid – Keep Calm.” Count Fleet did do things calmly and was one of the most superior Triple Crown winners ever seen.

For all his talent, Count Fleet was a backward horse. He didn’t show a great deal of ability as a young horse, and his owner almost sold the ornery runner not once, but twice. The first time they were unable to find a buyer, and the second time Johnny Longden, the horse’s jockey, persuaded them to keep him. Having ridden over 6,000 winners, Longden realized that Count Fleet was the best horse he had ever been on.

Count Fleet’s style of racing, which was to go to the front, then little by little increase his lead, meant that he won the Derby by three lengths, the Preakness by eight and the Belmont Stakes by an eye-popping 25 lengths.

That Count Fleet won the Belmont so easily was largely down to the fact that connections of the better horses around at the time didn’t dare take him on. Instead, the opposition was made up of largely mediocre horses, knowingly in competition with each other for second and third place prize money. None of this of course should belittle Count Fleets’ achievement. If he hadn’t been so good, the better competition would have been brave enough to line up against him.

Assault, 1946

Texas! That is the key word for the 1946 Triple Crown winner, Assault. The colt came from one of the biggest cattle ranches in Texas, and in Texas, big means big. The land area of King Ranch is bigger than that of the entire state of Rhode Island. Assault’s trainer, Max Hirsch, was also a Texan and was King Ranch’s private trainer right up until his death in 1969.

As a young horse, Assault trampled on a land surveyor’s stake and damaged his right front hoof, which was never the same again. He became known as “the clubfooted comet” as a result. Although he could certainly run, he would never win any beauty contests for either his movement or overall general appearance. Assault was a frail horse in other ways too. He developed problems with his liver, and after his racing career was over, he proved himself to be sterile at stud.

Like many other Triple Crown winners, Assault was no 2-year-old star, but as a 3-year-old, he came into his own. Following a calamitous Derby Trial, he bounced back and won all three Triple Crown races. He won the Derby by eight lengths and was sent off as the favorite in the Preakness. He managed to take the second leg of the Triple Crown by a desperate neck. In the Belmont, Assault stumbled at the start but ended up pulling away from his rivals by three lengths.


Citation, 1948

Calumet Farm, Triple Crown winner with Whirlaway in 1941, had continued its investment in thoroughbred breeding to become the best. By the time Citation came along, Wright had achieved his goal, and Calumet was one of the USA’s leading breeders and owners.

Jones, the operation’s trainer, had a set theories when it came to training horses: “Give them what they need, when they look as though they need it.” It’s as simple as that! His son Jimmy, who took over the trainer’s license after his father became ill, was also in tune with horses, saying, “It isn’t just about a horse’s speed, stamina and breeding lineage. It is also about his personality – they are like people. You know?”

Arcaro had been taking things a lot easier since 1942, after he had been banned from riding for a year. He had been aggravated by another jockey and he had retaliated. At the inquiry into the incident, he was asked if he had intended to injure the other jockey. To this Arcaro answered calmly, “No, I wasn’t trying to injure him; I was trying to kill him.” Wrong answer!

As for Citation, he is considered one of the best racehorses America has produced. The talented colt possessed both stamina and speed, and his racing style was like a game of “cat and mouse.” He won eight of nine races at age 2 and won 19 of 20 races at age 3. The Triple Crown was a cake walk for the mighty runner. Little did anyone know, racing would have to wait 25 years for its next Triple Crown champion.

Wright died in 1950, and his last wish was that Citation should become the first racehorse to earn more than $1 million in prize money. His wish was fulfilled, as it usually was. In 1951, at age 6, Citation’s earnings passed that magical level to become the first equine millionaire ever.


Secretariat, 1973

Time magazine is renowned for its front cover. A portrait of a person making news usually adorns the front page. But on June 11, 1973, appeared the portrait of a horse – Secretariat. The handsome chestnut colt had became so popular, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated also featured him on their respective covers the same week. Would Secretariat become the first Triple Crown winner since 1948?

A portrait of a person making news usually adorns the front page. But on June 11, 1973, appeared the portrait of a horse – Secretariat.
A portrait of a person making news usually adorns the front page. But on June 11, 1973, appeared the portrait of a horse – Secretariat.

The odds against this happening had changed since those days. In Citation’s age group there had been 6,000 horses, in Secretariat’s 25,000. But Secretariat was one of a kind. Seldom had a horse captured people’s imagination the way that he did.

Secretariat was the bluest of bluebloods, by of one of the most successful sires of his time, Bold Ruler, and from a mother with genuine racing merits too. When owner Penny Chenery saw the homebred colt for the first time, she wrote one word in her diary: WOW!

Although known for his Triple Crown feats, Secretariat also made the history books when he was awarded the Horse of the Year title in 1972 as a juvenile. In the decades since, only one other horse has been given that honor as a 2-year-old.

Heading into the Kentucky Derby, however, Secretariat had a big problem: his appetite. He ate enormous amounts, and when he felt he hadn’t been fed adequately, he let everyone around him know about it.

No matter. While winning the Run for the Roses, Secretariat set a track record of 1:59 2⁄5, which remains in place to this day. In fact, only one other Derby winner, Monarchos in 2001, has finished the contest in under two minutes.

After winning the Derby, when most horses wouldn’t feel like eating much, Secretariat ate up everything he was served. His trainer, Lucien Laurin, once told his stable hand: “This food here will take him three days to eat up.” Half an hour later the trough was empty. Now that’s a real horse.

Secretariat captured the Preakness with ease, but it is his Belmont performance that lives on in the minds of racing fans. It also led to one of the most famous race calls of all time: “Secretariat is widening now. He is moving like a tremendous machine!” track announcer Chick Ander-son yelled. “Secretariat is all alone…he’s going to be the Triple Crown winner. An unbelievable, an amazing performance. He hits the finish 25 lengths in front!”

Anderson was off by a few lengths. The final margin of victory was 31 lengths, in a world-record time of 2:24 for the 1-1/2 miles. A total of 5,617 winning tickets on Secretariat that day were never redeemed. Instead, they became the ultimate souviner.

As part of his first crop at stud, Secretariat sired Canadian Bound, who was the first thoroughbred yearling ever sold for more than $1 million when he fetched $1.5 million at the 1976 Keeneland July sale. He was a dud as a racehorse.

And in general, as it usually happens, Secretariat’s offspring were unable to live up to extremely high expectations. Risen Star came the closest, winning both the Preakness and the Belmont, but he could only manage third in the Derby. Among Secretariat’s other notable foals were 1986 Horse of the Year Lady’s Secret and 1990 Melbourne Cup winner Kingston Rule.

Perhaps Secretariat’s foremost contribution to thoroughbred bloodlines came through his daughters. He is the broodmare sire of such breed shaping stallions as A.P. Indy and Storm Cat.

To this day, Secretariat holds the track record for each of the three Triple Crown races.

Seattle Slew.
Seattle Slew.

Seattle Slew, 1977

Karen and Mickey Taylor from Washington were relatively new to horse ownership when they went with veterinarian Jim Hill to Kentucky in order to buy a horse. They had a budget of between $12,000-$13,000. When the bidding on the colt they wanted exceeded their budget, Karen persuaded Mickey to continue bidding because she was so taken with him.

In the end the colt, later named Seattle Slew, was theirs for $17,500. It was a good decision, as the horse earned more than $1.2 million on the track and countless more millions at stud.

Seattle Slew was put into training with a young trainer called Billy Turner, who took things very carefully with the colt. The solid bay runner, who also became known as “Baby Huey” after the clumsy duck cartoon character, proved his talent on the track and was named champion 2-year-old.

Turner continued his cautious approach with Slew, and the horse entered the Kentucky Derby undefeated. He remained so after the Preakness and Belmont, too. As a result, he is the only Triple Crown winner to enter and exit the series undefeated.

Seattle Slew would not end his career undefeated, but continued racing after his Triple Crown success. Two months before he was retired in 1978, Slew defeated the heir to the Triple Crown, Affirmed, in the grade 1 Marlboro Cup.

As a stallion, Seattle Slew sired more than 100 stakes winners including the likes of A.P. Indy, Swale, and Slew o’ Gold. Seattle Slew died on the 25th anniversary of his victory in the Kentucky Derby, May 7, 2002. When he passed, he did so with his head in Karen Taylor’s arms. With his death, he left the United States without a living Triple Crown winner for the first time.


Affirmed, 1978

Just one year after Seattle Slew, Affirmed claimed the Triple Crown for his own. Affirmed was bred by Louis Wolfson and his wife Patricia at Harbor View Farms in Florida. His trainer was the veteran Laz Barrera, who had been one of Cuba’s best trainers before coming to the U.S. in 1971 after many years working in Mexico.

Jockey Steve ’The Kid‘ Cauthen completed the team around Affirmed. Partnering Affirmed, Cauthen became the youngest ever jockey to win the Triple Crown, as he turned 18 just a few days before the Kentucky Derby.

For all that, it is another name always associated with Affirmed: Alydar. The duels he had with Alydar, second in all three Triple Crown races, are that of racing legend. Alydar came from the Calumet stable, which by then was a shadow of the organization that had produced Whirlaway and Count Fleet.

The rivalry between the two horses began as 2-year-olds. Alydar first met Affirmed on the track on his racecourse debut, which was Affirmed’s second race. Affirmed won and Alydar came fourth. It would prove to be the only time that they raced against one another where they didn’t occupy first and second finishing places.

At the beginning of his 3-year-old season, Affirmed raced in California, while Alydar competed on the East Coast. Not surprisingly, each horse dominated their respective coasts.

In the Derby, Cauthen positioned Affirmed in third place and then halfway up the home straight swept into the lead, winning the race by one and a half lengths. Alydar came with a strong, late rally, but he couldn’t reach Affirmed in time.

In the Preakness, Affirmed took up the lead earlier, with Alydar hunting him all the way up the home straight. He was never able to quite reach him, and Affirmed won by a neck.

Then came the Belmont. Almost directly, Affirmed went to the front of the field, but by the end of the back turn Alydar had caught up. From there they battled head to head for almost 1 1/4 miles. Affirmed raced on the inner rail and won by a head.

It was an extraordinary show of strength and power from both horses and a true spectacle for the spectators. It was the essence of horseracing at its absolute best.

The rivalry did not end there. Though Affirmed finished first in the Travers, he drifted in front of Alydar in the stretch. After an inquiry, Affirmed was taken down and Alydar placed first. By the end, the two faced each other a total of 10 times, finishing first and second in nine of them. Affirmed usually won.

Affirmed had a respectable career as a stallion before dying in 2001 at the age of 26. But perhaps Alydar got one final victory, as he is widely considered to have been the more successful stallion.

American Pharaoh.
American Pharoah. ©Sue Kawczynski/EclipseSportswire

American Pharoah, 2015

It would take another 37 years until it happened again. By then, many people believed that winning the Triple Crown had become an impossible feat. Thirteen horses had completed the first two legs, only to fall short at the Belmont Stakes.

Then American Pharoah came along. Bred by Ahmed Zayat, he was born at Stockplace Farm near Lexington, Kentucky in 2012. As a yearling, the colt was offered at the Fasig Tipton Saratoga Selected Yearling sale, but he didn’t sell. The Zayat’s were not willing to take any less than $1 million for him, and when the highest bid didn’t even reach a third of that, they decided to keep him and race him instead. As it turned out, it was a good idea.

When American Pharoah failed to catch the eye of a new owner in Saratoga, he was sent to Florida to McKathan Brothers Farm near Ocala to begin his training. On August 9, 2014, American Pharoah made his debut in California for trainer Bob Baffert. He lost.

However, the colt figured out the racing game that day and won nine of his next ten starts, eight of them in Grade 1 company. The horse with the misspelled name (is it supposed to be Pharaoh) ended his juvenile season a dual Grade 1 winner and was named the 2-year-old champion colt that year.

On May 2, 2015, American Pharoah started as the favourite in the 141st running of the Kentucky Derby. He and jockey Victor Espinoza lived up to the punters’ expectations and crossed the line one length in front of Firing Line. Two weeks later, they led the Preakness Stakes field from start to finish on a wet and sloppy track, winning by seven lengths. With the Triple Crown within reach, American Pharoah came to Belmont Stakes as the odds-on favourite. 90,000 fans had gathered at Belmont Park. In front of the roaring crowd, American Pharoah cruised to a 5.5-length wire-to-wire victory, becoming the 12th American Triple Crown winner in history.

In October that year, American Pharoah shipped to Keeneland and ran in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, where he challenged older horses for the first time. It did not prove a problem for American Pharoah. He won by 6.5 lengths, becoming the first Triple Crown winner to have won “The Grand Slam,” as the Classic was first run in 1984, and the last Triple Crown winner was Affirmed in 1978.

After the Breeders’ Cup, the Triple Crown hero retired to Coolmore’s American division Ashford Stud in Kentucky, and his first crop was born in 2017. He receives thousands of visitors every year.

See Triple Crown

The Triple Crown drinks

and how to mix them

Camilla Osterman

Let’s face it. Watching the Triple Crown races on TV is not that bad. You get the close ups. You actually hear what is said in interviews. And – you can still have each race’s signature drink!


Mint Julep

Kentucky Derby – The Mint Julep

During his travels in Europe, Colonel M. Lewis Clark visited England and after attending the Epsom Derby, realized that this was precisely what Kentucky needed. Not to mention, the event could even be used to market and sell bourbon. Mint juleps, which contain bourbon, mint, sugar and water, form an important part of the Derby tradition to this day and is the official drink of The Derby since 1938.

4-5 fresh mint sprigs
2 1/5 oz bourbon
2 sugar cubes
or 1/2 oz simple syrup

Muddle mint leaves and sugar/simple syrup in a julep cup. Fill the glass with shaved or crushed ice and add bourbon. Stir briskly until the glass becomes frosty. Add more ice and stir again before serving. Add sprigs of mint into the ice and garnish with a mint sprig so that the partaker will get the aroma.

Preakness Stakes –
The Black-Eyed Susan

The name of the drink is taken from the flowers used to make the winners blanket at the Preakness Stakes in Baltimore, Maryland. The same flower has also given the name to The Black Eyed Susan Stake, the de facto Second Jewel of the Filly Triple Crown, which is run the day before the Preakness.

1 1/4 oz bourbon
3/4 oz vodka
3 oz sweet and sour mix
2 oz orange juice
orange slice and cherry for garnish

Combine ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously. Strain over ice into a collins glass. Garnish with an orange slice and a cherry.

Belmont Jewel

Belmont Stakes – Belmont Jewel

The newest of the Triple Crown signature drinks. Created by mixologist Drew Revella in 2011 it's - as the other two - based on bourbon.

1 1/2 oz bourbon
2 oz lemonade
1 oz pomegranate juice

Shake vigorously with ice and serve in a rocks glass with ice. Garnish with a red cherry or a lemon twist.

Lucky until The End

Camilla Osterman Historic

In 1834, at the age of 6, Elias Jackson Baldwin and his mother, father and three siblings moved from Hamilton, Ohio, to an 80-acre farm in Terre Coupee Town, Indiana. His father, William Baldwin, had previously served as a community preacher. Now he was going to operate the new farm and tend to its horses. Elias liked helping out, especially with the animals, and as the years went by he developed a special mind for buying and trading horses. By the time he was 19, his capital was already several thousand dollars.

Lucky Baldwin.
Lucky Baldwin.

With this money, Elias decided to take his skills and knowledge to a new level. He opened a grocery store and a saloon. By this time, he had also become a father, after having eloped with Sarah Ann Unruh one year earlier. They were married without their parents’ consent.

Elias then opened a hotel and a general store in New Buffalo, Indiana, and although business was good, it was also boring. So, he decided to try his luck in Wisconsin with yet another grocery store and a hotel, but after a while he found himself without a challenge yet again.


Elias then opened a hotel and a general store in New Buffalo, Indiana, and although business was good, it was also boring.


However, news had travelled about gold from California. Like many other men who sought their fortune in digging, this was something for Elias. He did not want to find the gold, but rather, the businessman that he was, he saw an opportunity to provide food and supplies for the diggers who did.

And so, Elias decided to sell out in Wisconsin and head for the west coast with four wagons, which carried only his family, their belongings and brandy, tobacco and tea.

The trip out west was quite an undertaking in those days. The Baldwin family joined a wagon train, and it suffered several misfortunes on the way. After a month on the road, Elias went out scouting by himself and got lost for days.

He was lucky enough to be saved by friendly Native Americans who helped him back to his party. That luck would change by the time they reached Salt Lake City. The wagon train was attacked by the Ute tribe and had to flee for dear life. They were ambushed another two times before they completed the 2,000 mile trail and reached California.

In 1853, they settled in San Francisco, and once there, Elias finally got down to business. With the cash he brought with him from Wisconsin, he bought and improved the Temperance Hotel. Only 30 days later, he sold it for a $5,000 profit. Later he built another luxury hotel, The Baldwin Hotel and Theatre, and started making big money.

Emperor of Norfolk was an outstanding race horse for Lucky, and he went on to be an influential stallion as well.
Emperor of Norfolk was an outstanding race horse for Lucky, and he went on to be an influential stallion as well.

In 1867, his luck took a little turn when he became a divorced man after his wife left him for being absent at home. Elias decided it was time for a change of scenery and took off on a grand tour across the Pacific. He went elephant hunting in India and partying in Japan. When he came back to New York, he brought with him a whole group of Japanese acrobats and became a vaudeville producer.

Meanwhile, back home in San Francisco, he had left his broker with orders to sell off his shares of the Hale & Norcross Mine if their prices fell to $800 a foot. Unfortunately, or fortunately as it would turn out, Elias had forgotten to leave the key to the safe where the stocks were kept. His broker couldn’t sell. Just in time for his return, the value of the mine had climbed to $12,000 a foot. He had now earned himself the nickname “Lucky” as he was not only rich, but very rich. In fact, he was a multimillionaire.

Lucky was now ready for more new adventures. He went south in 1875 and started looking for a place where he could fulfill his dream—being a great farmer. The Rancho Santa Anita caught his interest, and he approached owner Harris Newmark with an offer that wasn’t accepted. He was willing to give $150,000, but Newmark wanted $200,000. Lucky wanted that piece of land bad—as anyone who has been to Santa Anita can easily understand. So, he packed a tin box full of cash—several million dollars—and went back to Newmark and offered him $12,500 in cash as a down payment.

With Volante, Lucky won his first American Derby at Washington Park in 1885. His stable would win the famed race three more times.
With Volante, Lucky won his first American Derby at Washington Park in 1885. His stable would win the famed race three more times.

Furthermore, Lucky’s luck continued—a bank he had lent money, with land as securities, collapsed and left him with even more property. He was now one of the biggest, if not the biggest, landowner in the San Gabriel Valley.

Lucky’s racing stables became among the finest in the country, and he loved horses almost as much as he loved women. He was married three more
times and had a string of affairs.

He even was sued for broken wedding promises four separate times. During one court trial, the sister of a woman he had gotten pregnant took a shot at him, grazing his skull. But he, lucky as always, came out of the incident more or less unscarred.

But forget the women—it’s horseflesh we’re interested in. In those days there were several tracks in California, but they were mostly at fairs and kind of raggedy. The big races were back east, and the big race for 3-year-olds was the American Derby at Washington Park in Chicago. Lucky won it four times in nine years, garnering national attention for California race horses.

His first victory came with Volante in 1885, then Silver Cloud the following year, Emperor of Norfolk in 1888, and finally with Rey el Santa Anita in 1894. In doing so, Rey el Santa Anita defeated the previously unbeaten Domino, which was an accomplishment that turned out to be worth nothing in the breeding shed.


Rey el Santa Anita, one of Lucky’s homebreds, was something else on the track—placing in 62 of his 69 starts. He traveled around the east coast and won big races in Chicago, St. Louis and New York but was no success at stud. There, Domino beat him soundly. Domino, who died after his first season at stud, only sired 19 horses but eight of them were stakes winners, and he’s still found in the pedigree of some of today’s runners, often through Seattle Slew.

Meanwhile, Emperor of Norfolk was considered by many as the best California-bred runner ever until Swaps came along 67 years later. Not to mention, Emperor of Norfolk has made a major impact on today’s Thoroughbred through his son Americus, who was sent to England after a successful career in the U.S. The great flying filly Mumtaz Mahal traces back to Emperor of Norfolk through Americus, and she herself can be found in Northern Dancer’s pedigree.

But not many of Emperor of Norfolk’s descendants can match his race record. He made 18 starts as a 2-year-old and won three races in Chicago in eight days, then won two more in four days at Jerome Park in New York.

As a 3-year-old, Emperor of Norfolk won eight in a row for a total of nine wins from 11 starts. He was some horse, as shipping around the country in those days was not the air-conditioned luxury that today’s horses enjoy.

As the years went by, Lucky’s luxurious way of living meant his funds began to dwindle. He even had to sell the old star Volante for a mere $425 to settle a feed bill. Lucky was never one to worry too much, though. One of his favorite sayings is said to have been: “By Gad, I’m not licked yet!”

In 1900 at the tender age of 72, off he went to Alaska where he teamed up with another western legend, Wyatt Earp. It didn’t quite work out as planned—Wyatt didn’t want to sell the piece of land in Nome that Lucky wanted, so he went back to California empty-handed.

Even though he didn’t amass a new fortune during Alaska’s gold rush, Lucky’s farming skills did pay his bills and then some. It also appears he settled down a little in his old age, keeping expenses for patrimony suits down.

In 1907, Lucky was finally able to fulfill his dream of opening his own first-class racetrack, the finest in the western United States.

The first incarnation of Santa Anita racetrack had its grand opening on December 7, 1907, and ran a 108-day winter meet. Opening day featured a full card, including the Pomona Handicap, and by all historical accounts met with great success.

The place was Lucky’s. He built it up beautifully with a racing stable staffed by a variety of Mexicans, Chinese, and formers slaves. The racetrack had a place for everybody.

In sadly odd timing for Lucky, Emperor of Norfolk died in his stall several days later at the age of 22. His death warranted a story in The San Francisco Call, which reported: “Emperor of Norfolk, winner of the American Derby and one of the greatest race horses and sires in the history of the American Turf, died of old age this morning at Lucky Baldwin’s Santa Anita ranch. The closing hours of the famous stallion’s life presented a unique spectacle. When word was sent out that the Emperor was dying, racing men who are at Santa Anita track gathered in numbers at the Baldwin stable, and the grand old horse passed away like a king surrounded by his court.”lucky_baldwin_20150523

Lucky himself was also not long for this world. He died in March 1909 at the age of 81 as the result of pneumonia and was buried next to his first wife, Sarah, in San Francisco. Just one month later, on April 17, 1909, Santa Anita held its final race. It was a time of turmoil, as lawmakers fought over whether horse race wagering was legal or not, and without its leader, the racetrack fell victim.

Eventually, the lawmakers sorted themselves out, and Santa Anita Park as we know it now opened on Christmas Day, 1934. It quickly became one of the most respected racetracks in the world and remains so to this day.

But that is another story. For Lucky, his life had ended with what it had
started with—horses.

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AL CAPONE – and the fight for the gambling buck


When I first found myself in Chicago, back in the autumn of 1987, it was by pure chance. The first of many on my racing travels.
I visited Hawthorne Race Course in Sickney/Cicero on the south side of Chicago, and I soon got to know the owner, Mr. Thomas Carey.
That he and his wife, Sue, invited me to stay with them rather than in the cheap hotel I could just about afford was probably no coincidence. The Careys are Irish Americans and, in running the oldest family-owned racetrack in the United States, genuine hospitality is a way of life.


I was there visiting, curiously observing U.S. racing for the first time, and hoping to sell an article or two about my experiences when I returned back home. My first job as a racing journalist in the Windy City was another coincidence. One day Mr. Carey came up to the press box to fetch me. “I think I have small job for you,” he said. Back down in his office, Mr. Carey introduced me to his racing secretary and handicapper, Mr. Frank Arsenault. Frank was as laid back and easy going as the Careys, but he did give me a strange look as he glanced up from his handicapping sheets. I later heard that he had been a bit concerned, thinking I was after his job.
Perhaps I should have been but I wasn’t.

“We have the Hawthorne Derby here on Saturday, and a horse is coming over from Europe,” Carey said. “I believe his name is Z-something. Do you know this horse?”
I pretended to be effortlessly searching my brain, as one does in this situations. “Yes of course, sure Mr. Carey, I know the horse.” He smiled and said, “You called me Tom over dinner at my house last night…”

Then he turned to the in-house form expert: “Frank, I think we should have Geir write a press release on this horse, and give an assessment. How do you assess a horse like that, by the way?” Frank didn’t really answer that last question, but he agreed that I could do the job. “The name of the horse is Zaizoom,” he added and returned to looking busy.

Carey wanted to know what I knew about the foreign runner.


I also learnt more about Al Capone’s involvement in racing. And, no, before you ask, there is no “Al Capone Memorial Stakes” staged at Hawthorne.


I told him that he had been imported from England and that I believed he had won the Italian Derby that May.
“Is that right,” Tom chuckled. “We have an Italian raider on the grounds. Well, we are used to those here.”
Tom was of course referring to a more famous Italian, the mafia boss Al Capone, whose interest in gambling and horseracing made lasting marks on the sport in the Chicago area.

Turf Guide.
Turf Guide.

I wrote my press release, gave Zaizoom a rating comparing him to the local runners, concluded that he would probably win the race (which he did), and returned to Chicago as a freelance journalist for their autumn racing every season for the next 10 years. This was pre-internet days, and I specialised in providing information on horses visiting from and/or imported from Europe. I also learnt more about Al Capone’s involvement in racing. And, no, before you ask, there is no “Al Capone Memorial Stakes” staged at Hawthorne.

When you hear that the two racecourses in the area, Sportsman’s Park and Hawthorne, were just stone’s throw apart, do not believe for one moment it is an exaggeration. The two tracks were literally built so close you could hear the sounds of farriers working from both tracks. When horses stabled at Sportsman’s raced at Hawthorne, they were simply led across to the other venue, a walk that would take no more than two to three minutes.



Sportsman’s Park, operating horseracing from 1923 to 2003, was built so close to Hawthorne for a reason. The reason was none other than Al Capone. Capone first turned up on the scene when he was 21-years-old, and he controlled the Cicero and Stickney areas by the young age of 25. His decision to run his illegal operations from Cicero and Stickney was quite simple. Out there, he could buy off most of the politicians and police forces. That was not so easy inside the Windy City itself, despite the fact that Chicago’s nickname originates from the time when politics there were known to be somewhat different to other big cities.

It was well known that it was rather windy in the political circles. Today, most of us think it is because Chicago is such a flat landscape by the huge Michigan Lake, making it very windy. Which is also true.
Working his way up to became the czar of organised crime in Cicero, Capone  soon set his eyes on Hawthorne. Several recollections of his life say that he did in fact control racing at Hawthorne, but official history on the Al Capone era has always been a bit flawed, since too many local historians were not interested in writing about Capone. When he was finally gone, they were more interested in closing that chapter.

In racing circles, the tales paint a picture which seems, if not totally accurate, somewhat plausible. Racing historians say Capone tried to buy Hawthorne, or at least become a partner in the racecourse, but owner Tom Carey Sr. was reluctant to sell to the mobster. Carey was determined to run the racecourse himself, though in fact he had become the owner of the course much against his own will in 1909. Carey had done extensive work for the founder of Hawthorne, but he was never paid. In the end he was handed the property as payment. It was the track or nothing. The value of the settlement must have been debatable, as they did not have a license to race. However, he managed to stage a meeting without one, running for 16 days in 1916.

Legal racing did not reopen until six years later though, and that was also when Capone surfaced and wanted to take over. Being heavily involved in the illegal gambling in Chicago, he wanted to take charge of the legalised gambling as well. That made perfect sense. To Al Capone. For a change, he came to a closed door. Whereas his rise in power in the area had been going generally unopposed, he could not get his hands on the racecourse. Who actually controlled the races staged in Chicago in those days is another question, however. Many of the races were almost certainly controlled, or fixed, by Capone. There was always talk of “the fix” and when Al Capone was involved, they never went wrong.


“Being heavily involved in the illegal gambling in Chicago, he wanted to take charge of the legalised gambling as well. That made perfect sense. To Al Capone.”


Looking back on this era, it is not at all hard to understand why horse racing struggled with a poor image in North America. To the man on the street, horseracing, gambling, criminals and dishonesty were pretty much synonymus words. Most have seen Robert Redford and Paul Newman in the brilliant film The Sting, and to believe that the plot in this winner of seven Oscars, including Best Film, was far from reality is naïve at best. It was set in 1936, when corruption and illegal gambling raced neck and neck in the Mid-West. There were con men everywhere, small and big, not least on the racetracks.
Even the publishers of tipping sheets in Chicago, two-paged A4 publications with previews and selections that are still very popular, were often crooked.

“They never work for me,” Capone allegedly said when challenged on the subject. And they probably never did.
Tipping sheets giving out false information were undoubtedly too small a con for Capone. That he had inspired these guys, however, is more than likely. One con they pulled off was to print thousands of sheets after the sixth or seventh races had been run. Naturally, on these sheets, they had “tipped” just about every winner and exacta in the first seven races. Since race days had 10 to 12 races, it gave them time to do a quick print-run and spread the false sheets. How? They simply got “runners” to jump on and off the trains and buses that would be taking horseplayers back home from the track – and leave the sheets on the seats they would be occupying. For the tipsters, this was an easier way to make money than backing their selections. Over the next few days, everybody wanted to buy THAT fantastic tipping sheet.

The 1930s and 40s were a golden age for horse racing in Chicago. That included Sportsman’s Park, despite its unfortunate location next to an oil refinery.
The 1930s and 40s were a golden age for horse racing in Chicago. That included Sportsman’s Park, despite its unfortunate location next to an oil refinery.

Not Al Capone, however. It’s a fair guess he did not bother with reading any tipping sheet or studying the form. He was not interested in who the horseracing experts thought would win. He was interested in what horses he could make sure would win, or, in most cases, what horses he could make sure would not win. He liked to bet. Did he need the money? Probably not. Was he hooked on gambling? Probably not. His way of betting wasn’t really gambling. So why go through all of the trouble to fix races? Well, it did make money of course, and just as importantly, he enjoyed the feeling of being in control. That was all that mattered. And he didn’t mind letting people know that he was in control of the races. So the answer to the question whether it was Capone or Carey who controlled racing at Hawthorne was purely a matter of definition – and most certainly dependent on who you asked.


In his book Capone, the Man and the Era author Lawrence Bergreen quotes Joe Berardi, a photographer working for the Evening American at the time. Berardi was covering the Hawthorne races, and to his surprise he found that Capone was at the track that day, accompanied by his usual squad of five or six bodyguards.

“Hey, Berardi, how you doin’ today?” Capone asked when he saw the man with the camera, always keen to be friendly with members of the media.
“I’m doing just fine,” Berardi replied.

“Why don’t you bet on the six-horse in the next race,” Capone said.
Berardi looked at the tote board and could not believe Capone was serious, as No. 6 was showing at 99-1.

“Before I knew it, one of Capone’s men came over to me and slipped a piece of paper into my jacket pocket,” Berardi recalled. “When they walked away, I looked at the paper. It was a $5 win ticket on the six-horse. Well, horse No. 6 broke out in front and stayed out in front, and I don’t think anyone dared catch him. The goddamn horse won by a block… Capone didn’t bribe me; he just put $300 in my pocket.”

In other words, the horse had been bet down from 99-1 to 60-1 just before the start. No prizes for guessing who placed that gamble on the six-horse, a no-hoper who was allowed by the other jockeys to lead all the way. Oh, and don’t forget Capone had just also paid just $5 for a $300 bribe. He was having a good day at the races.

Capone and his friend and partner, the infamous attorney Edward J. O’Hare, eventually gave up on acquiring Hawthorne, and we can safely assume that Carey Sr. was himself a strong and powerful man. Carey’s persistence paid off, as he eventually did get permission to conduct race meetings. A decade later, Hawthorne had been turned into a highly profitable business, though Carey soon also found himself in direct competition with Capone and O’Hare.

Al Capone and O'Hara.
Al Capone and O’Hara.

They built their own racecourse north of Hawthorne, but it was a course for greyhound racing, called the Hawthorne Kennel Track. Soon after, greyhound racing was made illegal in Chicago. The authorities were not all keen on gambling, and even less so when Capone got involved. This was their way of giving the man broadside opposition on the gambling field.
One morning O’Hare was summoned to Capone’s office.
“We shall move that Hawthorne Kennel track,” Capone said. “How about outside town; I mean somewhere way outside city borders?” He felt he had a simple solution to the new challenge, the new problem that had arisen from political corridors.

“No,” was O’Hare’s blunt answer. “Won’t help us Al. A bill is about to be passed making greyhound racing illegal throughout the state of Illinois.” It was never easy, but politicians in Illinois clearly did try their very best to stop Capone. And this time, they were one step ahead of him. Capone wasn’t used to that. The man, who had been expelled from school at the age of 14 for having hit a female teacher and never went back, was in no way comfortable with being restricted by others.

Capone was furious about not winning the battle over the gambling dollar, and what he still wanted the most was Hawthorne Park. After all it was right in the middle of Stickney/Cicero. That was his patch, his backyard. Horse racing was about to take off, and the future for racetrack owners was rosy. And this track was right next to one of his brothels, damn it. He was not happy about it.

That the O’Hare airport in Chicago is one of the biggest airports in the world is widely known. But did you know it also has a connection to Al Capone and to horse racing? Al Capone’s partner and lawyer was Edward O’Hare (aka “Easy Eddie”). As a lawyer, O’Hare represented the inventor Owen Smith – the man who invented the hare that is used in dog races – and once owned three dog race tracks. Together with Capone, he later started Sportsman’s Park in Chicago, where he also became the manager.

ohareIt was O’Hare who gave the tax man the information needed to sentence Capone in 1931. Capone was not exactly happy about this, and a couple of days before Capone was paroled 1939, O’hare was shot to death on his way home from the office at the racetrack.
The story would have ended there if it weren’t for Edward O’Hare having a son. Also named Edward, his son went by ”Butch” and became one of the country’s most famous fighter pilots during WWII. He received the Congressional Medal of Honor after becoming the Navy’s first flying ace when he single-handedly attacked a formation of nine heavy bombers approaching his aircraft carrier.
O’Hare the younger died at age 29 while he was leading the U.S. Navy’s first-ever nighttime fighter attack launched from an aircraft carrier. His aircraft was shot down and never found.
In 1949, Chicago’s airport was renamed in his honor and an estimated 200,000 Chicago citizens showed up for the event.

“We buy the land next door,” he said to O’Hare one day. “We buy that worthless piece of land and build our own track. That’s gonna show them!”
So they did. The two men purchased 79 acres of land right behind the Hawthorne grandstand and built Sportsman’s Park, another Thoroughbred racecourse. Talk about going into competition head-to-head. Then again, as the Americans would call it, the two racecourses were located back-to-back. Sportsman’s Park also conducted harness racing, as does Hawthorne through the winter months today. The course was also home to the famous Illinois Derby, inaugurated in 1923, a race that is today staged at Hawthorne and  used to be an important prep for the Kentucky Derby.

Sportsman’s Park was an arena for speedway racing, and only one of two tracks in the USA to race both horses and speedway cars, along with Dover International Speedway. The venue eventually closed in 2003. It has been a long haul. It took 80 years for things to return to normal for Hawthorne – and during these years the financial climate in Thoroughbred racing went through several phases. The bottom line of these phases has, unfortunately, been a relatively consistent and marked decline.
The Carey family’s course once staged the American Derby, the second most valuable race in America, but is now one of the lesser tracks on the North American circuit, with rather ordinary day-to-day racing and moderate purses. It was quite different in the good old days.

Arlington Park, the premier racecourse in Illinois and best known for its Arlington Million day, and Hawthorne managed to stay open during the years of World War II. Racing and betting at the family-owned venue thrived during these turbulent years. Tom Carey and his team were also forward thinking operators, often ahead of their time. They realised that consistent success was reliant on local support and introduced valuable races for Illinois-bred and owned horses. These days, virtually every course in North America puts on valuable stakes races restricted to state-bred horses.

Sportsman’s Park was closed in 2003 and torn down a few years later. However, you can still clearly see the old course (top) and how close it was to Hawthorne (lower). © 2010 Google Data SIO, NOAA, U.S.Navy, NGA, GEBCO
Sportsman’s Park was closed in 2003 and torn down a few years later. However, you can still clearly see the old course (top) and how close it was to Hawthorne (lower).
© 2010 Google Data SIO, NOAA, U.S.Navy, NGA, GEBCO

Already in the 1940s, Hawthorne staged meetings with a $1,000 minimum purses per race. Today, that would equate to about $12,500. Hawthorne also recorded its first $1 million raceday betting turnover as long ago as in 1943, and the following year the average daily turnover was a staggering $943,000. The average daily crowd was well over 14,000.
To put these figures into perspective, the first $1 million plus handle at Hawthorne was not achieved until 1966, and it took all the way to 1992 before Hawthorne’s average daily turnover exceeded $2 million. On Illinois Derby day in 2004, a record $5.5 million was wagered at Hawthorne. That is a healthy figure, but in real money value it is only 50 percent of the daily average in 1943.

In today’s world, the 1943 average of $943,000 would be almost $12 million. Was the horseracing business lucrative in Chicago in 1940s? I just think we can all agree it was.

Seeing these figures, one can understand why Al Capone wanted so desperately to get a slice of the action. Wanted it so much that he built a track next door to another. Horse racing men and women in Chicago can today be proud of the fact that it is Hawthorne, not Sportsman’s Park, that is still in operation.

Contrary to popular belief, Al Capone (or Alphonse, his real name) was not born in Italy. His father, Gabriele Capone, a barber, and his mother, Teresina, immigrated to the USA in 1894 from the small village Castellmarre di Stabia, barely 12 miles south of Neapel. The couple came to America with 43,000 other Italians, together with their two sons Vincenzo (later named James) and Rafaele (who became Ralph).

Alphonse was born in Brooklyn in 1899 and was at 10 years of age already associated with the neighborhood’s gang, which was led by Johnny Torrio. He left school at the age of 14 after beating a female teacher.

He came to Chicago in 1919 and ran Torrio’s alcohol and prostitution businesses before he started his own when Torrio retired.

On Oct. 17, 1931, he was convicted and sent to prison for 11 years because of tax evasion. By the time he died in 1945 due to a stroke, he was so physically and psychically affected by syphilis, he was said to have been at the intellectual level of a 12-year-old.


and Group Races.
What’s it all about… really?

Horse racing is full of its own special words and expressions. Sometimes it’s hard to understand. What does ”Group Races” mean? And what is a ”Black Type Pedigree?”

Now you can stop wondering; Gallop Magazine will sort out the big race terminology for you.

Black Type.
Black Type.

Many people are of the opinion that horse racing really is a breeding competition. That all the victories and prize money really are only there in order to select the breeding stock of tomorrow.

Regardless of your thoughts on the subject, the fact remains: everybody wants to know exactly how good their own horse is. How good—or valuable—is the race record of the mare or of the stallion you consider using? And how good is the pedigree of the horse you examine at the sales?

Giving a horse a rating or a ”form” is one solution. Better horse—higher rating. But how are you supposed to rate wins? Is it worth more to win the Derby for 3-year-olds than a race for older horses? Is a race with higher prize money more important than one with a long history? These are all questions that horse racing has been struggling to find answers to for centuries. However, in 1952 the problem became visible in a way never before seen. The first European horses where shipped over to race in the first-ever international race, the Washington D.C. International. The predecessor to what is today’s Breeders Cup World Championships.

For bettors, handicappers and trainers the previous performances of the invited horses were a jungle. Was the Illinois Derby as important as The Epsom Derby?


During the late 1960s the situation became urgent in Europe. Prize money in the big races in France could be 50% higher than in a corresponding race in England. Since weights were determined on money earned, British horses would come in to the races cheaply and get a lower weight than if they had won an equivalent race in France.



When you read about race results, you will sooner or later see the term ”Group Race” or ”Black Type.” But what does it mean?

This is how it works: When a race is ridden, the average rating (form) of first four horses is used to calculate the level of the race. If the race has a high enough level to be included in the international ”Pattern Race Calendar” it will be defined as ”Listed.” If it is of an even higher level it will become a so called ”Group Race.”
Group Races come in three classes: Group 1, Group 2 and Group 3. (abbreviated Gr1, Gr2 and Gr3.)
Group 1 is the highest level. Just to keep things even more confusing, North America has its own system and calls its equivalent races Grade 1, 2 or 3 instead of Group 1, 2 or 3.

These races are also called ”Black Type” because performances in these races are written in bold letters (Black Type) in sales catalogues and stallion marketing.



In 1970 Jean Romanet (father of today’s leading figure in international racing, Louis Romanet), was the manager of France Galop, which is the French racing authority. He presented a system where France, Ireland and UK would nominate 90 races each. The 270 races would be categorized in three categories, or groups, and thus the term ”Group Races” was born. Weights in those races would only be on performances in other group races—regardless of prize money in those races.

Group 1 was the Classic Races*, Group 2 was the Classic Trials and Group 3 was other major races. In 1971 Italy joined the system, and in 1972 Germany followed.

The idea was widely accepted, especially among the sales companies that manage the auctioning of yearling thoroughbreds. In the auction catalogues it is important to be able to quickly identify the individuals with high performing pedi-grees. By tradition, horses who have won or been placed in important races had their names written in bold letters—or ”black type.” The problem was that each country had their own view on what races deserved the sought after typography.

BLACK TYPE PEDIGREE. This yearling filly by Galileo out of Clara Bow was sold for €600 000 Euro at Arqanas prestigeous Deauville sale in August 2010, making her the most expensive horse at the sale. She is a good example of a true Black Type pedigree. The dam Clara Bow has her name written in regular type since she has no Group race or listed performance of her own. Her son Witton Court has been placed (2nd and 3rd) in Listed races (L) and gets his name written in lower case letters but in Black Type. Her other foals Turtle Bow, Turtle Bowl and Age of Aquarious are all Group race winners and gets to have their names written in capital letters (for winning) and Black Type (for doing it in Group Races). All Black Type races also get their category written in bold.
This yearling filly by Galileo out of Clara Bow was sold for €600,000 at Arqana’s prestigious Deauville sale in August 2010, making her the most expensive horse at the sale. She is a good example of a true Black Type pedigree.
The dam Clara Bow has her name written in regular type since she has no Group race or listed performance of her own. Her son Witton Court has been placed (2nd and 3rd) in Listed races (L) and gets his name written in lower case letters but in Black Type. Her other foals Turtle Bow, Turtle Bowl and Age of Aquarious are all Group race winners and gets to have their names written in capital letters (for winning) and Black Type (for doing it in Group Races).
All Black Type races also get their category written in bold.

It was easier for a sales company in Ireland to know the importance of a race at an Irish track than one held in France.

The need for a common standard was obvious, and it was about to come in place.

In 1972 the need for more detailed rules led to the creation of the system we have today. The goal was to have complete transparency and to have one body make all the decisions on which race were to have which status. From Listed (L) to Group 3 and Group 2 to the finest races of all—Group 1.

The rules dictate that all horses carry equal weight. Fillies do get a weight allowance, as do 3-year-olds when they race against older horses. The longer the race, the bigger the allowance. The only allowed penalties are that horses that have won Group 2 or Group 1 races may be given extra weight when they race in classes below their own highest level. All races must also be completely open to all horses regardless of what country they come from. A rule that is not very well known is that geldings are not allowed to run in Group 1 races that are only for 2- or 3-year-old horses.

As time went by more and more countries from all over the world joined the “Pattern Race System.” All western European countries subscribe to it, as do UAE, Hong Kong, Japan, Qatar etc. A special committee was also created to supervise and control how the sales companies present the horses on offer. It is known as the ICSC, or International Cataloguing Standards Committee.

Only approved races may be printed in Black Type.



The level of each race is calculated based on the average form/rating of the first four horses in the race for the last three runnings. A total of 12 horses are used for the calculation, and it is the “end of season rating” that is used.

This is an internationally agreed rating based upon the best performance of a horse during the year. It is set by the committee handicappers at the classification meeting. In order to be eligible for Group race status, the race has to maintain a certain level over three consecutive years.

This means that regardless of prize money no race can ”buy” a Group race listing.

When the Dubai World Cup—the race with the highest purse in the world—was created, it had wait to get its Group 1 status. If the average rating sinks, the race can be downgraded and if the rating goes up, it can apply for an upgrade.

This is one of the reasons that major races all over the world fight to get the best horses. Even if it means a foreign horse takes the local prize money, bringing in the best can also help raise the status of the race and the importance of local horses on the international market.
There are also plenty of pitfalls. If a race changes its surface, distance, location or even date, a new application must be made.



In the early days of Group races the term ”Listed” came into use. Originally a name for races that were ”in the catalogue,” but with slightly more diffuse criteria.

Now, Listed races are as strictly controlled as Group races and could really be referred to as “Group 4” races. However, this might cause problems for some countries with many Listed races that have been accepted because of tradition, but would risk losing their statutes with the new, stricter rules.

The top 10 Group 1 and Grade 1 races in the world in 2016, including rating and 2016 winner.

1) Breeders’ Cup Classic (USA) 125.25 – Arrogate

2) Irish Champion Stakes (IRE) 124.75 – Almanzor

3) Pacific Classic Stakes (USA) 124.75 – California Chrome

4) Cox Plate (AUS) 124.75 – Winx

5) Champion Stakes (GB) 124.00 – Almanzor

6) Breeders’ Cup Turf (USA) 122.25 – Highland Reel

7)  George Ryder Stakes (AUS) 122.00 – Winx

8)  Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (FR) 122.00 – Found

9) Dubai Sheema Classic (UAE) 121.50 – Postponed

10) Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (GB) 121.25 – Minding  


Melbourne Cup a handicap race. And a Group race.
Melbourne Cup is a handicap race. And a Group race.



The European system is now the norm in many places. Other countries do however have similar systems. In North America, where the Black Type races are called Graded Stakes, the status is awarded by the American Graded Stakes Committee, which has rules that in many ways are similar to the European: The races may not be limiting other than gender and/or age.

Whether or not a race is called Grade 1, 2 or 3 depends on the quality of the horses, just as in Europe. The difference is that there are no exact definitions. It is also interesting to note that US Graded Stakes races can be handicaps, which races where each horse carries a weight in relation to its own capacity.

That is also the case in Australia, which has a third system. The biggest race in Australia—Melbourne Cup—is a Group 1 race AND a handicap.

“The European system is based on an ability to rate and compare wins, says Björn Eklund, of the European and Mediterranean Horseracing Federation (EMHF).

That is why equal weight is a cornerstone in the system. As such, a handicap with different weights never can be given Black Type status in any country that subscribe to the European system.”

A few years back Arabian horse racing has adopted the same concept. It has a system where Group races have to be approved by the Pattern Race Committee in exactly the same way, and with the same rules, as with Thoroughbreds.

MORE AND MORE countries are joining the system. There is talk about countries in South America having serious plans. However, in some countries with local, less strict systems, new rules would not be popular. Fewer races would be approved and fewer horses would have the sought after lettering in their performance.

But as someone once said. What is easy to win is not valuable.

And it doesn’t get any more difficult than a Group race.


The Classic Races

Björn Eklund, Nalle Rosenkjær 1851—Jean Louis Théodore Géricault. Painting at Le Louvre in Paris

In racing, you’ll often hear expressions like “The Classics” or “the Classic races.” To be a Classic winner is extremely meriting to a racehorse and has a huge impact on its marketing–especially in the auction catalogues. So what is hiding behind those phrases?


Like much else in racing the classic races origins from the 18th century in England, when the races were open to all age groups and mostly run over long distances. As a result, the older and stronger horses usually won, and the breeders grew opposed to see their young horses thrashed. For the sake of future breeding as well as being able to sell their youngsters, the St. Leger was instituted in 1779. It was to be run in the autumn over 3200 meters (2 miles) and for 3-year-olds only.

Three years later, it was followed by a somewhat shorter race for 3-year-old fillies only. The race run over 2400 meters (1½ miles) was named the Oaks and was to be run at an earlier stage than the St. Leger. Just one year later this new race was followed by the Derby. Run over the same distance and on the same course as the Oaks, the Derby was, however, open to fillies and colts both.

Some 20 years later the Englishmen saw a need for their 3-year-old colts to have race in the spring. Run over the shorter distance of 1600 meters (1 mile), it was named The 2000 Guineas. An equivalent was instituted the following year for fillies only and named the 1000 Guineas.

Thus there was now a series of five races for 3-year-olds and ranging in distance from 1600 meters to 3200. These were be called the Classics.

The concept has been adopted all over the world, and today the Classic series still consists of five races for 3-year-olds, carrying equal weights, except for the gender allowance given fillies in the three races open to both sexes.

In most countries a Thoroughbred from any country can participate. The idea is that the best should meet the best in what is fundamentally a competition among breeders.

A horse winning the three Classic races for colts and fillies alike–namely the 2000 Guineas, the Derby and the St. Leger–is dubbed a Triple Crown winner.

A total of 15 horses have won the English Triple Crown. In our competitive and specialized days, it is nigh impossible, and Nijinsky II was the latest back in 1970. Hoewever, Camelot came close in 2012.

Sometimes you’ll hear of the Filly Triple Crown, which consists of the 1000 Guineas, the Oaks and the St. Leger. It was last won by Oh So Sharp in England 1985.

The American Triple Crown consists of the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness- and the Belmont Stakes. All in all 12 horses have won it. The 70s were a golden decade and produced three of the winners: Secretariat (1973), Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978). The first horse to win since 1978 was American Pharoah in 2015 who ended a 37 long wait.


The Classics at a glance:

    • 2000 Guineas – 1 mile (1.600 m)
    • 1.000 Guineas – Fillies only – 1 mile (1.600 m)
    • Oaks – Fillies only – 1 mile 4 F (1 1/2 mile or 2.400 m)
    • Derby – 1 mile 4 F (1 1/2 mile or 2.400 m)
    • St Leger – 1 mile 6 F (1 3/8 mile or 2.800 m)
  • The legendary Frankel won the 2000 Guineas in a performance described as “one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse.
    The legendary Frankel won the 2000 Guineas in a performance described as “one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse.

    2000 Guineas

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    UK- 2000 Guineas Stakes (G1) Newmarket (May) 1609 m 1809
    IRE- Irish 2000 Guineas (G1) Curragh (May) 1609 m 1921
    FR- Poule d’Essai des Poulains (G1) Longchamp (May) 1600 m 1840
    GER- Mehl-Mühlens-Rennen (G2) Köln (May) 1600 m 1871
    ITA- Premio Parioli (G3) Capannelle (April/May) 1600 m 1981
    SWE- Jockeyklubbens Jubileumslöpning Täby (June) 1600 m 1922
    TY- Erkek Tay Deneme Veliefendi/Istanbul (June) 1600 m 1956
    JP- Satsuki Sho (G1) Nakayama (April) 1800 m 1939
    UAE- 2000 Guineas (G3) Dubai (Feb) 1600 m 2000
    NZ- New Zealand 2000 Guineas Christchurch (Nov) 1600 m 1973
    ARG- Gran Premio Polla de Potrillos Bueonos Aires (Sept) 1609 m 1895
    CHI- Dos Mil Guineas (G1) Santiago (Sep) 1600 m N/A


    The 2000 Guineas starts off the Classic season in most countries. Run for the first time in England 1809 over 1600 meters,  it’s for fillies and colts both. Some countries allow geldings as well, while other countries—like England—do not. Since the introduction of the 1000 Guineas, which is the fillies only equivalent, many fillies do not compete in this race. The two races are traditionally run within just a few days of each other.

    The 2000 Guineas is named after it’s original purse. A guinea is an old monetary standard, but it is still used in connection with some auctions. One guinea is £1 and a shilling or £1,05. The purse has, of course, swelled during the years, and in 2013 there was  £400,000 waiting at the line of Newmarket’s straight Rowley Mile.

    One guinea is £1 and one shilling or  £1.05.

    The 2000 Guineas is regarded as a great opportunity to see which horse may become the stars of the rest of the season. Punters are often offered good value for their fancies, as many of the horses have been but lightly raced so early in the season. One often has to rely on the 2-year-old form, which can be tricky in itself. In 2012 Camelot was the latest to pull off the English 2000 Guineas/Derby double.

    The second oldest 2000 Guineas is the French Poule d’Essai des Poulains, which was run at Champs de Mars for 17 years before it became a fixture at Longchamp in 1857.

    Lovely Zarkava won the Poule d'Essai des Pouliches ("1000 Guineas") and the Prix de Diane ("Oaks") before ending her racing career by wining the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as a three year old to do so in 24 years. Here with her 2016 colt by Invincible Spirit! (Photo Aga Kahn Studs)
    Lovely Zarkava won the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (“1000 Guineas”) and the Prix de Diane (“Oaks”) before ending her racing career by wining the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe as a three year old to do so in 24 years. Here with her 2016 colt by Invincible Spirit! (Photo Aga Kahn Studs)

    1000 Guineas

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:
    UK- 1000 Guineas Stakes (G1) Newmarket (May) 1609 m 1814
    IRE- Irish 1000 Guineas (G1) Curragh (May) 1609 m 1922
    FR- Poule d’Essai des Pouliches (G1) Longchamp (May) 1600 m 1883
    GER- German 1000 Guineas (G2) Düsseldorf (April/May) 1600 m 1919
    ITA- Premio Regina Elena (G3) Capannelle (May) 1600 m 1981
    SWE- Dianalöpning Täby (June) 1600 m 1944
    TY- Disi Tay Deneme Veliefendi/Istanbul (May) 1600 m 1956
    JP- Oka Sho (G1) Hanshin (April) 1600 m 1939
    UAE- 1000 Guineas (L) Dubai (Feb) 1600 m 2000
    NZ- New Zealand 1000 Guineas Christchurch (Nov) 1600 m 1973
    ARG- Gran Premio Polla de Potrancas Buenos Aires (Sept) 1600 m 1895


    The first ever 1000 Guineas was run in England, five years after the introduction of the 2000 Guineas under the direction of Sir Charles Bunbury. Same course and same distance, but for fillies only and for half the purse. Equality has since caught up, though, and today the purse is the same in both races. Traditionally the two races were run with only four days between them. Four fillies have managed to win both races, nevertheless. Crucifix in 1840, Formosa in 1868, Pilgrimage in 1878, and the last to do it was Sceptre in 1902. Nowadays the two races are run on consecutive days making that an impossible feat.

    Same course and same distance, but for fillies only and for half the purse.

    Again France was the first country to follow suit, staging the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches in 1883.

    In Sweden, the 1000 Guineas. is called Dianalöpning. This is rather confusing, as that name indicates the Oaks in both France and Germany.


    Ouija Board (owned by Lord Derby) won the Oaks in bort Ireland and the UK. She later went on to win two Breeders' Cup and The Hong Kong Vase.
    Ouija Board (owned by Lord Derby) won the Oaks in both Ireland and the UK. She later went on to win two Breeders’ Cup and The Hong Kong Vase.


    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    GB- Oaks Stakes (G1) Epsom (June) 2400 m 1779
    IRE- Irish Oaks (G1) Curragh (July) 2400 m 1895
    FR- Prix de Diane (G1) Chantilly (June) 2400 m 1843
    GER- Preis der Diana (G1) Düsseldorf (aug) 2200 m 1857
    ITA- Oaks d’Italia (G2) San Siro (June) 2200 m 1920
    SWE- Svenskt Oaks Jägersro/Malmö (July) 2400 m 1950
    TY- Kisrak Veliefendi/Istanbul (June) 2100 m 1956
    JP- Yushun Himba (G1) Tokyo (May) 2400 m 1956
    UAE- Oaks (G3) Meydan (Feb) 1900 m 2000
    USA- Kentucky Oaks (G1)* Churchill Downs (May) 1800 m 1875
    BRZ- Grande Premio Diana (G1) Rio de Janeiro (May) 2000 m 1932
    AUS- Australian Oaks (G1) Randwick/Sidney (April) 2400 m 1885


    The Oaks was established in 1779 as the second of the Classic races. The S:t Leger being the first. Run at Epsom Downs for fillies only, it was the brainchild of the 12th Earl of Derby. The race was named for a house Lord Derby leased in Epsom because it was devised during a dinner party at the estate. Lord Derby succeeded in  winning the first edition with Bridget. The black and white colours were to win the race again in 2004, when Ouija Board scored for the 19th Earl of Derby. The Oaks and its counterpart the Derby, are both run over 2400 meters, and three fillies have won both, with the latest being Fifinella back in 1916. As the two races now are run on consecutive days, she may well be the last, too.

    The 100,000 spectators make it the second biggest race day in the States.

    The Oaks and the Derby are the only of the Classic names to win acclaim in the USA. There are quite a few races run under the name of the Oaks to choose from, but the Kentucky Oaks first run in 1875 is undoubtedly the Oaks. Run one day prior to the Kentucky Derby, its 100,000 spectators make it the second biggest race day in the United States. The original distance of 1½ miles has since been cut to 9 furlongs, and it can be argued that the shorter distance makes it more of a 1000 Guineas than an Oaks.



    The Derby

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:

    USA Kentucky Derby* (G1) Churchil Downs (May) 2000 m 1875
    UK Epsom Derby (G1) Epsom (June) 2400 m 1780
    IRE Irish Derby (G1) Curragh (June/July) 2400 m 1866
    FR Prix du Jockey-Club (G1) Chantilly/Paris (June) 2100 m 1836
    GER Deutsches Derby (G1) Hamburg (June) 2400 m 1869
    ITA Derby Italiano (G1) Capannelle (May)2200 m1884
    HK Hong Kong Derby** Sha Tin (March) 2000 m 1873
    JP Tokyo Yüshun (G1) Tokyo (May/June) 2400 m 1932
    AUS Australian Derby (G1) Randwick/Sidney (April) 2400 m 1861
    NZ New Zealand Derby Auckland (March) 2400 m 1860
    UAE UAE Derby (G2) Dubai (March) 1900 m 2000
    CHI El Derby (G1) Vina de Mar (Feb) 2400 m 1885

    *one of several **4-year-olds


  • The St. Leger and the Oaks were huge successes in England, and so in 1790 the race whose name was destined to be connected with other sporting events of high dignity was instituted. The Derby. In everyday language a Derby can be anything from a showjumping competition to a game between two local football sides. However, a Derby proper is a race over at least 2000 meters for 3-year-olds Thoroughbred colts and fillies.While some countries allow geldings, some like Great Britain consider the Derby such an important race for determining breeding value that they are not allowed.The decision to create the Derby was taken during the party after the first Oaks had been run in 1779. One year later, the world’s first-ever Derby was run at Epsom. It was won by Diomed with Sam Arnull up. As the Derby just as well could have been named the Bunbury, it’s the irony of fate that the proud owner was a certain Charles Bunbury.There are two different tales being told about how the name of the Derby came to be.One is that Lord Derby and Bunbury rode a match between themselves, and the new race was to be named in the honour of the winner. The other is that the two friends tossed a coin. Whatever the true story, Lord Derby won and was imortalized through the name of the race.The Derby is also sometimes dubbed the Blue Riband. This expression is English, too, and derives from the famous The Most Noble Order of The Garter. The colour of it’s riband is blue, and it was the English prime minister Benjamin Disraeli who came up with it in a letter to George Bentinck.

    Whatever the true story, Lord Derby won and was imortalized through the name of the race.

    Bentinck was one of the bigwigs in English racing, and he is reputed to be behind the introduction of racing colours as well as numbercloths.

    Everyone in racing dreams of winning the Derby, but to most it stays a dream.

    Bentinck had in vain tried to win the English Derby his entire life, and in 1848 his Surplice won.Unfortunately, while he bred the horse, he also sold him as a yearling and was devastated. It was in a commiserating letter to his friend that Disraeli first called the Derby “the Blue Riband of the Turf.”

    The Derby concept was exported at an early stage, and in 1866 Ireland was the first country to follow suit. It crossed the Atlantic, too, and in 1875 the first edition of what was to become one of the most media-exposed horse races in the world was ridden in Kentucky.

    Originally the Kentucky Derby was contested at the traditional 1 1/2 miles, but in 1896 it was reduced to 1 1/4 miles and remains that distance to this day. Like the Kentucky Oaks, the Derby is held at the beginning of May, whereas Derby time in most other countries in the Northern Hemisphere is either June or July.


    Around 1800 Thomas Rowlandson produced four watercolours showing the various stages of an early St Leger - The world's oldest Classic Race.
    Around 1800 Thomas Rowlandson produced four watercolours showing the various stages of an early St Leger – The world’s oldest Classic Race.

    St. Leger

    Country: Name: Racecourse (time) Distance Since:
    GB- St. Leger Stakes (G1) Doncaster (Sept) 2937 m 1776
    IRE- Irish St. Leger (G1) Curragh (Sept) 2800 m* 1915
    FR- Prix Royal Oak (G1) Longchamp (Sept) 3100 m* 1861
    TY- Deutsches St. Leger (G3) Dortmund (Sept/Oct) 2800 m* 1940
    ITA- St. Leger Italiano (G3) San Siro (Sept) 2800 m* 1921
    DK- Dansk St. Leger Klampenborg (Sept) 2800 m* 1937
    NO- Norsk St. Leger Øvrevoll (Oct) 2800 m 1960
    SWE- Svenskt St. Leger Bro Park (Oct) 2800 m 1927
    PL- Nagroda St. Leger Warzaw (Sept) 2800 m N/A
    TY- Ankara Stakes Ankara (Sept) 2800 m 1950
    JP- Kikuka Sho (G1) Kyoto (Oct) 3000 m 1938
    CHI- St. Leger (G1) Santiago (March) 2200 m 1886


    The St. Leger may be the least known of the Classic races, but it is, in fact, the oldest. The first ever St. Leger was ridden at Doncaster in 1776. Thought up by Colonel Anthony St. Leger, a former member of Parliament, the race was meant to give the 3-year-olds their own race. Arranged by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquis of Rockingham, it was to be run in the autumn over a distance of 3200 meters.

    When the race was to have a name, someone suggested The Rockingham Stakes. The Marquis declined and claimed it should be named after his friend St. Leger, who had, after all come up with the idea. The first edition was won by Allabaculia, who was owned by the Marquis of Rockingham, while the second-placed horse belonged to St. Leger.

    The original distance of 3200 meters was later to be altered to 2937 meters (1 mile 6 furlongs and 132 yards), while it’s run over 2800 meters (1 mile 6 furlongs) in most other countries. Run at the back end of the season, it is nowadays a chance for the late developers to show their staying power. In this day and age, with breeding leaning more toward speed, many countries have found it necessary to open The St. Leger up to for 4-year-olds to secure a strong field.

    Run at the back end of the season, it is nowadays a chance for the late developers to show their staying power.

    As most of the world’s big races are run over distances between 2000 and 2400 meters, some, however, think that extreme staying merits work to the disadvantage of a sire. Long distance races have lost a bit of their status, and so has the St. Leger, though in England it carries a bigger purse than either the 1000 and the 2000 Guineas. In many of the big racing countries the real top notch horses tend to avoid the St. Leger and seek their fortune in the French Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe instead.




Palio di Siena

The beginning of racing as we know it

Enrico Querci Enrico Querci, Thinkstock

Two times per year the medieval city of Siena in Italy explodes in a symphony of horses, riders and colors in a way that can make the Derbies of today seem like tea parties for grandmothers.

Horses representing the city’s  17 districts, known as the Contrade, fight for the Palio—and have done so for hundreds of years.

It is impossible not to feel that this is the origin of horse racing as we know it. The starting line, the round track, the silks… even the infield.

Nothing is new under the sun.

The Palio is usually held twice a year, on July 2 and August 16.

However, in honor of special events the Sienese community can elect to hold a third Palio.

Enrico Querci from Pisa loves the Palio. Here is his portrait of an event that can only be painted with passionate words:

Two times per year the medieval city of Siena in Italy explodes in a symphony of horses, riders and colours.
Two times per year the medieval city of Siena in Italy explodes in a symphony of horses, riders and colours.

It’s not easy to write about the Palio di Siena. You need a lot of paper and ink to describe it, and still you are bound to forget something. The Palio is history, tradition, culture, passion. You can find hundreds of books about the background, the rules and the meaning of the symbols of the Palio, but to live the Palio you need to feel it deep in your heart.

It is a fantastic experience for your senses. You can’t learn all the rules and details before your first experience but you can remember the most important part: respect Siena and its people. For them the Palio is not simply a game or a race—it’s their life.


The Palio di Siena is a festival of colors. Each Contrada has its own colors, which are displayed everywhere: on coats of arms, flags, costumes of the parade and the lampposts in the streets of the historic center.

Most Contrade have one enemy and several allies. Contradaioli are loyal to their colors and detest those of their enemies. A person from Istrice Contrada (white, red, blue and black striped colors), for example, will never wear white, black and orange because these are the colors of their enemy, the Lupa Contrada.

Tourists are fascinated by these color combinations and buy scarves and flags in the shops of Siena according to their taste. Often they buy those of a Contrada which won’t even be participating in the Palio they are about to see. More on that later.

Like any tourist souvenir, you can buy these colorful scarves everywhere, but insiders know that only those belonging to the Contrada in which they are bought are official ones. The color schemes are most diverse and each of them has its own charm. It is impossible to say which is the most beautiful or the most elegant combination.

Ten horses will compete for the victory in each Palio.
Ten horses will compete for the victory in each Palio.

The symbols and mottos that characterize each Contrada grace the flags. The symbols are real or imagined animals or objects, while the mottos are like battle cries. Because the Palio must be conquered.

Public races organized by the Contrade became popular in the 14th century. When bullfighting was outlawed in 1590, they took to organizing races in the
Piazza del Campo. The first such races were on buffalo and then later on donkeys. The first modern Palio took place in 1656. The track is designed on the perimeter of the Piazza del Campo.
Hundreds of tons of dirt is put on the track and pressed.
The sharp bend of “San Martino” is downhill. The sharp bend of “Il Casato” is uphill. The “Bandierino” is the finish line, approximately in the same place of the Mossa.
The Palio is run over three laps of the track, and the total distance is about 1,200 metres (or 6 furlongs).

The sharp bend of “San Martino” is downhill.
The sharp bend of “San Martino” is downhill.


The Palio di Siena can be seen hundreds of times on television, but what the images can never accurately convey are its sounds: the anthems of the Contrade, the choruses, the sneers against the enemy.

The anthems are songs that accompany the movements of the popoli (the people belonging to each Contrada). They play when they arrive with the horses in Piazza del Campo for the trial races, when they go back to their Contrada, and at the rehearsal dinner in the streets the night before the Palio. Every occasion is a good excuse to sing. The first lines are sung by an individual while others then immediately join in to form a single powerful voice.

Public races organized by the Contrade became popular in the 14th century. When bullfighting was outlawed in 1590, they took to organizing races in the Piazza del Campo.
Public races organized by the Contrade became popular in the 14th century. When bullfighting was outlawed in 1590, they took to organizing races in the Piazza del Campo.

It sounds like a football game in the Serie A or Premier League, but with the fans of 10 different teams in the same arena. It’s not hard to understand where Italian football fans got the inspiration for their chants and flags.

The drummers and trumpets are the beat and the melody of the Palio. Piazza del Campo has the shape of a large shell and acts as a resonance board during the parade that precedes the race, while the chimes of the bells strike and thousands of people chant their war songs. Each time they fire a mortar—and you know it’s going to happen—it surprises you and makes you jump all the same.

A historical parade is held before the race.
A historical parade is held before the race.

The most striking sound, however, is an unusual one that materializes as soon as the Mossiere (the starter) receives the envelope which contains the secret order of entry. It is an eerie silence that descends on the Piazza del Campo.

You can almost hear the tearing of the envelope, while not a sound is heard from the 65,000 people present until the Mossiere calls the first Contrada to the mossa (the starting line).

Now there is a roar let out by the people of this lucky Contrada, for the first position, near the rail, is the best for a good start.

Then, immediately, there is silence once again—but a little less than before—in order to hear the name of the second Contrada. When only two horses are left, there is one last call informing everyone which horse will enter with the others. The last horse will start “di rincorsa”—or running from outside the ropes.

It gives a real “and they’re off” feel to the Palio because only at that precise moment does the Mossiere drop the starting rope.

The most beautiful sound of the entire Palio, however, can only be heard during the morning trial races. There are fewer spectators in the Piazza del Campo, and you have to stay close to the track to hear it: the muffled sound of the hooves. It is the canter that does not raise dust and which is music to the ears of those who love this race.

One page draws the Contrada while the other draws the horse.
One page draws the Contrada while the other draws the horse.


The Palio is a mixture of skill, strategy and luck. Put these ingredients into the blender that is the shell-shaped Piazza del Campo, shake well and what is served is the winner of the Palio.

A lottery determines which horse will run for each Contrada. Because the field consists of 10 horses, not all 17 Contrade can take part in the Palio on any one occasion. However, the seven that did not take part in that month of the previous year are automatically included.

It is impossible to quantify to what extent the abilities of the captains of the Contrade affect the outcome of the Palio, as it also depends on their ability to weave relationships during the year and during the days of the Palio itself.

You need a lot of good fortune to win the coveted Cencio (the Palio’s nickname): a good position at la mossa, a favorable race and above all, a fast horse. A good horse is the object of desire: he is the protagonist, and he is the one most loved and pampered by his people.

A horse who loses his jockey in the Palio can still win, but a jockey without a horse can’t. Therefore, one of the key moments if one hopes for victory is the draw of the 10 horses that the captains have chosen four days before the Palio.

A lottery determines which horse will run for each Contrada
A lottery determines which horse will run for each Contrada

The draw has the sanctity of a religious function. The Mayor of Siena shows all the tickets that bear the numbers of the horses and the names of the Contrade before inserting them into anonymous capsules. Two young pages place them into two transparent ballot boxes at the two ends of a long table. One is for the Contrade, the other for the horses. One page draws the Contrada while the other draws the horse.

Therefore, the true architect of the victory of one Contrada over another is the page who draws the horse. The boy is 11- or 12-years-old. He is serious, taken by his role, and he isn’t acting. Nobody knows his name, his Contrada, or what colors are painted on his heart.

He is spontaneously serious, measured, staid. One wonders why they have chosen him for the drawing, and why he has to draw the horses’ names instead of the Contrada. The Palio is in his hands, and, perhaps, he knows it: he is Fate.

He extracts the first capsule, and he brings it to the mayor, who opens it and shows the people the name of the horse while reading it aloud. The page, however, has already returned to the urn. Not a smile, not a grimace, as the names are drawn and the match with the Contrade formed.

The Chiarine (trumpets) that had opened the ceremony, play again to say, “The drawing is over, now it’s time for the Palio.” The impassible pageboy leaves the stage. Not a hint of his emotions is visible even though the tension has lifted. These moments will remain burned in his memories. He was the Fate of this Palio.

Colors, colors, everywhere.
Colors, colors, everywhere.


After the morning draw, the Contrada’s people come back home with their horses, their idols. Horses are precious and irreplaceable because while the jockeys can be changed until the last minute, horses can’t.

The Barbaresco (the Contrada’s head lad) lives with the horse 24 hours a day, meaning he sleeps with the horse as well. Time runs fast in the following three days.

You can watch the trial races in Piazza del Campo each evening and morning, where jockeys try their horses on the sharp track. After the “provagenerale” (the evening before the Palio) you can breath the atmosphere of the Contrada rehearsal dinner. While is for the people of Siena, it is possible for the tourists to take seat!

The day of the Palio is unbelievable, and one event follows the other, hour by hour. The Jockeys’ Mass in Piazza del Campo is celebrated by the Bishop of Siena. The last trial race takes place. Then there is the dressing of the people participating to the historical parade.

Young Medieval Princess, during the historic parade of the Palio.
Young Medieval Princess, during the historic parade of the Palio.

The blessing of the horses takes place in the Contrada’s churches and chapels, with horses walking into churches that sometimes are so small only a few tens of people can assist the ceremony. The priest always says to the horse after the blessing “Go! And come back as the winner!”

The priest always says to the horse after the blessing “Go! And come back as the winner!”
The priest always says to the horse after the blessing “Go! And come back as the winner!”

You hear the murmuring of the people and then their roar, but only when the horse is out of the church.

The historical parade goes through the town and into Piazza del Campo. The crowd, the sounds, the colors begin to overtake you. The horses come out from the entrone, or the court where they stay before the race.

There are 65,000 people on hand who each love ONE of the Contrada and it’s horse. Not because they bet on it or because they like the colors, but because it’s their life, their family, their honor. As it has been for hundreds of years.

In an explosion of passion they’re off, taking turns that most modern race horses would not be able to navigate. Jockeys ride bareback while sporting the colors of their Contrada. People are on all sides. The rules are few.

The horses and riders circle the Piazza del Campo, on which a thick layer of dirt has been laid, three times. It is over quickly.

It gives a real “and they’re off” feel to the Palio because only at that precise moment does the Mossiere drop the starting rope.
It gives a real “and they’re off” feel to the Palio because only at that precise moment does the Mossiere drop the starting rope.

For a Contrada with an inferior horse and slim chances of winning, the major goal might be to make sure its enemy Contrada does not win. More often than not, a jockey falls off. Usually several of them do. It doesn’t matter. Unlike most racing, a horse wins if it crosses the line first, with or without its jockey.

The victorious horse becomes an immortal hero as the Palio is given to the winning Contrada. Its members cry for joy.
The victorious horse becomes an immortal hero as the Palio is given to the winning Contrada. Its members cry for joy.

The victorious horse becomes an immortal hero as the Palio is given to the winning Contrada. Its members cry for joy. They lead the horse and jockey through the narrow streets of Siena to their home quarters, where celebrations last until the last of the Contradaioli run out of song and wine.

The other nine that made it to the race cry in desperation and walk home in silence…unless they happened to beat one of their arch rivals. That is almost as good a reason for celebration.

This is the Palio di Siena. The four-day fest that takes a year to plan.

Singing is a key part to the celebration.
Singing is a key part to the celebration.

PALIO: the trophy for the winning Contrada. It is a banner of painted silk, which is hand-painted by a different artist for each race

CENCIO: nickname of the Palio

CONTRADA/CONTRADE: Siena has 17 neighborhoods. There are allies and enemies. Usually a Contrada has one enemy and more allies, but Torre Contrada is the only one to have two enemies (Oca and Onda), while Bruco, Selva, Giraffa and Drago don’t have any enemies.

CONTRADAIOLO/CONTRADAIOLI: people and supporters of each Contrada

TRATTA: the drawing of the horses four days before the Palio

BARBERO: generic name of the horse that runs the Palio

BARBARESCO: generic name of the lad who stays day and night with the horse of his Contrada in the four days of the Palio

PROVE: trial races before the Palio. There are six of them, and the most important is the second to last, the evening before the day of the Palio. They run at 9 a.m. and at 7 p.m.

CARRIERA: nickname of the Palio race

IL CAMPO: nickname of Piazza del Campo, where they run the Palio

MOSSA: the start of the Palio

MOSSIERE: the starter

CANAPI: the ropes at the start

TRUE COLOURS – your design on your horse

Mats Genberg Photo Trevor Jones/thoroughbredphoto.com, Jon franklin,

Formula 1 cars. Soccer teams. Corporations. Everyone’s got identifying colours today. But the tradition of colours may be the oldest in horse racing. Racing authorities require that every horse owner registers a unique colour-and-pattern combination, called silks. It’s a tradition that was started more than a hundred years ago, and that goes back all the way to the knights.


IIn horse racing, all owners design their own unique silks, which are then worn by the jockeys riding their horses. You make up a colour and pattern, submit your silks for approval with the horse racing federation and wait for approval. If the silks aren’t already being used, you are normally approved and can have the silks sewn up.

You can have one pattern on the chest, another on the arms and a third on the cap. Stars, stripes, rhombi, polka dots and other patterns in different colours. The combinations are endless.

The most desirable are the single-coloured, distinguished silks, especially in the sport’s home country, England. In the UK (where there are auctions for sought after license plates!) there are auctions for the privilege to ride in certain silks in horse racing.

There are those who are willing to go far to get silks in the colours they really want their jockeys to ride in.

Susan Magnier, of the family behind the world’s leading breeding empire, Coolmore, is one of them. In 2000 at a Sothebys auction, she paid 69 000 pounds for the right to race in all pink silks!

When the British arrange auctions of attractive horse owner silks, you will see prices up to £69,000. That doesn’t include the silks as such, just the right to compete in them.
When the British arrange auctions of attractive horse owner silks, you will see prices up to £69,000. That doesn’t include the silks as such, just the right to compete in them.

Bear in mind that this wasn’t Ms Magnier’s first silks: she already had all-dark blue silks registered. The new pink silks are used only when she has two horses in race – a couple of times per year.

Auction program
Auction program

In 2005 the British Horse Racing Authority put bronze-coloured silks up for auction at Sotheby’s. The starting bid was GBP 60 000, and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s sons were willing to pay. The next year, all-grey silks were up for auction for the same amount, GBP60 000.

The auctioneer, Graham Budd, said: ”Each time single-coloured silks are on the market, the request is big. Some of the large horse owners have them, and it’s seen as prestigious to race in them.”

All this began in the early 1760’s, when it became mandatory to register your silks. In 1762 the Jockey Club in England registered 17 different silks, “to more easily be able to recognise the horses in races and even to prevent disputes to begin as a result of not be able to identify the riders.”

In 1766 the use of silks spread to “the Colonies” (now the U.S.A.), when the Philadelphia Jockey Club first registered silks.

Royal Silks

Some of the silks in the world have their own history.

In 1875 the Royal Silks were registered by Queen Victoria: purple jacket with red arms, golden strings on the chest and a black velvet cap with a golden tassel (the golden tassel Her Majesty’s idea). The silks are still seen often, as Queen Elizabeth II is a majoir horse racing enthusiast and owner.

The Queen Elizabeth II in True Colours

In 1788 the 13th Earl of Derby (called Lord Derby) chose his black silks with a white hat. These are still used by the Derby family. The silks actually are not only a black jacket with a white cap, but black with a white button and a white cap. Those details are not registered, but the button has a good story behind it: In 1924 Tommy Weston rode the Lord Derby’s (The 17th Earl of Derby) horse to victory in the English Derby. In that race he wore what appeared to be a white button on Lord Derby’s black silks: in a hurry, Weston had accidentally buttoned the jacket with his white scarf covering one of the buttons. Since that day, the button has always been part of the silks.

Military Influence

Horse racing had its western beginnings in the military: in that sense, uniforms were the de facto first silks.

In Sweden horse racing from its beginning was a sport for officers, and the riders wore their uniforms. By the late 1800s, special jockey silks began to appear and even here some where Royal. All black and a silver tassel on the cap belonged to Prince Gustaf Adolf, father to the current King Carl XVI Gustaf, during the 1920s and 30s, when he successfully rode jump races on his own horses. Prince Gustaf Adolf was actually the second-best amateur rider in 1930, with five victories in jump races!

Who has silks?

All horse owners must have a unique colour combination on their silks. And a combination of owners is considered a new owner. If, for example, Mrs Smith owns a horse, she has her own silks. If she owns a horse with her cousin Mr Jones, and the horse is registered with “Mrs Smith & Mr Jones” as owner then that “stable” must have its own silks, even if it’s only the colour on the cap that is different.

Designing silks is fun. Is a horse owned by a company that has a graphic profile? Are there any symbols or colours that have a special meaning to you? Are the colours you consider visible?

From a long distance, it can be difficult to see the difference between dark green, burgundy or marine blue. But pink and yellow might not suit everyone…

The combinations are plenty, even though there is now a European agreement that prevents too much creativity in the patterns. There’s still some variety: for coloured jackets, 25 different body details are available, plus 10 different patterns for the arms and eight different for the caps. You are also allowed to use any of 23 different colours in the creation of new silks.