Arts and Letters was Born Noble

The recent impressive maiden victory by Born Noble has given us a reason to tell the story of Arts and Letters, a horse who was very important in my life at a time when I was at a crossroads and needed to find a direction. ~ Steve Haskin

Arts and Letters Was Born Noble 

By Steve Haskin


The word was out early on the 2-year-old colt Born Noble, another member of Todd Pletcher’s annual juvenile juggernaut. No matter how brilliant they are first time out, some make it and some don’t, so look for the intangibles as much as statistics such as time and margin of victory.

In the case of Born Noble, the son of Constitution is owned by Vinnie Viola’s St. Elias Stable and West Point Thoroughbreds, which has had a knack in recent years for partnering up on top-class horses.

Purchased as a yearling at Keeneland for $725,000, Born Noble showed those intangibles in his December 30 career debut at Gulfstream when he drew off to an impressive victory despite racing very greenly in the stretch. But there is plenty of time to discuss him in detail when the Derby Rankings begin on January 22. Right now we admit to be using his pedigree not only as a major indicator of his speed, class, and extreme stamina, but as a portal to the past when horses did things they surely wouldn’t be asked to do today, but still went on to win classics, championships, and get elected to the Hall of Fame.

First off let me say that Born Noble’s third dam, Rokeby Rosie, is a half-sister to the $3 million earner and Hall of Famer Silverbulletday, winner of such major races as the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies, Kentucky Oaks, and Alabama Stakes. But the key word here is Rokeby, the name of Paul Mellon’s powerful breeding and racing empire that produced so many top-class horses and champions in the 1960s and ‘70s and all the way into the early ‘90s. Among those were Belmont and Travers winner Quadrangle; Hall of Famer and Horse of the Year Fort Marcy; champion 3-year-old Key to the Mint; Kentucky Derby and Travers winner Sea Hero; Coaching Club American Oaks winner Summer Guest; Marlboro Cup, Travers, and Whitney winner Java Gold; the legendary Mill Reef, winner of the English Derby and Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe; and the horse we are here to write about, Horse of the Year and Hall of Famer Arts and Letters.

You see, Born Noble’s fifth dam, Rokeby Venus, a daughter of Quadrangle, happens to be a half-sister to Arts and Letters, whose dam, All Beautiful, was carrying him in foal to Ribot when she was sold to Mellon for $175,000 at the Foxcatcher Farm dispersal at Timonium. Mellon bought All Beautiful, a granddaughter of Man o’ War, to be bred to the great Sea-Bird, who had just retired following his dominating victory in the 1965 Arc de Triomphe and was heading to Darby Darn Farm, the home of Ribot. Although All Beautiful’s Sea-Bird filly, Bell Bird, won only two of 28 starts, Mellon got far more than he could ever have hoped for from All Beautiful’s Ribot colt, who he named Arts and Letters.

I have written a number of columns about Arts and Letters and his memorable Triple Crown campaign, his epic battles with Majestic Prince, that amazing 1969 crop of 3-year-olds, and Arts ad Letters’ heartwarming friendship with fellow Belmont Stakes winner Stage Door Johnny at Greentree Stud and then Gainesway Farm. Both lived into their ‘30s and were inseparable, with each one holding the title as oldest living Belmont winner.

But this column goes beyond the bare facts of Arts and Letters’ career, and delves deeper into the talent, toughness, and fortitude of this little 15.2-hands giant of a horse.

I am also taking this opportunity to reveal just how important Arts and Letters was to my life. Having left the world of Wall Street at age 22 for good and with no other career to turn to it was Arts and Letters who kept my spirits up by giving me something or someone to care about and take my mind off my seemingly empty future, while fueling my obsession for horse racing that began two years earlier. Because he was by Ribot, the sire of my beloved Graustark and his full-brother later to be named His Majesty, both of whom I visited twice at Darby Dan Farm in 1969, I fell in love with the then unknown Arts and Letters and actually started my first ever scrapbook on him, clipping out every mention of him.

During those uncertain times in 1969 I became immersed in that year’s Derby trail, then the Triple Crown followed by my visit to Saratoga to see Arts and Letters run in the Jim Dandy and his Horse of the Year showdown with Nodouble in the Woodward Stakes, which he won by two emphatic lengths. Seventeen days later, still riding high from the victory, and 11 days before Arts and Letters cemented his year-end honors with a 14 length romp over Nodouble in the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, I was hired as a copy boy at my racing bible, the Morning Telegraph, the main edition of the Daily Racing Form, with the intention of becoming the assistant librarian, which I did shortly after.

The reason I was hired in the first place was due to my love of Graustark, a story I told in a previous column. Moving into the library surrounded by horse photos, Racing Manuals, bound volumes of the Telegraph going back over 100 years, and other publications was a dream come true and the ultimate kid in a candy store scenario. The longshot odds of getting hired at the “Telly” and during the peak of Arts and Letters’ success just added to my love of the Rokeby colt, who got me through those trying nine months and who I have always felt contributed in some way to the turning point of my life.

After a year I became the librarian when my boss moved to the advertising department and the rest as they say is history. If I hadn’t been promoted to librarian I surely would have been back on the street, as were all the non-essential employees when the “Telly” shut down in 1972 and moved to Hightstown, New Jersey as the Eastern edition of the Daily Racing Form.

So now that we have that aspect of Arts and Letters’ importance on my life out of the way, let’s look and see who this remarkable colt really was.

** First off, let’s acknowledge the fact that Arts ad Letters in the winter of his 3-year-old campaign stood a mere 15.1 hands. Despite a hard Derby trail campaign, competing in the Everglades, Flamingo, Fountain of Youth, Florida Derby, and Blue Grass Stakes and finishing first or second in all of them, he put on weight and by late summer had grown to around 15.2 hands, still diminutive by Thoroughbred standards.

** Following two gut-wrenching stretch battles with Majestic Prince in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, in which he had a new jockey in Braulio Baeza after regular jockey Bill Shoemaker was injured, trainer Elliott Burch ran him right back 13 days later in the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap against older horses even though he would have to change riders again, going to Jean Cruguet, with Baeza committed to ride Ogden Phipps’ 1967 2-year-old champion Vitriolic.

** In the Met Mile, Arts and Letters came from 10th to win going away by 2 1/2 lengths over Nodouble in a swift 1:34 flat, closing his last two quarters in a spectacular :23 2/5 and :23 1/5. With the Belmont only seven days away and coming off a fast mile race, Burch worked him five days later. Despite having to go 1 1/2 miles in two days, Arts and Letters blazed a half-mile in :45 1/5 after three furlongs in :33 4/5 and then galloped out five furlongs in an insane :57 3/5, pulling up six furlongs in 1:11 flat. Two days later he demolished Majestic Prince by 5 1/2 lengths, running the fastest final half-mile in Belmont Stakes history. And, amazingly, he was only starting to get good.

Arts and Letters, inside on rail, draws away in the 1969 Belmont Stakes with Majestic Prince three-wide.

** Burch , who had won the Belmont Stakes with Sword Dancer and Quadrangle by using the Met Mile as a prep, knew his horses, and always claimed Arts and Letters was his toughest horse ever and knew how to take care of himself, sleeping when he needed to and running and training hard and fast when he needed to. As Burch said, “The more he trained the more he put on weight.”

** He showed that trait again in the 1 1/4-mile Woodward, coming off a 10-length romp in the Jim Dandy Stakes and a 6 1/2-length score in the Travers, in which he equaled the track record. Before the Woodward, which was to decide Horse of the Year, Arts and Letters worked six furlongs in 1:12 2/5, then seven furlongs in 1:24 flat. Three days later he worked a mile seven days out in 1:36 2/5. Then two days before the race he worked another sizzling half in :45 4/5, out five furlongs in :57 3/5 and was pulled up six furlongs in 1:10 3/5. The Woodward was never in doubt as he charged past Nodouble to win by two lengths in 2:01.

** With his stamina, the two-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup, again facing Nodouble, looked to be a mere formality. A week out, Burch, wanting to put more speed in him to keep him closer to the speedy Nodouble, worked him a mile in a slow 1:38, out 1 1/8 miles in 1:51 4/5, but had him cut out fast early fractions of :47 and 1:11 3/5. To demonstrate what it was like to train Arts and Letters, two days before the race Burch not only worked him six furlongs in 1:13 2/5, out seven furlongs in 1:27, he vanned him from Belmont to Aqueduct for the work because he felt the colt was “getting bored with things at home.” Afterwards he said Arts and Letters seemed to enjoy the change in scenery. Two days later he cantered home by 14 lengths in the Gold Cup.

** What is most amazing about Arts and Letters’ consistently fast works close to his races is that he was able to maintain them and his durability all year. He worked before the Flamingo Stakes in :45 3/5, :58 1/5, out in 1:10 flat and worked five-eighths in :58 2/5 before the Florida Derby. He then went on to romp in the Blue Grass Stakes, missing the track record by two-fifths of a second, finish second by a neck in the Kentucky Derby and second by a head in the Preakness, both gut-wrenching stretch battles, and win the Met Mile and Belmont Stakes, all five races in the span of six weeks. Oh, yes, in the two weeks between the Derby and Preakness he worked a half-mile in :47 3/5 the Saturday before the race and six furlongs in 1:11 flat the Wednesday before the race.

** To demonstrate his versatility he won the Blue Grass Stakes on the lead, won the Belmont and Jockey Club Gold Cup coming from second, won the Woodward and Jim Dandy coming from third, won the Travers coming from fourth, won the Everglades and Grey Lag coming from seventh, and won the Met Mile coming from 10th.

** At 4, carrying 128 pounds in the Grey Lag Handicap, he turned certain defeat into victory with a dramatic late burst to nail the swift and classy Never Bow, making up five lengths inside the eighth pole. He was then sent to Hollywood Park for the Californian Stakes as a prep for of all races the Grand Prix de Saint-Cloud in France. But he bowed a tendon in the race and was retired, putting an end to the most memorable and tumultuous time of my life that began thankfully with a newly discovered hero to help me through nine months of unemployment, no skills, and a foreboding future.

Arts and Letters proved so popular that NYRA vice president of public relations Pat Lynch said on Jim Dandy day, “I haven’t seen that many people around a horse since Native Dancer ran here. He is a horse people come to see.” Ten days later the crowd around Arts and Letters’ saddling tree for the Travers swelled to 10-12 deep, unlike anything seen before at Saratoga.

As I sit here 55 years later following a very special Christmas with my still beautiful wife of 43 years, my wonderful daughter and her husband and my two precious grandchildren, I have to thank a 2-year-old colt named Born Noble for giving me a reason to open up an old scrapbook and pay thanks to a special friend who kept me going long enough for fate to step in and guide me the rest of the way.

Photos Courtesy of Steve Haskin, New York Racing Association


Racing historian, author, and award-winning retired journalist for the Daily Racing Form and The Blood-Horse, Steve Haskin was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame’s Media Roll of Honor in 2016. Known for his racing knowledge and insightful prose, he has been an exclusive contributor to since 2020.



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94 Responses to “Arts and Letters was Born Noble”

  1. I just put a small futures bet on Born Noble

  2. Lynn Taylor says:

    I remember arts and letters quite well. Thanks for mentioning the workouts. It’s mind-blowing how fast they were and how often. Wow!

  3. Lynda King says:

    California Chrome is now number 1 on 2nd crop sires list.
    He probably will not stay there but it is something he never would have achieved had he stayed in the United States.
    His progeny is doing very well on turf.
    One of his colts that brought only $12,000 at auction here just won a race in Dubai on dirt.
    Not much would make me happier in horse racing than for his colts and fillies to show his potential as a sire that the Blue Blood elites said he would never do.

    • arlingtonfan says:

      Hooray for Chrome! Glad to hear this news. I’d love to see him prove them wrong, too. From time to time, I follow the career of his Chrome Baby, whom I saw as a foal at Taylor Made. No stakes wins as yet, but he’s a respectable 6-4-2 from 19 starts to date.

  4. Bill Dawson says:

    My top 15 KD contenders for this week, (1-15)

    Fierceness remains a strong #1, with the remaining 14 in no particular order of preference.

    2) Track Phantom
    3) El Capi
    4) Otello
    5) Otto the Conqueror
    6) Merit
    7) Sierra Leone
    8) Carbone
    9) Snead
    10) Legalize (new addition)
    11) Catching Freedom
    12) Knightsbridge
    13) Locked
    14) Honor Marie
    15) Real Men Violin

    On a side note, I expect Track Phantom to win the Lecomte by open lengths.
    Safe trips to all.

  5. Matthew W says:

    Hey Steve, did Conquest Warrior make up some lengths INTO that :22 4/5 second quarter? And did you get a resemblance to a giant three year old named Forego?..

    • Steve Haskin says:

      Very much so. Definily one to watch

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Just now watched the video — twice. What a gutsy horse. AND his fourth dam is the great runner Althea, who beat the boys in the Arkansas Derby and Del Mar Futurity. Two crosses of Alydar in his fifth generation, which pair up nicely with two crosses of SECRETARIAT.

  6. Matthew W says:

    Steve and co…..Fierceness looked really good yesterday! TOYED with Locked, who was being urged to keep up late—and I love Locked, but WHAT do we have with Fierceness? He was walking in the park, with a good horse at his withers .. .

    • Nelson Maan says:

      Yes Matthew … anyone watching the joined workout will certainly think that Fierceness is way above Locked capabilities.
      Fierceness was 6 lengths better than Muth and 7 lengths faster than Locked in the BC Juvenile… this edge appears to be holding so far … l

      Without seeing their previous workouts (in company) I can not say that Locked just had a bad training day yesterday but the son of Gun Runner will anyway take different qualifying path from Fierceness’s.

      Fierceness’ conections were close last year with champion Forte and it seems they are well on route to vindication this time…

      • Matthew W says:

        I’m still bullish on Locked! Anytime you see a horse getting urged, in his work you can be sure he’s getting a lot out of it —and remember…Locked is a closer type, and was “playing Firceness’s game”, in their team work …I like them both !..

    • Davids says:

      … It’s a long way to the Kentucky Derby
      It’s a long way to go
      It’s a long way to the Kentucky Derby
      To the sweetest race I know!
      Goodbye Piccadilly
      Farewell Leicester Square!
      It’s a long long way to the Kentucky Derby
      But my heart’s right there…

  7. Bill Dawson says:

    A field of eight will contest the G3 Lecomte Stakes at the Fair Grounds, on Saturday, 1-20. I like Track Phantom, recent winner of the Gun Runner Stakes, to come right back for his connections, and win the Lecomte. He’s a Breeze Easy homebred colt, trained by Steve Asmussen and will be ridden by Joel Rosario. In four career starts, he has two wins, a place and show, with ascending Equibase Speed Figures, (78,93,94, 100).
    By Quality Road, out of Miss Sunset, by Into Mischief, there’s plenty of class and a good mix of speed and stamina in his pedigree. His dam, Miss Sunset, was a graded sprinter, winning close to 900K, in 20 career starts, (20: 10-3-2)
    Horses bred from the Mr. Prospector sire line, crossed with Northern Dancer broodmare sire line, always gets by attention.
    Track Phantom is certainly a colt to watch moving forward on the Derby trail, IMO.

    • Nelson Maan says:

      I will give Nash a vote of confidence to turn the tables on Track Phantom.

      Also, Can Group (Good Samaritan – Blue Gallina by Street Sense) looks to be threatining presence in the closing stages of the Lecomte.

      The Mark Casse hopeful ran very well in the BC Juvenile Turf after winning the Bourbon convincingly … he may find the dirt to his liking as the trainer has been successful transitioning his prospects to the main tracks…

  8. Matthew W says:

    Shug’s Conquest Warrior looked great today…overcoming a sandwich break, traffic….when hit he took off and won! Announcer said he had three bad take-ups, I saw zero take-ups, but this is a large, talented racehorse ….

    • Matthew W says:

      Announcer called it “Three severe checks”, which might have been overstating it some, but a nice win!…

      • Davids says:

        Ha ha Yes, a bad break then your usual problems in US races but Conquest Warrior did look impressive on winning. Matthew, there’s one for you to follow.

    • Bill Dawson says:

      One thing to keep in mind is that El Capi beat Conquest Warrior by almost 10 lengths in their maiden race, back in December.
      El Capi is one of my top 15 colts moving forward on the Derby trail.
      But yes, Conquest Warrior made an impressive close to win today’s race at GP.

      • Matthew W says:

        And Bill, I’ll give you one thing to keep in mind—that Dec 2nd surface at Aqueduct was bizarre! Inside speed won everything all day, it was rolled and fast—Id need to see El Capi do that over a fair surface, before considering his performance 10 lengths better than Conquest Warrior’s, I’ve seen too many of these “spectacular” performances over rolled tracks, to get excited about the easy winners …