The Days of Iron Horses

It is the 1960s. Horses retiring at the age of 3? Unheard of. Champions retiring with 10 career starts or fewer? Are you kidding? We’re not here to discuss the comparison between horse racing now and then. We are here just to bring to life the horses of a bygone era and what they were capable of. So sit back and relax and enjoy a time when horses did something they were put on this Earth to do – race. ~ Steve Haskin

The Days of Iron Horses

By Steve Haskin

So Essential Quality is retired after only nine starts. What’s all the fuss? Like this hasn’t become the natural order of things in Thoroughbred racing? We are all aware by now that “breed to race” has been pretty much replaced by “breed to breed.”

Yes, racing’s theme song could easily be, with apologies to the Clancy Brothers, “Johnny, We Hardly Knew Ye.”

We should be used to it already. We hardly get to know the majority of our male champions, especially with so many Kentucky Derby winners being whisked off to stud. A major part of racing was always about older horses running in handicap races. Now the only thing handicapped is the sport itself; handicapped by the unfamiliarity of our classic horses and major stars.

The last six Kentucky Derby winners (prior to question mark winner Medina Spirit) have averaged a grand total of nine career starts, with only one of them returning at 4, and that was for only two starts. The first 11 Triple Crown winners averaged 30 career starts. Just as a point of reference, the last two Triple Crown winners made 11 and six starts, respectively.

But rather than bemoan the fact that we rarely get to know our classic horses and majority of our 2-year-old and 3-year-old champions, let’s simply inform the newbie racing fans just what it was like when our top horses actually had a racing career and we got to know them as our Saturday heroes.

A warning, however, a good deal of what you are about to read may disgust and repulse you and give you the urge to hang trainers of the past in effigy; or maybe literally. But this column is not about what is right and wrong; it is about how dramatically the sport has changed. Just be aware that the horses you will be reading about all flourished and had safe, sound, and productive careers, many of them actually getting stronger the more they raced. And they became like good friends we looked forward to seeing almost every week.

I certainly am no expert on equine anatomy in terms of whether it is better for horses to race or spend most of the year in their stall, but I have no recollection of witnessing a single major star breaking down until Ruffian. You had to go back to 1959 when Black Hills broke down in the slop in the Belmont Stakes, and that was an extremely rare occurrence. I never gave injury a second thought before a race. Now, my first priority is just hoping everyone returns safely.

So, now that I have prepared you as best as I can for your trip in Mr. Peabody’s Wayback Machine (us oldtimers will remember that), let’s go back, not so much way back, but back to the 1960s and meet some of the true iron horses of racing. And, please remember that no horses were injured during the filming of this movie, so hold back your wrath and just enjoy reading about what Thoroughbreds were, and perhaps are, capable of doing, even in the most extreme cases.

Let’s begin half a century ago with a colt and a filly, whose names were Carry Back and Cicada. Carry Back made his career debut on January 29, 1960 and Cicada made her career debut on February 23, 1961. So what, many horses make their debut in the winter of their 3-year-old campaign. The only difference with Carry Back and Cicada is that they were 2-year-olds, and both debuted going three furlongs. Carry Back actually made 13 starts and still hadn’t raced as far as six furlongs, while Cicada raced 10 times before stretching out to six furlongs.

At the end of their 2-year-old campaigns Carry Back had made 21 starts and Cicada had made 16 starts. Carry Back raced at least once every month from January to November, including three times in March, July, and August, and four times in October. Cicada raced at least once in every month from February to October with the exception of April, but made up for it by running on May 17, 25, and 30 and June 10, 19, and 28.

How much did such a ridiculously long and hard campaign take out of them as babies? Carry Back got better as the year went on, closing out his 2-year-old campaign with victories in the Garden State Stakes and Remsen Stakes and then went on the following year to win the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, then the following year equaled the track record winning the Met Mile in 1:33 3/5, soundly defeated the great Kelso by three lengths in the Monmouth Handicap, and won the Whitney under 130 lbs. He concluded his career with 61 starts and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1975.

Despite her February debut, Cicada won eight stakes at 2, rattling off consecutive victories in the Schuylerville, Spinaway, Matron, Astarita, Frizette, and concluding the year with a 10-length victory in the Gardenia Stakes. Despite such an arduous 2-year-old campaign, Cicada went on to win the first two legs of the Filly Triple Crown, the Acorn and Mother Goose, before getting beat a half-length by Darby Dan’s great stayer Bramalea in the 1 ¼-mile Coaching Club American Oaks. Before that, Cicada was beaten a nose by the eventual even-money Kentucky Derby favorite Ridan in the Florida Derby and then won the Kentucky Oaks by three lengths. After running in the Delaware Oaks, Delaware Handicap, Alabama, and Travers, she was so knocked out she defeated the best older fillies and mares in the country in the Beldame Stakes, then the following year won four stakes, on dirt and grass, retiring with 23 victories in 42 starts and finishing in the money 37 times. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1967.

Another filly in the 1960s, Straight Deal, got a late start at 2, debuting in September, but made up for it by racing 22 times at 3, 20 times at 4, 22 times at 5, and 22 times at 6, concluding her career with 99 starts. She won major stakes on both coasts at a time when Eastern horses rarely went to California. She actually made seven consecutive starts at Santa Anita from December 1965 to March 1966. In her career, she ran against colts 12 times, finishing third in the Whitney and third behind the great Damascus in the Aqueduct Stakes. She ended her career at age 7 making 17 starts in a seven-month period. As a broodmare, she produced six horses who made more than 20 starts, four of whom made over 35 starts, including three stakes winners and one grade 1 winner.

New York racing had its share of Saturday heroes who became like dependable friends week after week, but none, with the possible exception of Kelso, could match California’s hero Native Diver.

The California-bred gelding raced until he was 8, running in an amazing 76 stakes, 69 of them in succession. He carried 130 or more 10 times and won the Hollywood Gold Cup at age 6, 7, and 8. He made 13 starts at age 8, finishing in the money in 11 of them, with one unplaced performance coming in his only career start on grass. After getting beat five times by Pretense, who became the sire of Sham, he got his revenge in the Hollywood Gold Cup, defeating his rival by five lengths in 1:58 4/5, one fifth off the track record, in the 80th start of his career.

In 1959, T.V. Lark made his career debut on February 20 as a 2-year-old and would race 14 times that year before going on to a long fruitful career, in which he made 72 starts, winning or placing in 28 stakes on grass an dirt, while racing all over the country from coast to coast and winning stakes from seven furlongs to 1 ½ miles.

Not all iron horses of the ‘60s were defined by the length of their career. Damascus gained his reputation as an iron horse by racing 16 times as a 3-year-old and getting stronger with each race, nailing down Horse of the Year honors with a 10-length demolition of Buckpasser and Dr. Fager in the Woodward Stakes. But it was as a 4-year-old that he demonstrated his toughness and resilience and his ability to improve with racing by finishing third to Dr. Fager in the 1 ¼-mile Suburban Handicap in a track-record equaling 1:59 3/5 under 133 pounds, finish third in the 1 ¼-mile Amory Haskell Handicap after a troubled trip under 131 pounds and giving 15 pounds to the winner, and then defeating Dr. Fager in the 1 ¼-mile Brooklyn Handicap under 130 pounds in a track-record 1:59 1/5, which still stands, all in the span of 16 days. That’s three 1 ¼-mile stakes, all carrying 130 pounds or more, and setting a track-record in the last one, in just over two weeks.

When we think of long winning streaks in top-class company in the past 25 years, we think of Cigar and Zenyatta, whose streaks spanned over a period of three and four years. But how about Buckpasser, who won 15 consecutive races over an 11-month period, 13 of them as a 3-year-old?

Another filly who began her career in January as a 2-year-old was Affectionately, who, like Straight Deal, was trained by Hirsch Jacobs. She wound up running 13 times at 2, winning the Fashion, Polly Drummond, National Stallion Stakes, Astoria, Sorority, and Spinaway. She would go on to race until she was 5, winning 28 of 52 starts, finishing in the money 42 times, and winning the Vagrancy Handicap under 137 pounds. That victory came two races after finishing third to Gun Bow and Chieftain in the Met Mile. She had previously defeated colts in the Vosburgh and Sport Page Handicaps. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1989.

No discussion of the 1960s would be complete without mentioning Kelso. Rather than rehash his 63-race career, let’s just say winning five consecutive Horse of the Year titles is a feat that not only will never be equaled, it will never even be approached. After his retirement, many New York racing fans were heard saying “It just won’t seem like Saturday without Kelso.”

Some other champions of the ‘60s were Gamely (41 starts), Gun Bow (42 starts), Lady Pitt (47 starts), Mongo (46 starts), Nodouble (42 starts), Roman Brother (42 starts), Tosmah (39 starts), and the indefatigable Parka, who was claimed for $10,000 and went on to race 93 times, closing out his career at age 7 with consecutive victories in the Kelly-Olympic, United Nations, and Long Island Handicaps.

Let’s go one year before the ‘60s and one year after the ‘60s. In 1959, Round Table completed an amazing 66-race career that began in February as a 2-year-old going three furlongs. He would go on to race 22 times as a 3-year-old alone, become the first ever great horse on both dirt and grass, win stakes at 11 different tacks all over the country, carry 130 pounds or more to victory 17 times, and equal or break 16 track records. He would then become one of the most influential stallions of the 20th century and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1972.

In 1970 and ’71, racing fans witnessed arguably the most exhausting Kentucky Derby campaign ever. The plucky little Jim French hit the Derby trail in late December of his 2-year-old campaign having already crammed 11 races into a four-month period, racing four times in November alone, including a victory in the Remsen Stakes.

Then the real racing began.

—On Dec. 26, he engaged in a thrilling stretch duel with Sir Dagonet to win the 1 1/16-mile Miami Beach Handicap at Tropical Park.

—Two weeks later, he just got up to win the 1 1/16-mile Dade Metropolitan Handicap at Tropical by a nose, carrying top weight of 125 pounds and conceding 10 pounds to the runner-up.

—Eleven days later, now at Hialeah, he dropped back to six furlongs and finished a fast-closing fourth in the Hibiscus Stakes, beaten only 1 1/4 lengths by the brilliant Executioner.

—He was back two weeks later, coming from 10th at the top of the stretch to win the seven-furlong Bahamas Stakes by a head, with the regally bred His Majesty third.

—Two weeks later, he was beaten a head by His Majesty in the 1 1/8-mile Everglades Stakes, but was disqualified to fifth for bearing in down the stretch.

—Like clockwork, he was back in the gate two weeks later, coming from 19 lengths back to finish third behind Executioner in the 1 1/8-mile Flamingo Stakes.

—Instead of waiting for the Florida Derby, Jim French not only ran 17 days later, he shipped up to New York, where he finished third to the early Kentucky Derby favorite, the brilliant Hoist the Flag, in the seven-furlong Bay Shore Stakes, run in a scorching 1:21.

—Just one week later, he was back in Florida, where he closed fast to finish third to Eastern Fleet in the Florida Derby, run in 1:47 2/5, just a fifth off the stakes record.

—Not content to wait for one final Derby prep or train up to the Derby, trainer John Campo put Jim French on a plane to California and ran him one week later in the Santa Anita Derby, which he won by 1 3/4 lengths in 1:48 1/5.

—Two weeks later, he was back in New York, where he rallied to finish a close fourth to stablemate Good Behaving in the Wood Memorial.

Nowadays, if a horse runs four times in four months it’s a lot. Jim French entered the grueling Triple Crown series having competed in 10 stakes at five different racetracks in a little over four months, traveling from New York to Florida, back to New York, back to Florida, to California, back to New York, and then the Kentucky Derby. Although most horses would have been totally wiped out by then, Jim French went on to finish a fast-closing second to Canonero II in the Kentucky Derby, third in Canonero’s track record-breaking Preakness, and a fast-closing second in the Belmont Stakes, in which he made up more than five lengths in the final furlong to be beaten three-quarters of a length.

Instead of being given a well-earned vacation following arguably the most ambitious Triple Crown campaign ever, Jim French amazingly was back in the starting gate two weeks after the Belmont, finishing a fast-closing fourth in the one-mile Pontiac Grand Prix (formerly the Arlington Classic) at Arlington Park. Following his first three-week “vacation” since the previous November, he shipped to California, where he finished second in the 1 ¼-mile Hollywood Derby, giving the winner, Bold Reason, 13 pounds. One week later, he was back in New York, winning the 1 ¼-mile Dwyer Handicap, conceding 12-15 pounds to the rest of the field.

In less than seven months, Jim French had run in 16 stakes from six furlongs to 1 1/2 miles, never finishing worse than fourth (except for his disqualification). During that time he competed at 10 different racetracks, made two round trip cross-country flights at a time when Eastern horses rarely flew to California for one race, and logged some 20,000 miles of traveling.

The rest of Jim French’s career reads like a crime and mystery novel, which has no bearing on this column. But he eventually wound up standing at stud in France and then Japan, where he left an indelible legacy as a sire and grandsire of classic horses. This year, his great-great grandson Bolshoi Ballet captured the grade 1 Belmont Derby.

Finally, we have to mention Secretariat’s underrated reputation as an iron horse. After setting track records in all three Triple Crown races and having to bounce back from a bad viral infection and 105-degree fever, he returned to set a new world record for 1 1/8 miles in the Marlboro Cup, finish second in the 1 ½-mile Woodward Stakes in the slop as a last-minute substitute for stablemate Riva Ridge without being trained properly for the race, and then set a new course record in the 1 ½-mile Man o’ War Stakes in his grass debut, all in the span of 23 days. Just 20 days later he concluded his career with a victory in the 1 5/8-mile Canadian International Championship. That is an aspect of Big Red’s career that has gone overlooked and often underappreciated.

This is just an example of what racing was like from the late 1950s to the early ‘70s when horses were sound, tough, and durable and thrived on racing. They earned their place in history over a period of time, and when they finally were retired they left us with years of memories, and we were happy to bid farewell to them knowing how much they had enriched our lives.

Yes, they became like friends to us. We as fans got to know them and were grateful for all they gave us. And racing was a better sport because of them.


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180 Responses to “The Days of Iron Horses”

  1. Matthew K W says:

    Time was not fast, I don’t think track was that fast– Smile Happy looked real nice yesterday! Professional! Went widest–out of kickback, out of trouble–lost much more ground than the favorite–Smile Happy could be the first Runhappy Derby contender!

    • EddieF says:

      For a brief time early last year, I thought that Nicky the Vest might be the first. Let’s hope Smile Happy stays happy and healthy and that he makes the jump from 2 to 3. He’s certainly looked like a racehorse in the first two starts.

    • EddieF says:

      LOL. I meant early THIS year.

  2. Coldfacts says:

    Some supporters this blog are often regarded as rude, myself included. What makes a post rude?

    A post that represents a personal attack should be offensive to the recipient and rightfully so. We are all adults and can agree to disagree in a respectful manner. A rebuttal post shouldn’t be viewed as an attack. Neither should a probative or enquiring posts. I contend there is never any attempt to offend. But offense is taken far too often where none is intended. There is never going to be wholesale endorsement of cherished viewed and opinions. Dissenting views are not offensive views.

    I recently specified that a poster must have been in a coma regarding a declaration he made. Was I being rude or did I just use an inappropriate word for impact? Asserting that someone was in a coma could be construed as rudeness. But at the time of optioning to use the word coma. I saw it as representing a long and/or protracted sleep and not a state resulting from a traumatic event. If had used the term ‘a long and/or protracted sleep. Would I have been viewed as rude? Highly unlikely! Does a particular word in a post makes the post and the poster rude? Probably! I could have chosen a different word in my post. Although rudeness was not the intent my word choice resulted in same. My bad!

    In a response to a post asserting that if the 2020 Kentucky Derby was rescheduled/postpone, the race would lose its relevance. I posted the definition of postponement and cancellation with a few comments. I was assessed to be rude for assuming the definitions were unknown. The KD biggest dirt race in the world for 3YOs. It has been around for over 145 years. The postponement and/or cancellation of the KD in a particular year, would in no way make it remotely irrelevant. Such an assertion required a state of supreme ignorance of the historic importance of the race. But I never included the aforementioned words in my post. I merely provided definitions, highlighted the historic importance of the race and enquired as to how such an assertion was made.

    I am not a rude person by nature. My written communication has apparently depicted me as having such a profile. Can a particular writing style inadvertently give rise to an incorrect profile? I think yes! What differentiates one writing style from another? I guess has to do with how one chose to communicate one’s views. I am no writer and always struggle to compose my posts, which are preceded by lots of deletions and rephrasings to avoid what can be perceived as offensive. But even my best efforts are at time not good enough to prevent same.

    There are some brilliant writers that support this forum. The likes of Nelson Mann and Sceptre are excellent writers who are very knowledgeable. I found it disturbing that the latter supporter was viewed as being disrespectful to other supporter of this space. What benefits would the supporter derive from putting other down? Criticism of the quality of some posts, mine included, is legitimate. Such criticisms serve to encourage the compilation of more substantive posts that will likely generate more meaningful debates. This can only make this space more informative.

  3. Nelson Maan says:

    Kenneth G. McPeek looking strong in the road for the Kentucky Derby with Rattle N Roll, Tiz the Bomb and with the best son of Runhappy so far with the name of Smile Happy… you oughta love his pedigree …!

    Convincing winning of the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes minutes ago.

    BTW Surprising good third for White Abarrio after a lot of traffic trouble…

    • EddieF says:

      Nelson, I’ve been waiting for Smile Happy to return to the track. I loved his debut, and all that I wanted to see today was a solid effort. He did that and MORE. And how about McPeek with two longshot debut winners at big prices? 2022 could be a McPeek year!

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Yes EddieF… I remember our chat about him … I reiterate my zeal for Pleasant Tap as a source of stamina.

        McPeek deserves the mantle of Roses after all his accomplishments with many great horses over a 36 year-career.

        • Coldfacts says:

          Be careful with your accolades. You might be accused of failing to acknowledge that Thoroughbred Racing in America is Bob Baffert’s world in which other exist at his pleasure.

          With the above stated. The likes of Wesley Ward and Kenny KcPeek are unique in their capability to select quality unraced youngster, albeit for different surfaces. Despite the excellence displayed by these two trainers. One trainer with a dark side is viewed as the face of Thoroughbred Racing. This despite having an abysmal record on turf.

    • Davids says:

      Yes Nelson, I think White Abarrio might be an interesting colt at Gulfstream Park up to 9f.; second with a better trip here.

  4. Matthew W says:

    I didn’t know Art Sherman by name, but I often had breakfast in the Los Al restaurant named Schwanie’s Place, and many times it was only Art and me…I usually has the huevos rancheros, Art liked tacos….We had many a talk about Chrome! He said Chrome was a tired horse, going into the Belmont, and he lamented the time factor, said they just needed a couple more weeks …he said they were ready for the Derby after the San Felipe, they didn’t have to run in the SA Derby, which was his best race as a three year old….he said Victor blew the ride, against Arrogate—-I disagreed, I thought they blew the prep race against Dortmund, getting caught in a 1:09 flat speed duel, Art said when he was told Chrome was staying in Europe, after finishing 2nd in Dubai—it was the biggest disappointment of his training career, and he came home in a state of shock…just a good, friendly guy, and a very good horseman! He was a noted claiming trainer, 20% wins…..who nearing his career end got to train a real good horse—and hit it out of the park!

    • Mike Relva says:

      Mr. Coburn also believes Vic blew ride…….. had dinner w/ him and his wife.

    • Lynda King says:

      Watched the replay several times and agree with Mr. Sherman that Victor did blow the ride in the stretch. He sent confusing signals to Chrome. As to the Belmont, Chrome threw his heart down on that tract. The injury he sustained at the start (which was worse than reported) resulted in Chrome not getting his usual good start to a race. He ended up trapped on the rail and in traffic and there was no way to the outside.
      Regarding England and being trained up for the Royal Ascot, that was a big mistake in my opinion that was made by the ownership. Chrome slept most of the first two weeks in England he was so exhauster. One thing he did learn in England however was to work more off his hindquarters, even Mr. Sherman mentioned that.
      I absolutely adore Mr. Sherman, wish we had more old school trainers like him still around. He is one of the last of a dying breed of horsemen. Wish him all the best in his retirement years!

    • Coldfacts says:

      It was alleged that Mike Smith blew the BCC on Zenyatta in her 2nd attempt at winning the big race. As a result, Blame never got the credit he deserved for emerging the winner.

      Bob Baffert was blamed for American Pharoah’s defeated in the Travers by Keen Ice. As a result, Keen Ice was seen as a winner by default.

      It was alleged that Victor Espinoza blew the BCC on California Chrome in his 2nd start in the big race. As a result, Arrogate, never got the credit he deserved for emerging the winner.

      All the above allegations were driven by unbridled emptions by members of fan clubs that were not interested in the real reasons their stars were defeated Emotion can cause distortion and inhibit critical thinking. When will these unsubstantiated claims end?

      If Mike Smith and Victor Espinoza were replaced on Zenyatta and California Chrome for the respective BCCs and they were likewise defeated. Their defeats would have been attributed to the replacement riders being unfamiliar with the two horses. Any unsubstantiated reason to ease the disappointment of a defeat.

      Over Zenyatta career she recorded many narrow victories whilst closing form the back of the field. The fact that she didn’t get up in time in to record yet another close win, was viewed as it should. Blame was the top-rated older male in the country. He was running at his home track. He wasn’t like the overmatched mares that Zenyatta feasted on for the better part of her career.

      California Chrome was soundly beaten in the PA Derby with Victor Espinoza aboard. He was comprehensively defeated by Shared Belief who finished the particular race in hand close home. Shared Belief was the best male of his generation. Arrogate was also the best male of his generation. Instead of blaming Victor Espinoza for CC defeat. Greater attention should have been focussed on who defeated him. It was an opponent compared to Mam O’ War.

      American Pharoah engaged in a duel for the better part of 8F with Frosted. This softened up the colt and Keen Ice was able get the better of him in what was their 4th meeting. Pace makes the race was totally dismissed and Bob Baffert became to fall guy for the loss. The same trainer that guided AP to the TC title.

      Aa racing fans we required to focus on the pertinent facts and apply critical thinking when assessing the reasons for the defeat of our stars. If fail to do same, we will continue to be driven by emotions. In so doing the discrediting of legitimate winners will never end.

  5. Lynn Taylor says:

    Of course I recall the ” iron” horses in your latest blog.Swaps roped me at age 10. He certainly wasn’t an iron horse.Secretariat did for my only horse racing buddie her 50s?
    . But u lament that only old people like horse racing?
    I think you are on the right track as far as longevity of careers goes.we used to expect our favorites to was exciting to look forward to their next race and we didn’t have to wait long. AND we got to actually find out who was best!over the LONG run.( Of course we could still argue the facts,but it was fun)so yes, it’s nice to go down memory lane,but, by your own admission u r singing to the choir.

    At the risk of sounding like a know-it-all I don’t recall reading much about injuries for these horses that you mentioned. Were they really stronger or were the injuries just not mentioned? Or God help us, were they “doped”? my point,and yours, is, they came back ! Yes it was a nice time. I loved that they raced and yes I never worried about a breakdown.

    The great ones or even the good ones like Jim french have to stick around for a while,then hopefully end their careers unfettered by scandal or injury.Or today just because they’re worth more at stud.that’s a high bar today.

  6. Davids says:

    Steve, your retrospective columns are always so gratifying and pleasurable to read. Like a wonderful film, you allow us to escape from the tedium and stresses of modern life, as the mind wanders back back to mostly joyful experience. I remember when your favorite horses seem to be competing every two to three weeks.

    Racing was a perfect pastime for those children fortunate enough to ride horses/ponies themselves. Replicating past glories as you drove Dr. Fager, Brigadier Gerard, Mister Hush onward to defeat Damascus, Mill Reef, Black Onyx. Not having to work, while having boundless school holidays you could read and reread pedigrees endeavoring to work why this sire to that mare. Racing magazines from England, US, and Australia arrived infrequently so checking the mail became a daily compulsion.

    Ah, back to reality. Computers were supposed to make life easier, bah!! In my twenties, I had a private secretary who sent out memos for me. Lol. Life has changed, at least you can see all the major races around the world as it happens. There are some positives?

  7. Matthew W says:

    Burnin Turf is 6-1, in the last race tomorrow, at Del Mar…..I hope to pay for Thanksgiving with him! Gobble, Gobble!

  8. Ms Blacktype says:

    To get back on topic, there ARE still iron warriors today racing at the top level, notably Pink Lloyd, who will retire at the age of 9 after Saturday’s Kennedy Road S. (fingers crossed for a safe journey).

    Canadian HOTY in 2017, Pink Lloyd won graded stakes in Canada five years running. (Graded stakes are relatively rare in Canada, since even top races are restricted to Canadian breds.) Perhaps his longevity stems from his late start: his first race came late in his 4-year-old year, after he’d had a chance to grow up.

  9. Tori says:

    It’s an amazing transformation in racing and unfortunate in that you can’t develop that following of these horses into 4, 5 year olds. No one wants to see injuries, but what would American Pharoah have been like as a 4 year old? The mares seem to race a little longer but I wish we could go back to some of the Derby Winners staying on and seeing what type of caterer they could have, while Gun Runner did not win the Derby, he was the Hero of 2017, just saying, would be nice to have them stick around, again such as Knicks Go, probably horse of the year and 5, or Firenze Fire and what he would do on the track, with being and receiving a “ savage act.”

    • Matthew W says:

      Top fillies race longer, because top colts are more valuable at stud, than on the track…top racing fillies aren’t necessarily more valuable than, say—a well bred gr3 winning filly….

  10. Nelson Maan says:

    One of the most fascinating aspects of the 60’s is the great number of Iron Ladies who left their indelible mark in that decade.

    Below are 26 mares from that decade who are also among the most celebrated mares of all time.

    Bowl of Flowers
    Dark Mirage
    Gallant Bloom
    Ta Wee
    Castle Forbes
    Gold Digger
    Queen Empress
    What a Treat
    Syrian Sea
    Gay Matelda
    Amerigo Lady
    Pink Pigeon
    Sweet Folly
    Mac’s Sparkler
    Straight Deal
    Desert Law
    Amerigo’s Fancy
    Queen of the Stage

    They ran a total of 990 races, won 360, with 190 seconds, 132 thirds with total earnings of $10,364,827 which represents $73,901,217 in money of the day.

    Cicada, Shuvee and Gamely were the most successful against males…!

    Each of these Iron Ladies merits a whole column dedicated to their accomplishments.

    • EddieF says:

      Good work, Nelson. I see quite a few names for graded stakes races there.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Thanks EddieF…

        If you take the average winning per horse you could see that they earned 2.8 Million of 2021 dollars…!

        Shuvee ($6.3MM mod), (Cicada ($5.6MM mod), Straight Deal ($5.2MM mod) and Tosmah ($4.3MM mod) are the leading earners in money of the day (mod)…

    • Davids says:

      You missed two of my favorites, Moccasin and Priceless Gem. Not too many ladies beat Buckpasser.

      • Jiffy says:

        Those are two very good ones. I would also like to add Lamb Chop, Primonetta, and maybe Bramalea.

        • Nelson Maan says:

          You are right Jiffy… Lamb Chop the first Stakes winner for Bold Ruler, Primonetta and Bramalea were tremendous runners. The latter developed a nice rivalry with Cicada…!

          You made me remember other Stakes mares like Waltz Song and Seven Thirty who also made headlines in the early 60’s.

        • Davids says:

          Spot on Jeffy, Primonetta was also Broodmare of the Year in 1978 – dam of Cum Laude Laurie.

          • Jiffy says:

            Yes, and while it’s not entirely relevant to her own career, she also had a nice full brother Chateaugay, who was my first favorite horse. We also mustn’t forget that Bramalea produced Roberto, which is no small achievement. And who knows what Lamb Chop might have produced if she’d ever had the chance.

          • sceptre says:

            Yes, David, and perhaps apropos to the expanded topic here, she was also dam of the elegant Prince Thou Art, Florida Derby winner, the horse I wagered on in the 1975 Derby I attended, who broke down in a workout and perished that same year.
            We’ll never know what might have been his contribution to the breed. I have, somewhere, movies I had taken of him as a weanling.

            • sceptre says:

              I feel compelled to add: How quickly we forget the countless numbers, stars, and lesser “stars” who have perished on the track. Trust me, as much, if not more broke down in the 50s, 60s, 70s, etc. as do now. And, if a Black Hills should be labeled as a “major star” then surely a Prince Thou Art deserves that description as well

              • Davids says:

                Hi sceptre, couldn’t agree more, unless you took a certain interest in a ‘minor star’ their notoriety vanished in the mist of time. I found some photos of Prince Thou Art, he is/was an extremely eledent colt. Did many of Hoist the Flag’s progeny have soundness problems? Sometimes you get the wrong impression but even harder to correct your error.

                I was thinking there were more breakdowns in the 60s and 70s, than now, but being young then it’s uncertain your memory is valid.

                • Davids says:

                  Sorry, I meant Hail to Reason above not Hoist the Flag.

                  • sceptre says:


                    The *Turn-To- line was/is not considered among the soundest, and that includes his outstanding son, Hail To Reason. They are, though, also known for great quality and talent and, not least of all, versatility. One could easily argue that their talent and speed and, often, size, may have, to some degree, exacerbated a relative brittleness, this belief magnified by the fact that both (above) had abbreviated careers due to injury. The *Turn-To line, in general, has proven to be among the most successful and enduring male lines- this, despite their reputation for unsoundness….Yes, it seems to me that there were a higher % of breakdowns in the 60s, 70s than now. Not easy to prove, though, as then there were little to no stats on such matters.

                    • Davids says:

                      Thanks sceptre, for the clarification and confirmation. Your description is exactly what I ‘thought’ and suspected. You’re right about the *Turn-To line resurgence. I remember reading, prior to the success of Sunday Silence and More Than Ready et al worldwide how precarious this line was actually in.

            • Jiffy says:

              I too was a fan of Prince Thou Art, and I had forgotten that Primonetta was his mother. That was a very illustrious family.

              • sceptre says:

                Also, full-siblings Maud Muller (Graustark-Priminetta) and Grenfall (broodmare sire of Shared Belief), and High Honors (Graustark son of Cum Laude Laurie). I was a great admired of all of them. Just by the bad luck of the draw, and not their genetic quality, the line now is nearly lost to the breed, and saddens me.

                • Jiffy says:

                  It saddens me, too. We’ll never know, but maybe things would have been different if Chateaugay had not been sent to Japan. He was a beautiful individual, and maybe he could have sired a son or daughter who could have helped preserve the line. But when we speak of that great family, we also need to remember Little Current, who won the Preakness and Belmont. John Galbreath always believed he would have won the Triple Crown if he hadn’t had a very rough trip in a huge Derby field. He was out of Luiana, a half-sister to Chateaugay and Primonetta. Granted, he didn’t do much at stud, but he should not be forgotten.

                  • sceptre says:

                    Believe it or not, and it’s quite distant now, but very likely the best and, perhaps, only chance for the name of Primonetta (and Banquet Bell) to live on in pedigrees into the future is through American Pharoah.

                    • Jiffy says:

                      I was not even aware that Primonetta and Banquet Bell were in his pedigree, and I had to look hard to find Grenfall’s name. But as you say, that’s due to time. I’m glad they’re there, and I think American Pharoah will be an important sire.

                      I remember when Bold Ruler was turning out loads of fantastic offspring, but today his major influence is not through his greatest offspring but through a rather obscure line–his son Boldnesian who sired Bold Reasoning who sired Seattle Slew. You never know.

                  • sceptre says:

                    In reply to your last (below- : it doesn’t all replies), and to shore up another: Look at Storm Cat. Yes, Giant’s Causeway has furthered the line Shamardal- Lope de Vega and, likely, Not The Time, but not many would have expected Harlan or Hennessy to, perhaps, carry more of the weight.

                    On a different point- I don’t agree with your assessment of Chateaugay. I knew him fairly well, was there for his Preakness, and saw him at Darby Dan fairly often. He couldn’t hold a candle to his full-sister Priminetta, looks-wise, and I never thought he had her ability. He was given opportunity for stud success at Darby Dan prior to being banished to Japan. He failed here, and there as well. Probably Swaps’ two best sons at stud were Laramie Trail (Argentina) and No Robbery. Really wish we would have kept Laramie Trail. He was a lovely horse, very well bred (Fall Aspen’s family), and had real talent.

                    • Jiffy says:

                      So true about Storm Cat and Harlan. In spite of his siblings, I never would have picked Into Mischief to become one of the top sires in the country.

                      As for Chateaugay, I admit I’m biased. I may have thought he was beautiful simply because I loved the horse, but I did think so. He may not have been great at stud, but he did sire True Knight, who ran with Forego and Secretariat and had a lot of impressive seconds, and at least one Japanese champion. I suspected he was sold at least partly because his owners already had his father and his mother and his sister, and he didn’t figure to add much to the gene pool that was already there. Unfortunately, True Knight wasn’t a great sire, either, and his line did not flourish. But for better or for worse, I still think there would be a better chance of the continuation of Banquet Bell’s line, at least mathematically, if Chateaugay had remained in this country.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Yes Davids… I missed those two and also other very good ones like Lady Pitt, Native Street, Natashka and Summer Scandal…

        I knew there were 30 in my list of iron ladies of the sixties…!

        thanks for your usual valuable aid there…

    • Ms Blacktype says:

      Wonderful list, Nelson! I so enjoyed reading everyone’s additions, too. Hard to pick a favorite on this list, but tops for me would probably be Gallant Bloom for the way she blew away the competition — winning one stakes by 19 lengths and another, the Delaware Oaks, by 12. My other favorites include Gamely and Shuvee. Remarkably, all three raced against each other.

      • Nelson Maan says:

        Thanks for your reply Ms Blacktype. It is indeed difficult to peak one among all those stars.

        And great names keep coming: Obeah and Rising Star were left out of the celebrity list…! also good Stakes winners were Spicy Living, Tona, Singing Rain, Plucky Lucky and Oil Royalty … the 60’s are like an infinite mine of golden mares!

        Shuvee and Gallant Bloom face each other four times with the latter winning 3 times. Gallant Bloom could not defeat males in her last two races though.

        It is amazing how Shuvee won two Jockey Club Gold Cup Stakes over the greatest stayers of the time.

        Tosmah was an exceptional miler who also defeated the best males in the richest Arlington Classic and in the J B Campbell Handicap.

        Ta Wee was an invincible sprinter…

        One of the motivations to register the Iron Ladies of the 60’s was to investigate their legacy in the breeding domain. I am still trying to finish that research.

  11. Diane Lepkowski says:

    Wow! Can’t thank you enough for taking time to compose this beautiful history. Great read- almost felt like a witness, and certainly wish I had been! Secretariat sparked my love of the sport as a high-schooler, and I’m glad to have learned of those who came before him.

  12. Lynda King says:

    Not relevant to this topic but I just read that Whitmore will be returning to Oaklawn after R&R with hopes to transition him into a track pony and that he will ready to lead the post parade for the inaugural Whitmore stakes in March 2022!!

  13. Abigail Anderson says:

    Hi Steve: I really enjoyed this column and the detailed treatment of the exploits of the mighty thoroughbreds and CNN perhaps most because even though it’s purpose was not to compare these earlier decades with today, it certainly provided insight into how the sport has changed over time. I find it fascinating to look at changes over the decades because they speak loud to different understanding, expectations and customs, as well as values and beliefs. And this masterful narrative sent me on a lovely, pensive journey. Happiest of Thanksgivings to you and yours, Steve.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      I appreciate that Abigail, thank you very much. Forgive any brain fog I may have but who or what is CNN other than a news station? I’m not good at deciphering things lie that. Lol. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving with your family, especially with that little cutie.

  14. Steve Haskin says:

    Just to let everyone know I will be away for Thanksgiving starting tomorrow morning, so I might not be able to respond to comments. I will when when I get back on Saturday or if I am able to on my cell phone. But I will be reading them. So if you dont hear from me until Saturday I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and to thank all of you for all your wonderful comments and support and making this an enjoyable place for racing fans to come and express themselves and just have a good time talking racing.

  15. Diane Kwolek says:

    Wow, Steve you’ve done it again ! What a great column about many of our equine heroes of the past. I consider myself fortunate to have seen many of these horses run. My favorites were Carry Back, Beau Purple, Ridan and of course Kelso. As kids we use to say if its Saturday Kelso must be running somewhere. I recently re-watched the 1962 Travers which turned out to be a match race between Ridan and Jaipur, Jaipur nosed Ridan at the wire but they did it in track record time. I believe the filly Cicada was also in this race. Thanks again Steve for bringing back so many wonderful memories of our champions of the past

    • Steve Haskin says:

      So glad you enjoyed it Diane, thank you. And thanks for reminiscing. I guess the vast majority of people who comment here are showing their age by remembering having seen these horses. I’m almost tempted to award a prize, like a racing book, to anyone who comments that is under 40, two books to anyone under 30, and five books to anyone under 20. That’s how desperate I am to get one young person to read and comment on these columns.

      • EddieF says:

        I never saw any of the horses you wrote about…in person or on live TV. Do I get at least a magazine for that?

      • Angela Whyland says:

        I am sort of a believer that older people draw in the younger. Just speaking personally, that’s by family still want to share the experience of being on the Porch at Saratoga, or against the rail or paddock, which is fine. It’s an event. There are also older newbies who come in through your columns. I’ve loved horses since I was quite young but always felt that racing was exploitive, too much money in the industry, which is troubled in other ways also. Your columns have made a believer of me. The issue of being read by younger readers is a bit different. I don’t have good answer there. Many younger people I know (in their late 20’s and early 30’s like my son) have really given up a bit on our world. Covid, Climate change, no politicians to trust, no certainty that if they have children there will be any kind of world for them. If I had anything to offer, it’s that they very much need a Seabisquit, Secretariat, Barbaro, Dr Fager and so many more.

  16. Matthew W says:

    I cannot talk about the 60’s, because I was not into the sport until the early 70’s, but it was sure great, driving into Hollywood Park, and seeing the marquee saying “Cougar Runs Today”….people loved their champions! I was a bit surprised, when I heard loud cheers for Medina Spirit—something I heard often, in the 70’s, they asked more, of the horses back then…and some answered the questions, some became legendary.

    • Steve Haskin says:

      So true, but you can still talk about the horses of the 60s without having seen them. You mentioned the cheers for Media Spirit. That is part of what my next column is about. Stay tuned.

  17. Lynda King says:

    Steve, because I love history your article inspired me to read more about these Iron Horses.
    This morning I stumbled on a article that was written recently about Kelso.
    I am hoping that my post with the web address will be allowed.
    A must read I think by anyone who truly loves this sport and these amazing horses of a bygone era.
    In one of your columns a few years back you said something to the effect that these horses often seemed to come around at a time when our country was in need of someone or something to cheer for.
    Yesterday was the 58th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy. The United States was in a Cold War with Russia. The 60’s also had the assassination of Robert Kennedy and Dr. King. There was both political and social unrest that manifested as the result of the Vietnam War.
    How very appropriate I think that we look back on the history and careers of these “Iron Horses”, all of which and even if it was only for a few moments in time, offered respite from all the woes and troubles that surrounded us.
    Again, thank you for this very timely article and these horses.

  18. Steve Haskin says:

    There have been a lot of comments and opinions about horses retiring early and why it is good or bad for the sport. All the comments are fine and cover a lot of issues. Nothing wrong with that. I alluded to the differences in the sport over the past half century as a prelude to the subject matter of the column. But what many people have overlooked or quickly forgotten is the main intent of the column. I will repeat what I wrote in the intro — “We’re not here to discuss the comparison between horse racing now and then. We are here just to bring to life the horses of a bygone era and what they were capable of.” Let’s not ignore the horses that are the focus of and inspiration for this column. We should appreciate what they did…for the fan and for the sport and not dwell so much on whether the sport is better now with so many lightly raced horses.The sport has changed, period. But this is a history column not a debate about two totally different eras. So you can continue to express your views, but try not to let them supersede the purpose of the column.

    • EddieF says:

      Steve, your column inspired me to find info and videos (if available) of some of those horses you wrote about that weren’t well known to me: first, Jim French, then Affectionately…now on to others. I’ll probably be finished by the end of the year.

      • Steve Haskin says:

        LOL. Good luck finding those. If you cant find much on old Jim, at least watch the Belmont stakes and the race he ran after such an insane campaign.

    • pro vet says:

      yet people are saying the breed is weaker…..blaming all sorts of things……no proof facts truth…… disagreeing or examples wanted……..great

  19. Coldfacts says:

    Thoroughbred Racing is more of a business than a sport for the great majority of owners. The desires of the racing public are irrelevant in the decision making process. Thoroughbred ownership comes with a low probability of achieving a break even point and an extremely high probability of suffering major losses for even the super wealthy.

    The modern day focus isn’t whether a top male thoroughbred is iron horse, capable of making 30 starts But rather the interest it is likely to generate from breeders. Every farm is on the lookout for the next potential super sire. Owners are aware of this scenario and it fits ideally into the the business aspect of thoroughbred ownership. Horses can make or
    break owners.

    The early retirement of top horses from powerful stables will always generate inevitable question. Why? For every successful horse associated with a top stable. There are dozens connected to the stable that are moderate to average and incurring losses. There is far more revenue that can be generated by a stallion. This additional revenue can be used to offset losses being inured by others in the operation

    On the subject of revenue a stallion can generate. Uncle Mo had an initial stud fee of $60,000. He covered 269 mare in his first season. Even if his paying mares and live foals amounted to 150. The revenue generated would be $9,000,000. Could Uncle Mo have generated additional purses to retire with career earning of $9M? He finished 3rd last finish in the BCC? . Why run the risk of further erosion of stud value?

    Is there evidence that horses decades ago were tougher than the modern day thoroughbreds? I contend no. Several factors contributed to horses making large number of starts. The purses and field size were significantly smaller. A top horse facing very little competition could easily feast on low hanging fruits without exerting much energy. Recovery time
    was significantly shorter as there as no Lasix that causes added depletion of electrolytes due to excessive urinations. The majority of races contested early in their careers were mostly below 7F. Native Dancer made 22 starts of which 9 were less than 7F and 1 at 7F. He never contested a routing race until after his first 8th start with none beyond 6 1/2F.

    The number of starts and iron horse profile, lost its significant and appeal long ago. Successful stallion Danzig made only 3 starts. His stud fee went through the roof as talented son Norther Dancer. Storm Cat made only 8 start and he commanded a fee as high as $300,000. Top sire Tapit made only 6 starts. He was not a iron horse as he appeared plagued with unsoundness issues. HIs progenies sell for millions. Current top sire Into Mischief made only 6 starts. His progenies can only be secured at premium prices.

    If breeder wanted Iron horse as stallions, owners wouldn’t be approached with stallion deals early in top horse careers. More time spent racing has its exposures. The modern day thoroughbred exist and race in a totally different environment. Even if they are irons horses, they are not required to display same. If large number of starts was of significance to
    breeders, owners would ensure greater longevity to the racing careers of top horses.

  20. Jiffy says:

    I too look back on the 60’s as the heyday of racing. In those days racing was more a sport than a business, and owners bred to race rather than to sell. The ideal was to breed an outstanding performer on the track and eventually retire him or her to the owner’s farm to produce more outstanding performers to run under the breeder’s silks. Ideally the horse was a lifetime investment and hopefully a multi-generational one. That’s a huge incentive for the thoroughbred to be good at both racing and breeding, and matings were planned accordingly. When owners breed to sell, if the yearling has fashionable bloodlines, looks good in the sales ring, and brings a good price, that’s all that matters. Of course, if he runs well, his future brothers and sisters will bring higher prices, but that’s still not the same as breeding to keep. The bloodlines that sell may not be the ones associated with stamina.

    Another difference between the eras is that in the 60’s, if you wanted to be Horse of the Year, the race to win was the Jockey Club Gold Cup, which then was run at two miles. The general line of thought was that if you couldn’t go two miles, you probably didn’t deserve to be Horse of the Year. That was a pretty good reason to breed for stamina. I don’t recall any milers getting the title in those days.

    I think we had more sound distance horses then because people wanted them that way. Now a lot of the incentives are gone.