11/10/2011 8:30PM

Blue Larkspur - 'last photo made before death'


I love perusing old books, magazines, newspapers.  I lose myself in the musty smell and feel of their worn, aging pages.  I wonder who perused the pages before I did and how much time will pass before some other researcher will leaf through them.  Days? Years? Decades?

And if an old article about some dusty horse of history includes a photo?  The horse becomes real.  I can feel him snorting, fussing, galloping around his paddock.

One of the wonderful old images I obtained from James W. Sames III was a portrait of Blue Larkspur.   Its negative holder, simply, reads, "last photo made before death."

What power those few words hold!  Was it the last photo anyone ever took of Blue Larkspur, or the last taken by Sames?  As Mr. Sames dove headfirst into photography in 1947 – the year Blue Larkspur died – it could easily be the former. 

Because of that one portrait, with its description, I felt compelled to learn more about the horse peering back at me from the photo.

Below are a few excerpts and miscellaneous notes - from old magazines, newspapers and books - about the horse many considered the best that the great Colonel E.R. Bradley ever bred.

Blue Larkspur, bay horse, foaled March 23, 1926

                    Starts     1st     2nd     3rd

1928 (age 2)       7        4        1        1       

1929 (age 3)       6        4        1        0      

1930 (age 4)       3        2        1        0      

Totals                16       10      3        1 

Stakes won:  Juvenile, National Stallion, Saratoga Special, Withers, Belmont Stakes, Classic, Stars and Stripes Handicap, Arlington Cup.  Earnings $272,070.


From the book The Great Ones (Kent Hollingsworth/The Blood-Horse, 1970):

Blue Larkspur, best horse in the crop of 1926, was good at two, a champion at three, and after bowing a tendon, a top handicapper at four.  Best of the 127 stakes winners bred by Col. E.R. Bradley, Blue Larkspur is remembered today particularly as a broodmare sire, and famous producer Myrtlewood is among his daughters...

..."Blue Larkspur was the better horse (than Bubbling Over) beause he had worlds of speed, yet you could rate him and come from behind,” Olin Gentry said.  “He could go a mile and a half, or maybe three miles, and he was easliery handled.”  Gentry said Bimelech, another Bradley champion which failed in the Kentucky Derby, was “a wild man” in contrast to Blue Larkspur’s gentle demeanor...


From the book Racing in America, 1922-1936:

It has been complained by prosaic persons that Colonel Bradley…has a defective color sense; in proof of which they cite the fact that Black Toney and his son Black Servant are not black, but brown, while Blue Larkspur, a son of Black Servant, is a handsome bay.  These are rather problems of aesthetics than of racing; and the saying that a good horse is always of a good color applies admirably to Blue Larkspur. Few better ones have been seen in American in modern times and few handsomer ones, his color included.  His sole point open to criticism was his inability to stand wear and tear, and this quite possibly was due to nothing inherent.

…Blue Larkspur was a deep, rich bay, with black points, whole colored, not a tall horse, of extreme elegance at all points, with a lovely head, fine neck, oblique shoulder, round but not deep barrel, and good bone.  His action was indescribably easy and buoyant, his speed terrific and he could go a mile and a half.  He was never lucky.  Had he been he would have done tremendous things...


Abram S. Hewitt, renowned racing historian, mentioned in his priceless book Sire Lines that, of his many stakes winners, Colonel E.R. Bradley bred two Hall of Famers: Busher and Blue Larkspur.  Blue Larkspur was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957.

"The author well remembers his impression of Blue Larkspur as the colt walked onto the track, combining power, quality, and a calm temperament." Hewitt wrote.

And in regard to the Belmont Stakes, Hewitt wrote that, "the author had a good look at him in the saddling enclosure and was shocked to see that his ankles were so enlarged that they suggested midget-sized bowlig balls.  One wondered if he could get the 12 furlongs, not so much because of his pedigree, but because of his apparent physical condition."


Blue Larkspur was ranked #100 on The Blood-Horse's list of the top 100 racehorses of the 20th century.


Blue Larkspur began his career on May 17, 1928, in a Belmont allowance race in the Widener Chute.  He ran third in that 4 1/2-furlong sprint at odds of 10-1.  The following week, he broke his maiden by a nose at even-money.  His third start was the Juvenile Stakes, also in May.


From the May 31, 1928 New York Times:


With a prize of $17,750 dangling before his eyes at Belmont Park yesterday afternoon, Blue Larkspur kicked up his heels at the post as drops of rain began to fall and was off like the wind to win the Juvenile Stakes for E.R. Bradley’s Ide House Farm Stable….

Blue Larkspur, with Barnes up, had no desire to make a close race of it.  He wanted to win the prize and never leave any doubt in the minds of his owner and his backers as to the result, for he beat George D. Widener’s Jack High, the best youngster in the Widener barn by a length and a half…

The backers of the Black Servant colt, however, were few and the priced receded from 10 to 1 to 12 to 1….


Blue Larkspur ran next in the National Stallion Stakes, winning after an adventurous trip by a head.  The highly promising Jack High ran third.  It was then on to Saratoga....


From the August 12, 1928 New York Times:


…It was the third time Blue Larkspur has beaten Jack High and despite the courage of the latter the victory has finally satisfied racegoers that Bradley’s colt is the better….


In reference to Blue Larkspur's Saratoga Special victory, the book Hoofprints of the Century includes:  "…the victory was a popular one and in a fashion stamped Blue Larkspur as the undoubted juvenile champion at the time."  August 28, 1928


From a September 2, 1928 New York Times article about Thoroughbred names:

The most popular of the juvenile race horses this season is Blue Larkspur.  And the secret of success in gaining the favor of racegoing individuals is not entirely the result of his brilliant record nor his striking appearance, for every time Edward R. Bradleys’ colt goes to the post you will hear in the paddock, clubhouse, grand stand and on the lawn:  “What a pretty name!”  …

Blue Larkspur is one of the now famous “B” horses, a group which includes Bubbling Over…Bagenbaggage…and Black Servant.  They are so called because of the fixed policy of Mr. Bradley in starting the names of all his thoroughbreds with the first initial of his own.  Blue Larkspur is well chosen in view of the fact that he is a son of Blossom Time.  …


Next for Blue Larkspur was the Futurity.  As Abram Hewitt wrote in Sire Lines: "Blue Larkspur could have gone into winter quarters regarded as the champion colt of his age if he could have won the Futurity, but in a field of 24 he was kicked at the post, way away poorly and hever had much chance.  High Strung won the climactic juvenile test, as Jack High was third and Blue Larkspur was unplaced...."

One article mentioned that Blue Larkspur pulled up on three legs.


From the February 25, 1929 New York Times:

Blue Larkspur Rules Favorite In Kentucky Derby Winter Books

The extraordinary interest which has been excited by this year’s Kentucky Derby has created unusually heavy betting… 

Now quoted in the Winter books at 6 to 1, this son of Black Servant and Blossom Time last year was the favorite for the Hopeful …and the Futurity…and won neither.

There are those who think he will not win the Derby, but Colonel Bradley, his owner, has seen his horses run one, two in the Derby on two occasions and is so sure of winning a third time that he has offered to bet $25,000, horse for horse, Blue Larkspur against any other entrant in the race.


April 25, 1929 Daily Racing Form:


Lexington, KY... Contrary to previous announcement regarding the campaigning of Blue Larkspur, E.R. Bradley's favorite in the future betting on the impending Kentucky Derby will make his bow as a three-year-old in an allowance race at one mile and seventy yards here tomorrow...


Blue Larkspur's return at three was a successful one.  In a mile-and-seventy-yard event, in late April in Kentucky, Blue Larkspur beat Clyde Van Dusen by a neck. 


From the May 14, 1929 New York Times:


Kentucky Derby candidates that have a liking for sloppy going received an opportunity to add to the confidence of their backers in the morning trials at Churchill Downs today.

An impressive workout by Blue Larkspur, the Derby favorite, and Bay Beauty over the half mile course was the feature…  This seemed to set at rest any doubts that the two colts from the Idle Hour Farm Stables can run in the mud and brought expressions of relief from their backers…


From the Daily Racing Form of May 18, 1929:

When Edward R. Bradley's Blue Larkspur reeled off five-eighths in 1:00 this morning there remained no doubt of his entire readiness.  "Dick" Thompson, who fitted the son Of Black Servant and Blossom Time for this most prized of all his engagements will not see the running, but a radio has been fitted there up in his sick room and he will follow the progress of the running in that fashion.


Blue Larkspur, for all of the hopes of E. R. Bradley, did not win the 1929 Kentucky Derby.  His famed trainer, 'Derby Dick' Thompson, was in the hospital suffering from appendicitis, and his stable neglected to put mud caulks on Blue Larkspur.  With the Churchill track an unusually sloppy, sticky mess on Derby day, Blue Larkspur struggled home in fourth behind Man o' War's gelding son Clyde Van Dusen.


From the May 19, 1929 New York Times:

Will Ship Blue Larkspur Tomorrow for the Belmont

… Blue Larkspur was ruled favorite in three of the greatest races on the American turf, none of which he has won….  Yet it is the opinion of many that he will be well played in the Belmont, where he will meet his old rival, Jack High.


May 21, 1929 Daily Racing Form excerpt:

Competent judges were agreed that Blue Larkspur, the favorite, was at a big disadvantage in the mud and water of the track.  They noted that he "rolled'' and sprawled in the going and considered his finishing in fourth place a noteworthy performance brought about entirely by his gameness.


From the May 31, 1929 New York Times:


…HAILED CHAMPION BY 30,000….  Races Mile in 1:36 to Lead Smartest Field of 3-Year-Olds This Season. 

Thirty thousand persons hailed a champion yesterday afternoon and his name is Blue Larkspur.  Few horses have ever accomplished what this colt did in the stretch at Belmont Park when he made up four lengths in three-sixteenths of a mile, overhauling two of the greatest 3-year-olds of the year, Chestnut Oak and Jack High.

The great closing dash of Blue Larkspur brought him to the line in 1:36, the fastest mile that has been run at Belmont Park since Cherry Pie sent the record at 1:35 2-5 in 1923. …


From the June 9, 1929 New York Times:


Soundly Beats Crack Field in Mud to Clinch 3-Year-Old Crown…

Blue Larkspur, pride of the Blue Grass country of Kentucky, clinched the 3-year-old championship on Belmont Park’s muddy track yesterday when he soundly whipped the best lot of horses of his age that have been brought together this year. …

The master of Idle Hour Farm led his colt back to the paddock while an admiring knot of admirers ran along behind the mud-covered horse and the bespattered Mack Garner, who wore a broad grin as he sat atop what he called the best horse he has ever ridden.


From the June 10, 1929 Daily Racing Form (it seems the writer was a big fan of the term "son of Black Servant," as he mentioned it four times in this excerpt):

Blue Larkspur, Edward R. Bradley's magnificent son of Black Servant and Blossom Time, left no doubt of his being champion of the three-year-olds when, in a magnificent performance and over a muddy track not to his liking, he was home the winner over the trying one-mile-and-a-half route in the historic old Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park today. It was in a measure a repetition of his wonderful finish in the Withers Stakes and he added just $59,650 to his winnings. It was Richard T. Wilson's African that chased the son of Black Servant home, only beaten by a narrow margin, while George D. Widener's Jack High, rated as the greatest rival of the son of Black Servant, was third, as he was in the running of the Withers Stakes. 

After the finish, the August Belmont Memorial Cup, a trophy, presented by the widow of the former chairman of The Jockey Club, was presented to Mr. Bradley with appropriate ceremonies by Raymond Belmont. It was a great day of racing and the Belmont Stakes had a great renewal with victory that makes it harder than ever to believe Blue Larkspur was beaten in the Kentucky Derby. The going resembled that of Churchill Downs for the running for the Kentucky prize, but the son of Black Servant, though he did not stride as though he liked the footing, had courage enough to fight his way through to a victory in 2:32 4/5, remarkably fast time for the track condition...


From The Great Ones (Kent Hollingsworth, 1970):

Blue Larkspur was “again kicked at the start” of the Belmont Stakes, “his leg filled after the race, and he ran a high temperature for three days.”


June 15, 1929 Daily Racing Form:


E. R. Bradley, owner of Blue Larkspur, had fully intended shipping his crack colt to start in the American Derby after his Belmont Stakes triumph, according to a verbal message to Col. Matt J. Winn, sent by E. R. Bradley. The message was conveyed by Phocion Howard, who informed Mr. Winn that Mr. Bradley regretted the failure to ship the colt here. The causes for him not coming was that Blue Larkspur, in addition to numerous cuts about his hind legs, suffered injury to his left eye by the lodgment of a pebble in it during the running of the Belmont Stakes. It was late Monday night before the optie could be opened and the pebble removed. Blue Larkspur showed a temperature of 101 the following day and it was then definitely decided not to ship the colt here.


From the June 29, 1929 New York Times:

…With victories in the Withers and Belmont behind Blue Larkspur there are few who will concede a chance of victory to any other horse despite the fact that the son of Black Servant will carry top weight of 124 pounds and will be conceding from seven to fourteen pounds to the others….


From the July 14, 1929 New York Times:


Blue Larkspur exploded the myth that he couldn’t run in heavy going when he scored a magnificent victory in the first running of the American Classic at Arlington Park today….  Tonight the 3-year-old crown of the American turf nestled securely on the handsome head of the bay son of Black Servant and Blossom Time and the happiest man in America is Colonel E.R. Bradley, who owns Blue Larkspur and who never lost faith in his crack colt, even when the mud of Kentucky cost Blue Larkspur the blue ribbon classic of the country (Kentucky Derby)….


From the July 16, 1929 New York Times:


The title of champion 3-year-old of America is not enough for Blue Larkspur and his owner, Colonel E. R. Bradley.  The all-age title is their next goal.  …  Three 3-year-old stakes and four all-age races are on the program…the Travers…the Lawrence Realization…the Latonia Championship...(and the) Saratoga Cup, the Hawthorne Gold Cup, the Lincoln Handicap and the Gold Cup at Belmont….


From the August 4, 1929 New York Times:


3-Year-Old Champion Bows a Tendon in Morning Workout at Saratoga.  Injury May Prevent Bradley Colt From Becoming Greatest U.S. Money Winner.

…This mishap doubtless will cost him the distinction of being the greatest American money-winning horse, as his opportunities as a four-year-old will not be nearly as rich as his three-year-old chances…  This son of Black Servant and Blossom Time is considered by Coloney Bradley to be greater than any horse he has bred with the exception of Bubbling Over….

The accident to Blue Larkspur brought consternation to the Bradley Stable and every effort was made to immediately arrest the consequences of the cuffing the colt gave himself during the drill.  …

He was shipped to Saratoga and was to run today (in the Miller) in preparation for more serious efforts, the Travers Midsummer Derby and the Seneca.


June 28, 1930 Daily Racing Form:


Blue Larkspur, the three-year-old champion of last year, was the most distinguished addition to Arlington Park's thoroughbred colony - now swelled to more than 1,000 horses of various ages and classes - from the East yesterday.  The coming of that son of Black Servant and Blossom Time this year was not the occasion of as much hurrah and whoopee as his advent last year aroused.  He had won a Withers and a Belmont last spring and had foraged this way to clinch his claim to the American three-year-old championship if he could, by winning the Arlington Classic. He was more in the spotlight than any other thoroughbred of American racing.

He hasn't started since the first Classic, in which he defeated Dr. Freeland, Windy City and Clyde Van Dusen, winners, respectively, of the Preakness and American and Kentucky Derby revivals, and is now lost in the shadow of Gallant Fox, the new three-year-old wonder.

As sound, apparently, as he was the day of his birth, Blue Larkspur has come back to try his luck in revivals of the Stars and Stripes and Arlington Handicaps and the Arlington Cup...


Blue Larkspur's first race at age 4 was not a winning one.  He ran second, "not pressed," in a nine-furlong purse at Arlington Park.  He gave 11 pounds to the winner, Fair Ball.  Then came the Stars and Stripes Handicap.


July 5, 1930 New York Times excerpt:


Arlington Park Time for Mile and Eighth Clipped 1 1-5 Seconds to 1:49 2-5....

Blue Larkspur, 1929 3-year-old champion of America, running one of the outstanding races of his sensational career, captured the $33,000 Stars and Stripes Handicap at Arlington Park today before 40,000 spectators, perhaps the largest crowed that has witnessed a race in Chicago since the revival of the sport four years ago. 

The 4-year-old...won by a half-length from Misstep...(who was) just a nose in front of Sun Beau...in a field of sixteen of the greatest handicap and stakes stars ever to face a barrier in the West...


A poem by 'Kildare' appeared in The Blood-Horse of July 19, 1930

Living up to our reputations

Is a thing a lot of us never do,

But on the Fourth our friend Blue Larkspur

Showed the world by coming through.

He’s living up to the same ideals

When at Arlington, a year a go,

He showed the best of our three-year-olds

How a good horse can really go.


The Stars and Stripes was a fitting title

For a great race, on a glorious day,

And the forty thousand there to see ‘em,

“Do their stuff,” were happy and gay.

To the best of the handicap division,

In a true run race, he showed his heels;

I guess the urge to be a champion

To a horse, as well as us, appeals.


To Jimmy Smith and trainer “Dick”

We must award a meed of praise,

And to Black Servant and Blossom Time,

That they such a sterling son should raise;

And to Ed Bradley, the happy owner,

May it be long years, e’re Gabriel's call,

Is heard, for his many friends can't spare him –

The noblest Roman of them all. 


Blue Larkspur's final start was the Arlington Cup, in which he beat more high-class horses, including Sun Beau.  The time, 2:03 4/5, was just a tick off the track record.


Then came the July 24, 1930 New York Times headline:  Blue Larkspur Has Breakdown; Fear Racing Career Is Over.  It relates that Blue Larkspur, training toward the Arlington Handicap, suffered a "serious breakdown" during a workout.  Trainer Thompson announced that the colt would be shipped to Kentucky, where he would most likely enter stud for 1931.


From Famous Racehorses of the American Turf 1930 (Volume 1)

...Bred by his owner…Blue Larkspur is a solid bay son of Black Servant out of Blossom Time, short-backed, with excellent shoulders, withers and gaskins….

… Blue Larkspur had a tendency to fight a boy if he took too short a hold on him, and therefore Col. Bradley always cautioned exercise boys and jockeys to give him plenty of rein…  (When he shipped to Saratoga in 1929, Johnny) Maiben took a cross rein on Blue Larkspur, and the horse, in fighting the short hold, struck himself.  When he cooled out afer his gallop, he showed a bowed tendon which necessitated his retirement for the year.

Once a horse suffers such an injury as a bowed tendon, it is impossible to correct it and bring him back to the races in as good condition as he was in before and train sound.

At the end of August he was shipped back to Idle Hour and permanently retired.  He will take up stud duties there in the spring at a fee of $1,000 and his book is already full.


On May 7, 1947, a New York Times headline read Blue Larkspur Dead at 21, with a small paragraph about his passing.  Not every Thoroughbred's death makes the pages of the Times.


May 7, 1947 Daily Racing Form:

Stallion Blue Larkspur Dies of Heart Attack

LEXINGTON, Ky., May 6.—Robert J. Kleberg's 20-year-- old stallion, Blue Larkspur, whom he acquired in the disposition of the Idle Hour Stock Farm holdings of the late Col. E.R. Bradley, died here this afternoon at Greentree Farm of a heart attack. The son of Black Servant —Blossom Time, a noted cribber, had been ailing for the past several days and, although given the best of care, failed to pull through. Regarded as one of the best horses bred at Idle Hour, Blue Larkspur accounted for the Arlington Classic, Withers and Belmont Stakes and gained outstanding success as a sire. Listed among his progeny were Myrtlewood, Bloodroot, Best Seller, Revoked, Our Page and Bonnet Ann. Particularly was his offspring in demand at the yearling sales where in 1945 six youngsters sired by him brought a total of $208,500, for an average of $34,750, almost twice as much as the next highest average.


Judge's Stand, by Charles Hatton – published in the Daily Racing Form of May 10, 1947

We learn that Blue Larkspur was bred to 13 mares this season, before he died of an heart attack out at Greentree Farm, but it is a bit too early to be sure how many of these producers he got in foal. Most of them belong to Bob Kleberg, who obtained Blue Larkspur in the division of the Idle Hour horses last fall. The noted sire has been buried in front of the pagoda at the finish line on the private track at Idle Hour, where the late Col. E. R. Bradley used to stage charity race meets for the orphans of Kentucky. Kleberg has acquired this portion of the farm, which is called the "Patrick Place,"and we believe that he plans a suitable marker for Blue Larkspur's grave. Possibly Assault will stand there when he is retired, as his sire, Bold Venture, is at the King Ranch. If you are curious about it, La Troienne was not bred to Blue Larkspur this season, but was mated with Shut Out. 

(The Thoroughbred Heritage site, www.tbheritage.com, lists Blue Larkspur's plot as unmarked)


Blue Larkspur lives on today through his countless excellent descendants.  From Edwin Anthony's book The American Thoroughbred, Volume I:

"Belmont winner BLUE LARKSPUR has had a profound impact on American pedigrees.  He is inbred to the family of Raise a Native, and these 2 important stallions are combined in the pedigrees of Leading Sires Alydar and Mr. Prospector, who are in turn combining successfully with one another in the pedigrees of modern G1 winners.

Blue Larkspur was the prototype of what the Thoroughbred is meant to be - leggy, sleek, athletic, and agile.  He has passed these admirable qualities on to descendants like...Buckpasser...Damascus...Hail to Reason...Nijinsky II...Seattle Slew...and Storm Bird.


Edward L. Bowen also extolls the virtues of Blue Larkspur in Legacies of the Turf (Volume 1):

...Not one of Bradley's four Derby winners was his best horse.  Black Servant, "upset" by Behave Yourself, sired one of the best in Blue Larkspur...  

He was an exceptional sire, getting forty-four stakes winner (15%).  His worth as a broodmare sire was remarkable and lasting, for his daughters included blue hens such as Myrtlewood, Blue Delight, and Bloodroot, whose influences resonate in Thoroughbred breeding today...."


From THE GREAT ONES (Kent Hollingsworth, 1970):

Authoritative Turf historian John Hervey termed Blue Larkspur “the most beautifully gaited runner we have seen in 40 years and more.”

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More about Blue Larkspur, which includes photos: Blue Larkspur

Blue Larkspur's Hall of Fame page: National Museum of Racing, Hall of Fame, Thoroughbred Horses