01/11/2011 3:06AM

Of Bull Dog and moving history

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What is the purpose of a horse’s gravestone? Need the body lie near the stone that memorializes it, or is the headstone enough to mark the memory? Why is the thought of an unmarked grave disturbing, especially when the remains lie on lands being developed? If a horse has a soul, would not that spirit have flown from its vessel even before the backhoe’s work began?

 

I remember as if it were yesterday, although it was many years ago – just how many, I’m not certain. With directions scrawled on a piece of paper, graciously shared by a horse-racing historian named Linda Javid, I set out to find Bull Dog’s grave.  The lands, once owned by the world-famous Coldstream Stud, were now property of the University of Kentucky.

I parked my car on an old turnoff, climbed over a fence and made my way along a winding, single-lane farm road. A storm lay heavy on the air, and slate-grey clouds pressed down upon the seemingly forgotten spot. There was no one in sight. It felt as if there were no one else on earth.

The way was flanked, in spots, by wire fencing and tall thistles.  Some old round bales dotted the landscape.  An abandoned tower - a silo, or old water tower - was marked with graffiti that seemed out of place amid such serenity.  At a turn in the road stood an aging barn, its faded pale-yellow paint peeling.  A flock of sheep pressed up against a fence, absolutely fascinated by the passing explorer.  Good.  The directions had mentioned the sheep.

So then, it must be in the pasture up to the right. The directions said it was impossible to miss due to its size. And suddenly, there it was, a lonely monolith obscured by a grove of trees.  

Over another fence I went and across the pasture. The land was uneven, with holes that were probably home to gophers. I remember thinking it would be a bad place to break a leg.

Then, there I was, in the company of Bull Dog, one of the greatest sires in American history.  

Several things struck me. One was the beauty of the solitude, an absolute feeling that Bull Dog’s site was forgotten by anyone other than the woman who’d penned the directions and myself. Another was the size of the monumental stone - more than six feet high, its light grey tone glowed through the muted day. The immense pride Bull Dog’s connections felt for their famous stallion shone through, too. Engraved on the stone, in capital letters, was what amounted to a resume of the stallion’s accomplishments. A scroll accented the top.

A much smaller gravestone, invisible from afar, kept Bull Dog’s marker company. My Auntie’s simple epitaph recognized her as the dam of The Doge and John’s Joy. Bull Dog was the sire of both. (In addition to those major stakes winners, Bull Dog and My Auntie also partnered for a third stakes winner named Carolina Queen.)

Born in France, Bull Dog was a full brother to Sir Gallahad III. Sir Gallahad had won the French 2000 Guineas, several other major races, and, upon his importation to the United States in 1926, he’d quickly sired Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox. His younger brother was not as successful on-track, yet Bull Dog, in ambitious spots, managed two wins in eight starts - the 1930 Prix Daphnis and the Prix La Fleche d'Or.

Years later, Daily Racing Form wrote: “It is legendary that Bull Dog was badly frightened when as a two-year-old he was struck in the face by a folded newspaper thrown at him by a spectator on the rail. It was also evident that he was never more than half-fit for any of his engagements in 1930: his trainer George Newtown died soon after an ailment that attacked him early that spring.” 

That same year, Charles B. Shaffer of Coldstream Stud in Lexington, Ky., lost his star stallion My Play. With Gallant Fox capturing headlines, and the blood of Teddy – Plucky Liege as temptation, Shaffer paid a reported $80,000 for Bull Dog and imported the colt to stand at stud.

Bull Dog’s arrival in the United States on August 8, 1930, was news enough that a photo of him being led from the ship Minnetonka, in New York, appeared in The Blood-Horse. The accompanying article included these notes:

"When the son of Teddy came out of the (railroad car in Kentucky), a number of horsemen from various farms were at the station ... They, of course, looked him over critically and the verdict is that the newcomer will do.

"Dr. John Baird, Manager of the Thoroughbreds at Coldstream Stud, liked him from the moment he laid eyes upon him, and likes him all the more as the days pass.

" 'I was never so well-suited with a horse in my life,' said Dr. Baird to The Blood-Horse. 'He is a grand doer, and has a lovely disposition. He is now 16 hands 1/2 inch, and will yet grow to 16.1 or 16.2. He has a striking individuality, is robust, is built for speed, forks narrowly in front, and has gorgeous hind legs. He is not too heavy for one just out of training, tipping the beam at 980 pounds. We have him put away comfortably in My Play’s old box, just across the hall from that other good Frenchman, *Pot au Feu.' "

 

So, Bull Dog was sent to stud at age 4 in 1931 to try to make a mark on the breed.  What he did was create a legacy worthy of his monument and epitaph.

Many years later, Abram S. Hewitt noted in Sire Lines: “Taking his racing career as a whole, it is safe to say that on public form Bull Dog was at least 15 pounds (and possibly more than 20 pounds) behind the form of his full brother, Sir Gallahad III. Yet there can be very little doubt that Bull Dog was a better sire than Sir Gallahad III.” 

Hewitt pointed to some of Bull Dog’s towering statistics: 52 stakes winners from 342 named foals (15.2 percent, compared to Sir Gallahad’s 11.5). The country’s leading sire in 1943, second or third five other times. Leading broodmare sire four times. In the top 10 on the broodmare sire list every year from 1945 through 1961.  And Bull Dog’s crowning achievement: his son Bull Lea, Calumet Farm’s flagship stallion and the country’s five-time leading sire, whose offspring included Citation.

Toward the end of Bull Dog's stud career, he had difficulty in mounting mares.  A sling was tried with no success.  Bull Dog would become "humiliated and would just lie down in it," according to Deirdre Durkis's Where They Sleep: Burial Sites of Thoroughbreds in the Bluegrass Country of Kentucky.  In 1948, at age 21, Bull Dog was pensioned.  That same year, his grandson, Citation, won the Triple Crown.

Also that year, Bull Dog became the first American stallion to sire the winners of $4 million with exclusively U.S. runners.  His brother Sir Gallahad had passed that same monetary milestone several months earlier, but that total was partially based upon his foreign offspring. An interesting note in the June 4, 1948, Daily Racing Form read: "The rivalry between Sir Gallahad III and Bull Dog, which has been brought into focus by their almost simultaneous attaining of the $4,000,000 goal, extends back for several years and the late Charles B. Shaffer, who imported Bull Dog, and his son, E. E. Dale Shaffer … have made no secret of their distaste when Bull Dog is referred to as Sir Gallahad III’s brother.”

When Coldstream was sold a few years later Bull Dog remained in his old stall. Charles Shaffer had died, and his son E.E. Dale Shaffer owned the aged stallion. When Bull Dog died at age 27 on October 10, 1954, he was buried at Coldstream next to My Auntie, the old friend with whom he had partnered to create three stakes winners.

                                                          *

I visited Bull Dog’s gravestone regularly over the years, drawn both by its size and the solitude. If ever there was time between appointments, it was off to Bull Dog for some quiet reflection. It seemed worlds away from civilization, and while I sat there leaning up against an old tree, I could easily imagine Bull Dog gamboling around a nearby paddock.

It was 2000 when I first saw signs of development. The old silo came down. The old sheep barn disappeared. Construction machinery was scattered here and there. Before long, a road was built near Bull Dog’s grave, and then another. One day, My Auntie’s stone was gone (I later found it on a neighboring University of Kentucky property that was once Maine Chance Farm).  After several years, all that was left near Bull Dog’s stone were one stump and a tree.

And so came my visit this past December. As I wound my way down young roads with names like Bull Lea Drive and Citation Boulevard, the tree and stump came into view - but no stone. I felt sick to my stomach, and tears welled in my eyes. This was hallowed ground for me, and now I feared that Bull Dog was lost forever.

Below:  Bull Dog's gravestone (front) in 1998, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2009 - and no longer at the site in 2010:

Below:  Bull Dog's gravestone (back) in 2000, 2003, 2007, 2009 and no longer at the site in 2010:

Later, I called the Coldstream Research Center – the current name for the property – and Jim Conner, who oversaw the construction of the new roads and infrastructure, answered. A pleasant man, he said Bull Dog’s monument had been moved in early 2010 to the front of the property.

“Before I moved the stone I had the College of Engineering come out and do ground-penetrating radar to make sure nothing was buried, even if was there just a box. You know how some horses were buried with just pieces of hooves (and such),” Conner said. “There was nothing there.

“Then I talked with some of the old guys that worked on the farm ... They said most of those memorials were by the sheep barn, but they moved most of them. They couldn’t move that one because of its size. That’s why it stayed there. It stayed there through our construction of the new roads and the infrastructure for the research campus.”

He said the stone was moved in order to enhance its prominence. A biking and walking path called Legacy Trail is being constructed from Lexington out to the Kentucky Horse Park. The 12-mile trail cuts through the campus.

The name Legacy Trail seems ironic - with history being moved for progress - although at least the stone was moved rather than discarded. Conner said it will be a stopping-off point along the trail, complete with benches.

I visited the new spot and it is lovely, although Bull Dog’s stone now stares at traffic zooming by on Newtown Pike.  Many people will probably come across the monument while on their walks. They will be impressed by its immense size and powerful epitaph: LEADING AMERICAN SIRE 1943/LEADING BROODMARE SIRE 1953 and 1954/SIRED 52 STAKES WINNERS THROUGH 1954...IMPORTED FROM FRANCE BY CHARLES B. SHAFFER.   Some will recognize Bull Dog's name. Others might now research his story. 

I don’t know whether I will ever visit the new spot again. I will undoubtedly visit the old site from time to time, as long as I can find it. I’ll visit just to remember the quiet times when I would sit near Bull Dog’s isolated stone beneath its guardian trees, and I shall ponder the question: What is the purpose of a horse’s gravestone?

The new site of Bull Dog's gravestone (above)

Diana Heerdt More than 1 year ago
Thank you for this wonderful story! The quest to find his stone, and the reverence you felt being in it's presence!
Ofelia Ravelo Lim More than 1 year ago
Barbara, I feel as you do. I began researching the stone when I did not find it this year. I drove to Coldstream with the sole purpose of seeing it again and paying my respects to the great stallion. I was heartbroken when I did not see it. At least it was not discarded like so many historical artifacts in America. Thank you for finding it. What is the purpose of the marker? I believe it is to reconnect with our past and have a tangible window to look through. The men that buried him and knew him best laid the stone and ran their hands over it as they once had touched the great stallion. Bull Dog's line has faded but his greatness is still evident in the remnants of farms that his progeny paid for and Calumet is still here, as well. The gravestone is the proof of history and all it has brought us to the present.
Karen Koeberlein More than 1 year ago
Thank you for this history. I found the stone while biking the trail. I am a thoroughbred lover and live nearby this spot. My neighbor grew up on coldstream farm and is full of stories of old man shaffer. I would have thought Bull Dog was there. Thank you for the history.
chrystal More than 1 year ago
I plan on going to visit Man O' War's "old haunt" as soon as I can. I've been wanting to go for years but could never afford it. What an amazing adventure that would be...
chrystal More than 1 year ago
I plan on going to visit Man O' War's "old haunts" as soon as I can. I've been wanting to go for years but could never afford it. What an amazing adventure that would be...
judy and russ berube More than 1 year ago
Dear Barbara: You tell your stories and beautifully as you take your photos. This one was very emotional for us. Thanks. Judy and Russ >
Regina Turner More than 1 year ago
SEEKING THE ANCESTRY OF THE TRACKS, AS MY GREAT UNCLE WAS jOHN KINARD, OF jOHNS JOY, THIS WAS A GREAT TRIBUTE TO THE HORSES. WE THINK OF GROWTH, BUT WE NEED TO REMEMBER THE PAST, THANKS .
Barb France More than 1 year ago
A wonderful article, in which again, I must stop and "clear" my eyes. The opening picture is one that is striking and haunting at the same time. As I am new to many of these names, I find I want to read and learn more about them. Thank you for bringing them to "life" through your writings.
texmexcarole More than 1 year ago
'Bull Dog' was a beautiful and haunting visit to an "Old Friend". It moved me to tears. Your perspective and insight is truly a wonder. Thanx
blivingston More than 1 year ago
Thank so much to everyone your kind and thoughtful comments - which I very much appreciate! I've been wanting to write Bull Dog's story for a while, so it felt great to finally do so. Thanks for 'visiting'!