04/29/2014 3:00PM

History Challenge: The first Triple Crown winner, Sir Barton

Sir Barton won the first Triple Crown in 1919, but at the time of his achievement, the three races were just three races. A few years later, The New York Times and its sportswriter Bryan Field began occasionally referring to the three as “the triple crown.” In 1930, after Gallant Fox became the second to achieve the feat, Daily Racing Form columnist Charles Hatton really set the wheels in motion for the three classics to be called racing’s Triple Crown.

Were it not for the fact that he was the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes, Sir Barton’s name most likely would be buried in the pages of history.

But each spring, sportswriters – many of whom write about Thoroughbred racing only during this time – often bring up the name of the 1919 Horse of the Year as the first to win the coveted Triple Crown.

At the time of Sir Barton’s achievement, the three races were just three races. A few years later, The New York Times and its sportswriter Bryan Field began occasionally referring to the three as “the triple crown.”

In 1930, after Gallant Fox became the second to achieve the feat, Daily Racing Form columnist Charles Hatton really set the wheels in motion for the three classics to be called racing’s Triple Crown.

In the 95 years since Sir Barton won the three races, only 10 others have been able to repeat that accomplishment, the last being Affirmed in 1978 – a record drought of 36 years.

Since Sir Barton, Triple Crown winners have seemed to come in bunches or not at all – three in the 1930s, four in the 1940s, and three in the 1970s.

In 1998, Real Quiet came the closest to adding his name to the Triple Crown honor roll, but the colt came up a nose short in the Belmont Stakes.

With the 140th Kentucky Derby set for next Saturday, test your knowledge of the life and times of Sir Barton.

1. While it is the dream of even the smallest breeder or owner to win the Triple Crown, the fact remains that 10 of the 11 horses who captured the three races came from wealthy, powerful, established racing stables. The lone exception was Seattle Slew in 1977.

Sir Barton’s owner certainly fit the bill. He inherited an estimated $12 million ($270 million in today’s dollars) from his father, one of the founders of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

With this fortune, he entered the sport of racing in 1915, and by 1918, his stable led the nation in earnings, which it also did the following year. From 1920-22, the stable led the nation in winners.

On the advice of his trainer, he purchased Sir Barton in August 1918 from the renowned breeder John E. Madden for about $10,000. (Madden bred five Kentucky Derby winners at his Hamburg Stud in Lexington, Ky.)

Name the owner and trainer of Sir Barton.

2. John Madden sold Sir Barton after the chestnut colt had made four career starts – all stakes in which he never finished in the money and was beaten by a total of more than 56 lengths.

Sir Barton’s first start for his new owner came in the Hopeful Stakes at Saratoga, where he finished 16th in a 20-horse field.

Then, two weeks later in the Futurity Stakes at Belmont Park, Sir Barton seemed to find himself, finishing a game second. Shortly after the Futurity, the colt was afflicted with a case of blood poisoning so severe that the owner’s son, writing in the superb 1956 biography of his father, “Boots and Saddles,” said “for days everyone expected him to succumb.”

Still a maiden, Sir Barton was out for the season. His next start would come in the Kentucky Derby, where he became the second maiden to win the Churchill Downs classic. He was not the last. Name the other two maidens who won the Derby.

3. Throughout the winter and spring of 1919, the press and horsemen were focused almost entirely on only two horses for the upcoming Kentucky Derby – one of whom was a stablemate of Sir Barton. The two had been acclaimed co-champions at age 2.

When it came time to ship to Louisville, Sir Barton had been working well enough to earn a trip with his stablemate.

At post time, Sir Barton and his stablemate were 5-2, while the other 2-year-old champion and his entrymate were 2-1 favorites.

Name the two horses who commanded all the early attention for the 45th Kentucky Derby.

4. After the Belmont Stakes, Sir Barton won four more stakes that year. He began his 4-year-old season in 1920 slowly, but by the end of August, he had won four straight stakes – twice setting Saratoga track records. He was ridden in those races by future Hall of Famer Earl Sande, who would become the most famous and revered jockey of the Roaring 20s.

The stage was set for what then was the match race of the century – Sir Barton vs. Man o’ War. Sande was set to ride the challenger again but was taken off the day of the race. What happened, and who rode Sir Barton in the match race?

5. Sir Barton was sold after his racing days to Audley Farm in Berryville, Va., where he stood for a $500 to $1,000 stud fee. He was later moved to Kentucky.

Like most sons of the great stallion Star Shoot, Sir Barton was considered a flop at stud. He did sire nine stakes winners, including Easter Stockings, who won $91,435 in her career as well as the 1928 Kentucky Oaks.

In 1933, Sir Barton was turned over to the U.S. Army Remount Station in Front Royal, Va., and was then transferred to Fort Robinson, Neb., the largest remount station in the United States.

Where did Sir Barton eventually end up, and where is he buried?


1. Commander John Kenneth Leveson Ross, owner of Sir Barton, usually was referred to as “Jack” or “J.K.L.” His title came from his command of a Royal Canadian Navy destroyer during World War I.

Ross was born in Ontario in 1876 and graduated from McGill University in Montreal.

He had many interests aside from racing. Ross was a noted Canadian yachtsman and fisherman and was recognized as one of that nation’s leading philanthropists – his photo appearing frequently on the society and sports pages.

The trainer for the Ross stable was future Hall of Famer Harvey Guy Bedwell, known around the track as “Hard Guy” because of his strict discipline and insistence on perfection.

Born in Oregon in 1876, the same year as Ross, Bedwell was a pro at handling cattle and horses by the time he was 13. He headed east in 1908 to take up training racehorses.

Bedwell led the nation in winners just one year later in 1909 and for six straight years (1912-17), and in money won in 1918 and 1919.
Both Bedwell and Ross would be the first to say that part of their success together was due to an assistant trainer, former riding great Carroll H. Shilling, who went by the name “Cal.”

More than one trainer in the early 1900s called Shilling the greatest jockey in the history of the American turf. The nation’s leading rider in 1910, Shilling found himself in trouble with The Jockey Club for rough riding and was refused a jockey’s license after 1912.

For years, Ross and Bedwell fought The Jockey Club to reinstate Shilling, but to no avail. Shilling was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1970; Bedwell in 1971.

2. Not only was the Kentucky Derby Sir Barton’s first win, it also was his first start as a 3-year-old.

Like Sir Barton, 1884 Kentucky Derby winner Buchanan raced six times at age 2 – all in stakes races. He finished second five times and third once.

Known as a notoriously bad actor, Buchanan, still a maiden, broke poorly and then came from far back to take the lead in the stretch and never looked back in the 10th Kentucky Derby. It marked the first of three wins in the Louisville classic for future Hall of Fame rider Isaac Murphy.

In 1933, Brokers Tip became the third and most recent horse to win the Derby as a maiden. In the famous “fighting finish,” Brokers Tip nosed out Head Play to give owner Col. Edward R. Bradley a then-record fourth win in the Churchill Downs classic.

The Kentucky Derby was the only race Brokers Tip ever won.

3. Billy Kelly already was a multiple stakes winner when Ross purchased the gelding for $27,500 – just weeks before buying Sir Barton. In his first two starts for Ross, Billy Kelly won the Sanford and Grab Bag handicaps at Saratoga – carrying 130 and 135 pounds.

Meanwhile, Eternal had just scored a sparkling victory in the Hopeful Stakes, and calls came for a match race with Billy Kelly. The two met at Laurel Park, Eternal having won five of his seven starts and Billy Kelly having won 13 of his 15 starts to that point. In a ding-dong battle, Eternal beat Billy Kelly by a diminishing head.

At Churchill Downs the following May, the public made Eternal and his stablemate Sailor the favorites over Billy Kelly and Sir Barton. In a stunning upset, Sir Barton took the lead after the start and coasted to the wire, five lengths in front of his stablemate. Eternal could not handle the track, labeled “heavy,” and finished far back.

A day later, Sir Barton boarded a railroad boxcar for Maryland and won the Preakness – run on Wednesday, four days after the Derby – by four lengths.

Ten days later, the colt won the Withers Stakes at Belmont Park, and then on Wednesday, June 11, closing day of the meeting, Sir Barton won the Belmont Stakes by five lengths.

4. For various reasons, Man o’ War met Sir Barton at obscure Kenilworth Park, outside of Windsor, Ontario, on Oct. 12, 1920.

Ross and Bedwell stayed up all night on the eve of the race, debating about Earl Sande. The two were worried about anxiety problems that Sande frequently suffered, due in large part to the rider constantly starving himself to keep his weight down.

At noon on race day, Ross announced that the seasoned veteran Frank Keogh would be up on Sir Barton. Sande was crushed.
Nothing, however, could have changed the outcome of the race. Man o’ War, at odds of 1-20, won in hand by seven lengths. Sir Barton was 5-1.

Many have since claimed that Sir Barton was not himself that day, but his showing was more likely due to the very hard track surface, which the colt hated, and the fact that no horse could have beaten Man o’ War that season.

5. Sir Barton stood at the remount station in Nebraska, where his stud fee was listed at between $5 and $10.

A Wyoming rancher, Dr. John R. Hylton, purchased the horse – knowing his history – and bred him to a few mares. Sir Barton died of colic Oct. 30, 1937, and was buried on the ranch near Wagon Hound Creek, a sandstone marker denoting the site.

When Hylton died, the ranch changed hands, and the grave site deteriorated. In 1968, the nearby Douglas, Wyo., Junior Chamber of Commerce moved Sir Barton’s remains to the city’s bucolic Washington Park and placed a life-sized fiberglass statue of a horse above the site. It remains there today.