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History challenge: Foal crop of 1954 had talent to spare
At 12:50 a.m. on March 11, 1954 – 60 years ago – the moon was just entering its first quarter on a cool night at the Calumet Farm foaling barn in Lexington, Ky., when a new colt entered the world.
The picture editor for a proposed new magazine that had yet to be named, accompanied by a famous animal photographer, had arrived earlier to photograph the birth of a racehorse whom the magazine would follow on film from his arrival into the world to his early career on the racetrack.
To Calumet, the bay colt who arrived early that Thursday morning was one of 31 foals born in 1954 at what was then the most prominent breeding farm in the country. To The Jockey Club, he was simply one of 9,067 registered Thoroughbreds that year.
The yet-to-be-named foal was by the successful sire Bull Lea out of the outstanding broodmare Iron Maiden. He was eventually given the name Iron Lea, but that would later be changed by Calumet owner Lucille Markey to Iron Liege.
The yet-to-be-named magazine produced its first weekly issue five months after the birth of the foal. The magazine was given the name Sports Illustrated.
In its Feb. 25, 1957, issue, Sports Illustrated unveiled its almost three years of following Iron Liege with 10 pages of photos and text. Ten weeks later, Iron Liege captured the 83rd Kentucky Derby.
Iron Liege was not the best horse of the foal crop of 1954, considered by many historians to be the greatest of the 20th century. Test your knowledge of the stars of the sport foaled that year.
1. Three horses from the 1954 foal crop are enshrined in the Hall of Fame at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Iron Liege is not one of them. Neither is the horse who was voted champion 2-year-old male of 1956.
Not surprisingly in this era, the horse voted the best 2-year-old from the 1954 crop also was bred and owned by Calumet Farm. But this dark bay colt by Polynesian struggled to get to the track. He suffered through both pin-firing and then blistering of his ankles because of popped sesamoids in both front legs.
As a result, he did not make his debut until September at Belmont Park. He started in, and won, only one stakes but still was voted champion in all three major polls. Name him.
2. At age 2, Iron Liege was skittish and nervous around other horses. As a result, he did not get to the track until August. He made eight starts that season and won twice but failed in his two stakes attempts – the Futurity at Belmont and the Garden State Stakes.
By age 3, Iron Liege seemed to have gotten over his anxiety issues. He knocked off three straight allowance wins at Hialeah. He then was third in both the Everglades and Flamingo stakes. He went to Gulfstream Park, where he was second in the Fountain of Youth Stakes and third in the Florida Derby.
Iron Liege was entered in the May 4 Kentucky Derby having never won a stakes race. He was the 5-2 second choice on the program morning line, being coupled with his more powerful stablemate (who would be a late scratch). Name the stablemate.
3. The 1957 Kentucky Derby may have featured one of the greatest fields ever assembled, but it will forever be best remembered as the controversial race in which jockey Bill Shoemaker stood up ever so briefly before the finish, perhaps costing his mount, Gallant Man, the victory. Iron Liege won by a nose over Gallant Man.
A few days before the big race, Gallant Man’s owner recounted a dream he had the night before to his trainer and others wherein Gallant Man lost the Derby when his jockey stopped riding before the finish.
Name the owner and Hall of Fame trainer of Gallant Man.
4. Round Table made 12 starts for his breeder, Claiborne Farm, before being sold to Travis Kerr of Kerr-McGee Oil Co. for $145,000 in February 1957.
Round Table proceeded to be beaten by a head in the Santa Anita Derby, win the Bay Meadows Derby, and take the Blue Grass Stakes by six lengths in 1:47:40 – breaking the Keeneland track record by almost two seconds. He finished third in the Kentucky Derby.
Round Table went on to win 43 of 66 lifetime starts and retire as the richest horse in history ($1,749,869). On how many occasions did the Kerr colorbearer carry 130 pounds or more?
5. Bold Ruler appeared to have the 2-year-old title sewn up when he won seven starts, including the Youthful and Juvenile stakes and the rich Futurity. But he failed to contend in the Garden State Stakes and lost the title.
By November 1957, Gallant Man appeared to have the title of 3-year-old champion and Horse of the Year wrapped up. But in what historians rank among the greatest meetings ever of three horses in one race, Bold Ruler, Gallant Man, and Round Table entered a Nov. 9 handicap. The horses were considered so evenly matched that the track allowed both win and place wagering in the three-horse field.
Bold Ruler won easily and was voted Horse of the Year. Name the race.
1. In December 1955, Calumet Farm paid $35 each to nominate 10 yearlings to the 1956 Garden State Stakes, a race that would gross $319,210 and be the richest Thoroughbred stakes ever run to that point.
In March 1956, Calumet paid $100 to keep nine of the 10 eligible. In July, trainer Jimmy Jones cut the list to six, paying $250 each to keep the half-dozen eligible. One of the three cut was Barbizon, who reached the races Sept. 15 and proceeded to win four straight. In his fifth start, he was beaten less than a length in the Garden State Trial.
That was enough to warrant Calumet to pay $10,000 to supplement the colt in October to the rich race.
Barbizon, far back early, made a huge run in the stretch to get up in the final stride to beat Federal Hill and collect the $168,430 winner’s share. Despite that being the only stakes start for the Calumet charge, it impressed voters in all polls enough to make him champion.
At age 3, Barbizon was beaten a nose in the Hutcheson Stakes, but after suffering a case of strangles, he was never the same again.
2. Gen. Duke, also a son of Bull Lea, may have been the best of his generation were it not for his physical problems, according to Joe Estes, editor of The Blood-Horse.
Named for 1868 Belmont Stakes winner General Duke (who was named for Confederate Gen. Basil Duke), Gen. Duke made only two starts at age 2, winning the first and bucking his shins in the second. At age 3, he was second in an allowance race at Hialeah won by entrymate Iron Liege (who broke the track record, running 1 1/16 miles in 1:42.80).
Gen. Duke won the Everglades Stakes, the Fountain of Youth Stakes on a sloppy track, and then broke the track record and equaled the world record in winning the Florida Derby in 1:46.80 for 1 1/8 miles.
After finishing second in the Derby Trial on Tuesday of Derby Week (Iron Liege was fifth), Gen. Duke came up lame Thursday. He improved Friday and was entered as the 1-1A coupling with Iron Liege in the Derby.
When it was announced on Derby Day that Gen. Duke was out of the race, the odds on Iron Liege drifted up to 8-1, making him the fifth choice in the field of nine.
Gen. Duke resumed training a week later but again went lame. He never raced again and was euthanized the following year when he became a wobbler and could not stand.
3. Gallant Man was one of nine yearlings purchased from the Aga Khan and his son, Aly, for a total of $220,000. The buyer was Ralph Lowe, a Midland, Texas, oil baron.
Gallant Man was trained in his first four starts by Gerald Bloss before the great John Nerud took over the duties. Gallant Man won his maiden in his third start at Hollywood Park, paying $99.60 to win. In his sixth start, the Irish-bred colt won an allowance race at Belmont Park, paying $95.90. (In his 20 lifetime starts after that, Gallant Man went off at 4-1 or less on 19 occasions and once at 8-1.)
At age 3, after his heartbreaking loss in the Derby, Gallant Man skipped the Preakness and then won the Belmont Stakes, setting an American record (2:26.60) for 1 1/2 miles, which would remain the standard until it was obliterated by Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont.
Gallant Man then won the Travers Stakes, the Nassau County Handicap (setting a track record of 1:47.20 for 1 1/8 miles), and the Jockey Club Gold Cup.
4. Round Table carried from 130 to 136 pounds on 25 occasions. He won 31 stakes. He set or equaled 14 track, American, or world records. He was voted champion grass horse in 1957, ’58, and ’59, and Horse of the Year and champion handicap horse in 1958.
Following his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Round Table won 11 straight races between May 30 and Nov. 1, including the Hollywood Gold Cup, Westerner (later the Hollywood Derby), Hawthorne Gold Cup, American Derby, and United Nations Handicap.
As a sire, he got 83 stakes winners (21 percent of his foals). He lived to the age of 33. During her tour of Kentucky farms in 1984, Queen Elizabeth rearranged her schedule to see Round Table when she learned the great horse was still living.
5. If not the race of the century, the 1957 Trenton Handicap at Garden State Park was certainly the race of the decade. Gallant Man was favored in the three-horse field, but Bold Ruler jumped out to an eight-length lead and won comfortably. Round Table was third.
All three were a lock for the Hall of Fame, but the Horse of the Year and 3-year-old title went to Bold Ruler.
After winning the Bahamas (equaling the track record), the Flamingo (setting a track record), and the Wood Memorial (setting a track record), Bold Ruler was favored at 6-5 in the Kentucky Derby but finished fourth. He won the Preakness and six more stakes that year.
At age 4, Bold Ruler carried 133 to 136 pounds in all seven starts, was odds-on in all seven, won five, and was named champion sprinter.
At stud, Bold Ruler sired 83 stakes winners – 11 of whom were champions – including Secretariat.
(Oddly, Bold Ruler and Round Table were both born on the same night – April 6, 1954 – at Claiborne Farm.)