05/23/2012 12:34PM

Triple Crown Winners: Assault


ASSAULT - 1946

The racing press can be so cruel, in spite of all the free food. Consider the nicknames they hung on Assault, hero of the 1946 Triple Crown for King Ranch and trainer Max Hirsch.


As a young horse Assault stepped on something sharp. Whatever it was pierced the sole of his right front foot and exited through the front of the hoof wall. As a result, the foot was stunted and misshapen in its development. The press of the day, hungry for the catchy phrase, labeled Assault "The Club-Footed Comet" and "The Magnificent Cripple." Perhaps they were meant to be compliments.

In an interview with Joe Palmer, Hirsch fleshed out the tale.

"When he walks or trots you'd think he was going to fall down," the trainer said.

"I think that while the foot still hurt him he got in the habit of protecting it with an awkward gait. But he gallops true. There isn't a thing wrong with his action when he goes fast." At 15-1 1/2 hands and 950 pounds, Assault may have been the smallest Triple Crown winner of them all. A dusty dun chestnut with a short-coupled frame, he was nothing special at age 2, then at 3 he won the Wood Memorial.

The Derby of 1946 was worth $100,000 for the first time. Assault, ridden by Warren Mehrtens, was 8-1 and won by eight lengths. One week later, there were suggestions that Mehrtens moved too soon in the Preakness when Lord Boswell nearly caught them at the wire. Assault's winning margin was a neck.

As a result, Lord Boswell was favored over Assault in the Belmont Stakes. Yet in the end, he was nowhere to be found. Assault bobbled at the break, made one of his trademark swerves in the stretch, but was still good enough to win by three.

"He was thoroughly game," Palmer wrote, "possessed of one tearing run which needed only to be held until there could be no counter to it."


OWNER: King Ranch
TRAINER: Max Hirsch
JOCKEY: Warren Mehrtens
BREEDER: King Ranch

He tried for stakes races at 2, but won just one, the Flash at Belmont. He began his Triple Crown campaign by winning the Experimental Free Handicap at 9-1 and the Wood at 8-1. After a fourth at the Derby Trial, he won the Kentucky Derby at 8-1. After his Triple Crown and victory in the Dwyer, he slipped, however, losing six straight races, including a sixth in the Arlington Classic, which the Daily Racing Form comment reads "sulked". Two of those races were won by his archrival, Stymie. Assault rebounded at the end of the year with a victory over Stymie in the Pimlico Special. His 4-year-old campaign began with five straight victories, the last two over Stymie in the Brooklyn and Butler. But Stymie turned the tables again in Belmont's Gold Cup. Assault's season ended with a loss to Armed in a match race at Belmont. He briefly reemerged at 5, and was 1 for 6 at age 6, winning the Brooklyn. A 7-year-old campaign in California ended with a seventh-place finish at 37-1 in the Hollywood Gold Cup.

Profiles of Triple Crown winners

Sir Barton (1919) Gallant Fox (1930) Omaha (1935) War Admiral (1937)
Whirlaway (1941) Count Fleet (1943) Assault (1946) Citation (1948)
Secretariat (1973) Seattle Slew (1977) Affirmed (1978) ?