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Jun 11, 2018

Roamer

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Edited: Jun 11, 2018

 

 

The breeding of great horses, regardless of prevalent theories, is in the last analysis, a shot in the dark. And there is no better example of that than the birth of the great handicapper, Roamer.

 

Col. E. F. Clay and his brother owned Runnymede Stud one of premier breeding establishments in Kentucky which had been the home of numerous 19th century champions in Hanover, Miss Woodford, Ben Brush and many others.

 

In 1910 the Clay brothers had acquired a 14 year old blind mare by the name of Rose Tree II. She was a daughter of the 1892 Two Thousand Guineas winner Bona Vista, himself a son of Bend Or. She had been claimed for two hundred pounds in England and imported into the United States.

 

The idea was to breed her to Runnymede’s premier stallion, Star Shoot, but the plans fell through as there was some concern about breeding two blind animals.

 

Knight Errant, was the son of New Zealand sire and 1885 Melbourne Stakes winner Trenton. He was a decent runner but at this juncture in his life he was serving as the Farm’s teaser stallion. Legend has it that Knight Errant leapt over the fence and mated with Rose Tree II. The resulting foal was Roamer who was named after the parent who was the better jumper.

 

Roamer began his career on May 1, 1913 with an easy victory in a maiden race at Lexington. After a couple of second place finishes in allowances, he then had the misfortune to run into Old Rosebud, the two year old champion of that year. Roamer tried hard, but couldn’t get within six lengths of his rival in two starts.

 

The Clay brothers were suffering some financial setbacks at the time and Roamer was dropped into a claiming race at Belmont. Although they were able to retain ownership of Roamer after the race, shortly thereafter he was sold for $2,500 to Andrew Miller, the treasurer and secretary of Saratoga Race Track. For Miller, Roamer would make over 90 starts and earn championship honors in three of the seven years he raced.

 

As a three year old, Roamer really came into his own starting 16 times and winning 12 races, including the Carter, Brooklyn Derby, Travers and Huron Handicap. He was the leading money winner that year with $29,105 and set five track records including an American record for a mile and 1/8 in the Washington Handicap under top weight and spotting the second place horse twenty two pounds.

 

His shortest margin of victory was two lengths in the Carter and his longest was ten lengths in the Travers. He scared off all competitors in the Autumn Weight For Age and included a walkover in his victories that year. He was named the 1914 Horse of the Year and Champion Three Year Old.

 

In 1915 as a four year old, he was the Champion Handicapper starting 15 times with 8 victories in top races like the Brookdale, Saratoga, Merchants and Citizens Handicap and the Saratoga Cup. He carried top weight in these races easily giving away 22 pounds or more to some his rivals and winning with ease. He bested the top older horses like Borrow, Cudgel and Stromboli.

 

From 1916 to 1919, he started 52 times with 15 victories 18 seconds and 6 thirds. He met a new generation of talented horses in George Smith, the 1916 Kentucky Derby winner, Johren, and The Finn and renewed his rivalry with his initial foe Old Rosebud.

 

He gave them weight and still managed to win important races. Roamer set three track records in this period and in the 1918 Saratoga Handicap he lowered the track record by a full one and 4/5 seconds.

On August 21, 1918, Roamer became the first horse to run a mile in under 1:35 in a time trial where he blazed away from the pace setter and flew around the two turn Saratoga track stopping the clock at 1:34 4/5. This mark shattered the track record of 1:36 2/5 and ended Salvator’s record for a mile set on a straight course against time in 1890. Roamer’s record would stand for fifty years until Dr. Fager lowered the mark in 1968 at Arlington Park.

 

Roamer’s last victory was in 1919 at eight years old against Champion Three Year Old Sun Briar at Aqueduct. He was sent back to the farm to rest before starting his 1920 campaign with the goal of topping $100,000 in earnings. But it was not to be. His owner suffered a fatal heart attack in late December 1919. And a few short hours later, Roamer slipped on the ice in his paddock fracturing his leg and was euthanized.

 

Physically Roamer was a slightly built bay gelding who stood barely 15.2 hands and tipped the scales at just under 1,000 pounds. He was a fussy eater who needed a great deal of training to keep him sharp. He was a front runner who was not distance limited and remained sound for most of his racing career until at the age of eight the gallant warrior started to show some signs of wear. If his banner was a bit more tattered that year, it was because the grueling campaigns and staggering weights had finally taken their toll.

 

Roamer won at distances from 4 1/2 furlongs to a mile and 3/4. He set or equaled 11 track records in winning 24 stakes and placing in 27 more. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Roamer Handicap was named in his honor and run from 1944 to 1987.

 

His trainer, Jack Goldsborough was asked in 1930 to evaluate that years’ sensation, Gallant Fox, in light of the great horses he had seen. Goldsborough replied: “in my opinion there were only two great horses: Man O’ War and Roamer.

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  • He was from the first American crop of the great Sir Gallahad III who was imported into the United States in 1925. His dam Marguerite started only once before being injured. She was a daughter of Celt who was a son of Commando and a grandson of the Black Whirlwind, the legendary, Domino. He was a large ungainly blaze faced colt. He had a wall eye and was graced with four white socks. He was slow from the gate, lazy in training and needed relays of other horses to keep him interested in running. But give him some competition, and he was a fire eater according to his trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons. His two year old season left much to be desired. He started seven times with two victories in the Flash Stakes and the Junior Championship at Aqueduct. It was in the Futurity where Gallant Fox first sighted his nemesis, Whichone, who was on a roll after winning both the Saratoga Special and the Champagne. The Fox lost the race, according to Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons because he pulled himself up thinking the hard work had been done only to see Whichone flash by him and draw away by three lengths. His owner, William Woodward wasn’t discouraged by Gallant Fox’s two year old season as he had little interest in juvenile racing. In Gallant Fox, he saw a horse who should do well over a distance of ground. And so the preparation for the American classics began in earnest. First on the agenda for Woodward was getting the best jockey for his horse. And that was Earle Sande. Woodward got Sande out of retirement and back in the saddle by offering him a 10 percent cut of Gallant Fox’s earnings during his racing career instead of his usual retainer of $1,500 a month. The end result of this arrangement would put over $30,828 in Sande’s pocket for the 1930 racing season alone. On April 26, 1930 Gallant Fox started the season by defeating Crack Brigade in the Wood Memorial. Next up was the Preakness which was run before the Kentucky Derby that year. Again Crack Brigade provided the best competition for the Fox of Belair who prevailed by 3/4 of a length. A scant eight days later, Gallant Fox was at Churchill Downs easily winning the Kentucky Derby by two lengths over Gallant Knight. Given that Gallant Fox had three straight victories in top stakes races, one would have assumed that he would have been favored in his next start, the Belmont Stakes. Instead he was installed as the second choice to the easy victor of the Withers Stakes—Whichone. Sande proved his worth in the Belmont. He broke Gallant Fox on top eased him on the backstretch and when Whichone and Questionnaire came within a length of the Fox at the top of the stretch, Sande let him go and he drew off by three. With this victory, Gallant Fox would become the second American Triple Crown winner. Next he loafed his way through a victory in the Dwyer, but was hard pressed to prevail by a neck in the Arlington Classic over a very game Gallant Knight. In the meantime, his old friend Whichone had been busy easily winning the Ballot Handicap, the Saranac and the Whitney Stakes. Thus setting up a much anticipated meeting between the two champions in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. Only four went to the post that day on a heavy muddy track. Challenging Gallant Fox and Whichone were Sun Falcon at 30-1 and Jim Dandy, winless in 19 starts that year, at an impressive 100-1. A speed dual developed almost immediately following the break. Sonny Workman, on Whichone, unexpectedly took the lead. Gallant Fox quickly followed. Whichone raced in the middle of the track because Workman thought the rail was deeper than it was. Since Gallant Fox was lapped on Whichone, he raced even farther out. Meanwhile the 100-1 shot, Jim Dandy was busy saving ground on the rail. As they turned for home, Whichone tired and bore out carrying Gallant Fox even wider. Jim Dandy slipped through on the rail and drew away splashing home by eight lengths. An exhausted Gallant Fox held on for second with Whichone finishing another six lengths back in third. To say the result of the 1930 Travers was a shock was the understatement of the year. The race would underscore Saratoga’s reputation as the Graveyard of Champions. In 1964, the Jim Dandy Stakes was inaugurated to honor the long shot winner of the Travers over Champions Gallant Fox and Whichone. Even today when the Saratoga race track turns up fetlock deep mud as it did that long ago day in August 1930, old time horsemen will smile at each other and proclaim it “Jim Dandy weather.” Gallant Fox would redeem himself in his next three starts accounting for the Saratoga Cup and the Jockey Club Gold Cup over older horses and the Lawrence Realization over his own age group. Sadly Whichone would be injured in the Travers and retired. Below is a photo of Jim Dandy after his victory in the 1930 Travers. The Fox of Belair was named 1930 Champion Three Year Old and 1930 Horse of the Year. While preparing for the Hawthorne Gold Cup, Gallant Fox caught a cold which settled on his lungs. Taking no chances on the health of his champion, Woodward retired him to stud at Claiborne Farm. There he sired Omaha, America’s third Triple Crown winner; Flares the winner of the Ascot Gold Cup and Granville, the 1936 Horse of the Year. Gallant Fox died in 1954 and is buried near his sire. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957. Later he would be joined there by both his sons Omaha and Granville. On the Blood Horse List of Top 100 American Thoroughbreds, Gallant Fox checks in at number 28. His final record shows 17 starts with 11 wins 3 seconds and 2 thirds with earnings of $328,165. In addition, he set a single season earnings record that stood for over 16 years. His trainer, Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons considered Gallant Fox the best three year old he ever handled. Fulsome praise from a man who started out as a jockey galloping top horses for the Dwyer Brothers in 1887. In a column shortly after Gallant Fox’s retirement, the Blood Horse described his place in the pantheon of American Turf Champions: "Since the retirement of Man o' War no horse has captured the imagination of the American public as has Gallant Fox. After a relatively light campaign as a two-year-old, he swept like a meteor across the racing sky of 1930 and when he was retired for all times after his bloodless triumph in the Jockey Club Gold Cup he was more than a racehorse -he was an institution."
  • He was named for the great golfer Gene Sarazen who had won the PGA and the US Open in the year after his birth. He was small, no more than 15 hands and tipped the scales at 671 pounds. When he came onto track for the post parade, most fans thought a stable pony had been sent out instead of one of the starters. While he was physically well balanced he had a mulish head and a cantankerous nature. Charitably speaking his pedigree left something to be desired. His sire High Time was extremely inbred. He was conceived by breeding a Domino mare to a grandson of Domino out of a Domino mare. High Time showed some talent on the track for short distances, but for the most part he was a lethal combination of a quitter and a bleeder. Sarazen’s dam Rush Box was unraced only because no one could get near her long enough to throw a halter on her. Reportedly she joined her own dam Sallie Ward plowing the fields of a local farm. From this unlikely mating would emerge Sarazen, undefeated at two, 1924 Champion Three Year Old, 1925 Champion Handicap Horse and the first two time Horse of the Year in American history. The great Kentucky breeder John E. Madden, proprietor of Hamburg Place pungently summed up the general opinion of Sarazen’s ascendancy in this period: “when a man can breed a quarter horse to a plow mare and get a horse that can beat everything in America, it’s time for me to sell out.” Phil T. Chinn purchased Sarazen from breeder Dr. Marius E. Johnson for $2,500 in a package deal with another son of High Time named Time Exposure. After his third start as a two year old, Chinn sold Sarazen to Virginia Fair Vanderbilt for $35,000. Because he was a gelding, Sarazen was not eligible for many prominent stakes races, like the Belmont Futurity. But even so he managed to win seven races for his new owner, including the Champagne, Oakdale, National and the Laurel Special. While 1924 saw several excellent three year old runners in: Black Gold, Mad Play, Chilhowee, and Ladkin, still the top of the heap was Sarazen. While he was the winter book favorite for the Kentucky Derby, his trainer Max Hirsch opted not to run him in the race. Favoring instead an overnight race at Jamaica, Hirsch was unhappy with Sarazen’s second place finish and put him away for two months due to health problems. When he returned, Sarazen completely dominated his division. Leading up to the International where he would face the French champion, Epinard, he ran in eight stakes races winning six, including the Carter, Saranac and Fleetwing and defeating top horses like Zev, the 1923 Kentucky Derby winner, Cherry Pie and Mad Play. The International was the highlight of Sarazen’s three year old season and helped to earn him his first Horse of the Year honors. Epinard was considered Europe’s best horse in 1924 and was invited to the United States for a series of three races to be contested at distances ranging from six furlongs to a mile and 1/4 against the best American horses to be held at Belmont, Aqueduct and Latonia respectively. Epinard lost the first two races to Wise Counsellor by 3/4 of a length and to Ladkin by a nose. In each of these races Epinard had an excuse and was the favorite to annex the third contest. He would face Princess Doreen, My Play ( Man O’ War’s brother), Chilhowee and Sarazen who was installed as the third choice in the race. Out of the gate, Chilhowee set a blistering pace with Sarazen content to watch the proceedings in second. The pace setter tired after the half and Sarazen glided right by him to win by 1 1/2 lengths with Epinard second in a spectacular time that shaved a full two seconds off the track record. Sarazen would post two more victories in stakes races before being retired for the season as not only the 1924 Three Year Old Champion and Horse of the Year, but the leading money winner with $95,640. In 1925, he was again acknowledged as the year’s best horse earning an unprecedented second Horse of the Year honors and accounting for five stakes races out of ten entered with many under 130 pounds or more. In 1926 at age five, he started out well winning the Metropolitan, the Bryan Memorial and the Dixie Handicaps. But soon his cantankerous nature began to exert itself. Sarazen had always been a difficult horse to load into the starting gate usually requiring a blindfold and other inducements. These days getting him into the gate seemed to be less of the problem. Now it was getting him out of the gate that became the issue. Trainer Max Hirsch never knew when he entered him in a race whether Sarazen, or Sulky Sara, as he was dubbed by the press, would actually decide to run or not. Hirsch tried every trick in the book, but Sarazen always seemed to be one step ahead. Even though he raced for two more years starting 16 times in all, sadly Sarazen never won another race after July 1926 and the Mount Vernon Handicap. Sarazen was retired in 1928 with a record of 55 starts 27 wins 2 seconds and 6 thirds with earnings of $225,000. He spent the remainder of his years in comfort at Brookdale Farm where he died in 1940. His last public appearance was in a post parade of champion geldings at Keeneland shortly before his death in 1937. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1957 and on the BloodHorse list of 100 Top American Horses Sarazen is to be found at number 92. Col. Phil T. Chinn summed up Sarazen best: “There was no better horse during his time. Of those he met, he beat them all, mud or dry, cyclone or volcano, beat them at the gate and beat them under the wire.”
  • Gallorette was a large almost Amazonian race mare topping out at 16.1. She raced for five years and her record stands at: 72 starts, 21 wins, 20 seconds, 13 thirds, with earnings of $445,535. On its face, her accomplishments don’t look very impressive, but what it doesn’t show is the depth of her competition in those years. Since filly only races were very limited in her day, especially in the older mare category, she raced mainly against colts throughout her extended career. She plied her trade in one of the most competitive handicap divisions in American Turf history. There was Triple Crown Winner Assault, Handicap champion and Horse of the Year, Armed; rags to riches champion, Stymie. And then there were top horses: Phalanx, Pavot, Bridal Flower, Lucky Draw, Polynesian, But Why Not and many others. Gallorette was sired by the Irish bred Challenger II who was undefeated at two and was the favorite for the 1930 Derby. His owner, Lord Dewar died a few days before the race and his heir sold the horse to Maryland breeder William L. Brann. Shortly before Challenger II shipped to America, he cut up his hocks on barbed wire and was retired to stud after a handful of poor races in California. He proved to be a good stallion siring not only Gallorette but two time Horse of the Year Challedon and champion Bridal Flower. Her dam Gallette was by Sir Gallahad III and had a limited racing career on both the flat and hurdles. She came into the hands of Preston Burch from a circuitous route having been offered for sale from a high of $11,000 to a low of $250. Because Brann wanted to repeat the Sir Gallahad III and Challenger II cross that resulted in Challedon, he and Burch entered into a partnership on the breeding of Gallette. They would share in the foals alternately. Brann got Gallorette as the first foal. Sadly Gallette’s next foals showed little talent. Because of her size as a two year old, Gallorette only started in eight races beginning in late September. She won three with her best finish a promising third behind Busher in the Selima Stakes. The next year in 1945, she started out in early May winning an allowance race beating Hoop Jr. that year’s Kentucky Derby winner. She finished a game second to Jeep in the Wood Memorial before racking up wins against her own sex in the Acorn, Pimlico and Delaware Oaks. Her best finish against colts was in the Empire City Stakes where she outlasted Pavot in a bitter stretch duel. She was unable to defeat top colts in the Pimlico Special finishing fourth behind Armed, First Fiddle and Stymie but ahead of Polynesian and Pot O’ Luck. Her final record showed 13 starts with five victories. As a three year old, Gallorette was considered a nice filly who showed some true flashes of brilliance, but overall she was no match for the top filly and Horse of the Year, Busher. With Busher out of the picture because of injuries, Gallorette came into her own in 1946 as Champion Handicap Mare and further enjoyed one of her most lucrative racing seasons garnering over $159,000. After surviving a severe infection that required part of her tail being amputated, she started 18 times winning the Beldame against fillies and the Metropolitan, Bay Shore and Brooklyn against colts. It was the latter race that showed the fierce determination of Gallorette. In the Brooklyn, she would face Stymie at the height of his career. Out of the gate Helioptic set a strong pace with Gallorette lying in fourth. Stymie was in his usual position dead last and spotting the field over ten lengths. At the top of the stretch, she took the lead. But now Stymie was coming. With his copper mane flying, he had circled the field and was bearing down on Gallorette with every lengthening stride. Stymie caught Gallorette and put his head in front and was now a half length to the good. But the fight had only just begun. Gallorette summoned all of her strength and fought back until inch by inch she outlasted Stymie by a neck. Her next two racing seasons saw victories in the Queens County Handicap, against Stymie, the Wilson Stakes, Whitney, and Carter. She was second in eight other stakes and third in several more. Gallorette was retired in 1948 as the leading money winning filly having broken Busher’s record. In 1948 Gallorette was sold for $150,000 to Mrs. Marie Moore of High Hope Farm in Virginia. As a Broodmare she produced several nice foals and factors in the pedigrees of many European runners. Among them: Mlle. Lorette: the dam of Irish stakes winner Lovely Gale runner-up in the 1962 Irish One Thousand Guineas, and of English stakes winner Mlle. Lorette who is the second dam of Hatta and of multiple stakes winner Au Printemps, dam of 1987 Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Success Express. Mlle. Lorette is also the third dam of 1997 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (ENG-I) winner Air Express, a Classic winner in Italy and Germany; Gallamoud: unraced but produced 1966 Irish St. Leger winner White Gloves II Galla Vista: also unraced and is the second dam of English Group III winner Limone and the third dam of Australian Stakes winner Pavista. Courbette: was a multiple stakes winner in Ireland. She is the dam of 1967 Jockey Club Cup winner Dancing Moss (by Ballymoss), who led the Argentine general sire list in 1973. She is also the second dam of Irish champion juvenile filly Minstrella . Courbette also factors in the dam line of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner. Gallorette died in 1959 shortly after being pensioned as a Broodmare. She was voted Champion Older Mare in 1946 and was inducted into the Racing Hall of Fame in 1962. In the Blood-Horse rankings of top 100 American Thoroughbred Champions of the 20th Century, Gallorette comes in at number 45 and is the third highest ranking filly or mare behind Ruffian and Busher. Gallorette was a large mare tough as they come. Even tougher than some of the colts she faced. She raced in an age of giants of the turf and more than held her own.

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