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.”