Countdown to the Kentucky Derby-122 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby-122 days to go!

122 Days! 1897 Typhoon II was bred in Tennessee by John B. Ewing, becoming the third horse to win the Kentucky Derby bred in that state. He was owned and trained by Julius C. Cahn of Memphis.

The colt had a good start to his racing career, finishing in the money in 15 of his 18 starts at 2. He won eight of those, and 10 of his starts were in stakes races. He started his 3YO campaign in Tennessee, winning the Peabody Hotel Handicap prior to taking on the Derby. The 1897 field consisted of 6 horses, with Ornament the heavy favorite, and Typhoon II the second choice. All six starters had won their prep races coming into the Kentucky Derby.

A heavy rain the day before the race, left the track, “fetlock deep in sloppy mud”, but the sun and wind had begun to dry the track, so the footing wasn’t uniformly the same across it. Still, about 20,000 spectators showed up to the Louisville oval to watch race. The mayor had declared it a half-holiday, allowing locals to visit the track.

Typhoon II was ridden in the Derby by Fred “Buttons” Garner, while Ornament was being piloted by Lonnie Clayton who had won the race in 1892 aboard Azra. Garner would have an incredible year in 1897, finishing in the top 3 in 248 of the 401 races he rode that year, with 116 of those being wins. Garner guided Typhoon II to the lead shortly after the break, steering him wide to the better footing of the track. Clayton and Ornament would break next to last.

After a half, Typhoon II would have an easy three length lead, still staying off of the rail because of the heavy mire. Clayton worked Ornament into second, trying to save precious ground on the rail. When the horses reached the stretch, Garner moved Typhoon II even farther out for a better foothold on the drier ground, while the other pair stayed hugging the rail. They had hopelessly outdistanced the rest of the field, and the race came down to the two horses. Garner just hand-rode Typhoon II, pushing him forward, while Clayton was in a furious drive, chipping away at the lead. Typhoon II would prevail by a neck over Ornament at the finish, in a time of 2:12 ½, with closest horse 20 lengths further back.

The best description of the stretch that I found was from the “History of the Kentucky Derby, 1875-1921”: "Garner is proving himself a rider of fine quality. He is coaxing Typhoon. He is handling a colt with hand-riding, and it may be stated right here that no prettier bit of that same sort of riding has been seen on the Louisville track since the best days of Isaac Murphy, with the one exception of Simms' finish on Ben Brush.   "Garner looks neither to right nor left. He has the race if he can hold. He swings Typhoon wide into the homestretch, landing him in the best and driest path. Ornament must catch that colt if there is hope for him to win. He must get to Typhoon's throat-latch and ask him the question of courage. Clayton takes a chance. He hugs the rail and saves at least a length. Then, wisely, he bears out toward the hard going. Ornament is closing on Typhoon.

  'Clayton goes to the whip at the eighth pole and again Ornament comes forward from under punishment. He is nearing Typhoon. What is that boy Garner going to do? Every ounce in Typhoon is out! If Garner has not a wonderfully cool head he will drop the rein and lift the whip. He does not do it. He looks straight ahead. He is climbing forward on the leader's withers coaxing him on, coaxing him always on. Typhoon is all out, but Ornament, too is staggering a length back and the wire is overhead.   "Ornament is gaming, gaining at every jump, running from the whip, ready to go on until he drops. But Typhoon, with that same steam-engine action with which he gained his lead, is holding it. The wire is reached. Garner is still climbing and coaxing, Ornament is still fighting a neck back, and Typhoon II., is winner of the Kentucky Derby of 1897."  

Typhoon II was sold after the race for $12,000 to A. Featherstone, who continued to race him through his 4YO season. Gelded in 1899, he was sent to the farm to be a pensioner. Reports differ on his outcome, as some have him pulling milk carts in Indianapolis, others have him pulling carts or hauling hay in Lexington.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum