Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 103 day to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 103 day to go!

103 Days!!! 1916 George Smith was a black colt of British bloodlines, whose sire and dam were imported to the United States, as were many horses during wartime. He was bred by "Black" Jack Chinn and Fred Forsythe and foaled at their Fountainblue Farm in Mercer County, Kentucky. He was by the stallion *Out of Reach, out of the mare *Consuelo II who was by Bradwardine. Chinn and Forsythe dispersed some yearlings, selling them at the fall yearling sale that took place at the Latonia racetrack.

The black colt was the second highest priced yearling that went through the sale, with Ed McBride putting up $1600 for the purchase. McBride named the colt after his Canadian friend George Smith, however many believed him to have been named after the well-known turfman and gambler, George E. Smith, also known as “Pittsburgh Phil”, who previously owned the colt’s dam, *Consuelo II. Nevertheless, McBride sent the equine George Smith to Douglass Park for his breaking and training which lasted about 2 ½ months.

From there he journeyed to Charleston, South Carolina where he was turned over to McBride’s trainer, Tom Shannon. George Smith was a 5 time stakes winner at two, winning 3 in Canada and taking the Aberdeen Handicap in the states at the Havre De Grace racetrack, as well as the Annapolis Stakes at Laurel. Following his freshman campaign, McBride got a good return on his investment, as he was purchased for $22,500 by the New York horseman, John Sanford. Sanford sent his new purchase to trainer Hollie Hughes, a long-time employee of the Sanford family.

Derby Day was picture-perfect, with a blue sky and sunshine to greet the nearly 50,000 fans who arrived at the Louisville oval to witness the race. 8,000 red geraniums and many shrubs and trees brightened the atmosphere. A movie star named Jack Pickford, who was in town shooting “Higgin’s Last Dollar”, was among the Derby crowd. Churchill implemented for the first time boards that showed the approximate will-pays for wagers placed. Calculators figured the prices at short intervals, and then they were written on chalkboards. They didn’t claim them to be official, just an approximation to give the bettors a line.

With 41 pari-mutuel machines available, nearly $100,000 was bet on the Kentucky Derby alone, the public making the H.P. Whitney entry of Thunderer and 2YO Champion Dominant the favorite, with George Smith the 4-1 second choice.

After several scratches, the field was left with 9 starters. There wasn’t much of a delay at the post, however as soon as the webbing raised, Star Hawk, the English stakes winner, was left at the start. He quickly swallowed up the ground, passing the trailers after ¾ of a mile had passed. George Smith, ridden by Johnny Loftus, broke in sixth, but moved up to track the leaders in third, taking the lead after six furlongs, passing a tired Dominant. After the mile pole, he was leading by one length, with Loftus still nursing the colt along, knowing that he still had the long stretch ahead. As they swung into the stretch, George Smith had a two length lead, pulling away, as Star Hawk finally started making his move, flying toward the front. Jockey Marshall Lilley was asking his colt for his all, and he shot past all the other challengers, bearing quickly down on the leader. Loftus had saved just enough of George Smith, and upon asking the black colt for his all, he dug deeper, clinging to his lead.The frenzied crowd roared as the desperate horses fought to the wire, George Smith the winner by a shrinking neck in a time of 2:04.

From the Courier-Journal: “George Smith won the Derby! Like a frightened deer endeavoring to shake off a savage hound, straining to the bursting point…this black son of Out of Reach swept past the finish the winner by a scant neck over Star Hawk.”

Making his way to the judge’s stand, George Smith was still fiery as he paraded showily for the cheering throng of fans. He posed proudly with his garland of flowers for all to see. Sanford was overjoyed with the win, as he had purposely purchased the colt in hopes of winning the Kentucky Derby with him. It was Sanford’s first win in the blue ribbon classic. The 1916 victory was also jockey Johnny Loftus’ first, as he would go on to pilot the first Triple Crown winner in history, Sir Barton, to victory in 1919.

George Smith wouldn’t win again in 1916, having health issues, and only raced four times. At five, he started to make a comeback, winning three of his seven starts. His five year old year was very successful, finishing in the money in all eight of his starts which were all stakes. He won the Excelsior Handicap, Edgemere Handicap, Yorktown Handicap, and Bowie Handicap. In the Bowie Handicap, he defeated the 1917 and 1918 Kentucky Derby winners, Omar Khayyam and Exterminator, who finished second and third.

George Smith was retired to his owner’s Hurricana Farm in New York for stud duty. Unable to pass on his talent on the racetrack to his offspring, Sanford donated George Smith to the U.S. Army Remount Service, where he sired military horses for his remaining years.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum