Countdown to the Kentucky Derby- 90 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby- 90 days to go!

90 Days!!! 1929 Clyde Van Dusen, the horse, was foaled on the 100 acre Few Acres Farm that was owned by former jockey turned trainer, Clyde Van Dusen. The horse’s owner and breeder was the wealthy New Yorker, H.P. Gardner, who kept his breeding stock at the farm. Gardner bred his mare, Uncle’s Lassie, to the great Man O’ War, resulting in a small chestnut colt with a blaze and three white stockings. Due to the fact that he wasn’t growing much, the decision was made to geld the colt. He would be named after his trainer, whom Gardner highly-regarded, because they were both small but big in heart.

At two, Clyde Van Dusen would win four stakes races, the Idle Hour was a four and a half furlong sprint that he won by 5 lengths. He then went on to win the Valley Stakes and Orphanage Stakes, before he would be victorious in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes, making him the second horse to win the Jockey Club and Derby behind Reigh Count, the previous year’s winner.

The Derby would be internationally radiocast for the first time, as 75,000 people gathered to view the great race, a day that started sunny and bright, but quickly turned into a downpour that continued throughout the day. Until 2018, it would be the wettest Derby on record with 1.91 inches of rain falling. The track was flooded from rail to rail, with the first turn being described as a lake. Still, the crowd stayed, standing in the pooling water, just to get a glimpse of the Derby horses.

Jockey Linus “Pony” McAtee, or “Mac”, who had ridden Whiskery to victory in 1927, hadn’t been aboard the gelding, nor had he seen him before the race. Trainer Van Dusen journeyed up to the jockey’s quarters to prepare Mac for seeing the gelding’s size, in addition to telling him that though he was compact, he was gutsy. McAtee told him not to worry, as he had ridden small horses before.

Despite the warning, Clyde’s diminutive stature, which only carried about 900 pounds, reportedly still made McAtee’s jaw drop open. Clyde Van Dusen was made a lukewarm second choice behind Colonel Bradley’s Blue Larkspur, who had defeated CVD by a neck in their 3YO meeting at the Lexington track. Clyde Van Dusen, like many of the horses, was fitted with mud calks for the muddy surface, which allowed the little gelding to glide across the track. Unfortunately for Blue Larkspur, his trainer, “Derby Dick” Thompson was in the hospital with appendicitis.

The stable foreman forgot about the shoes, and when someone in the barn remembered, the blacksmith told him that the horse didn’t need them. As a result, the colt slipped across the track, never really getting a foothold, though he would have been hard pressed to catch the known-mudder Clyde Van Dusen, who enjoyed romping through the muddy going. Clyde and Mac would break from post 20, a feat not repeated until Big Brown’s win in 2008, the pair just inside of Blue Larkspur who had drawn the far outside 21 spot. It was the last year that the race would be started from the webbing, the field taking 13 minutes to get in line at the barrier.

Once they were off, McAtee took his mount to the lead. By the time they reached the quarter pole, he knew that he was aboard a good horse with a lot of run. Only a few times did the trailers come close, and each time they did Mac would ask for more. Clyde would respond, picking up the speed and flying through the slop. The team would surge through the muck to win easily by two lengths in a time of 2:10 4/5. They returned to the judge’s stand, McAtee silks as clean as when he left the jocks room; Clyde Van Dusen only muddied by what his own hooves created as he splashed through the going.

Trainer Van Dusen received the trophy on behalf of Gardner, who had remained home because he didn’t think that he could handle the excitement. McAtee was thrilled about having been aboard the little gelding with a huge heart, calling him a mud-running fool. The workers of Few Acres Farm held a celebration with CVD’s dam, Uncle’s Lassie, the heroine.

Clyde was the 7th and last gelding to win the Kentucky Derby until Funny Cide won in 2003. He became the first of two winners to take the Kentucky Derby that were sired by Man O’ War. As he continued racing, an incident where he was kicked in the leg caused him to never quite return to his former self. Once he was retired, Gardner gifted the gelding to his trainer who used him as a pony horse. He passed away in 1948 due to old age.

From the Courier-Journal’s John Herschenroeder: “Uncle Sam tilted back the old top hat sorta rakishly today, focused his field glasses on Kentucky, and drew himself up rather proudly while his own State of the Bluegrass put on a horse race for the world. And boy, what a horse race it was! The sky paraded everything it had; it’s blues, whites, and myriad formations in an effort to outshine the classic that was the fifty-fifth Kentucky Derby. Then just as it acknowledged defeat, it turned a solid gray and wept profusely, while out of it all raced a little red horse to eternal fame. Protestations were in vain. The lightning speed of the little red horse outdid any of the vivid flashes that the sky brought forth, and the thundering hooves drowned all the protest that the heavens could muster…”  

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum