Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 50 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 50 Days to Go!

Majestic Prince became the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby undefeated in 47 years, joining 1922 winner Morvich and 1915 winner Regret. He was a chestnut colt by the 2YO Champion Raise A Native, that was bred by Leslie Combs II and foaled at Spendthrift Farm. His dam, Gay Hostess, was by the syndicated imported stallion *Royal Charger. She was purchased for $6,700 at the Keeneland Fall Yearling Sale for racing. While in training, Gay Hostess would fall on the track, injuring her knees, which led to her retirement as a broodmare. Majestic Prince was one of 23 foals sired by Raise A Native from his second crop. Sent to the Keeneland summer yearling sale, the colt was purchased by Canadian oilman Frank McMahon for a world record $250,000. McMahon would send his new purchase to former jockey turned trainer Johnny Longden for conditioning. Oftentimes the former jockey would ride Majestic Prince in the mornings.

Starting his career at 2, he was lightly raced in California, winning both of his starts, a 6-furlong maiden by 2 ¾ lengths in November, in addition to a December 26th 6-furlong allowance that he won by a nose. Jockey Bill Hartack would be aboard for all of Majestic Prince’s races. At 3 he would win 4 races in California; the Los Feliz by 4 lengths, the San Vicente by 5 lengths, the San Jacinto by 4 lengths, along with the Santa Anita Derby by 8 lengths. After heading to Louisville to prep for the Kentucky Derby, Majestic Prince would win the Stepping Stone purse at Churchill a week before the big race, by 6 lengths, in a time that was only 1/5 off the track record, 1:21.3/5.

New security protocols were put into place with all of the Derby contenders guarded 24-7 to prevent tampering after the previous year’s disqualification. Many trainers, including Longden, continually had to show their credentials to get into their own barns. The trainers would also have to leave a list of all of the people that were allowed into the area.

The 95th Kentucky Derby would be the first Derby attended by a sitting president, as Richard Nixon, along with his wife Pat, joined in the festivities. They were joined by the California Governor, Ronald Reagan, and his wife Nancy. Along with 125,000 other attendees, the crowd was treated to a perfect and beautiful day of bright sunshine.

The field was 8 high-class horses, including the 1968 2YO Champion, and Florida Derby winner, Top Knight, the Wood Memorial winner, Dike, the 15 length winner of the Blue Grass, Arts and Letters, in addition to Majestic Prince. Jockey Bill Hartack, 4-time Derby winner, would pilot “The Prince”, tracking Arts and Letters through the mile, with Dike stalking behind. Once they reached the eighth pole, Majestic Prince would stick his head in front, as Arts and Letters battled back. Majestic Prince would resurge to the finish to win by a neck in 2:01 4/5, providing jockey Bill Hartack with his 5th and final Derby win. In the Preakness, Majestic Prince would be the heavy favorite, winning by a head after a tenacious battle, again with Arts and Letters. His victory would make Johnny Longden the only person to ride and train a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner.

Longden didn’t wish for Majestic Prince to run in the Belmont, as he felt that he didn’t come out of the Preakness 100%. McMahon would make the final decision, with the “Regal Red Comet” contesting the race. Arts and Letters turned the tables at last, taking the race by 5 ½ lengths. Unfortunately, Majestic Prince would come out of the race with a tendon issue that would cause his retirement.

Arts and Letters would go on to be voted Horse of the Year, with both colts being named Co-Champion 3YO. Majestic Prince would be syndicated to Spendthrift Farm for 1.8 million, where he would become a successful sire. He would sire 33 stakes winners, including Belmont winner, Coastal, who stopped Spectacular Bid’s Triple Crown attempt, in addition to successful runner and sire, Majestic Light. At age 15, he would succumb to a heart attack in 1981. In 1988 “The Prince” was inducted into the National Horse Racing Hall Of Fame.

(Photo courtesy of KDM archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum