Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 49 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 49 Days to Go!

In 1970, Dust Commander became the first Illinois-bred to win, although it wasn’t found out until around the time of the Derby. His papers had him as a Kentucky-bred, and until he was ready to run in the Derby, the mistake hadn’t been noticed. The chestnut was bred by the Pullen Brothers, Jim and Tom, who sold the youngster in the 1968 Keeneland Fall Yearling Sale for $6500 to Robert E. Lehmann.  Dust Commander was by Bold Commander out of the Windy City II mare Dust Storm, becoming the first of the Bold Ruler line horses that would dominate the Kentucky Derby in the 70’s, leading Secretariat, Cannonade, Foolish Pleasure, Bold Forbes, Seattle Slew, and Spectacular Bid.

Trainer Don Combs, from Lexington, Kentucky, would have the task of bringing the slow-developing colt along. It took the chestnut 5 tries to finally break his maiden, even running for a $7500 claiming tag in his second start, with no takers. After winning his maiden, it wasn’t until December 16th that he would win his next two starts. Finishing first by 3 lengths in a 6-furlong contest, he would then go on to win the City of Miami Handicap to finish the year with a 5 length victory in the 8 ½ -furlong event.

As a 3YO, he would start off his undertaking with 6 off-the-board finishes. Traveling to Keeneland, he would take to the Kentucky spring with a length and a half victory in an 8 ½-furlong allowance on April 8th. Though he had the victory to his credit, he was hardly inspiring any confidence in the betting public as he came into the Blue Grass greatly overlooked. The day started in a downpour, clearing up just in time for the race. Over the muddy track, Dust Commander would win by ¾ of a length, paying $72.80. After winning the race, trainer Don Combs said that the colt would head to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby.

In the Derby, Dust Commander would again be ridden by the Connecticut born, Kentucky resident, Mike Manganello. The 1970 edition saw several firsts. In addition to the first Illinois-bred horse and Connecticut born jockey to win, it marked the first year a woman would ride in the race when Diane Crump would finish 15th on Fathom. It is also the year that Hunter S. Thompson would chronicle in his writing, “The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved”.

The Derby would be quite the spectacle with Crump taking part in the race. The jockey, who grew up around horses, became the first woman to ride in a pari-mutuel race at a major track on February 7, 1969, competing in the 7th race at Hialeah. She was going to ride on one of her and her husband/trainer’s horses in a race, only to find out from reading the paper that another trainer had named her on one of his horses before she had even met him. The trainer’s wife insisted that he name Crump as the jockey for their horse Bridle ‘n Bit, a claimer that was entered into a quality allowance field. The duo finished 10th, as he was 48-1 and very overmatched.

Seventeen horses would make their way to the starting gate for the 96th running over a track rated good, though it was still pretty muddy. The smallest horse in the field, Dust Commander and Manganello would be bumped coming out of the gate, winding up running towards the back of the leaders. Manganello would pilot Dust Commander to the rail as they turned for home. 2YO Champion Silent Screen took the lead going into the last turn. At the top of the stretch, Dust Commander would shoot between Silent Screen and My Dad George, the favorite, powering through to win by five lengths, in a time of 2:03 2/5 at odds of 15-1. Owner Lehmann was thrilled to win the roses, having arrived only a few hours before the race from a trip to Nepal.

A few days after the Derby, the victor’s ankle seemed to have some filling, putting his trip to Baltimore for the Preakness in doubt. The chestnut seemed to have recovered fine, leading to his entry. Unfortunately, it still bothered the colt in the running of the race as he finished 9th, although it didn’t show back up until after the race when his left front ankle filled back up. Once he recovered fully, Dust Commander would again return to the races, running 9 times before picking up a win in a 7-furlong Churchill allowance, however he was stakes placed in the Monmouth Invitational, Fayette, and Clark Handicaps.

As a stallion, Dust Commander would first be retired to Lehmann’s Golden Chance Farm where he took up residence until he was sold to Japan. In 1980, John Gaines would purchase the chestnut, returning him to the states, standing him at Gainesway from 1980-1985. After the 1985 season, Dust Commander would then be sent to Springland Farm near Paris, Kentucky where he resided the last 5 years of his life. He was a fairly successful at stud, siring 1975 Preakness winner, Master Derby, as well as the 1977 Derby runner-up and multiple stakes winner, Run Dusty Run. Run Dusty Run finished second behind Triple Crown Winner, Seattle Slew, in the Derby and Belmont, and third in the Preakness. When he died in 1991, Dust Commander was buried at Springland Farm in an unmarked grave before the farm was sold off. The Lehman family who owned the horse, began to search for his remains, eventually finding them; having his skeleton buried at the Kentucky Derby Museum.  

(Photo courtesy of Kentucky Derby Museum archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum