Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 140 Days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 140 Days to go!

Lord Murphy was the first of three horses bred in Tennessee to win the Kentucky Derby.  He was bred by J.T. Carter in Summer County, Tennessee. Originally he was named Patmus and he was sold for $400 to George W. Darden, who went into partnership on the colt with trainer George H. Rice, both of which were from Nashville.

The Derby was billed as the “Interstate Rivalry Derby”; Tennessee versus Kentucky, as it pitted Lord Murphy against the popular Kentucky bred, Falsetto. The Galt House was full of visitors from both states, as they all gathered to place bets on their favorite, and the betting was brisk. Nine horses made up the field for the 5th Kentucky Derby, but the main action was on Falsetto, the Kentucky bred, and “The Tennessee Lord”.

Derby morning would dawn bright, and at 10:30 am, Colonel Clark showed his hospitality by treating the Nashville visitors to a talk about the Kentucky Derby, and then had them transported by carriage to the Zoological Garden for a meal.

The day was sunny, the track was fast, and nearly 12,000 people showed up to watch the races. Lord Murphy’s trainer, George Rice, was telling people that “unless Aristides turned up, the first horse across the finish line would be an Irishman named Lord Murphy”, which was amusing, considering that Aristides connections owned his sister, Wissahickon, who was in the field. Even the Kentuckians were starting to place their money on Murphy and he was the heavy favorite, with Falsetto and Strathmore taking the same amount of play behind him.

The start was good for all of the horses but Falsetto, making the second time in three years that Isaac Murphy’s mounts had started poorly.  Lord Murphy was fourth early on, but on the turn heading into the stretch the first time, he collided with Ada Glenn and nearly fell to his knees.  Rice yelled, “Great ___! My critter’s gone!”

In a moment that would have taken most horses out of the race, jockey Charlie Shauer managed to stay aboard and Lord Murphy picked himself up and raced back into contention, regaining fourth under the wire the first time. Going into the backstretch, Shauer asked Lord Murphy to pick it up and he took the lead with a half mile to go. In the stretch, Isaac Murphy asked Falsetto for his move, and he easily passed One Dime and Strathmore. Halfway through, he passed Lord Murphy for a moment, and the two battled for an exciting stretch run. In the last 40 yards, however, Lord Murphy pulled away, passing under the wire to win in a time of 2:37, a record that stood for seven years. The Tennessee contingent was happy, and was even more jubilant, when two days later; the Tennessee filly Liatunah won the Kentucky Oaks. In the fall, “The Tennessee Lord” returned to Louisville to win the now defunct St. Leger Stakes, a two mile race that was nearly as important to the fall meet as the Derby was to the spring.

He won the race by 2 lengths, and soon after was purchased by breeder J.R. Keene of New York. Keene requested of Colonel Clark that a vet exam be performed with a certificate before he would purchase him. Vets C.W. Sprankling and Alex Harthill Jr., presented the certificate saying that he was the “soundest race horse they had ever seen”.

After the exchange of the certificate and $10,000, Lord Murphy had a new owner. (Across from Churchill Downs, there is still a veterinarian facility that is run by the same Harthill family). Lord Murphy would race three more times in the states, finishing second in the Dixie Stakes, Trial Stakes, and Illinois Derby. Keene sent Lord Murphy overseas to Britain to race at 4 and 5, but finished unplaced in the November 1880 Chatsworth Plate, and 4th in the April 1881 Visitors Plate at Newmarket. Following the two races, Keene would sell Lord Murphy at a Newmarket sale for the equivalent of $50. As a sire, he would eventually stand for a fee of around $10. Falsetto, the second place Derby runner would go on to sire 3 Kentucky Derby winners (Chant, His Eminence, and Sir Huon).

As of 1949, Churchill Downs had a race named the Lord Murphy Purse. Also of note, in 1879, an important meeting took place in Paris, France, concerning a French project. An American named Cyrus W. Fields sailed for France as a delegate of the Chamber of Commerce of the International Congress. He was sent to consider the project which was an inter-oceanic canal that would stretch across the American Isthmus and join the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to allow an easier route for trade.

Ferdinand de Lessups who had constructed the Suez Canal got backing, while De Lepinay’s idea concerning the terrain and locks was ignored. Lessups had only visited the region twice in the dry season, so when the project started in 1881, they were overwhelmed by the weather and construction, and the project was abandoned. The United States took over in 1904, and following a plan based off of De Lepinay’s ideas, the Panama Canal was completed in 1914.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum