Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 139 Days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 139 Days to go!

139 Days to go!!! 1880's winner was Fonso, the second of the winner's bred by A.J. Alexander. Fonso's dam, Weatherwitch, was the grand dam of Hindoo, who won the 1881 Kentucky Derby. He was born on Alexander’s Woodburn Stock Farm in Woodford County, Kentucky.

Fonso was purchased for $220 by J.S. Shawan. At two, he ran nine times, winning three and finishing 2nd twice, and 3rd twice. Ten days before running in the Kentucky Derby, he won the mile and a quarter Phoenix Stakes in Lexington. Seating was nearly doubled for the 6th running of the race, with two stands. The weights were raised to 105 pounds for the colts, and 102 for the fillies.

The Sunday ahead of the Tuesday race saw 1000 people trek to the Downs, just to watch the horses go through their morning routines from 4:30-10:00am. Some were there hoping to get a hint as to who the best horse would be, and others just came to see them gallop. The betting pools were full of action, taking place at the auction houses such as the Galt House, Willard, and Louisville Hotels, and the 3rd street Turf Exchange. Only 4 horses were in the pools, with the favorite being Kimball who was owned by Captain William Cottrill of Alabama. For $3.25, you could get a room at the famous Galt House Hotel, transportation to and from the race, and you could see the race for free from the infield. Three dollars of that total was for a single room, and the quarter was for the train ride to and from the track. Advertisements talked of room renovations and improvements, as well as prices actually being dropped for lodging at the hotels, a huge difference from the present event!

At the races, the betting areas were strictly off-limits to the ladies of the day, as wagering was considered being “exceedingly fast”. That didn’t stop some though, as they would send their bets with their male companions to place the wager for them. Other ladies would just bet candies or gloves between themselves.

The big surprise of the day was the entrant Boulevard, making it a field of five. He was entered approximately 15 minutes before the bell sounded for the race. Because of his late entry, he hadn’t been included in the pools, so had he won, the horse that finished second would be the winner that would be paid out to the bettors. The rules of racing at the time stated: “A horse shall not be qualified to run in a race unless he has been notified as a starter to the Clerk of Scales not later than 15 minutes before the time appointed for the race…”

Between 7,000 and 10,000 patrons showed up to see the race, with most reports recording around 8,000. The track was very deep with dust, between 5 to 6 inches, and although efforts were made to water down the track and the surrounding areas, it helped little. The temperature on the cloudless day reached around 87 degrees, with a “balmy breeze”. The field of now five horses made their way to the starter, and with little delay the runners were sent on their way. Taking into account the dust, Fonso’s jockey, 18 year old George Lewis, sent him straight away to the front, with jockey Billy Lakeland sending Kimball right behind. Fonso held the lead over Kimball, however, with a half mile to go, Kimball started cutting into the lead. By the time the duo reached the quarter pole, they were neck and neck, battling around the turn and into the stretch. Nevertheless, the battle had taken its toll on Kimball, and he faltered in the stretch, falling back into second again and leaving the race for Fonso to be the victor. The final time was 2:37 ½ with the winning margin a length.

After the race, Lakeland ran to the judge’s stand and claimed foul against Fonso and Lewis, saying that they came in on him and caused him to drop out. The judges quickly dismissed the claim as it was apparent that it didn’t happen and it had no bearing on the race outcome. Surviving the first claim of foul lodged in the Kentucky Derby, and being declared the prizewinner, Fonso’s owner, after getting clear masses offering their well-wishers and congratulations, he patted Fonso on the head and proclaimed, “I knew it!” Fonso’s only other start at 3 was in the fall when he contested the Viley Stakes, coming in second and found to be sick afterwards. He was retired to stud in 1881 and stood at Oakwood Stud Farm in Lexington. He was a fairly successful sire, and died in 1903. Fonso's jockey, George Lewis, passed away on July 4th or 5th, two months after winning the Derby, from a spill he suffered in St. Louis on June 8th. He obtained internal injuries and recovered enough to continue to ride a few races, but quickly relapsed. After returning to Kentucky, he succumbed to the injuries.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum