Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 137 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 137 days to go!

137 Days! 1882 Apollo was the only horse to win without racing at two, until Justify came along in 2018. It was so significant, that through the years it became known as “Apollo’s Curse”.

Apollo was bred by Daniel Swigert, the founder of Elmendorf Farm, who also bred the previous year’s winner, Hindoo.  He bred the 20 year-old mare, Rebecca T. Price, to two stallions, *Ashstead and Lever. (In these years, a foal was considered to be sired by the second stallion a mare was bred to).

Everyone believed him to actually be sired by Lever, as Apollo resembled Lever’s sire, Lexington. Apollo was injured as a 2YO, and never raced. He was purchased as a yearling for $800 by trainer Green Morris and partner James Patton. As a 3YO, prior to the Kentucky Derby, Apollo won 3 stakes at 3 different tracks, which was unusual at the time. He won at Little Rock, New Orleans, and Memphis. He was still overlooked as a Derby favorite though, because of the highly-regarded Runnymede who was being campaigned by the same connections of the previous year’s Derby. Runnymede did have his detractors though, as they weren’t confident in the way that he was coming into the race. Colonel Clark was one, as he liked Robert Bruce and Apollo.

“With Runnymede making his first start of the year in the Derby, it was up to Rowe to train the colt up to the demanding race, then run at a mile and one-half. Giving a horse his first start of the season in the Derby would be unthinkable now, but in the old days-when prep race opportunities were fewer-trainers sometimes didn’t start horses for the first time as 3-year-olds until the Derby. (In fact, Rowe would bring Regret out for her first start of 1915 in the Derby.) Back then, trainers simply knew more about their business than do their modern-day counterparts and were smart enough to bring a horse up to a race off workouts.” Jim Bolus, 1979.

The thousands that came to the track to watch the horses go through their morning gallops were treated to a work on Sunday, when Runnymede breezed a mile and a half in company with his stablemate and previous year’s winner, the great Hindoo. This year’s Kentucky Derby was notable for many things. The grandstand had been expanded, there were flower gardens that were lettered, and the first Steeplechase track in the South was constructed at the Louisville track. 

The biggest difference though was the addition of Bookmakers onsite. Bookmakers were pretty non-existent in the region, but were used in New York, where Runnymede’s owners, the Dwyer’s, were from. They were upset that the year before when they shipped to Louisville that there were no bookmakers for them to place their wagers on Hindoo, so they informed Colonel Clark that if they couldn’t have bookmakers at the track, they weren’t bringing Runnymede. Clark agreed and the Dwyer brothers paid the bookmakers way to Louisville. They, along with the auction pools, had plenty of business. Apollo's Kentucky Derby field was the largest since 1875, when 14 horses started (15 were in the first). It was also larger than any field until the 1915 Derby attracted 16 starters. This was also the last of three Derby runnings that had an unnamed horse. 1875, 1876, and 1882 all ran with one unnamed colt or filly. The horse in this year’s running was simply known as Chestnut Colt by Pat Malloy.

Roughly 15,000 spectators arrived to the Louisville oval and were greeted to a clear sky and warm air. It was a big difference from the rain that had happened in the days prior to the event, making the course heavy in spots. The horses made a grand appearance stepping onto the track, with fourteen silks shimmering in the afternoon sun. They made their way to the starter, and after two false starts, they were sent on their way. Harry Gilmore broke in front and held the lead through the first mile. Runnymede made his way up into third by that point. At the homestretch, Runnymede would jump to the lead over Harry Gilmore, keeping a head in front. Apollo started a giant move under “Babe” Hurd that brought him into third, a few strides later the duo with the purple and white silks reached Runnymede’s withers.

Approaching the eighth pole the two were running eye-to-eye with Harry Gilmore dropping back. Apollo’s swift and giant strides carried him with a rush past Runnymede, the gelding passing victoriously under the wire a half-length in front. The time would be the slowest to that point due to the track condition, 2:04 ½. Apollo had a fairly successful 3YO campaign, winning ten of his 23 races. Among those victories were the St. Leger and Coal Stakes: making a total of six stakes, placing in five, and coming in third in the Clark. He would run two more seasons, and as a 4YO he won 14 races: nine of which were consecutive, and seven were in the month of September. He retired at five and lived his life out as a saddle horse, passing away at eight from lockjaw.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum