Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 95 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 95 days to go!

95 Days!!! 1924 Black Gold, winner of the 50th running, or Golden Anniversary, of the Kentucky Derby, was somewhat of a "dream" horse. He was out of the speedy race mare Useeit, who could never beat one mare, the famous Pan Zareta. Useeit was owned by Al and Rosa Hoots, who purchased the mare from her breeder for a parcel of acreage on their Oklahoma farm. Useeit and Al Hoots were inseparable, having an unbreakable bond. They traveled from track to track to race.

It was while they were in Juarez, Mexico that the first part of the story plays out. Hoots, unable to understand Spanish, entered the mare unknowingly in a claiming race. After the race, when they came to retrieve the winner, Hoots wouldn’t part with the mare, so much so that when they tried to take her, he pulled out a gun. Hoots kept the mare, and jumped aboard a train out of town with her. As a result, the officials banned them for life from racing.

There are many differing accounts on how Black Gold came to be foaled. One account has that Colonel Bradley was fond of speedy horses, and after seeing Useeit, offered Hoots a season to his stallion Black Toney. The other is that Rosa, knowing that Al had wanted the mare bred to Black Toney because of a vision, contacted Bradley, telling him of her deceased husband’s dream. Bradley, known to be sentimental, as well as his fondness of breeding mares with good speed to his prized stallion, wanted to grant his wish and gave a service to Black Toney.

Regardless of how it came to be, why it came to be is legend. It is said that on Al Hoots deathbed he had a dream that Useeit was bred to Black Toney, and the resulting foal won the Kentucky Derby. He asked Rosa to make sure that the cross happened; she promised that it would.

They were poor, however, oil was soon discovered in Oklahoma, as a result the Indians living there were suddenly no longer suffering from poverty. Useeit was sent to Kentucky to be bred to Black Toney. On February 17, 1921 the mare gave birth to a black colt that Rosa named Black Gold, for the oil that ran freely on their farm.

Black Gold won the Bashford Manor as a 2YO on Derby Day. Several in attendance were so impressed with his performance that as soon as the Winter Books opened, they were placing money on the black colt that opened at 100-1. As his 3YO season campaign began, he was the winner of the Louisiana Derby, which saw his Derby odds drop to 50-1. Hanley Webb, the trainer of Black Gold, believed that Al Hoots was helping him train his charge that was doing everything that was asked of him. They headed to Churchill Downs for the race that Hoots dreamed of winning. Black Gold would win the Derby Trail as his final prep going into the Kentucky Derby.

Still, many of the bookmakers didn’t believe in the colt’s chances, instead choosing to make the Rancocas Stable entry of Bracadale and Mad Play the favorite. The public however had other opinions. Black Gold would be 25-1 when betting opened, although when it was time for the race he was the 9-5 favorite. Derby Day looked ominous as it dawned, but the sun wasn’t to be denied. The rains held off and at times it actually peaked out from behind the clouds.

Such was the case with race time, as the crowd of nearly 90,000 that filled the track to capacity, was bathed in sunlight while the 19 horses made their way to the post. Black Gold was ridden by J.D. Mooney, who was his regular rider and groom, in the race. He believed in the horse’s chances when many didn’t. The morning of the race, he walked the track. Coming to the starting point, he found a horseshoe that he considered good luck, in the one hole, which was their post number.  The duo overcame many traffic problems in the race. In the first quarter, as they were on the rail, Earl Sande who was aboard Bracadale swerved in on the four horses that were fighting for the lead and the rail. As a result, Black Gold was crushed on the inner rail. Losing his footing, he bounced back within a few strides, Mooney choosing to stay behind the leaders until the stretch. As they made their way into the stretch, the duo was running in 3rd, behind Chilhower and Bracadale who were battling together at the front. Mooney made the decision to let Black Gold go as he swung the colt out from behind the dueling pair, flying past them. Mooney, paying attention to the colts on his inside, was unaware that there was a kneeling photographer in the middle of the track. He felt Black Gold start to brace; as a consequence the other horses were able to come back up to them. Mooney then pushed Black Gold, knowing there was room. The colt, listening to his rider, flew to the lead in the last 70 yards of the race, winning by a half-length in a time of 2:05 1/5. Black Gold’s victory made Rosa the first woman to own and breed a Kentucky Derby winner.

After winning the Derby, Rosa gifted Churchill Downs vice-president Matt Winn with a box of his favorite cigars, which was a Native American tradition. She also made sure that her winner’s purse was to be brought to her in cash that day, because she was taught not to trust a promissory note. From this she gave jockey Mooney $10,000 for the victory.

From the Times:   “With ears forward, head turning lightly from side to side as if in recognition of the adulation showered on him from all sides, with hardly a sign that he had just finished one of the greatest tests of thoroughbred quality, Black Gold trotted into that charmed circle barred to all save the winner. He was a bit nervous as the magnificent horseshoe of American Beauties was thrown about his neck…”

Black Gold became the first Kentucky Derby winner to win four Derbies in four different states, taking the Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and Chicago Derbies. He is buried in The Fair Grounds infield, next to his mother's rival, Pan Zareta.

Since it was the "Golden Jubilee" of the Kentucky Derby, Matt Winn commissioned a gold trophy from artist George L. Graff. The trophy at that time was valued at $5000. All Kentucky Derby trophies since 1924 are made to replicate this design. The only thing that has changed is that in 1999, for the 125th running, the horseshoe that is on the trophy was pointed up due to the superstition that horseshoes that are pointed downward let the luck run out.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum