Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 79 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 79 days to go!

79 Days!!!  Gallahadion won “The Sweetest Derby” in 1940, so named as he was owned by Mrs. Ethel V. Mars’ Milky Way Farm. She was the widow of Frank Mars, founder of the famous chocolate bar brand. It was also sweet for those who backed Gallahadion at odds of 36-1; providing the largest payout since Donerail. The bay colt was bred by R. A. Fairbairn, and foaled at his Fairholme Stud near Winchester, Kentucky. He was the product of a mating between Sir Gallahad III, the sire of three Kentucky Derby winners, and the Reigh Count mare, Countess Time. Reigh Count was the winner of the 1928 Kentucky Derby.

Fairbairn sent the colt to the Saratoga Yearling Sale, where he was purchased for $5000 by Milky Way Farm. Roy Waldron had the training duties of Gallahadion, who didn’t win a race in five starts at two, only managing one second. In spite of the lackluster season, the colt quickly found the winner’s circle at the beginning of his 3YO campaign, capturing a race at Santa Anita on January 5th. Then on February 10th, his first start in a stakes race, the San Vincente, also proved to be a winning one. He didn’t fare so well in his subsequent races, the Santa Anita Derby and San Juan Capistrano Handicap. Nevertheless, the two time winner then shipped to Churchill to prepare for the Kentucky Derby, the one race that Mrs. Mars had always wanted to win. His next start would come in the Derby Trial, where he would face Colonel Bradley’s star, the great Bimlech, or “Big Bim”, the horse that many considered as the second coming of Man O’ War. Gallahadion would finish second in the Derby Trial behind the crowd favorite.

After the race, Waldron thought that they had a chance, telling anyone who would listen, but few believed him. He wasn’t that impressed with Bimelich, however he was confident in how his horse was training, as well as knowing that Gallahadion hadn’t been pushed in the Trial. Even more, once they drew the one hole, Waldron was sure that they would win. Still, the eight for eight Bimelich would end up going off as the shortest priced favorite since pari-mutuel betting was used for Kentucky Derby wagering, while Gallahadion was a longshot.

Unfortunately, Mrs. Mars couldn’t attend the race that mattered most to her, as she was home sick. Colonel Bradley was unable to attend the Derby as well, as his doctor had advised that he stay home due to his health. Jockey Caroll Bierman took the reins on Gallahadion for the sixty-sixth running of the Kentucky Derby.

Eight horses went to post, every move watched by the 90,000 people that made up the swarming crowd that filled Churchill Downs.  The roof of every barn was filled, every seat was taken, and even the new bleachers that were put on the backside were filled to capacity. Everyone had come to see the great Bimlech prove victorious in the race he was destined to win. Although, that isn’t how it unfolded. Gallahadion broke in forth, trailing Bimlech and the leaders on the rail. Taking over third place as they entered the stretch, the crowd roared as Bimlech entered as the leader. However, Gallahadion caught and passed Bimlech at the sixteenth pole, going on to pass under the wire a length and a half the winner. The crowd was silenced, stunned that their hero had lost. The few that did back Gallahadion were well rewarded for their backing, as the longshot paid $72.40.

It was the third time in four years that the one post triumphed, joining Lawrin and War Admiral. And though he didn’t win another stakes, Gallahadion won the race that mattered. (Photo courtesy of KDM Archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum