Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 74 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 74 Days to Go!

74 Days!!! Hoop Jr., named after owner Fred W. Hooper’s son, Fred Jr., won the 1945 Kentucky Derby on the latest date that it’s ever been run. Because of the war, the government had shut down horse racing at the beginning of the year. When Germany surrendered on May 8th, racing returned and the Derby was run on June 9th.

Hoop Jr. was bred by R. A. Fairbairn, who also bred Derby winner Gallahadion. The bay colt was the result of the mating of *Sir Gallahad III (sire of Derby winners Gallant Fox 1930 and Gallahadion 1940) to the *Snob II mare, One Hour. Before Hoop Jr. was foaled, One Hour had already produced three stakes winners.

Fred Hooper, a contractor and cattle breeder, purchased Hoop Jr. for $10,200 at a Keeneland sale. The bay colt was the first yearling that Fred Hooper ever bought. He had moderate success as a 2YO, winning his first outing at Hialeah in a maiden race in February. Shipped to Pimlico, he would then run second 3 times in stakes races. In his next start at Suffolk Downs, the youngster would win a 5 furlong race in :59, however he started to show signs of leg troubles after, developing osselets. Hooper decided to rest Hoop Jr. the remainder of the season in hopes of reaching the next year’s Derby.

At three, the Ivan Parke trainee was working in spectacular fashion. His 3YO debut, which took place at the Jamaica racetrack, would see him go off at odds of 7-10, based off of his works. It was the worst finish of his career, coming in fourth, the only time in his career he ran unplaced. Everyone began to doubt his Derby chances, however Parke knew his horse. The Idaho trainer started his racing career in 1922 at 15 years old as a jockey. The next two years he would be the country’s leading jockey, as well as having back-to-back 5 win days at Latonia racetrack.  The jockey-turned-trainer had been around the track long enough to know what to do to get his horse at his best. Parke sent Hoop Jr. to contest the Wood Memorial, having secured the services of Eddie Arcaro for the first time; the pair won one of two divisions of the Wood Memorial. Parke would bring him into the Derby off of that win.

Arcaro and Hoop Jr. would team again for the Kentucky Derby, going off as the second choice of 16 horses behind Calumet Farm’s Pot O’ Luck. Arcaro sent Hoop Jr. to an early easy lead, waiting at the front until they reached the stretch. Arcaro shook Hoop Jr.’s reins, resulting in the bay galloping away from the field to easily win the race by six lengths in the slop, stopping the timer in 2:07. As he was walking with his victorious colt back to the barn, Hooper was heard to have said, “I never thought I’d make it this quick”. He was the 41st owner to win the Kentucky Derby on his first try.

The winning connections would make their way to the Preakness, where just as Hoop. Jr starting making his move, he suddenly quit moving forward and gaining ground. Although he finished second, he would come out of the race with a bowed tendon which ended his racing career.

Hoop Jr. was retired to stud at Dr. Charles Hagyard’s Green Ridge Farm outside of Lexington in 1946, where he stood for 5 years before his owner returned the stallion to his Alabama farm. His best known offspring were the stakes winners Shadows Start, along with the full-brothers, Hoop Band and Hoop Bound. He passed away in 1964, buried on the farm. When Hooper moved to Ocala, he brought Hoop Jr.’s remains with him and reburied them on the Florida farm.

(Julep Cup courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum Archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum