Jet Pilot was a chestnut colt that was bred by Arthur B. Hancock with Mrs. R.A. VanClief. He was by Blenheim II, the 1930 Epsom Derby winner that also happened to be the sire of Whirlaway, out of the Sir Gallahad III mare, Black Wave.
Hancock and VanClief sent the yearling to the sale where he was purchased for $41,000 by make-up pioneer Elizabeth Arden for her Maine Chance Farm. Arden, who loved her horses, went through many trainers due to her eccentric ways. However, some of the things that she wanted to be done to her horses actually ended up having good effects, though just not in the way she had hoped. One trainer was surprised when he received along with a load of her horses, a crate of olive oil. She insisted that each horse being given a cup with their food. Not one to argue, he did as she wished, later commenting that he had never seen horses with better coats. One of Arden’s other wishes to be done to her horses was to have her face cream rubbed on their faces. Arden sent so much of it to the barns, that lots of times the grooms would give it to their significant others. It did end up being used on the horses’ surface injuries, which seemed to help. The biggest thing that it was found to do though was in helping their hooves. One trainer had a horse that had hoof issues, and not having anything left to put on the hoof, used the cream. It surprisingly had a good effect, keeping the area soft for healing.
Two days before the running of the 1946 Kentucky Derby, a fire at a Chicago track destroyed 22 2YO’s that were owned by Maine Chance Farm. Escaping the fire were War Fan and Jet Pilot, although the papers referred to him as Jet Plane. They were shipped with the Maine Chance Farm Kentucky Derby contingent to Churchill Downs. Jet Pilot would race on the Derby undercard in the first race, where he would win his first start, a five-furlong sprint, easily by 9 lengths. Leslie Combs II, who was an advisor to Elizabeth Arden, stated that, “There is next year’s Derby winner”, after watching the race. It proved to be a very true statement.
Jet Pilot would go on to win his first four races, all at different tracks. Losing his next 7, he would finish the year by winning the 1 mile and sixteenth Pimlico Futurity. Becoming known as the “Cosmetics Kid” his freshman campaign ended with his winning 5 of his 12 races.
For Jet Pilot’s 3YO undertaking, his training would be taken over by Tom Smith, the famous conditioner of Seabiscuit. His son had trained Jet Pilot for him while he was serving a suspension that Arden had defended him in. Jet Pilot would come in 6th in the San Felipe in California, then win the Jamaica Handicap in New York before shipping to Louisville in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. There he would meet both Phalanx, the favorite, of C.V. Whitney’s stable, and the Calumet Farm entry of Faultless.
The 1947 Derby would have several firsts. It was the first year that a horse was flown in for the race. On Trust, the winner of the Santa Anita Derby, joined his other competitors by plane. It was also the first year that the winner of the race was decided by the photo finish.
The enormous crowd of 120,000 were treated to a rain shower in the morning that led to the track being slow by the time the field of 13 made their way to the starting gates. Tom Smith told jockey Eric Guerin to take Jet Pilot to the front and the colt would rate himself. Doing as he was instructed, the two would have a one length lead the first time they passed the grandstand, then a length and a half advantage as they went through the first turn. It was as they were getting ready to reach the stretch that Jet Pilot would be the recipient of a good turn of luck. Doug Dodson who was aboard Faultless was focused on Eddie Arcaro on Faultless, believing him to be the only horse between himself and victory. Both riders were dueling each other, waiting for each other to make a move. Dodson, who was riding on the inside of Arcaro, saw the rider begin to make his move. Instead of riding his horse to the finish, Dodson pulled his horse, carrying Arcaro and Faultless wide, which allowed Jet Pilot to slip away from the challengers. Once they started riding to catch the leader, they gained on the tiring colt, however it was too late. Jet Pilot had just enough, winning by a neck. The three horses would cross the line in a “blanket finish”, so close that you could cover the three with a blanket. The photo would determine that Jet Pilot was indeed the winner, taking the race in 2:06 4/5.
The colt’s luck would run out in the Preakness and Withers, bowing a tendon that would lead to his retirement. He would stand at Leslie Comb II’s Spendthrift Farm where he would sire the 2YO Champion Filly, Rose Jet, as well as Jet Action, the sire of the second dam of Seattle Slew.
(Photo courtesy of Kentucky Derby Museum archives)