Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 71 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 71 Days to Go!

Citation, the first horse to win $1 million dollars in purse money, was foaled on April 11, 1945 to the Hyperion mare *Hydroplane II. She was imported to the states during the war, shipping from England by way of Australia to avoid Nazi submarine fire. His sire was Bull Lea, 8th in the 1938 Kentucky Derby, as well as a 5 time leading sire that became the first American horse to sire winners of over $1 million in 1947. “Big Cy” as he became known was owned and bred by Warren Wright of Calumet Farm, receiving his training from the legendary Ben Jones.

As a 2YO, Citation showed great promise, winning his first three starts which were overnights, along with setting a 5 furlong track record at Arlington of :58 in his next start. After he won the Elementary Stakes over some nice colts, Jones and Wright thought they might have a useful colt on their hands. In the Washington Park Futurity, Calumet would have 3 horses in the race; in addition to Citation they had Free America and the good filly Bewitch. Believing that the three horses would finish in the top three, instructions were given to the jockeys to not press the horses, as they would split the money three ways. For this reason, Citation would suffer his only defeat at 2, when he trailed Bewitch to the wire, even though his rider believed he could have easily won if he had been pushed. Cy would be shipped to New York, where he would win the Futurity Trial along with the Futurity by 3 lengths. After a month break, Citation would win his last start of the year in the November mile and a sixteenth Pimlico Futurity. Before his 2YO season even ended, breeders were excitedly contacting Calumet awaiting breeding privileges. His record that year was 8 wins and 1 second in 9 races, which earned 2YO Champion Male honors.

Calumet in 1947 would have the Champion Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year in Armed, 2YO Champ Citation, and 2YO Filly Champion in Bewitch. They won $1,402,436 in purses, which was more than twice what any stable earned.

In early 1948, Citation was being mentioned in the same breath as the great Man O’ War. Because of this, owner Warren Wright constantly was getting offers for Citation, although he wasn’t interested.

Big Cy started his 3YO season on February 2 in a $5000, 6 furlong race, after having a good amount of time off. Jones just wanted a tightening up race; however it ended up drawing a good field with older horses, which Citation won easily by one length. Nine days later in the Seminole, Citation faced the champion sprinter, Delegate, as well as his older stablemate and Horse of the Year, Armed. Citation would run with Delegate for the first half mile before drawing away to easily win by a length. After the way that he handled his first two races as a 3YO, in addition to what he did at 2, other big name trainers such as “Sunny” Jim Fitzsimmons and Max Hirsch were holding the young colt in high regards.

Citation would return to face horses his own age in the Everglades, while carrying 126 pounds, still easily winning. In the Flamingo, his 4th race in February, he would win by 6 lengths. Returning after a month’s rest, jockey Eddie Arcaro would take Citation’s reins for the first time in the Chesapeake Trial Stakes which was a 6 furlong race run in the mud. Arcaro, not having piloted the colt before didn’t know how much horse he had underneath him. After the pair were carried wide, allowing the inside horse, Saggy, to sprint to the lead, Arcaro didn’t push his mount too hard to catch the leader. They would lose by 1 length.  Arcaro knew that the race was worth only $8300, while also knowing of all the $100,000 race engagements that were ahead of the colt, he knew that they could’ve won if he pushed Citation but thought it best to save the colt versus risking his getting injured over the messy track. The following week in the Chesapeake Stakes, the new tandem would draw off in an easy gallop to win by 4 lengths, with Saggy 15 lengths behind.

Eddie Arcaro was chosen to team with Citation after his regular jockey, Al Snider, disappeared on a March fishing trip. Joined by two others on a fishing boat, a sudden gale swept across the area where they were located. After a search team was sent out, the boat would eventually be found with no one aboard. The rescue team searched the surrounding ocean, as well as the Everglades around where the boat was found. Unfortunately the three were never found.

In addition to having the impressive Citation, Calumet would also have the distinction of owning the other top 3YO in the country, Coaltown. Unraced at 2, Coaltown started his 3YO Season in February by easily winning his first start at Hialeah. His second start he would win by 12 lengths before being shipped to Lexington, where he won under mild urging, the Phoenix Hotel Stakes versus older horses. In his last start before the Kentucky Derby, Coaltown broke the track record for the two turn 9 furlong Bluegrass Stakes, while Citation’s final start prior to the Derby was The Derby Trial which he won easily.

Between the two horses, no one would venture a guess on who was better. It was believed to be a two horse race, even though 4 other horses connections decided to try their luck. Churchill, also under the impression that it was between the two, shut down all place and show wagering; only allowing people to place win bets on the big race.

In the 74th Kentucky Derby, Coaltown would open up a 6 length lead during the first half mile while running it in :46 3/5. It was at this point that Arcaro gave a small cluck to Citation, who quickly made up 3 lengths as Coaltown passed the 6 furlong mark in 1:11 2/5. After they went a mile in 1:38, a fast time over the sloppy going, Citation drew even with his stablemate. The Calumet duo were 5 lengths ahead of their closest competitor. Arcaro continued a steady hand-ride on Citation, who answered by drawing away from Coaltown to pass under the wire the victor by 3 ½ lengths in 2:02 2/5. After the race Arcaro would give Snider’s widow a share of his purse money.

Trainer Ben Jones and jockey Eddie Arcaro both won their 4th Kentucky Derby with Citation, resulting in Arcaro breaking the record for most Derbys won by a jockey, while Jones equaled the record for number of wins set by H.J Thompson. Calumet owner, Warren Wright had the honor of breeding and owning three winners, only Col. Bradley of Idle Hour Farm had more with four. Citation would also be the second of Arcaro’s record 6 Preakness winners.

From Churchill, Ben would send Citation to Pimlico with his son Jimmy, while he took Coaltown and others to New York. Only 3 challengers showed up to take on the mighty Citation in the Preakness, where the formidable duo won easily by 6 lengths. With the Belmont a month away, the connections went to Garden State Park, winning the Jersey Stakes by 11, along with lowering the track record for a mile and a quarter by 1 3/5 seconds, covering the distance in 2:03.

Going into the Belmont, Citation had his doubters regarding the mile and a half distance, as no son of Bull Lea had ever won a race over a mile and a quarter. Due to the rumors and reports, 7 horses would line up to take a shot at beating the Calumet color-bearer.  In a near disaster, Citation almost lost, although it was at the beginning of the race and not the finish. Coming out of the gates, Citation stumbled badly, nearly unseating Arcaro. The pair recovered quickly, taking the lead after the first half mile when they cruised by the 28-1 pacesetter, Faraway, going on to lead by 3 lengths. With three-eighths of a mile left in the mile and a half test, the lead was down to 2 lengths. As a consequence, everyone believed the colt to be tiring. At that moment, Arcaro lowered his hands, releasing Citation. Responding, he opened a 5 length lead by the 1/8 mile marker, ultimately winning the race by 8 lengths with plenty of speed in reserve. He would equal Count Fleet’s Belmont record of 2:28 1/5 in becoming the 8th Triple Crown winner, as people across the nation were able to view his victory due to CBS’s national televising of the moment.

Citation would win many impressive races at 3, taking on the country’s best sprinters as well as the best stayers, besting them all in races from 6 furlongs to 2 miles, all while breaking track records. By the time he entered the Pimlico Special, he had defeated everyone so soundly, that no one dared to challenge him, allowing the colt to win in a walkover. He covered the mile and three-sixteenth distance in 1:59 4/5, after which Wright donated $10,000 of the purse to the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund. Following the race, he was to get a well-deserved rest, although Wright decided that he wanted to race in California, leading to the colt being shipped from Baltimore to San Francisco. After winning two starts and setting a track record, Citation developed an osselet resulting in his being taken out of training. His 3YO season ended with 19 wins, with one second out of 20 races, becoming the 3YO Champion Male, Co-Champion Handicap Male, as well as 1948’s Horse of the Year.

The osselet would keep Citation out of training as a 4YO. In the meantime, Warren Wright would pass away, with his final wish for Citation to become the first race horse to earn $1 million dollars. Making a comeback, he would race as a 5 and 6 YO, although he never was quite the same as he was before the issue. He would win first time out at 5 in an allowance before a string of 5 seconds, while running into the superstar *Noor in two of those races. *Noor was carrying considerably less weight than the former champion, who just couldn’t make up the difference. In the second of those two losses during the San Juan Capistrano, the two horses would take place in a stretch battle that would be referred to as the greatest match race, even though there were 6 others. Citation was carrying 130 pounds to *Noor’s 117 and lost by one inch as *Noor got credit for the new track record. Having a couple of weeks off due to his coming out of the race a bit gimpy, Citation would come back  in June in the Golden Gate Mile where he set a world record in his victory,  additionally becoming the leading money winner. In his final two starts of the year, he would again face *Noor, coming up short both times.

At 6, Citation was sent to Arlington to compete. Having turned up a bit sore, he was then rested and sent to Bay Meadows where he finished 3rd in two sprints. From there he would ship to Hollywood Park where he would finish out his career. He finished fourth in the Hollywood Premier, the only blemish on his career. At the end of May, he would finish second in the Argonaut Handicap, after which Jones felt like the horse had finally started to get back into form. He would win a mile contest along with a victory in the mile and an eighth American Handicap.

In his final start, The Hollywood Gold Cup, Citation trailed the field until he took over, leading by two, in hand, as they passed the mile marker in 1:35 3/5.  Coming into the stretch, he led by 3 as his stablemate, Bewitch, tried to make her move. Keeping clear, Citation won by four lengths, becoming the first equine millionaire. In coming in second, Bewitch became the richest race mare.

Coming back to the stands, the fans in the grandstand gave the beloved campaigner a standing ovation, as Hollywood Park presented him with a gold blanket that they had made for the occasion. In blue letters it read:


First Thoroughbred Millionaire

Hollywood Gold Cup


Jones believed that Citation was better at that point than any time since 1948. The decision was still made two weeks later to retire him, as he had fulfilled his late owner’s wish. Although he raced no more in 1951, he still earned Co-Champion Handicap Male,   ending with a record of 45 starts, 32 wins, 10 seconds, and 2 thirds. During his racing campaign, Citation would go on to win a modern day American record of 16 straight victories in his 1948-1950 seasons.  He would be inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1959.

Retired to stud at Calumet, Citation sired Hall of Fame filly, Silver Spoon as well as Preakness winner, Fabius. He would die in 1970 at 25, being buried in the Calumet Farm cemetery by his sire and dam.

(Saddle courtesy of KDM archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum