Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 70 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 70 Days to Go!

Ponder, the 1949 Kentucky Derby winner, owned and bred by Calumet Farms, was by 1944 Kentucky Derby winner Pensive, out of the Blenheim II mare, Miss Rushin. *Penicuik, Pensive’s dam, was imported by Arthur B. Hancock, as was *Erne, Miss Rushin’s grand dam. *Erne was bred to Hancock’s *Sir Gallahad III, producing a filly named Lady Erne, who would eventually be bred to *Blenheim II, the sire of Whirlaway, resulting in a January 2nd filly. Due to her early arrival, they named her Miss Rushin. The dark bay colt was sent to Ben Jones for his training, although he didn’t win any of his four 2YO races in the same year that stablemate Citation would win the Triple Crown.  He would finally break his maiden in January of his 3YO season, winning a 6 furlong maiden race at Tropical Park. The colt would deal with sore heals during his time in Florida, winning one more race in an allowance at Hialeah before being shipped to Kentucky. The slow-learning colt didn’t train well at Keeneland, making his connections unsure of his Derby hopes. As Ponder suddenly began to put things together, he was entered into the Derby Trial. Although he would finish a fast-closing second to Olympia, it was what Jones saw in his effort that made him suspect that the colt finally had what it would take to compete in the Derby. The 75th running of the Kentucky Derby would see the owner of the winning horse receive $91,500 together with a diamond encrusted trophy to honor the “Diamond Jubilee”. The horseshoe that is placed upon the trophy had $4500 in diamonds that were placed into the nail holes. 110,000 fans congregated at Churchill Downs to see the race, even though it was broadcast live locally on WAVE TV for the first time. In the paddock prior to the race, Ponder was definitely the best-looking colt of the 14 making up the field. Mrs. Wright, making her way to see her horse, asked of Jones what he thought the colts chances were. Thinking that Ponder was coming into the race just as he needed, Jones replied that he thought he would turn in the best race of his life. Overcoming a slow start, Ponder was running in last as they passed the grandstand the first time. When they had gone 5/8’s of a mile on the backstretch, jockey Steve Brooks shook the reins at his mount. Taking off like a shot, he looked as if he was going to run over horses trying to pass them on the final turn. Ponder was still 3 ½ lengths behind with 1/8 of a mile to go, yet with his amazing rush he managed to sweep past the rest of the field, winning by 3 lengths over a fast track in a time of 2:04 1/5.   The “Calumet Derby Magic” win would be a record tying 4th Derby victory for Wright’s Calumet Farm, equaling that of Colonel Bradley’s Idle Hour Farm. It would also be a 5th for trainer Ben Jones, passing that of Bradley’s trainer, “Derby Dick” Thompson. Unfortunately for Wright, who had been to the winner’s circle numerous times, he didn’t make it for this presentation. Led down a dead end three separate times, he finally gave up and went to the winner’s suite. Five days later, in the week between the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, Ponder along with his stablemate Wistful, were out on the Pimlico track for morning training, when they narrowly escaped tragedy. Another horse on the track, named Charlestown, bolted from the rail and into their path, running at them. Jones, who saw the threat, quickly acted, moving his pony and pushing his charges out of the way, saving them from the headlong rush by mere inches. Ponder was known for his come from behind style, which didn’t suit him in the Preakness.  He had started the race in last, running 22 lengths behind the leader after a half mile. From there he closed in a rush, although he came up just short to Capot. Ponder would defeat Capot in the Peter Pan by 10 lengths, however in the Belmont, Capot’s jockey rested his mount so that he just had enough left to hold off Ponder’s charge. Ponder would again best Capot in the Arlington Classic, yet despite edging Capot in most of their races, Capot would get 3YO Champion Male for his wins in the Preakness and Belmont. At four, Ponder would compile an impressive record, finishing 3rd in two stakes, placing 2nd in one, in addition to winning five stakes; the Santa Anita Maturity, Arlington, San Antonio, Tanforan, and Manhattan Handicaps. Sired by Pensive, Ponder would go on to sire 1956 winner, Needles, in his first crop, becoming the second three-generation set of Kentucky Derby winners. He only produced 115 named foals, of which 77 were winners. He would pass away in 1958 from a twisted intestine with his remains buried in the Calumet Farm equine cemetery.

(Print courtesy Kentucky Derby Museum archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum