Kauai King (kuh-WAH-ee) became the only Maryland-bred to officially win the Kentucky Derby, although two have actually passed the finish wire first. 1968 winner Dancer’s Image won the race, however he was later disqualified. Kauai King is the only Maryland horse to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness; the only other Maryland horse to win two legs of the Triple Crown was in 1877 when Cloverbrook won the Preakness and Belmont.
Kauai King was bred and born at Sagamore Farm, by Native Dancer and out of the Blenheim II mare, Sweep In. Dr. Mike O’ Keefe of Pine Brook Farm bought the Calumet mare for $4500 at the Keeneland fall mixed sale, having already foaled a stakes winner. Sweep In became the dam of several other $100,000+ winners in addition to Kauai King. Once he was foaled, the dark bay stayed at the farm for one month before being shipped to breeder O’Keefe’s farm in Virginia. O’Keefe consigned the youngster to the Saratoga Yearling Sale where he was purchased by Tom Gentry on behalf of Mike Ford for $42,000. He was named for the Hawaiian Island, Kauai, the only island not conquered by King Kamehameha I in 1810. Kauai's ruler, Kaumuali'I, thwarted off two invasions, before finally submitting to Kamehameha rather than face another attack. Because of this, Kaumauli’l was allowed to continue to rule Kauai. Ford, after visiting the island with his family, so named the horse hoping that he would be as unbeatable.
As a 2YO, Kauai King raced four times, finally becoming stakes-placed in the Joliet Stakes at Arlington Park. He really began to show his promise at 3, winning two allowances at Hialeah before again moving up to stakes company. He would then place in the 7-furlong Hutcheson, win an 8 ½-furlong allowance and the Fountain of Youth, as well as a 5th in the Florida Derby. Shipped to Bowie racetrack, the colt would win the Prince George Stakes and Governor’s Gold Cup prior to heading to Kentucky.
Kauai King and jockey Don Brumfield would go off as the favorite in the field of 15 for the 92nd running of the Kentucky Derby. The perfect day would bring a record crowd to the Louisville track, with the spectators being treated to a cleanly-run race and a somewhat “home-town” triumph, as trainer Henry Forrest was from Covington, Kentucky and Brumfield hailed from Nicholasville, Kentucky. In the race, Kauai King shot from the gate, leading the field throughout the race, just hanging in in a memorable stretch drive, and passing under the wire in 2:02. The King would become the first horse in 19 years to win wire-to-wire, following Jet Pilot in 1947.
Jockey Don Brumfield and stallion Native Dancer would have an Oaks-Derby double when filly Native Street won on Friday. Going into the Preakness, people would call it destiny that he won, considering that the beginning letters of the horses in posts 3-7 spelled Kauai (Kauai King, Advocator, Understand, Amberoid, and Indulto). Coming from off the pace, he would go on to post the second fastest Preakness at the time in passing the line in 1:55 2/5, winning by nearly two lengths. In the Belmont the feisty colt wouldn’t fare as well, as he was very headstrong and faded to 4th as the favorite. He would race once more, in the Arlington Classic where he would stumble while breaking out of the gate and bow a tendon.
His 3YO endeavor earned the son of Native Dancer Maryland Horse of the Year and 3YO Champion Male honors. After his 5th place finish in the Classic, he was retired to Sagamore Farm to stand at stud alongside his sire. Kauai King was syndicated for $2.16 million, led by Sagamore Farms owner Arthur Vanderbilt along with Orioles owner, Jerry Hoffberger. He wasn’t the success Native Dancer was, being sold in 1971 to English interests. He stood in England in 1972 and 1973, with his English connections then selling him to Japan where he stood alongside 1956 Kentucky Derby winner, Chateaugay. Kauai King remained in Japan until his passing in 1989. He did sire 8 stakes winners, including a Grade III and a Group III winner. Kauai King is one of the forgotten Kentucky Derby winners, due to his brief career being sandwiched in between the unbeaten Grustark, that was injured in the Blue Grass, and the glory of Buckpasser, who was injured before the Triple Crown season, still finding success in winning 13 races as a 3YO, part of a 15 race win streak.
(Photo courtesy of Kentucky Derby Museum archives)