Proud Clarion is best known for being a horse that hit his peak when it mattered most. He was owned by John Galbreath’s Darby Dan Farm, becoming the second winner for the farm out of two starters; the first was 1963 winner Chateaugay. Proud Clarion was bred by Galbreath and foaled at the farm. He was sired by 1960 2YO Champion, Hail To Reason, being out of the *Djeddah mare, Breath O’ Morn. *Djeddah was an English stakes winner, as well as the sire of Arc winner, Djebel.
Named after a poem, Proud Clarion was sent to trainer Loyd “Boo” Gentry for his conditioning. While he had a promising pedigree, his 2YO endeavor didn’t look like he would live up to it. Making his first start on April 12th, he finished 4th in a maiden race. He wouldn’t race again until October, running in maiden races on the 19th and 26th. The best he could manage was a 4th and a third, earning a whooping $805. Getting back to the races at 3, he would make two starts in February, winning a maiden race by 8 lengths on the 8th, while finishing 8th in an allowance on the 18th. Sent to Keeneland for his next outings, he showed marked improvement in finding victory in an allowance on April 11th, then again in another allowance on April 22nd, holding on by ¾ length at the Lexington track. Contesting the Blue Grass Stakes just 5 days later on the 27th, it would be the first time that the colt raced farther than 7/8 of a mile. A bit short, he would finish second to Diplomat Way, although the race would prove to be all that it took to make the bay razor sharp for the Kentucky Derby, 10 days later. Proud Clarion was a tough horse, winning the Kentucky Derby as his 4th start in less than 30 days.
The 93rd edition would be referred to as several things. It was known as the “Umbrella Derby” by the media, due to the drizzle that fell throughout the afternoon. The 100,000 in attendance would refer to it as the “Security Derby” due to the increased number of National Guard, security personnel, and police officers to prevent civil-rights protests, following an incident earlier in the meet that saw several protestors running out onto the track during one of the races.
Proud Clarion would be overlooked by everyone and went off at more than 30-1 odds, paying $62.20 for the win. Gentry was happy that the horse was being ignored, as he was dealing with hepatitis and didn’t relish any press. Knowing that his horse was a bit edgy, Gentry made sure to paddock school his charge the Wednesday prior to the big race. He outfitted the colt in all of his race gear to simulate the race day conditions, while the nervous horse fretted and chattered his teeth. Thursday Gentry would repeat the previous day’s exploits, with some success, as the colt was more relaxed. The schooling paid off, as the usually anxious horse was extremely calm on Saturday, while favorite Damascus was washed out and skittish due to the crowd and band.
The events that brought the Derby team together was an unexpected journey. 6 days before the race, the contract with Darby Dan’s contract rider, Braulio Baeza, ran out. He chose not to ride Proud Clarion, as he wanted the mount on challenger, Successor. Bobby Ussery, who found himself without a mount, accepted the ride on the Darby Dan color-bearer at the time of entry, seeing the colt for the first time when he entered the paddock for the race. The well-schooled Proud Clarion would leave the gate from post position 7, racing near the back of the pack of 14. The bay colt started moving forward over the slippery track to be 5th at the mile pole. In the homestretch Proud Clarion and Ussery would make their way past the great Damascus, who was rank and giving jockey Bill Shoemaker a hard time. The tandem would wear down the leader, Barbs Delight, at the top of the stretch while going on to win by a length in the third fastest Derby to that date, stopping the timer in 2:00.60.
It was the first Kentucky Derby victory for jockey Bobby Ussery and trainer Loyd Gentry. Proud Clarion would go on to finish 3rd in the Preakness after a horrible wide trip, followed by a 4th in the Belmont, behind Damascus, the winner of both of the remaining legs of the Triple Crown. In his 13 starts after the Derby, Proud Clarion would only win one, setting a new track record in the Roamer, finishing the mile and 3/16 in 1:55. Retired to Spendthrift after being syndicated for $700,000, the stallion would have some success in siring 22 stakes winners, including Frizette winner Proud Lou and Marlboro Cup winner, Proud Birdie.
(Print courtesy of Kentucky Derby Museum archives)