Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 120 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 120 days to go!

120 Days!!! 1899 marked the 25th Kentucky Derby, but it was a bit overshadowed by the death of founder Colonel M. Lewis Clark two weeks prior. Colonel Clark was the founder and man behind the idea of Churchill Downs and the Kentucky Derby. He had ventured over to England to study racing, and after two years of study came forward with his plan. He intended to make racing relevant and horse sales profitable, both of which he had success. He was a judge for the Kentucky Derby, founded the American Turf Congress, and established the first uniform scale of weights used in America, as well as introducing the most well-known horse race.

His body was returned from Memphis and buried in Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville. Colonel Clark had a son named Churchill Clark.

The 1899 winner was a horse named Manuel, a horse that seemed to be plagued by misfortune. Manuel was the second Kentucky Derby winner that was foaled on Bashford Manor Farm in Louisville, by George J. Long. His sire was Bob Miles, a horse that was unplaced in the 1884 running of the Kentucky Derby, and he was out of the mare Espanita, whose sire was Alarm and Grandsire was Eclipse.

At two, Manuel ran for Long, compiling a record of 17 starts, 3 wins, 4 seconds, and 4 thirds. He won the Gravesend’s Prospect Stakes, and was in the money in five other stakes races.

In October 1898, Long sold the colt to Alfred H. and David H. Morris for $15,000. Manuel was sent to Tennessee to start his 3YO year. His trainer was Robert J. Walden, the son of one of the most famous trainers in America, R. Wyndham Walden.  R. Wyndham, who never claimed a Kentucky Derby win, had won four Belmonts and to this day has the record for most Preakness wins with seven. His son Robert’s only classic win came with Manuel’s Kentucky Derby.

Manuel’s first race at three was the April 13th Montgomery Handicap, in which he lost by a head to the 5YO Dunois, who was carrying seven pounds less than Manuel. In his second start, he fell at the start and lost his jockey, and then managed to run into a fence and injure himself. After coming back to training from the fence injury, he stepped on a nail on April 23rd, causing Walden to believe he wouldn’t make the Derby. He recovered quickly and was in good form coming into the race, outclassing the other horses to a degree that the bettors made him the favorite.

Famous jockey Frank Taral, best known for riding the champion Domino to a perfect 9-9 in his 2YO year, came to Kentucky from New York just to ride Manuel in the Kentucky Derby.

Colonel Clark’s passing didn't stop people from coming to the Kentucky Derby, as the crowd was estimated to be 25,000 to 30,000 for the anniversary running.

At the start, Manuel followed His Lordship, while under wraps, until they reached the backstretch. Taral loosened his hold and Manuel easily took the lead. His biggest challenge came at the head of the stretch from the hard driving Corsine, who managed to make it to Manuel’s hip. Taral looked back and saw Corsine coming, and just shook the reins at Manuel. The colt responded, pulling away and winning by 2 lengths, without any other urging and never being extended to his fullest. The time was 2:12, which at the time, was the slowest for the 10 furlong race on a fast track.  

A few days after the Derby, Manuel was out and stepped in a hole, wrenching his leg and having to withdraw from training. Because of his injury, he wasn’t able to run in the Clark, which was won by Corsine. He would only race one more time at three, in the September running of the Twin Cities Handicap, in which he was interfered with and finished 6th.  At four, he was nominated to the Suburban Handicap, but didn’t race.

He was purchased at a Morris Park sale by Frank Morel for $500 in October of his 4YO year. He wouldn’t race again, and was listed as passing at some point at four.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum