Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 105 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 105 days to go!

105 Days!!! 1914 Old Rosebud was bred by John E. Madden at his Hamburg Place Farm near Lexington. He was the first of five Kentucky Derby winners to be bred or co-bred by Madden, and the first of six to be foaled at the farm. Alysheba, the 1987 winner, was foaled in 1984 when John’s grandson, Preston, ran the farm.

Old Rosebud was from the first crop sired by Uncle, who was the import *Star Shoot’s best son at stud. His dam, Ivory Bells, was by Himyar, the sire of the great Domino, and produced three other stakes winners after Old Rosebud. Old Rosebud was purchased for $500 as a yearling by trainer Frank Weir, who trained the bay throughout his career. He sold a majority interest in him to owner Hamilton C. Applegate, or Ham, who named the purchase after bourbon that his family’s distillery produced until prohibition put them out of business. Their family farm was named Old Rosebud as well, and they owned a large block of shares in Churchill Downs, so it almost seemed that “Old Buddy” was destined to win; as they had a good horse, named after good whiskey, and a piece of the Kentucky Derby.

The colt was gelded early on, and while being conditioned to start his racing career, Weir timed his first work. He worked the colt an eighth mile, which he timed in 10 seconds and 4/5. The time was faster than any horse he had ever clocked, so he thought something was wrong with his watch. He asked another trainer what he had timed, thinking that his watch had hung up. The other trainer looked at him and replied, “Your watch didn’t hang. That was 10 and 4.”

The smooth running gelding was then sent to Mexico in February for his first start, in the Yucatan Stakes, which he won easily. He won one other race before being sent back to Kentucky. His third race, which was the Idle Hour Stakes at Lexington, saw his first defeat when he lost by a head to Little Nephew, another Uncle colt. He won two weeks later at Churchill, when he defeated another great gelding named Roamer by 6 lengths. This was their first of 11 meetings over six years, in which Old Rosebud finished ahead of Roamer in six of those races. Two days after his victory, Old Rosebud lost for the second and last time in his 2YO season. He lost by a length to Little Nephew again in the Bashford Manor Stakes, after running into interference at the beginning of the race and then having to run wide in the stretch. Little Nephew would be the only horse to beat him as a 2YO, Old Rosebud defeating him 3 times in his next 9 consecutive victories. The nine race win streak would see him break four track records and win six stakes races.

In an overnight race at Churchill, he won by 10 lengths, setting the track record. He would then race at nearby Douglas Park, winning a five furlong race by six lengths in a time of 1:00 2/5, defeating the great Black Toney. Five days later, he lowered the record again, this time taking it to: 58 4/5, beating Little Nephew by 4 lengths. He would again lower it four days later, shaving 1/5 off of the record, stopping the timer in: 58 3/5, again beating Little Nephew and besting Roamer.

His achievements of 1913 would earn 2YO Champion honors. On April 4 of his 3 –year-old campaign, Applegate was offered $30,000 for Old Rosebud, which he turned down. It was a hefty sum for any horse at the time, however, since he was a gelding with no potential stud value, it was deemed even more so.

On April 25, Old Rosebud would extend his race streak to 10 when he won by six lengths in a Lexington prep race. It was his only start going into the Derby, yet the public still made the champ the 4-5 favorite. Churchill Downs had seen several days of rain before the 40th edition; nevertheless, track superintendent Tom Young worked with the sun and warm temperatures to make sure the track was in good condition for the day’s races. The largest crowd to view the Kentucky Derby showed up to see the 2YO champion take on six other challengers.

At least 35,000 turned out, packing the stands and infield just to get a glimpse. They weren’t disappointed and bet over $250,000 at the track on the five races.

Jockey Johnnie McCabe received his instructions and followed them exact; taking Old Rosebud right to the lead at the start, staying ahead of the field by roughly 2 lengths. When Hodge started to make his move, the crowd thought Old Rosebud to be a beaten sprinter; however, McCabe knew that he had a lot of horse left. Once he asked the gelding to go, he sprinted away from the field in the stretch. Knowing that he had them well-beaten, McCabe started to gear “Old Buddy” down, passing under the wire a record eight lengths in front of the stragglers. He also set a new Derby and track record for the mile and a quarter distance, stopping the timer in 2:03 2/5, a record that would stand until 1931.

McCabe received his bouquet of American Beauties from Governor McCreary, and $750 from the owners, which he wired entirely to his parents in New York. As a side note, in the 1912, 1913, and 1914 Derbies, fillies finished third in all three running’s. Flamma, Gowell, and Bronzewing would earn the place spots, and the following year a filly would take the race when Regret showed the competitors her heels.

The amazing thing about Old Rosebud is how many times he returned to the track. He was sore during his 3YO campaign; as a result, Applegate turned him out in a field in Texas, thinking that he would never come back. Two years later, the horse was better and ready to go. Returning to the track at six, everyone thought that he wouldn’t be the same, he proved them wrong however.

He went on to win 15 of his 21 races, finishing second once, and third three times. He won the Clark Handicap, as well as numerous other stakes, earning him Handicap Champion of the year. He would need a rest after the 1917 season, but returned again and ran at 8,9,10, and 11. Only Exterminator ran more seasons than Old Rosebud.

From the Courier-Journal: “Galloping down the stretch with mouth wide open and leaving his straining opponents farther behind with each stride, Old Rosebud, a gelding, by Uncle-Ivory Bells, won the fortieth running of the Kentucky Derby at historic Churchill Downs yesterday afternoon, and set a new record for the blue ribbon event of the Bluegrass by stepping the mile and a quarter in 2:03 2/5. Tradition was cast to the winds and Old Rosebud’s name goes down in the thoroughbred hall of fame alongside those of Vagrant, Apollo, and Macbeth II, as the unsexed quartet capable of overcoming the stamina of the colt in the springtime and gaining the crown of the king of 3-year-olds. As thought to make the iconoclasm complete, Hodge, a gelding, finished second, and Bronzewing, a filly, was third.” 

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum