102 Days!!! 1917 *Omar Khayyam (Marco-Lisma, by Persimmon) became the first foreign-bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Named after a Persian poet and mathematician, the chestnut colt was bred by Sir John Robinson and foaled at his Worksop Manor Stud. Offered for sale the following September at Newmarket, he was purchased for 300 guineas (the equivalent of $1500) by trainer Charles Patterson for the partnership of C.K.G. Billings and Frederick Johnson. Patterson was so impressed by the colt that he told a reporter for Racing In America after his first work, “He frightened me-he ran so fast. I tried a second time to see if it was right. It was, and I think he is the fastest horse I ever handled-and you know I had Ornament.” Ornament finished second in the Derby to Typhoon II and won the Latonia Derby and Clark Stakes in 1897. His lone win in his five starts as a 2YO, was a maiden race at Saratoga. It was his second place finish in the Hopeful that pointed to a bright future for him, as he overcame obstacles to finish nicely. After the race, he was rested for the remainder of the season.
*Omar Khayyam’s first outing at three would come in the 1 1/8 mile Derby Trial after an eight month layoff. He was made the favorite after many promising workouts leading up to the race; was knocked to his knees at the start, and with a ¾ mile drive, gained lost ground, then tired to finish fourth. Four days later was the 43rd Kentucky Derby, as was the Preakness. The United States had been in World War I for five weeks; as a result, the Louisville Jockey Club had given all privileges of the track to the First Kentucky Infantry.
About 35,000 were in attendance; and a large number were dressed in the olive color that was given to the military soldiers. Due to his past performance and little faith from the bettors,*Omar Khayyam would go off at 12-1, with the favoritism going to Ticket, the Derby Trail victor. Omar’s connections were more hopeful, the Swedish jockey Charles Borel was full of confidence in his mount, telling an acquaintance that he noticed in the crowd during the post parade that they would be home first.
The field of 15 was off with little delay, as Ticket moved quickly to the front, passing the grandstand for the first time, while *Omar Khayyam was stuck in traffic in 10th. Ticket would relinquish the lead once, reclaiming it once the new leader tired. Borel had positioned himself near the rail, so that he could keep an eye on the leaders, however it almost cost the duo the race. Moving through the backstretch, they were heavily interfered with, being bounced around and then slammed into the rail. The incident knocked the colt off his stride, so Borel took the horse back until they were clear. The pair started to quickly navigate the field once more; reaching 6th by the time they passed the mile marker. Once they rounded the final turn, the leaders swung wide, giving Borel the opening he needed. Swinging to the rail, they burst through the opening, catching Ticket in just a few strides, powering past the leader. The duo flew under the finish line in a time of 2:04 3/5, two lengths in front.
After winning the Kentucky Derby, due to a dissolving of the partnership, *Omar Khayyam was sold at a dispersal sale on June 2nd. Wilfred Viau of Montreal would outlast the other spirited bidders, taking home the chestnut for the hefty price of $26,600. Viau sent the colt to his trainer R.F. Carmen to prepare for his summer campaign. The first start for the new connections was the Brooklyn Handicap where he faced fellow Derby winners, Regret and Old Rosebud. Unfortunately it wasn’t his day, as he would finish next to last in the race that saw the great filly Regret lose by a nose to her stablemate Borrow. In his remaining races of that year, he started 10 times, winning eight stakes, finishing second in the other two. He would win the Travers, Saratoga Cup, Lawrence Realization, Brooklyn Derby, Kenner Stakes, Prospect Handicap, Havre de Grace Handicap, and the Pimlico Autumn Handicap. Seven of those races were included in his seven race win streak that saw him defeat rival and fellow import, *Hourless.
Sam Hildreth who was the trainer of *Hourless, thought his charge to be the better of the two and challenged the connections to a match race. Matt Winn set up the race at Laurel, which would prove to be the end of Omar’s win streak, as the tired horse finished a length behind *Hourless. However, he pushed the winner to a track record performance as they covered the mile and a quarter in 2:02.
*Omar Khayyam would receive co-champion 3YO, as well as being the top 3YO money earner, having won $49,070.00. Racing at four and five, he never quite equaled his 3YO success. As a result, he was retired to begin his stallion career at Claiborne Farm.
Starting his first two seasons at a private fee, he was listed at $1000 in 1922. He sired more foals than any other stallion his first six years at stud. He became one of the leading sires in the country, being ranked in the top twenty leading sires eight times, as well as being the top juvenile stallion in his 5th season. He would produce 225 foals, with 187 starters and 132 winners, 20 of them stakes winners. After the 1929 breeding season, he was moved to Doctor John Paul Jones farm in Virginia where he resided for his remaining years.
In a year that saw the United States enter WWI, the Kentucky Derby was a very patriotic event. I love the description from the History of the Kentucky Derby, 1875-1921: “The wise man who once declared that "four things greater than all things are: Women and horses and power and war" would have found his dictum translated into living proof today, for added to the beauty of the women who graced the Downs, added to the fleetness of the satin-coated horses, and the power that is Kentucky, there was the suggestion of patriotism that can only translate itself in war. The olive-drab of the First Kentucky Infantry formed a fitting background for the striking picture presented by clubhouse lawn, verandas and boxes. "Old Glory" rippled and fluttered and the notes of the bugle stirred the immense throng to one single impulse of patriotism. The feeling that if fate should decree that on the next Derby days some of "ooir boys" should be in France, and nearer Longchamps than Churchill Downs, that Kentucky will be sure to "place a wager for them" instead of "turning down an empty glass," was everywhere expressed. When 30,000 persons are of one mind, and are gathered in silence in one place, there is eloquence in the air. The very breeze gives a thrill. When the Star Spangled Banner and a Kentucky Derby in wartime are turned loose on such a vast gathering of Americans the heart thumps mightily. In that gathering were men who have seen the ravages of war and men who expect to feel its blight; men in the khaki and men hoping soon to don it. And so, when the regiment boys burst into the anthem as a large flag was raised along with two smaller ones, the crowd rose, held its silence until the band ceased, and then broke into a mighty cheer. The flying leaders swung a trifle wide into the stretch and left an opening on the rail. Borel did not hesitate. Along the white fence he took Omar. In a couple of jumps his mount was at Ticket's rump. Steadily he moved toward the front, past saddle girth and withers. He soon was stretching fiery nostrils alongside the bay colt's neck, and then Omar Khayyam's blaze face showed in front, and in the last hundred yards commenced to draw away and swept under the wire winner by two lengths. “