Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 124 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 124 days to go!

124 Days!!! 1895 Halma won the first Kentucky Derby to be run under the newly designed grandstand and the famous Twin Spires. 24YO Joseph Baldez was given the task of designing a new grandstand for Churchill’s attendees, as the new ownership wanted one built on the track opposite of where the first grandstand stood.

In the old grandstand, people had to squint into the afternoon sun, as well as being downwind of the barns. As an afterthought, Baldez added the Twin Spires as an ornamental decoration to set the Grandstand apart from all others. From their base to top, the Spires are 55 feet tall and set 134 feet apart. The Spires were finally ready for the May 6th running of the 21st Kentucky Derby. Today they are considered a National Historic Landmark.  

In what would be the last Kentucky Derby to be run at a mile and a half, the black colt Halma was favored against only three other runners. He had just won the Phoenix Stakes 3 days prior in track record time; with 15YO African-American jockey James “Soup” Perkins at the reins. A crowd of 25,000 showed up to see the race, which the duo won by five lengths in a time of 2:37 ½. The horse won the race so easily, that some were convinced that he could have run at least 2 seconds faster. Jockey Perkins, called Soup because of his love of the food, would be only the 2nd jockey to win at 15, but would also go on to be the nation’s leading rider in 1895 with 192 victories.  

Halma’s trainer and owner, Byron McClelland, had followed in his father and brother’s footsteps by becoming a horse trainer. He was known as a great judge of horses and their potential, taking many horses that owners had given up on and turning them into top runners. He would also buy unraced thoroughbreds that he could afford and turn them into great racehorses, then sell them at a huge profit for breeding. Halma was bred by Eastin and Larrab, sired by the great Hanover who himself was a son of the great Hindoo, and out of a Longfellow mare named Julia L. Eastin was so taken with the black colt that he held onto him until the fall of 1893.

It was at that time that McClelland had fallen in love with the colt and talked Eastin into selling him. For the price of $6,000, McClelland purchased the future star, and in winning the Kentucky Derby, he became only the second African-American to own a Derby winner.   After the Kentucky Derby, Halma went on to win the Clark Handicap and shortly after the race McClelland sold Halma to businessman Charles Fleischmann for $25,000. Fleischman would win the Latonia Derby with Halma, and soon after he developed an injury that kept him from racing the rest of the year and 1896. In 1897 he was retired to stud. In 1901, the year before his son Alan-A-Dale would win the Kentucky Derby, becoming the first Derby winner to sire another winner, Halma was sold to William Vanderbilt who shipped him overseas to France. He was successful in France as a sire, with Malta and Oversight as two of his notable offspring. In 1906 he was shipped back to the United States.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum