Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 119 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 119 days to go!

119 Days!!! 1900 Lieutenant Gibson was bred in Lexington by the well-known horsemen, Baker and Gentry. They considered him the best horse that they had ever owned. He was by the unbeaten 2YO, G.W. Johnson, and out of the *Glengarry mare, Sophia Hardy. At two, the Lt. would compile a record of seven wins, four seconds, and two thirds out of 18 starts. He won four stakes, the Kentucky Central, Kimball, Flatbush, and Sensation Stakes.

His first start at two was on May 4, 1899, Kentucky Derby day, when he broke his maiden in a ½ mile sprint in fine fashion. The famed trainer, Charles H. Hughes, who had been taking note of Gibson, approached Baker and Gentry after his client, Charles H. Smith, told him that he wanted to buy a horse that could win the Derby. Baker and Gentry wanted $10,000, Hughes offered $9,500, and the deal was made.

The Kentucky Derby was the first start of Lieutenant Gibson’s 3YO campaign, but he had been sent to the Louisville track to train for some time. Though he hadn’t started, he was in great shape and very race ready. Prior to the race, Smith was offered $20,000 for the horse, and he turned it down, wanting to win and believing he had the horse to do it. His belief in the Lt. paid off.

The field of horses had one of the best starts in the history of the race, with His Excellency taking the early lead. Kentucky Farmer was a neck behind, and Lieutenant Gibson was a neck farther back between the two. Most of the riders had been given their race strategies on how to beat the favorite, but Gibson’s jockey, James Boland, moved his horse through a hole between them, shook the reins, and had a 2 ½ length lead by the first turn. He set the fastest fractions for the race, running very easily. They went the half in :48 flat, leading by four, and continued the speed while just looking like they were out for a breeze. Boland only shook the reins once more, just to keep Gibson focused. They went under the wire, 4 in front, in a record time of 2:06 ¼, a full second and a half faster than 1896 victor Ben Brush’s time of 2:07 ¾. The record would stand for 11 years.

Lieutenant Gibson would go on to win the Clark Stakes, and in the Latonia Derby would win in a walkover, meaning that no other connections wanted to take him on, so he raced himself. In the American Derby, where he was favorited, he came in third and was found to have bowed a tendon. After many efforts to heal the tendon, it progressively worsened. He underwent surgery to have it repaired, but didn’t make it through. Smith was so distraught, that he had the horse buried with no publicity. A week after Gibson’s death, Smith finally had to reveal it even though he was too upset to discuss it.

In the Courier-Journal, the day prior to the Kentucky Derby, a reporter wrote a piece that included this: “The Kentucky Derby! What memories that name recalls. What Kentuckian does not remember one of the great equine battles which mark the pages of its history? What Kentuckian has not heard of or known Harper, Reynolds, or that illustrious turfman and gentleman, the late Col. Lewis M. Clark? What man in all Kentucky is not proud that Longfellow, that mighty stallion which enjoyed the supreme distinction of having sired two Kentucky Derby winners, was a Kentucky horse? What Kentuckian’s pulse does not beat faster; what Kentuckian is not thrilled at the mention of the names of Ben Brush, of Leonatus, of Hindoo, and the others?”

A description of the race follows from “The History of the Kentucky Derby, 1875-1921”: "Carrying 117 pounds as lightly as a feather, Lieut. Gibson still going easy, traversed the first three-quarters in 1 :13. The conservative element among the backers of the favorite became uneasy at this stage of the race, fearing the horse would be unable to withstand the tremendous strain of the fast pace. A second time Boland took hold of the flying leader that with measured strides seemed to be annihilating distance and defying time. A second glance at the field and all cause of doubt as to Gibson's ability to live at the flying clip was expelled. He was going easy, much easier than any horse behind him, and seemed only a horse out for a good stiff breeze. Passed the mile ground in 1:40 2/5, he was only rating along three lengths in front of the tired His Excellency, with Scoggan's pair Florizar and Highland Lad, going well, but in no danger of overhauling the galloping leader. Into the stretch, a novice could see that Gibson was going easy, and coming on the gallant colt passed first under the wire by four lengths in front of Florizar that Van Dusen had most sensibly not driven to his limit when he found it impossible to overtake the great son of G. W. Johnson. The time was 2:06*4, one and one-half seconds faster than the Kentucky Derby had ever been run.”

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum