Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 116 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 116 days to go!

116 Days!!! 1903 Judge Himes was bred and foaled by Johnson H. Camden at his Hartland Farm. A full brother to Garry Herrman (the winter book favorite for the 1901 Derby), Judge Himes was sold as a yearling for $1700. He was owned by Charles R. Ellison and trained by J.P. Mayberry. He didn’t do well as a 2YO, only winning one of his 10 starts.

Going into the Kentucky Derby, Judge Himes hadn’t done well in training, mainly suffering from sore heels. As a result, the colt was highly overlooked. In fact, it wasn’t even until the Friday before the race that Ellison even decided to start him. He didn’t think the horse had a chance unless the track was going to come up muddy, and it didn’t seem to be the case. Ellison had the stable boy gallop him a mile. A friend who watched the work told Ellison after Judge Himes went by that he was surely going to win. Still worried, because he thought that the horse looked weak in the legs, he took him to Pat Dunne’s stable (the trainer of Early, who had just been sold) to have their farrier shoe Judge Himes. After he was done, Judge Himes walked away “in a matter that indicated he was in rare form”.

Derby day would dawn to a perfect day; hardly a cloud in the sky and not a chance of rain to be seen. It was the first Derby under the new management, and it was apparent to all. A new clubhouse had been built, there was a new paddock north of the betting ring, a ladies café had been added, and all of the barns and fences had been freshly painted.

The Courier-Journal had even written of the barn area: “Over each stable at the Downs today will be floating the pennant of the owners whose horses are stabled beneath. The flags were run up yesterday, and with their variegated colors will add greatly to the gala appearance of the race course.”

A crowd of 18,000 was reported to be in attendance. Nearly 1000 horses had arrived for the meet, most were stabled at the track, however with the stables full, the rest had to be stabled at nearby Thompson Trotting Track, as well as Douglas Park. One hundred more were expected to arrive by train that day.

A few hours before the call to post, Ellison talked with the trainer, J.P. Mayberry, and the decision was finally made to run the Judge, but only with specific instructions to jockey, H. Booker. He was told to stay on the rail no matter what, for that was where the track was the deepest and where Judge Himes would have to be to do his best running. The horses would make their way to the starter, Early was the overwhelming favorite and ridden by Jimmy Winkfield who had piloted the last two Kentucky Derby winners, while Judge Himes was 10-1. They approached the web barrier, for this was the first year that it was to be used, and it would be used until 1930 when the first electrical gate was introduced. There was little delay at the start, and they were off and running. Winkfield rode Early to the lead, confident that they couldn’t be beat, using the horse instead of saving some for the final drive. Booker, however, stuck to his instructions, keeping Judge Himes close, hugging the rail. The strategy paid off, considering just as everyone in the crowd thought that Early was going to pull off the victory, Judge Himes was beginning his run. When Winkfield finally realized what was happening, it was too late, his horse was tiring and Judge Himes was just beginning to roll. Winkfield tried to get his mount to battle to the wire, but Judge Himes soundly pulled out the victory by ¾ of a length in a time of 2:09. Winkfield was heart-broken that he had cost his horse the victory and his third consecutive Derby. Ironically, Charles Ellison said that after the race, if Dunne had not let his horse be shod, he would have withdrawn Judge Himes, and Dunne’s charge, Early, would have won the race. The win was a shock to Ellison, who wasn’t entirely confident in his horse’s chances.

Judge Himes would go on to have a good 3YO campaign after the Derby, winning the Hawthorne Handicap, Excelsior Handicap, Endurance Handicap, and the Oak Park Handicap.

From the Courier-Journal: “As Mr. Holtman (the starter) was nearing the paddock, the Derby colts came thundering past at a lightning-like speed. Early was in the lead, but Judge Himes was closing fast.  “Early wins in a walk,” said Mr. Holtman as he proceeded to tell of the quality of the colt. A small boy in the field had heard the remark and he did not propose to let the colt that was ridden by his brother be slandered in such a manner. It was George Booker, the brother of H. Booker, who was astride Judge Himes. “Not on your tintype. Early won’t win. Judge Himes is in the race, and he is being ridden by my brother. He will get the coin,” yelled he. (“Not on your tintype” was a saying that had the same degree of permanence as one's life (not on your life), because the tintype (photograph) was a durable piece of portrait work and highly treasured by individuals and families.)    The manner of the youth, and the confidence that he placed in the ability of his brother to land the blue-ribbon event attracted the attention of Mr. Holtman. As the din cleared away and it was known that the horse piloted by the elder Booker had received the verdict of the judges, Mr. Holtman picked the lad up and said: “Your brother wins, lad, and I am glad of it.”

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum