Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 115 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 115 days to go!

Today is 115 Days!!! 1904 Elwood was the third Kentucky Derby winner produced by a daughter of Alarm. The others produced winners Azra and Manuel. His sire was Free Knight, who had finished 3rd in the 1886 Kentucky Derby, behind the two Bens, Ali and Eder. Two years before Elwood won the Kentucky Derby, Free Knight was sold for $45 to a southern Kentucky farm to pull a plow.

He was the first horse to win that was foaled in Missouri, as well as the first horse to be bred and owned by a woman. He was bred by Mrs. J. B. Prather of Missouri, and owned by Mrs. Lasca Darnell. Lasca received Elwood as a wedding gift from her husband and trainer, Charles Elwood “Boots” Durnell. He was purchased for $700 as a yearling by Charles, who then gave the colt as the gift. Lasca Durnell named the horse after her husband, and thought highly of Elwood’s chances. Mrs. Darnell entered Elwood without telling her husband, as he had no interest in running Elwood in the Derby. She insisted and entered Elwood. At the last minute she told him, so he planned to ship him from California to the Kentucky track, leaving him in the hands of barn foreman, George Strate, and he himself went to Chicago.

He visited Churchill only once, to see Elwood’s final work ahead of the race, and was unimpressed, saying Elwood was too fat and wouldn’t do anything. He then returned to Chicago. Coming into the race, Elwood was referred to as the “Woman’s Horse” by the press, as he was the first entrant to be owned by a woman.

He was ridden in the race by California jockey, 20 year-old Frank “Shorty” Prior; his only ride in the great race. A farmer’s son that had a knack for riding horses, he made a good name for himself in riding the California circuit. In his prior four years of riding, he had won over 100 races. The race was off in short order, and the field of five were closely bunched. After the first mile, the 15-1 long shot duo of Elwood and Prior were last. As Prior asked his mount to go, immediately Elwood shot forward and started to pick off the others. The stretch was a duel between Elwood and Ed Tierney, with Prior getting every ounce out of Elwood to bound to the front a half-length in front at the wire, in a time of 2:08 ½.

On the front-page of the Courier-Journal, Will W. Douglas wrote: “A Beautiful woman, her eyes ablase with excitement, her bosom heaving with the emotions that come only to those who have a heart interest in a game brute: a beautiful bay colt; a broad yellow path; a cloud of dust; a terrific duel through the stretch; then a flash of green ahead of blue, and you have the running of the thirtieth Kentucky Derby, one of the greatest races for thoroughbreds contested for on this side of the waters.”

The 1904 Kentucky Derby was the first mention of any particular rose being used, with Elwood being decorated with a horseshoe garland of American Beauties and ferns. In my research, I am unsure as to whether Lasca’s husband actually came to the races that day. It was said that he didn’t saddle Elwood, but in the second race that day he had a filly that won a four furlong race easily named Lady Lasca, named, of course, after his wife. The duties could have been left to Strate, the foreman.

Either way, in the Courier-Journal article it is written about the roses again, but with mention of Lasca’s husband, which the writer could have mistaken for Strate. “Her gaze was centered far up the track, where her husband and the mite of a boy who was responsible for the victory were hurrying to her side. They came with a garland of American Beauties and a pair of arms full of lilies which they tossed at this woman’s feet. Then, womanlike, she embraced both and sat down and cried. “It is the greatest moment of my life,” she said, “but I felt sure that it would happen all along.”

Elwood would go on to win the Latonia Derby that year, but he ended up being sold at a public auction for $1000. He continued racing through his 7 year-old year, with Durnell buying him back somewhere between August and December of 1906.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum