Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 114 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 114 days to go!

114 Days!!! 1905 Agile was a bay colt that was bred at the Runnymede Stud of Clay and Woodford in Paris, KY. They owned his sire, 1888 Belmont winner, Sir Dixon, as well as his dam, Alpena, which was by King Alfonso. His full brother, Alpen, won the National Stallion Stakes at two, which was the richest stakes race not run at Chicago or Washington Park.

Agile was owned by Captain S.S. Brown, a Pittsburgh steel mill owner that also owned a fleet of river boats that hauled ore and coal. That is how he came by the name of "Captain".  Brown was one of the controlling stockholders of Churchill Downs, and also purchased the Kentucky Association track in Lexington. He managed to win the Phoenix Stakes at the Lexington track prior to winning the Kentucky Derby, both with Agile. Unfortunately illness would keep him from being able to attend the Derby and see his colt’s victory in the great race. Agile raced mainly on the East Coast as a 2YO, taking some time to develop.

Trainer Robert Tucker worked with the horse, helping him to flourish. Two months before Agile would win his first stakes, in July of 1904, Tucker’s wife, a native of Louisville, passed away, and his objective became winning the Kentucky Derby for her with Agile. At three, the colt had matured into what they believed he could become, and won the Tennessee Derby and Phoenix Stakes as his two preps before the Kentucky Derby.

Heavy rains overnight and into the morning had made the track heavy and muddy, much to the dislike of Agile’s main competitor, Ram’s Horn. By one o’ clock, the track was still muddy, however, they continued to work the track and within an hour it had dried greatly and was in better condition.

The Kentucky Derby went off at 4:15, in front of a large crowd of approximately 25,000. Among those in attendance was actress Lillian Russell, who was in town staying at the new $1.6 million Seelbach Hotel, that had opened 10 days before the race.This race was the first time a bugle called the horses to post, as the bugler player “Boots and Saddles”. It was also the second and final time that a field of three went to post.

Agile was the 1-3 favorite, ahead of Ram’s Horn. The third horse, named Layson, was well known for being entered for third place money. Agile carried 122 pounds for the race, five more than the other two entrants. His jockey was Jack Martin, who was often referred to as the “Wee” Jack Martin, because as of four years prior to the running, he weighed only 60 pounds.

The three made their way to the starter, who sent them away quickly.

From The Louisville Herald: “But what of the cry, “They are off!” from 20,000 Kentucky throats when a Kentucky Derby field is sent away. At first it came to those in the centerfield like an angry moan of a storm brewing at sea. It gathered force as it came, it rushed on with giant waves foamed topped, and dashed against the barns on the other side, and, snapping like a great whip as its back is broken and it recedes, hissing, tugging, sucking like leviathan breakens against a sea wall of granite. “They’re off, “ and there is hope and joy and fear and anxiety in it, but the tense feeling has been snapped, the cork has been drawn from the champagne bottle and there is nothing left but for human emotions to bubble, bubble, bubble, during the few seconds more than two minutes which the race was to last. Like a wall of the damned mingled with a psalm of praise came the cry, and this is what it meant.”

Martin was given directions to “Go to the front, and stay there”, and he did. Agile was considered a great mudder; accordingly Martin gunned him at the start, allowing him to never be headed in the race. Ram's Horn tried to make a bid late in the race, but couldn't get a foothold over the track. Once Martin saw that Ram’s Horn couldn’t make a lasting bid, he eased up on Agile, the pair winning by two easy lengths under wraps, in a time of 2:10 ¾.

Layson, the third starter, finished 20 lengths behind Ram's Horn. Here is a great description of the race from the Courier-Journal: "Even at this early point in the race Layson is hopelessly beaten and even to the most inexperienced, he is merely running for the money that goes to the third horse. The cherry jacket and blue cap which is on Agile's back bobs up and down like a cork in a choppy sea. The black silk on Ram's Horn's back moves through space with very little motion. A long roar like the snarl of a multitude of bulldogs comes from the stand and spreads itself over the crowd in the infield and reverberates from the whitewashed barns on the other side of the beautiful course. This is the cry of the people from the Blue Grass land, friends of Ram's Horn, the poor man's horse. The real race has only begun."

After the race, Agile tried to eat the flowers that were being draped around his neck, but the groom quickly stopped him, wanting to pose proudly with the horse and his garland for the photographers. Tucker had little to say until he had returned to the barn, hung the flowers, and rubbed down Agile. He had accomplished his dream and was proud of his charge for winning the Louisville race for his wife. Agile finished 1st or 2nd in all 10 of his starts at three.

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum