Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 59 Days to Go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 59 Days to Go!

Venetian Way was bred by John W. Greathouse’s Glencrest Farm from the sire Royal Coinage who was out of 1944 Kentucky Oaks winner, Canina. His dam, Firefly, was purchased for $3000 by Greathouse as a yearling from a dispersal sale at Keeneland. She raced for Dr. Leo Villareal with the condition that when she was retired she came back to the farm. Firefly would only win one race from 17, retiring as a result of hock issues. Greathouse wanted the filly due to her bloodlines, as she was a full sister to Kentucky Colonel and the winner of $119, 690, Jack and Jill. Bred to Royal Coinage, she produced the flashy chestnut colt that would become the 86th Kentucky Derby champion.

Sent to Keeneland as a yearling for the sales, he caught the attention of Isaac Blumberg’s trainer, Vic Sovinski. While inspecting the yearlings, Blumberg kept returning to find Sovinski looking over Hip. 43. When the colt finally went through the ring, Blumberg continued to bid, eventually getting the colt for $10,500. When they brought him the ticket to sign, he made Sovinski sign it, telling him that he would have bid whatever it took to get the colt that the trainer had taken a liking to. Blumberg, the Lithuanian-American who made his start in the states as a butcher, eventually had a Chicago machinery-manufacturing company that he sold for enough to retire to Miami and get into the horse racing game. Naming all of his runners after Miami streets, the chestnut would be labeled as Venetian Way, running under Blumberg’s Sunny Blue Farm.

Blumberg would turn down $500,000 for Venetian Way as a 2YO, a season that saw him win 4 of 9 starts, with wins in the Prairie Stakes as well as the Washington Park Futurity, where he set a new track record for 6 ½ furlong in 1:15 4/5. When the colt turned three, he would start his campaign in Florida, losing his first two starts, the Everglades and Bahamas stakes races. Sometime after the two disappointing efforts, it was discovered that Venetian Way had a case of bloodworms. He would recover, although he was a bit short due to the illness. The chestnut would win an allowance before just being nosed out in the Florida Derby by the popular Bally Ache.

Shipped to Kentucky for the Derby, the chestnut would also lose the Stepping Stone Purse a week prior to the big race. Overlooked by the public, there was one person who was telling everyone that he wouldn’t trade his horse’s chance in the race for Bally Ache’s or Tompion’s, the two favorites. Everyone just ignored Sovinski’s claims, instead trying to figure out which of the other two would actually win. Sovinski even had to convince Blumberg to watch the race from the grandstand instead of the backside where he normally stood, for the reason that he believed that they were going to win. The track for the 1960 Kentucky Derby was upgraded to good at around 1:30 in the afternoon, as it had rained throughout the evening and night prior. The third choice in the field of 13 behind Tompion and Bally Ache, Venetian Way would have the riding services of jockey Bill Hartack. Hartack’s instructions were simple; he was to try to have his mount in third or fourth place as they went into the first turn. After that it was up to him, as long as he never completely gave the horse a loose rein.

The duo broke well, running along in fourth behind Bally Ache, Henrijan, and Tompion. As Henrijan dropped quickly back, with Tompion struggling over the track, Venetian Way moved into second. At the 5/8 pole, the tandem made their move at Bally Ache who had a two length lead, quickly passing them at the top of the stretch. Venetian Way and Hartack continued to draw away from a stubborn Bally Ache to win by 3 ½ lengths in a time of 2:20 2/5. Venetian Way was the second of what would by 5 winners for jockey Bill Hartack, following Iron Liege in 1957.

The connections would make their way to Pimlico for the Preakness, proving unsuccessful in the second leg of the Triple Crown, finishing a dismal fifth. Disappointed in Hartack’s ride, they would never have him ride the chestnut again. With replacement rider Steve Brooks, the colt would again be unplaced in the Jersey Derby. Able to get the champion jockey Eddie Arcaro aboard for the Belmont, Venetian Way would start to come back into form with a second place finish behind the import *Celtic Ash. The pair would go on from the Belmont to be victorious in the Warren Wright Memorial Stakes. After the win, Venetian Way would be shipped to Chicago for a start in the Arlington Classic. In the race he would wrench his ankle, managing to come in third, though he would be retired and syndicated after the injury. Eight months after his Kentucky Derby win, trainer Vic Sovinski would pass away from a heart attack. It was only fitting that the gritty chestnut would never race again for the one person who truly believed in him.

Retired to Mare’s Rest Farm, Venetian Way would sire 5 winners from his first crop of 10 foals. He would pass away at the age of seven when he fractured a hip in an accident.

One of my favorite quotes about the race came from a Sport’s Illustrated article:

“In a sense, this Derby, run on a dull, cloudy and cold afternoon and over a track that was spotty and slick, was anticlimactic. The advance buildup was for a Bally Ache-Tompion stretch duel which never materialized. Venetian Way, who figured to be at best third in everybody's book, spoiled that prospect by leaving Tompion behind at the half-mile pole and overtaking Bally Ache on the stretch turn. Nothing that either of them could do after that was sufficient to threaten the winner's run to the wire. As they say around the barns, he win big—real big.”

(Winners Circle Presentation photos courtesy of KDM archives.)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum