Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 94 days to go!

Countdown to the Kentucky Derby - 94 days to go!

94 Days!!! 1925 Flying Ebony was the fifth and final Kentucky Derby winner to be bred, or co-bred, by John E. Madden at his Hamburg Place Farm. He was foaled in the same barn as Old Rosebud (1914), Sir Barton (1919), Paul Jones (1920), and Zev (1923). Flying Ebony was sired by The Finn, who had also sired Zev, and was out of the Hessian mare, Princess Mary. 

Bred on shares with Lucien Mosley, the owner of Princess Mary, the black colt was raised by Mosely on his Christian County Kentucky farm. The partnership sent several horses to Saratoga to the sales, Flying Ebony among them. While at the yearling sales, the New York carpet man and millionaire, Gifford A. Cochran, paid $21,000 for the colt, which made Flying Ebony the highest priced yearling of the auction. It was also while Cochran was there that he bought six yearlings from Xalapa Farm for $140,000. Among the six was a colt that he would name Coventry. Future Hall of Fame trainer, William Duke, had just returned from a successful stint as a trainer in France to train for Cochran. Of the yearlings that Cochran had purchased, Coventry and Flying Ebony showed the most promise.

As a 2 year-old, Flying Ebony would win four of his eight starts. He won a race on the 1924 Derby undercard, part of his four race win streak. At three, Flying Ebony started in and won his only prep race prior to the Kentucky Derby, a seven furlong sprint that he took by a nose. His stablemate, Coventry, under jockey Clarence Kummer, would gain fame for the stable as he won the Preakness at its new distance, a mile and three-sixteenths, a week before the Derby. Unfortunately, he came out of the race sore, unable to make the Churchill race.  Cochran, thinking that Kummer would travel to Louisville to ride Flying Ebony in the Derby, suddenly found himself without a jockey when the Kummer chose to stay in New York to ride.

Enter Earl Sande, the well-known rider of 1923 winner, Zev. Finding himself on the comeback trail after a broken leg and other injuries, he was having a hard time getting mounts. His Derby hope was withdrawn, and he began the search for a new one. Without having any luck, he offered the rider of the favorite, Quatrain, $2000 to let him ride. Thinking that Breuning, a jockey that Sande had saved, would feel compelled to agree, Sande was still horseless when he was turned down. Upon hearing that Flying Ebony was riderless, Sande turned to Cochran and Duke, who both felt the horse had a chance. Sande persuaded the pair to let him ride, Duke knowing that Sande was the sprinter’s best chance to make the distance.

The morning of the great race dawned bright, until around 8:00am, when a few sprinkles quickly passed through. Duke, having trained overseas, immediately had the farrier put mud calks on his horse. He would be the only horse to run the race with grips, the others venturing to post in flat plates, as there seemed to be no other threat of rain. The track in 1925 was also a much deeper track, so there wouldn’t be any issues with running with the mud calks.  Horse shoes were also still steel plates, not the light-weight aluminum plates that our horses run in today. The rain cleared out, bringing a record crowd flocking to the Churchill oval.

Nearly 100 planes had brought passengers to the city, all venturing to see the blue ribbon event. Motion picture cameras were stationed all around the track, ready to film the great race. WHAS was on hand to be the first local radio broadcast of the Kentucky Derby. Approximately six million people tuned in to hear the race announcement, as Credo Harris started with, “We are radio casting to you, for the first time in history, the running of a Kentucky Derby…”  

Those that tuned in were also able to hear the 5 minute storm that tore through the track, as the Derby horses were getting ready to go to post. They could hear the thunder, as well as the hailstones as they pounded off the broadcast cupola. Trees were uprooted around town, a man was struck by lightning, and the gathering hail looked as if a snowstorm had passed through. The horses were finally able to make the post parade in the downpour. As quickly as the storm had begun, it stopped, just as the horses reached the post. The track was made heavy due to the quick passing storm; a light rain fell throughout the race.

As soon as the barrier rose, Sande sent Flying Ebony to the front, where he stayed as they passed the stands the first time. It was then that Sande took back his mount, allowing Captain Hal to take the lead, setting the pace until they reached the homestretch. As they rounded the turn into the stretch, jockey Heupel aboard Captain Hal started yelling at Sande, telling him that he had no chance. Sande knew better as he still had Flying Ebony under a hold. He loosed the reins, allowing the black colt to fly to the front, passing under the wire an easy winner in a time of 2:07 3/5. Flying Ebony was given his roses as he posed for the many flashing cameras. The presenters were ready to give Cochran his gold trophy; however they were unable to find him. At the last second he appeared through the crowd. He had missed the race due to a mishap with the police. While heading to the track, he had his driver speed so that they arrived on time. Once they were pulled over, they started to argue, which in turn led the police to take them to “talk to the sergeant”. Cochran arrived at the track, just as the race was starting. He was unable to view it as he got to his spot just as the race was over, not even knowing who had won. Upon finding out, the unhappiness of his police run-in passed away, replaced with the joy of just having won the Kentucky Derby.

Flying Ebony was the last registered black horse to win the Kentucky Derby, making it two in a row with 1924 winner Black Gold. He was also the first horse to win the race as part of the mutual “field”.  The race, famously coined by journalist Bill Corum after his first viewing as “The Run for the Roses”, would also be Flying Ebony’s last victory. He started three more times, unable to win, resulting in his being retired to stud.

He would stand at Ashland Stud until 1931, siring several stakes winners, among them the notable Dark Secret. When Cochran passed, his horses were dispersed, resulting in Leslie Kieffer of Maryland’s Inverness Stud purchasing the black stallion for $2500. In 1934, Charles Perkins, who had seen Flying Ebony win the Kentucky Derby, purchased the horse, moving him to his Santa Ynez Valley California farm, Alisal Cattle Ranch, where he remained until his passing.

(The Flying Ebony wagon courtesy of the Kentucky Derby Museum archives)

Rickelle  Nelson

Rickelle Nelson

Reservations Manager for the Kentucky Derby Museum