Triple Crown History- Sir Barton

HHR’s History of the Triple Crown- Sir Barton

Sir BartonThe year was 1919 and the U.S. was going through some changes. Bills were being passed for Women’s Suffrage and Prohibition. President Wilson is awarded the Noble Peace Prize. Babe Ruth is smashing home run records and the White Sox became known as the Black Sox for throwing the World Series.  In June of that year, a 2 year old legend-to-be named Man O’ War was just getting started and in August he lost his one and only race out of his 21 starts. But before Man O’ War captured the attention of the nation, another horse was becoming the first to win the Triple Crown: Sir Barton.

Sir Barton’s Early Years

Star ShootBred in Kentucky by John E. Madden and Vivian A. Gooch, Sir Barton was sired by leading stud Star Shoot out of the Hanover mare, Lady Sterling. His grandsire had been the 1893 English Triple Crown Champion, Isinglass and Madden had high hopes for this well bred colt. Born in John Madden’s Hamburg Farm, Sir Barton was known at birth as colt No. 187-16. Number 187 was the number affixed under the mane of his mother, Lady Sterling and 16 was the year of his birth. Originally, his name was going to be Harry Hale, in honor of Madden’s son’s commanding officer in the Armed Forces. His son asked him not to name the colt this, afraid that the compliment might be misinterpreted. Madden settled on Sir Barton instead. During his 2-year-old season, Sir Barton was entered into 6 races and didn’t win any of them, a disappointment to Madden. He sold the colt in 1918 for $10,000 to a Canadian businessman, J.K.L. Ross.

Sir Barton's Trainer Guy Bedwell & Owner J K L RossSir Barton was plagued with soft hooves (a trait he inherited from Star Shoot), often losing shoes during the races. In one event, he actually lost all four shoes. In an attempt to reduce the pain and discomfort he felt on hard, fast tracks, piano felt was inserted in between the shoes and the hooves. Many felt that this was why he had such an unpleasant disposition. Sir Barton cared for no one, except for his groom Toots Thompson, and was often described as a bit of a grouch. He hated workouts and could only be pushed by other horses. Trainer, Guy Bedwell once stated that, “To get him fit you have to half kill him with work – and a lot of other horses as well.” Even J.K.L. Ross’ son, J.K.M. Ross described him as-

“An irascible, exasperating creature, who at times was downright evil.”

Sir Barton Preakness News ClipIt’s quite amazing that Sir Barton even made it to the Kentucky Derby at all. In the previous winter he had been deathly ill. Fighting through the illness and ready the Derby by May, Ross had a plan in mind for Sir Barton, but only as a pacemaker for what Ross considered his best horse, Billy Kelly. Trained by H. Guy Bedwell and ridden by jockey, Johnny Loftus, Sir Barton (who had never won a race) was supposed to be the rabbit for Billy Kelly in the 1919 Kentucky Derby.  Ross had wagered $50,000 that Billy Kelly would beat Eternal in this race, but Sir Barton had a different idea in mind, leading the field of 12 horses wire to wire and breaking his maiden in the Kentucky Derby by 5 lengths on the muddy track. Billy Kelly did run 2nd to Sir Barton and did beat Eternal, so Ross still collected on his bet. He had no idea that his “rabbit” was about to make horse racing history.

In Baltimore, Sir Barton geared up to race in the Preakness. Running wire to wire and showing a true testament to his stamina by racing only four days after winning the Derby, Sir Barton won the Preakness over Eternal by 4 lengths. The Baltimore Sun congratulated him in their May 15th edition with this poem-

“He was bred in old Kentucky, Where the meadow’s grass is blue, And he was trained in Maryland, The whole winter through. He won the Derby in the mud, Which proved his speed was true, And now he’s won the Preakness, Sir Bart, hats off to you!”

On the 24th, he matched up again against Eternal in the Withers Stakes in New York and won again, coming from behind. Because of his dominance in the past 3 major stakes races, few dared to challenge Sir Barton a couple of weeks later in the Belmont Stakes. Only 2 other horses were entered in the race, but had very little effect as Sir Barton set a new American record for the distance. Retrospectively, he was named the 1919 Horse of the Year for these 4 amazing wins in the space of just 32 days.

Sir Barton’s Rise and Fall

Johnny Loftus Aboard Sir Barton1919 was definitely the year for Sir Barton and his connections had high hopes for him as he entered his 4 year old campaign in 1920.  Unfortunately, he would only win 5 of the 12 races he entered in that year. He did, however, pick up two major wins. In the Saratoga Handicap he beat Exterminator, winner of the 1918 Kentucky Derby. Then on August 28th, 1920 he set a world record for 1 3/16 mile on the dirt in the Merchants and Citizens Handicap carrying 133 pounds. But his entire racing career was about to be overshadowed on a fateful October 12th, 1920. Sir Barton entered into a match race with Man o’ War at Kenilworth Park in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. Kenilworth Park’s hard surface was just too much for Sir Barton’s soft hooves and the 1st Triple Crown winner would suffer a 7 length loss to the mighty Man o’ War, losing all four of his shoes in the process.  Falling from favor in the public’s eye, Sir Barton was retired to stud that year, his last race being the one that was remembered most.

Sir Barton's Memorial in Douglas, WyomingSir Barton’s career at stud was a disappointment, as well. Retired to stud after his loss to Man o’ War, Sir Barton stood at Audley Farm in Berryville, Virginia owned by brothers B.B. and Montfort Jones. Sir Barton sired such stakes winners as champion Easter Stockings and multiple stakes winner Nellie Custis, who was named after George Washington’s ward. Easter Stockings, champion 3-year-old filly of 1928, scored major wins in the Kentucky and Latonia Oaks, but for the most part, Sir Barton’s career at stud was a failure and after 11 years at the farm, he served as a U.S. Army Remount stallion in Fort Robinson, Nebraska. At that time, the U.S. Remount Service bred and supplied horses for the Army. During his military service, the legendary horse’s stud fee dropped as low as $10. In 1933, the Army sold Sir Barton to Dr. J.R. Hylton and the 1st Triple Crown winner lived out the rest of his life at the doctor’s ranch in Douglas, Wyoming. Sir Barton Statue at Audley FarmHe died of colic on October 30th, 1937 and was buried in the foothills of the Laramie Mountains. Later his remains would be removed to Washington Park in Douglas, Wyoming and a hard plastic monument was erected for his memorial, a somewhat disappointing tribute to America’s first Triple Crown winner. In 2008, a statue was placed in front of the Audley Farm stallion barn where he began his stud career. The statue was created by Jan Woods and was given as an anniversary gift from Erich von Baumbach Jr whose family has been associated with the farm for more than 30 years.

Although Sir Barton was the first horse to win the Triple Crown, this distinction was not termed “Triple Crown” until 1921 and did not become the popular term for this achievement until the 1930’s when Charles Hatton, a writer for the Daily Racing Form, coined the phrase in his articles. The next Triple Crown winner wouldn’t come along again until 1930. Stay tuned for the next post highlighting the 2nd Triple Crown Winner, Gallant Fox.




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Mike Jr, eldest son of Mike Lane Sr, is co-lead author at and was raised on thoroughbred horse racing and handicapping. Although father and son often butt heads on their selections, they both have much love and admiration for the sport. Mike Jr. brings a new, fresh perspective to horse racing and is often in search of new angles to try.

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