On champion Decathlon’s unorthodox running style

“Physically handicapped horses, like their human counterparts, sometimes scale to great heights. One of the more telling cases is that of King Ranch’s Assault, Triple Crown winner of 1946, which had a club foot. Now along comes Decathlon.

Considered the fastest sprinter among the 3-year-olds, which not only was born with a club-footed left fore hoof, but seriously aggravated his right fore hoof by jamming a nail through it after a workout at Hialeah early in the winter of 1955.

Decathlon almost did not survive the blow, but after five weeks, trainer Rollie Shepp succeeded in getting the colt to step on his hoof again. There has been a noticeable effect in the colt’s running action ever since.

The son of Olympia-Dog Blessed races as if he were shot from a rifle. He throws his injured member out to the side in a “straddling” gesture that makes him appear as if he were in a spinning, trajectory flight towards the wire.”
(Walter Haight / The Washington Post and Times Herald, 04/11/1956)

March 1909: Obituary of Sir Dixon

Photo of Sir Dixon as published in Hoofprints of the Century: Excerpts from America’s oldest journal of horse racing and breeding, the Thoroughbred Record, and its predecessor publications, the Livestock Record and Kentucky Live Stock Record, as compiled and annotated by William Robertson (covering 1875-1919 and 1966-1974) and Dan Farley (1920-1965).

“Lexington, Ky., March 24. – Sir Dixon, Colonel E. F. Clay’s famous old thoroughbred stallion, is dead. Sir Dixon, while romping in his paddock at Runnymede stud, near Paris, yesterday afternoon, fell and broke a bone in his right hip. Colonel Clay, seeing that it would be impossible to save the son of Imported Billet and Jaconet, by Imp. Leamington, had him destroyed.

Sir Dixon was bread in the Runnymede stud and was foaled in the spring of 1885, making him 24 years old. As a yearling he was sold to W. S. Barnes, who disposed of him at the same age to Green B. Morris, for whom, as a two-year-old, he won the Camden and Select Stakes and Flatbush Handicap.

Morris took him to Washington the following spring, 1888, and won the Analostan Stakes, then moved on to Brooklyn and won the Carlton Stakes so easily from Raceland, the only other starter, that Dwyer Brothers bought him for a large price. For them he won that year the Withers, the Belmont, the Travers and the Lorillard Stakes. He did not go to the post in 1889. His only victory in 1890 was the defeat of Taragon in the St. James Hotel Stakes at Brooklyn, and his racing career ended with his breakdown in a high weight handicap sweepstakes at Coney Island in June of that year.

Sir Dixon’s winnings for Mr. Morris and the Dwyer Brothers aggregated nearly $50,000, and after his breakdown he was sold to Colonel Clay and Catesby Woodford, for something like $6,000, to become the premier stallion at Runnymede.

The first of Sir Dixon’s get made their appearance in racing in 1894, and the following is a schedule of their winnings:

1894 . . . . . . . . . . . $61,470
1895 . . . . . . . . . . . $25,435
1896 . . . . . . . . . . . $41,208
1897 . . . . . . . . . . . $35,085
1898 . . . . . . . . . . . $83,617
1899 . . . . . . . . . . . $59,499
1900 . . . . . . . . . . . $68,806
1901 . . . . . . . . . . . $206,926
1902 . . . . . . . . . . . $92,092
1903 . . . . . . . . . . . $32,165
1904 . . . . . . . . . . . $75,454
1905 . . . . . . . . . . . $99,905
1906 . . . . . . . . . . . $64,916
1907 . . . . . . . . . . . $68,070
1908 . . . . . . . . . . . $24,392

Making an aggregate of $1,039,040 in 15 years.

The most distinguished performers by Sir Dixon were Alpen, Ahom, Agile, Audience, Blues, Blue Girl, Butterflies, Captain Arnold, Conjurer, Countess Irma, Diminutive, Disobedient, Dr. Bernays, Druid, Donation, Elusive, Femesole, George Arnold, George B. Cox, Hymettus, Jack Point, John Bright, Kernel, Kilmarnock, Martha Gorman, Memories, Mercer, Maceo, Necedah, Nones, Queen Dixon, Orimar, Outcome, Running Water, Six Shooter, Sir Vassar, Sir Dixon Jr., Sweet Dixie, South Breeze, Sir Oliver, Sir Hubert, Surmise, The Conqueror, Thirty-Third, Yankee Girl.

The star winners of these were: Blue Girl, $68,900; Blues, $62,805; Running Water, $52,990; Butterflies, $50,830; Agile, $49,332; Kilmarnock, $46,595.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, 03/25/1909)

Sir Dixon’s champion daughter Blue Girl (1899 ch. f. o/o Bonnie Blue by Hindoo) as a 2-year-old. Photo as published in Management of Breeding of Horses by Merritt Wesley Harper, 1913.

Photo: Tim Tam at Pimlico, May 1958

“Kentucky Derby winner Tim Tam hopes this winning atmosphere is contagious on May 17, 1958 at Pimlico, where he’s planning to add the Preakness to his laurels.“ (Photo: Associated Press Images Collection, 5/16/1958; ID 580516026)

Grantland Rice: How Does Noor Rank Among World’s Great? (June 1950)

Noor (GB) wins the Santa Anita Handicap, 02/25/1950. Citation 2nd, Two Lea 3rd, Ponder 4th. Photo: The New York Times, 02/26/1950

“NEW YORK, June 28 – Some time back, differing partisans were arguing at considerable length about the comparative greatness of Man o’ War and Citation. Which was the greater – or the greatest?

And then along came Noor. Noor is a bay Irish thoroughbred which the late Charlie Howard bought from the Aga Khan for something like $200,000. This was another Aga Khan horse which hadn’t amounted to much. But while Noor wasn’t winning, he was always showing promise.

At Santa Anita last January it was taken for granted that if Citation returned to anything like his old form, the Calumet headliner was sure to win the $100,000 handicap. Not quite everyone felt that way. Howard didn’t, when I talked to him at the Santa Anita track at the time.

“I can say this,” he said. “Unless Citation is just as good as he ever was, Noor will beat him and win the Handicap. If Citation is just as good as he ever was, Noor still might beat him. Noor ran third in the English Derby. He was then just coming into his own as a great horse. But the change to California has taken longer than I thought it would bring him around. Now he is ready and I believe he is about as fine a horse as I have ever seen.”

He should know – As Howard owned Seabiscuit, Kayak II and another great South American horse which once set a world’s record, the late turfman should know what he was talking about. At that time Charlie Howard was a very sick man with a bad heart. He might have died sooner except that he clung to life with great tenacity to see Noor run against Citation.

It can be said for Howard that no sportsman ever finished his career with two greater thrills. He saw Noor beat Citation twice in two of the greatest races ever run – a battle to the wire less than a neck apart.

Noor’s time last Saturday for the mile and a quarter set a new mark and was his second world-record performance on successive Saturdays. It is admitted that the Golden Gate track is composed largely of greased lightning – it’s the fastest track in the world. But for all that, any horse that keeps breaking two minutes for the mile and a quarter can move a bit. I don’t think Citation is the horse he was as a 3-year-old. But no one can take credit from Noor. It is only to be hoped that he comes East or to the Midwest before he gets stale or overworked. It would be doubly interesting to see him work on another track, outside of California.”
(Grantland Rice / The Atlanta Constitution, 06/29/1950)

Photos: Burgomaster wins the Great American Stakes (1905) and Belmont Stakes (1906)

PHOTO - Burgomaster wins Great American S. (HW Vol. XLIX No. 2531 1905.06.24)

Burgomaster (1903 br. c. by Hamburg – Hurley Burley by Riley) wins the 1905 Great American Stakes at Belmont Park over Bohemian (GB) (2nd) and Jerry Wernberg (3rd). Photo as published in Harper’s Weekly (Vol. XLIX, No. 2531), 06/24/1905.

PHOTO - Burgomaster wins Belmont S. (HW Vol. L No. 2582 1906.06.16)

Burgomaster wins the 1906 Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park over The Quail (2nd) and Accountant (3rd).
Photo by N. W. Penfield as published in Harper’s Weekly (Vol. L, No. 2582), 06/16/1906.

March 1890: No cold blood for ‘brush wonder’ Creole

“About the best of the half-breeds is the horse Creole, now owned by J. M. Brown. He belonged to R. W. Clayton, of Louisiana, and a year ago was only known as a quarter horse. He was beaten here in a quarter once for a fortune, but Captain Jack Hardy, who knew something about sprinters, picked Creole out as the fastest quarter performer on the continent. Brown & Hardy dickered for the animal and got him for $1,500. Had Captain Hardy lived Creole would by this time have lost or won a gold mine running against some of the flash-light stock at Enterprise, Miss., and elsewhere. Brown trained Creole like his other horses and found that he could go almost any distance. He sprinted three-quarters in 1:14 ¾ in a race the other day, and the ‘touts’ say he has worked a mile fast. Perhaps he is another of these modern instances which are thorns in the sides of the turf theorists.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, 03/02/1890)


Creole headline (Cincinnati Enquirer 1890.03.15)“NEW ORLEANS, March 10, 1890. …
Creole, the horse I wrote to you about last week, continues to be the principal subject of discussion at the track. He has run some good races with big weight up, and it is evident that his capacity has not yet been tested. The most practiced eyes among the horsemen refused to believe that he is ‘cold-blooded,’ and it seems that they are right, although he is regularly entered ‘Coldeck-unknown.’

The report was that he is by Uncle Jeff. Yesterday I was introduced to an old man named Carroll Jones, of Cavo River, Natchitoches Parish, La. He looks like a distinguished old Frenchman or Spaniard, but it is said that he belonged to one of the great Louisiana families before the war. Now he has a snug cotton plantation of several hundred acres, and raises horses besides running races all around in this vicinity. Creole was among his horses. The old man says he trained Lecompte for his race with Lexington, and has handled many fine horses, but never had one he liked better than this same Creole. He has beaten every thing he ever ran across, not only as a runner, but as a trotter. His daughter drove the animal in a buggy race and won handily.

Last winter he brought Creole here for the purpose of making some matches but did not do much owing to constant rains. The only time he did make a race he was inducted to put up a boy he did not know, and the boy, not Creole, lost the money. Besides the inclement weather, he grew ill here and spent considerable money, so that when he visited home his wife set her foot down upon his turf proclivities. He also thought to stay at home is best and so sadly determined upon parting with his favorite, selling him to R. W. Clayton for $500. It was a good thing for Clayton, for he received $1,500 from J. M. Brown for the animal. Brown is satisfied, too, for the horse has already won considerable for him at this meeting.

Jones says Creole is a thoroughbred, can go a fast mile, and was foaled at Mansfield, La., nine years ago. He is by a horse by Boston, the sire of Lexington, out of a mare by Stonewall Jackson, a son of Lexington. Before the war Louisiana was full of the finest thoroughbred horses in the country. They were sent into the interior and scattered about during the struggle and many were never traced. Many an old backwoods horse is of royal blood, only chance does not discover its quality in many instances. The believers in blood, however, will be glad that Creole has been found out.” (Cincinnati Enquirer, 03/15/1890)


“The horse Creole, who has been running at New-Orleans and who is one of the very best of the lot there, has been supposed to be a half-bred, his pedigree being given as by “Cold Deck, dam unknown.” Now a man named Carroll Jones of Natchitoches Parish, La., comes to the front and claims to have bred the horse. He says he is by Uncle Jeff, a son of the great Boston, out of a mare by Stonewall Jackson, a son of Lexington. He says Creole was foaled at Mansfield, La., nine years ago, and that he knows the pedigree to be correct. The trainers down that way believe the story, and say that no horse that can run like Creole can possibly have cold blood in his veins.”
(The New York Times, 03/17/1890)