Meissen meets Whirlaway

Photo: Daily Racing Form, 06/17/1941.

Meissen (ARG)
1936 (Oct. 31) b. h, Adam’s Apple (GB)-Delft (ARG) by Your Majesty (GB)
Known as the “Phar Lap of Peru” and the “Peruvian Panther.”

Owner(s): Anibal Perez Velez (in Peru), Andrew (A.T.) Jergins (in the U.S.)
Trainer(s): Jesus Gonzalez (or Gonzales), then P. M. Burch

Race record in Peru: (19) 15-2-2
Established Peruvian record: unspecified distance (possibly 10f?) in 2:02 in the Presidente Handicap (carrying 134 lbs.)
Established Peruvian record: 12f in 2:29 4/5 in the Independencia (carrying 136 lbs.)

Unraced as a juvenile, Meissen would compile a record of (7) 6-0-1 as a 3-year-old and (12) 9-2-1 as a 4-year-old, winning at distances from 6.5 furlongs to 1 7/8 miles. One win came via dead heat, with another via walkover, and in two of his races, he would face only one opponent. In his final race as a 3-year-old, he would defeat older horses in winning the Clasico Presidente at Lima (1 7/8 mi.).

In 1941, Meissen was acquired from Anibal Perez Velez by A.T. Jergins during an air tour Jergins was taking of South America. Meissen was the first horse Jergins, then a director at the Hollywood Turf Club, owned

Meissen arrived in Los Angeles in June 1941 on the freighter SS Vinland. He was accompanied by trainer Jesus Gonzalez, who as a condition of the sale, was to remain with the horse in the U.S. as trainer. Gonzalez is praised for keeping the high-spirited and uncomfortable Meissen calm during the grueling twenty-day voyage at sea, during which the horse was confined to his stall for the entire duration.

Photo: Los Angeles Times, 06/06/1941

Immediately upon his arrival, Meissen is showered with accolades. “He stands slightly over seventeen hands and, for his size, one of the most perfectly proportioned horses we have ever seen. He bulks around 1,300 pounds and is obviously a racer of tremendous driving power.”

Daily Racing Form, 06/16/1941

And almost more impressive than Meissen’s physical status is Gonzalez’ relationship with the star colt.

Daily Racing Form, 06/20/1941

Attention soon turns to the fact that in addition to having been nominated to the Sunset and American Handicaps, Meissen has been nominated for the $75,000 Hollywood Gold Cup, potentially against the also-nominated Whirlaway, to be run on July 19. Interest is growing in this prospective matchup; however, there are some who know to temper their enthusiasm, wondering if it’s too soon for the big horse to be ready to run after such an arduous journey.

After his arrival stateside, Meissen is briefly sent to Rancho San Luis Rey to lose his sea legs and begin initial training. He is then transported to Hollywood Park, where he is given a double stall in the barn of Ross E. Cooper.

And the story begins.

Race record in the U.S.: (4) 0-0-0

Well, Meissen never made the Hollywood Gold Cup or the American, Santa Anita or Sunset Handicaps. Early setbacks kept him from a 1941 campaign, and the WWII cessation of horse racing in California beginning in 1942 kept him from even racing in the state.

Meissen’s U.S. race record is uncertain. While not confirmed, records indicate he raced four times in 1942, finishing off the board in all efforts. For all of the bravado about “the Panther” taking down Whirlaway, it does not appear they clashed heads even once.

Photo: Los Angeles Times, 12/06/1941.

On January 31, Meissen participated in a “parade of stars” as part of Hialeah’s War Benefit Day. Each paraded horse was cantered in racing dress from the 1/8 pole to the finish line while their achievements were broadcast over the public address system. Other horses paraded were Alsab, Amphitheatre, Bless Me, Devil Diver, Market Wise, Our Boots, Pictor, and War Relic.

Meissen would make his United States debut in the Pompano Purse (6f) on February 10, finishing sixth in the seven horse field. King Ranch owned colt Dispose, winner of the 1941 Flamingo Stakes, would win. Of Meissen’s performance, “The big invader ran into a world of speed today, running a distant last until he finally passed The Starborn II, a rank outsider, in the stretch. Whether he will improve with racing, especially at longer distances, must remain a question.” (The Washington Post, 02/11/1942)

Meissen would next take to the grass in the American Purse (8.5fT) on February 23, where he would once again finish sixth of seven. The race was won by stakes winning colt The Rhymer.

Following the conclusion of the Hialeah meet, Meissen would travel to Belmont Park, where he would finish last of seven behind winner Corydon in the Lamplighter Graded Handicap (10f) on May 19 and last of six behind winner Swing and Sway in the Paul Jones Purse (6f) on May 29. Swing and Sway would would win the Whitney Handicap later that summer.

After faltering in his attempts at Hialeah and Belmont, Meissen was sent back to Peru in 1943 to begin a career at stud.

This is where the story ends. Perhaps more information is available with Spanish-language resources, but using English-language resources I can find no information regarding his progeny, or whether Meissen even survived the trip back to South America. All we’re left with are a few scant articles and a rather striking photograph of a bridled, blinkered, front-wrapped bay staring down Whirlaway.

On what is almost exactly 70 years to the day of Meissen’s final race in North America, there are more questions than there are answers about the career and final days of Meissen. Did he have soundness issues? Was it trainer mismanagement? Or did it become apparent that his dominance in Peru was against clearly lesser competition than of that in the U.S.? Regardless, it is perplexing as to why a horse who excelled at distances from 12 furlongs on in Peru was never tried further than 10 furlongs at least once, especially as races like this would have been carded in the time period.


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