El Chico: The Little Colt With the Big Heart

El Chico – 1936 ch. c., John P. Grier-La Chica by Sweep
“The little colt with the big heart.” – The Washington Post, 09/11/1938

Owner: William Ziegler, Jr.
Trainer: Matt Brady
Record: (18) 9-3-1 / $88,050

Purchased for $2,700 by William Ziegler, Jr. at the Saratoga yearling sale, El Chico (barn name “Chico”) was named by a staff member in Ziegler’s office. He was reportedly a small colt, who in addition to having crooked legs, also possessed scars on his legs as a result of running through a fence when he was young.

Record: (7) 7-0-0 / $84,100
1st: Youthful S. (5f,JAM), Dover S. (5f,DEL), Great American S. (6f,AQU), United States Hotel S. (6f,SAR), Saratoga Special S. (6f,SAR), Hopeful S. (6.5f SAR), Junior Champion S. (6.5f,AQU)

“Funny, that Chico horse doesn’t look like anything at all. But he sure can pick ’em up and lay ’em down.” [railbird comments overheard by John Kieran] / The New York Times, 08/20/1938

El Chico would debut in stakes competition, winning the Youthful S. (5f) at Jamaica on April 17. His next start would come in the Dover S. (5f) at Delaware Park on June 11, in which he would equal the track record (:59 1/5). Thirteen days later, he would extend his win streak to three in a row, winning the Great American S. (6f) at Aqueduct on June 24 by four lengths.

Attempting to make it four in a row, El Chico would then travel to Saratoga, winning the United States Hotel S. (6f) on July 30 by six lengths. Future Hall of Famer Eight Thirty would finish third.

El Chico would then take the Saratoga Special S. (6f) on August 6 by three lengths, again defeating Eight Thirty, who would finish second. He would set a new stakes record and equal the track record for six furlongs, stopping the timer in 1:10 2/5.

“Having won five stakes in five starts, El Chico looks all over the best 2-year-old seen in years, unless some racer he has yet to meet upsets his victorious career.” – Bryan Field/The New York Times, 08/07/1938

El Chico winning the Saratoga Special. Photo: Los Angeles Times, 08/07/1938.

El Chico would end the month of August with a three length win in the Hopeful S. (6.5f) at Saratoga on August 27, defeating future classic winner and Hall of Famer Johnstown. He would make one more start before winding down his juvenile season, winning the Junior Champion S. (6.5f) at Aqueduct on September 10, again defeating Johnstown.

However, El Chico’s year was not to end without a bit of controversy. Following the finish of the Junior Champion S., a claim of foul was filed against El Chico and third place finisher Johnstown by Harry Richards on second place finisher Volitant. Richards claimed that El Chico and Johnstown carried Volitant out at the eighth pole. This claim was dismissed, citing that Volitant was at least two lengths behind El Chico and Johnstown at that point. Richards was fined $25 for making a frivolous claim of foul.

El Chico winning the Junior Champion S. Photo: The New York Times, 09/11/1938.

El Chico would finish the 1938 season with seven wins in seven starts and was named the Champion Two-Year-Old Colt of 1938. He had reportedly been insured for $100,000 during his two-year-old season.

Record: (11) 2-3-1 / $3,950
1st: Mohegan Purse (8f,SAR), Canajoharie Purse (6f,SAR)
2nd: Salvator Purse (6f,BEL), Narragansett H. (6f,NAR)
3rd: Potomac H. (8.5f,HDG)

El Chico would enter 1939 ranked first in the Experimental Free Handicap (126 lbs.) and the winter book favorite for the Kentucky Derby. Having taken a rest following his win in the Junior Champion S. that past September, he would begin light training in the form of long gallops in January.

“As spring came on, no colt in the East attracted so much attention. Newspapermen and photographers visited him almost daily and Brady never minded bringing him out for inspection and pictures because he wasn’t a temperamental colt but actually seemed to enjoy his visitors.” – Grantland Rice, 12/25/1939

El Chico would make his seasonal bow in the Restigouche Purse (6f) at Jamaica on April 15. At odds of 1-7, he would finish second by a nose to Gilded Knight. Johnstown, emphatic winner of the Paumonok H. on the same Jamaica card, would replace El Chico as the early Derby favorite. It was later reported by his connections that El Chico had suffered a stone bruise during the race.

El Chico

El Chico’s defeat in the Restigouche Purse. Photo: Chicago Tribune, 04/16/1939.

“The little fellow’s star had set – but nobody realized it then. Brady thought he would be all right in a short time. But he wasn’t. Other 3-year-olds roared to triumphs. Gilded Knight – Volitant – Johnstown – greatest of all, Challedon. But, as in that first race at Jamaica, the little fellow was lost. He was only a name – and a hazy recollection – to the crowds that had cheered him through 1938.” – Grantland Rice, 12/23/1939

Making his second start of 1939 in the Wood Memorial (1mi,70yds) at Jamaica on April 29, El Chico would be bumped going around the first turn, stumble, and never recover, finishing sixth. Johnstown would win. The Wood Memorial marked the first time El Chico had raced past 6.5 furlongs.

El Chico’s third start would come in the Kentucky Derby (10f) on May 7. Named the early Derby favorite back in January, he would go off as the 8.2-1 fourth choice behind Johnstown, Technician, and Challedon in the field of eight. Per chart comments, “El Chico got away flying, attempted to follow the pace, but only for a quarter-mile. He dropped gradually and was a thoroughly beaten horse at the end.” He would finish sixth, beating only the two longest shots on the board (T. M. Dorsett and On Location).  Johnstown would win by eight lengths, with Challedon and Heather Broom taking the place and show.

El Chico’s placing in the stretch of the 1939 Kentucky Derby. Photo: Chicago Tribune, 05/07/1939.

El Chico came out of the Kentucky Derby with an injury to his left front foot, stated by his connections to be an old wound which initially occurred during the running of the Wood Memorial and had since festered.

“The wound, according to those who saw it, is an exceptionally deep one hidden completely by his shoe. It is on his left front foot. When it was cleansed, sterilized, and bandaged, the colt became as playful and chipper as a yearling, but he did not allow the injured foot to touch the ground.” – Chicago Tribune, 05/11/1939.

Following the Kentucky Derby, El Chico would race in the Salvator Purse (6f) at Belmont on May 30, finishing second in a field of four.

El Chico win captionHe would take off the months of June and July before returning in the Mohegan Purse (8f) at Saratoga on August 1, winning the race by six lengths. He would then win the Canajoharie Purse (6f) on August 10 by three lengths. The final time of the Canajoharie was 1:10 3/5, just 1/5 off the track record. Of his performance it was written, “El Chico just galloped in front all the way.”

El Chico’s yearling half-brother by Ariel would sell for $11,000 during that year’s Saratoga yearling sale. The yearling, later named Chicuelo, would win the Tremont S. at the age of two.

Mere days after his win in the Canajoharie Purse, El Chico would travel to Narragansett Park, finishing second in the Narragansett H. (6f) to Olney in a photo finish on August 14. He would then finish sixth in the Bay Shore H. (6.5f) at Aqueduct on September 13. The winner, Third Degree, would equal the track record – running the 6.5 furlong distance in 1:16 3/5. The solid stakes gelding Bill Farnsworth would finish second, with defending Bay Shore champion Wise Barrister taking third.

He would then travel to Havre de Grace, finishing third in the Potomac H. (8.5f) on September 23. Third Degree would win, with Porter’s Mite second. On October 3, El Chico would finish sixth in the Capital H. (6f) at Laurel. Seasoned handicapper Sun Egret would win. In what would turn out to be his final start, El Chico would run unplaced in a 6 furlong handicap at Laurel on October 7.

“He was in and out of training. Brady wouldn’t give up on him, but insisted that some day he would be great again. Not as a 3-year-old, maybe. But as a 4-year-old, surely.” – Grantland Rice, 12/25/1939

The Brady stable arrived at Santa Anita in the fall, with El Chico being pointed towards the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap. However, on November 30, El Chico pulled up lame following a 3 furlong workout. X-rays revealed a shattered left front sesamoid and El Chico was euthanized via strychnine injection on December 1.

“This time it was the end – an injury from which he couldn’t recover.” – Grantland Rice, 12/25/1939

El Chico’s dam La Chica (1930 f. by Sweep-La Grisette (GB) by Roi Herode (FR)), became the modern matriarch of a very successful 5-f family line in North America. In addition to El Chico and the aforementioned Chicuelo, she produced the notable mares Planetoid (1934 f. by Ariel), Miyako (1935 f. by John P. Grier), and Chelita (1942 f. by Sir Gallahad (FR)).

Chelita would become the third dam of multiple graded stakes winner Track Barron (1981 c. by Buckfinder).

Sold as a yearling for $1,500, Miyako would become best known as the dam of Geisha (1943 f. by Discovery), the dam of champion and legendary sire Native Dancer (1950 c. by Polynesian).

Planetoid would foal stakes winning filly Grey Flight (1945 f. by Mahmoud (FR)), the dam of track record setting champion and Broodmare of the Year Misty Morn (1952 f. by Princequillo (IRE)), stakes winners Bold Princess (1960 f. by Bold Ruler) and Bold Queen (1961 f. by Bold Ruler), stakes winner and sire What a Pleasure (1965 c. by Bold Ruler), and producer Pleasant Flight (1969 f. by Bold Ruler), the dam of graded stakes winner Flitalong (1976 c. by Herbager (FR)).

Of Grey Flight’s daughters, Bold Princess would foal sire Sovereign Dancer (1975 c. by Northern Dancer) and the unraced Fantastic Flyer (1976 f. by Hoist the Flag), the dam of graded stakes winner Formal Dinner (1988 c. by Well Decorated); while Misty Morn would foal the champions Bold Lad (1962 c. by Bold Ruler) and Successor (1964 c. by Bold Ruler), stakes winners Sunrise Flight (1959 c. by Double Jay), Bold Consort (1960 f. by Bold Ruler), and Beautiful Day (1961 f. by Bold Ruler), and producer Lovely Morning (1965 f. by Swaps). Sunrise Flight would become the broodmare sire of classic winner, champion, and sire Pleasant Colony, while Lovely Morning would foal Resolver (1974 f. by Reviewer), the dam of graded stakes winners Time for a Change (1981 c. by Damascus), Adjudicating (1987 c. by Danzig), and Dispute (1990 f. by Danzig).

Misty Morn would also foal the unraced Queen of the Sky (1967 f. by Bold Ruler), the dam of producer Foreign Missile (1973 f. by Damascus), and Halcyon Queen (1974 f. by Hail to Reason). Halcyon Queen would foal Makin A Statement (1990 f. by Stage Door Johnny), the dam of graded stakes winner On A Soapbox (1996 f. by Mi Cielo), while Foreign Missile would foal stakes winner Squan Song (1981 f. by Exceller) and producer Gaelic Tune (1991 f. by Danzig). Squan Song would foal Tin Oaks (1989 f. by Deputy Minister), the dam of stakes winners Tempest Fugit (1997 g. by Unaccounted For) and Omega Code (2000 c. by Elusive Quality), while Gaelic Tune would foal Japanese group winner Symboli Indy (1996 c. by A.P. Indy).


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