Photo: Eclipse Sportswire - Kate Hunter
U.S. racing fans will tune in early tomorrow morning with bated breath to see if one of our racing heroes can conquer Royal Ascot. Make no mistake, it’s a noble undertaking Animal Kingdom will undergo in the Group 1 Queen Anne Stakes. An American at Ascot, especially one heavily favored to gain victory, is a rare and special occasion. It is not, however, unprecedented. Before Animal Kingdom, there was Omaha. A son of first-crop sire, and Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox, much was expected of the young Omaha. Owned by Belair Stud, and trained by Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, the chestnut colt would win only one-of-nine starts as a juvenile, though. Considering his breeding and connections, and the fact that the gangly youngster was consistently finishing well against strong competition in 1934, the belief in Omaha carried over to his sophomore season, when the distances and the importance of the races would both increase.
Sure enough, his first two starts at the age of three, which were also his first pair of attempts around two-turns, yielded a smart allowance score, and a fast closing 3rd place finish in the Wood Memorial. He would not be the favorite of the 1935 Kentucky Derby, but he was well respected by bettors at 4-1. It would mark the last time Omaha would go off as anything but favored.
Strong and early rallies in the three races that make up the American Triple Crown resulted in a trio of victories that allowed him to join his sire in immortality. His 1 ½ length scores in the Derby and Belmont Stakes, and his six length romp in the Preakness, confirmed his place as the class of his generation. To this day, Gallant Fox and Omaha remain the only father-son duo to account for the Triple Crown. Easy wins in New York’s Dwyer and Chicago’s Arlington Classic would close out Omaha’s excellent three-year-old season of 1935.
Looking for new worlds to conquer, the powerful Belair stable sent their star to England for his four-year-old season. Omaha was an instant success with two smart victories at Kempton in the Victor Wild Stakes and the Queen’s Plate. The pair of victories, carrying 129 and 130 pounds at 1 ½ and 2 miles respectively, sent the American invader off to Royal Ascot as an international star and the horse to beat in Europe’s most prestigious race for stayers.
In what would turn out to be the penultimate race of his career, Omaha lost the 2 ½ mile, 1936 edition of the historic Ascot Gold Cup. He was defeated, yes, but the nose defeat on soft turf to the previous year’s Epsom Oaks winner, Quashed, could easily be called one of, if not the finest, of all of the 1935 Kentucky Derby winner’s career of strong performances. Now we finally have another Derby hero at Ascot, hoping to seal the deal that Omaha came so tantalizingly close to more than three-quarters of a century ago.
So while we all watch the powerful son of Leroidesnimaux as he shoots for something truly special tomorrow at Ascot, how about a little remembrance for the last great American horse to take his shot at the Royal Meeting? Before Animal Kingdom, there was Omaha.