down for the winter, I’ve been drifting off musically with Glenn Miller, Artie
Shaw and Tommy Dorsey rocking my Bose speakers that I inherited from my brother
who’s been gone these past four years. He always said that I was a weird kid,
because in the early 1970’s I listened to a heck of a lot of jazz and swing
instead of rock and roll. It’s the music
from the 1930's and 1940's, and it also goes hand and hand with one of
racing's Golden Ages.
Miller’s band took off in 1938, the year that Seabiscuit and the 1937 Triple
Crown winner, War Admiral met in Pimlico on a November day. We all know the
story, over 40 thousand track hounds crammed the Baltimore racetrack, but millions
listened to the race on the other king of the times, the radio. I’ve included a
link to the actual radio broadcast of the Match Race and some of the other of
Seabiscuit’s races of the 30's and 40's. It’s very cool to imagine the greatest horses of that time
coming down the stretch. Even F.D.R. stopped his day to listen to Clem McCarthy’s
raspy call of the race. With the ‘biscuit on the inside where it was alleged
firmer, the little horse captured America and beat the heavily favored War Admiral
and it happened all in the listeners imagination over the radio.
The war in
Europe raged on in early 1941, but here Frank Sinatra sang with the Tommy
Dorsey Band and all was good in pre-war America. It was spring-1941, when DiMaggio
started his hitting streak, while Ted Williams was well on his way to hitting .406
that year. It also was the spring that Whirlaway won the 1941 Triple Crown.
thing you notice about Whirlaway was the length of his tail. It was long enough
to make all the other horses insecure. Nicknamed The Flying Tail, Whirlaway did
have a problem drifting out. In fact, he turned out so bad that he hit the
outside rail as he won the 1940 Saratoga Special. However, his speed was good enough
to put hours of training in and what also helped was a one eyed, cup blinker.
It proved to fix his fear of the inner rail. As a matter of fact it proved
effective enough to win the Triple Crown.
also won the Travers that year, but in a tough challenge from Market Wise, in the
Jockey Gold Cup, The Flying Tail got a second in what’s been called by his
trainer, Ben Jones as the best race he ran all that year. Interesting thing is
while shipped out to California to race at Santa Anita, Pearl Harbor was hit
hard, forcing travel restrictions and leaving Whirlaway stranded in California
until March of 1942. Whirlaway won Horse of the Year 1941 and 1942.
In 1943, the
nation was war weary. The radio played the Jack Benny show, Artie Shaw, news
from both fronts and Count Fleet. He was sent by the racing Gods to give a shot
in the arm to this country when it needed it the most. Given a chance to find
his stride as a two year old, Count Fleet raced hard and often in ’42. He took
a few defeats against his early rival Occupation, but once Count Fleet found
his groove, he took off winning races like the Walden Stakes by 22 lengths.
year, the winning streak continued all the way through to the Belmont Stakes, and winning the 1943 Triple Crown in the process. Jockey Johnny Longden often
said that all he had to do was to show Count Fleet the racetrack. He was that
confident about riding his horse. Count Fleet retired after the Belmont Stakes
and stood stud, proving to be a pretty reliable breeder.
The war was
over in 1945. People like my folks danced to the drumming man Gene Krupa as
loved one’s and neighbors would soon be coming home. In 1946, the first full
year of peace, the Fantastic Forties continued with another Triple Crown
Chasing injuries most of the time as a
yearling, the most severe when Assault stepped on a rake and injured his right
hoof. Deformed, this limping horse was nicknamed the Club Footed Comet and proved
that he may not have been the fastest horse, but he was a talented racer. Sure,
he won the Kentucky Derby by eight lengths, but it was the other two legs of
the Triple Crown that were hard fought victories beating out rival, Lord
Boswell in both the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes. Assault remains the only
Texas bred Triple Crown winner to this day.
swing waned and so did the radio. But in horse racing the 40's proved to be
a magical decade for the sport one more time, with Citation. Bred in Kentucky,
his family tree is half European. Citation’s mom was Hydroplane II, a Great
Britain mare, and his sire was Bull Lea, a Kentucky bred stallion himself. The 1941
Triple Crown winning trainer, Ben Jones, also trained Citation. And he was
impressed early on by this bay horse. Citation set the track record at Arlington in
1947 in his second time out, by running a :58 flat for five furlongs.
was on top of this young star, and his stock was rising as well, but after
winning the Flamingo Stakes, Al went fishing off of the Florida Keys on a day
off and drowned it’s speculated, because his body was never recovered. His
skiff was found sometime later on a small island off of Florida. Asked to hop
on was Eddie Arcaro and he rode the Calumet Farm's superstar to the Triple
Crown. Arcaro gave Al Snider’s widow a share of the purse from each of the
Triple Crown races that he and Citation won.
The 1940's were all about swing music, the radio, and horse racing. And because I was a
weird kid, I can enjoy it all over again. Saddle Up.