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Those Fabulous Forties



Hunkering 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.


Glenn 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.


The first 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.


Whirlaway 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.


The next 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 winner, Assault.


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.


In 1948, 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.


Al Snider 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.



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Older Comments about Those Fabulous Forties...

Now you've narrowed it down to Citation and Assault... unhelpful
all that good racing on a bad foot too
I did notice that but notice how you never specified whoch one you were talking about? Had I been listinfg prominents of the decade, Deabiscuit, Armed, Coaltown, Busher, and otherd wouldve been included
I'm not sure if people realize that Eddie Arcaro considered Assault one of the best horses he ever rode. On that list was Citation and Kelso as well. Interestingly he never puts Whirlaway in the top spots.
notice I stated this ONE, not all the other prominant ones of that decade.
Not sure which you are referring to, but I think that Citation beats Alsab the majority of the times even unsound, as does Whirlaway, as does Hill Prince. As far as Assault, maybe not.
Alsab would have hadled this one
Another thing about Eddie is that he also rode Assault on several occasions, so one could say he actually rode Three TC winners.
Hill Prince could have run all day long. He came from the same xFactor as Secretariat which is Princequillo. Even thou he was way before my time, I can honesty say he was a BEAST!
Doubt they had them back when he rode. But i am sure Arcaro did not win to many Handicapping contests. But i am a believer in what you say. I learned the hard way. I to listened and took the opinions of Jockeys over trainers,sad to say i got burned in many instances.
Tom. Arcaro had a terrible fight with trainer Max Hirsch who trained Middleground. Arcaro was contracted to ride him in the Derby but felt Hill Prince was a better horse. He had a nasty fight with Hirsch in a Lexington restaurant and was released from riding Middleground. Apprentice jockey Bill Boland picked up the mount and the win. Hirsch always considered Arcaro while a great jockey "an acquired taste."
Great story Buck about Arcaro and who he thought was best. Same scenerio with Ghostzapper,Frankel thought from the beginning that this was his horse. They tried to convince Bailey to take on the mount. History shows us different. I will always take the opinion of a trainer over that of a jockey. They know their horses better.
I love the trip back in time with the horses and the music!
Interestingly Arcaro was not convinced that Citation was the best horse for the Derby that year. He liked CoalTown better and wanted the mount on him. But Jimmy Jones told Arcaro that if he (Jimmy) had thought Coaltown was better, he would have put Arcaro on him. Arcaro was mollified but not totally convinced, until of course after Citation's win in the Derby ·
I love reading about these horses, Whirlaway being one of my favorite historical 'characters'. Thanks for an enjoyable piece, Johnnie!
  • buckpasser · Interestingly Arcaro was not convinced that Citation was the best horse for the Derby that year. He liked CoalTown better and wanted the mount on him. But Jimmy Jones told Arcaro that if he (Jimmy) had thought Coaltown was better, he would have put Arcaro on him. Arcaro was mollified but not totally convinced, until of course after Citation's win in the Derby. · 1371 days ago

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