Monday 10 June 2013

The Run for the Black-Eyed Susans

Men in fedoras and women in gowns filled the grandstand at Pimlico on May 15, 1937.  Reporters filled the infield.  Cars filled the outfield.  And horses filled the stables.  The Baltimore Marching Colts played "Maryland, My Maryland". Guests dined on crabcakes and sipped on Black-Eyed Susans, a mixture of vodka and lemon juice.

The Pimlico Members Club circa 1959 courtesy

Eight three-year-old horses entered their pens, whinnying all the way.  War Horse, a fiery tempered colt who just won the Kentucky Derby two weeks before, kicked up a fuss in his pen.  The horses burst out of the gate, the crowd erupted in cheers and the announcer called the race.  As the horses galloped down the track, kicking up dirt, War Admiral and Pompoon took the lead.  War Admiral, the son of Man O' War, a former winner, was feisty and yet only stood 15.3 hands.  Pompoon, a bay coloured horse, had beaten War Admiral the year before in the Stallion Stakes.

This was no cakewalk as the horses went full tilt for one and three-sixteenth miles around the track.  The race was too close to call.  The announcer kept repeating:  "It's head to head!"  At the finish line, with his jockey Charley Kurtsinger urging him on, War Admiral won by a head.  His jockey was blanketed with yellow flowers, representing black-eyes Susans which don't bloom until June.  The black-eyed Susans, made up of 13 petals, represent the thirteen colonies, including Maryland.  War Admiral's owner, Samuel Riddle, was awarded the purse of $75,000 (today the purse is $1 million).

The reporters jostled each other for a quote from War Admiral's jockey, drenched in sweat.  The photographers jostled for a shot of War Admiral, draped in yellow flowers.  And the spectators, their blood pumping from the excitement of the race, jostled to get their winnings at the betting booth (or pay their debts).  In the midst of the Great Depression, a horse race was a welcome respite from the doldrums of their daily lives.  Once the stands were empty at Pimlico, a worker would climb the weather vane with a paint can in his hand and re-paint the mural, making the jockey's jacket the colour of the winning horse.

The Pimlico grandstand courtesy

War Admiral would race again three weeks later at the Belmont Stakes in New York and win by three lengths, securing the Triple Crown of horse racing, making him one of only eleven thoroughbreds to do so.

Note:  For more information on horse racing, visit my blog posts:  "The Run for the Roses" (May 5, 2012) and "Seabiscuit" (June 24, 2012).


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