Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Top 10 - Old Warriors

The Tin Man has me inspired to come with a list of the best old warriors this game has known. In order to qualify for this list a horse must have had at least 5 seasons on the racetrack or made 50 career starts since 1900.

Top 10 - Old Warriors

1. Kelso
2. Round Table
3. Forego
4. Whirlaway
5. Equipoise
6. John Henry
7. Armed
8. Seabiscuit
9. Exterminator
10. Discovery

1. Kelso: 63-39-12-2
Without question the greatest warrior of the past century in North America. Kelso dominated racing for half a decade. His record of 5 consecutive Horse Of The Year titles will never be broken. He is one of only 4 horses to win the Handicap Triple Crown, he won the Jockey Club Gold Cup an incredible 5 years in a row. Kelso was incredibly consistent. In 69 starts he won nearly 62% and was in the top two 81% of the time. That is the highest percentage among all the warriors listed. Indeed it is hard to imagine that racing will ever witness another horse like him. Kelso got off to a humble beginning he won just once in 3 starts as a 2yo and he missed the 1960 Triple Crown entirely. He did not even make his stakes debut until July of his 3yo season but he reeled off 6 straight victories with 5 of them being dominant performances. He smashed older horses in the Hawthorne and Jockey Club Gold Cups and that was enough to secure his first HOY title. He kept his hot hand going as a 4yo and extended his winning streak to 11 races while taking the Handicap Triple Crown. He won the Woodward and Whitney 3 times each but perhaps one of his proudest moments was when he finally captured the DC International as a 7 year old. Kelso was not a poor Turf horse, he was 8-3-4-0 on the Turf but 2 of those wins came in allowance company. Although he had ruled racing for years coming into the 64' DC International he had never won a stakes on Turf and had incredibly finished second in 3 straight renewals of this race. But he finally gained an emotional 4 length success over Gun Bow who had earlier narrowly denied him a 4th Woodward.

2. Round Table: 66-43-8-5
Perhaps the most durable horses in American history. He had just 4 racing seasons but ran 22 times as a 3yo then another 20 times as a 4yo. He was part of the legendary crop of 1954 that included Gallant Man, Bold Ruler, Iron Leige and Gen. Duke. He showed promise as a 2yo but was not really remarkable until his breeders, Claiborne Farm, sold him to the Kerr Stable. They took him out west and he blossomed into a first rate horse. He managed to run third in the Kentucky Derby then shortly thereafter reeled off 11 straight wins and had his first ever races on Turf. Over the next two years Round Table ran often on both Turf and Dirt and though he was good enough on dirt to win the Hollywood Gold Cup, Santa Anita Handicap and Washington Park Handicap he found his real niche on the Turf. He is in my estimation the greatest American Turf horse of all time. He won the award for top turf male 3 years in a row and compiled a record of 16-14-1-0 on the grass. His lone losses came when giving 17 pounds to top rival Clem and in a Santa Anita stakes where he was injured during the running. He won the highest percentage of his races of any horse in the top 10 and his dual surface ability sets him above some of the others.

3. Forego: 57-34-9-7
He was perhaps the closest thing we've seen to Kelso in the way he dominated the handicap ranks for years. He was Horse Of The Year 3 times, top Handicap Horse 4 times and even won himself the top sprinter award in 1974 thanks to big wins in the Carter and Vosburgh. His record of 8 Eclipse Awards is likely to stand for some time. He was a horse who could run 7f in 1:21 3/5 and still laugh off his competition going 2 miles. Maybe his finest day was when he overcame Honest Pleasure in the 1976 Marlboro Cup. Forego was never very proficient on sloppy tracks and he was carrying 137lbs that day. Honest Pleasure got away with 18lbs less and nearly had the 6yo beaten in deep stretch. But Forego would not be denied, he kept coming and got past Honest Pleasure with nearly the last stride. Forego also faced very good competition. Along with the aforementioned Honest Pleasure he also faced Foolish Pleasure who denied him the Handicap Triple Crown by a scant nose, Wajima, Ancient Title, Mr Prospector and even Secretariat.

4. Whirlaway: 60-32-15-9
Whirlaway is mostly known as a Triple Crown winner but in fact he was probably a superior handicapper. Up to and including the Triple Crown he was 27-14-4-6, after the Triple Crown he was 33-18-11-3. He won at a higher rate and incredibly never finished out of the money until his final career start where he pulled up sore. Despite being known for his flashy late running style and erratic tendencies he should be known as mr. consistent. He hit the frame an incredible 93% of the time. That 56 times from 60 races, he was out of the frame 3 times as a 2yo while his connections figured him out and then not again until his final bow. He was fantastic from start to finish. He is one of only two horses in this top 10 to be named champion 2yo. Obviously his 3yo season was a superb one as well as he swept the Triple Crown. He was also named Horse of The Year in 1942 for his excellent campaign as a handicapper. He famously lost a match race with Alsab, but being a late runner a match race was never going to suit him and the margin of victory was the shortest of noses.

5. Equipoise: 51-29-10-4
His situation at #5 on the list my come as a surprise, mostly because people are not as familiar with this star from the mid-thirties. He has a superior career winning percentage to every horse ranked below him in this top 10 He was the joint top 2yo of 1930 and is the second of our top 10 to be so honoured as a 2yo. His 3yo season was a total disaster. He made just 3 starts including a 4th place finish in the Preakness. But he returned with a vengeance as a 4yo winning 10 of 14 starts including 7 in a row from 5f to 10f. That was enough to earn him Horse of The Year and Top Handicap Horse in 1932. That was awarded posthumously of course as no official recognition existed prior to 1936. He returned in 1933 to reel off another 7 wins in a row and take the same honors. He was never as effective in 1934 or 35 but he did do enough to win top handicap horse in 1934. When he was in form he was unbeatable.

6. John Henry: 83-39-15-9
He was the last of the real warriors. Lava Man and The Tin Man are sometimes compared to him but they have much to accomplish before they could be equals. Just behind Forego's Eclipse record with 7 trophies in his case, John Henry is the second most decorated horse in American history. Like Round Table he was effective and accomplished on both surfaces but preferred the Turf. Incredibly for this 15 time G-1 winner he did not even appear in a G-1 until he had already made 44 career starts. At one time he even finished 10th in a $20k claimer. He ran for 8 seasons and was perhaps at his very best as a 9yo when he went 9-6-1-1 with 4 G-1 victories including a repeat in the Arlington Million.

7. Armed: 81-41-20-10
Likely the greatest tragedy in the life and times of Armed was that he raced during the era of Citation, Coaltown, Assault and Stymie. In his distinguished career he also faced crack fillies, Twilight Tear, Busher and Gallorette. Certainly in terms of competition faced Armed got the toughest ride of anyone yet he still managed to win more than 50% of his starts. Because of the horses that shared his time in history he only won Horse of The Year once, in 1947. That year he won 11 of 17 starts from 6f to 10f. His crowning achievement was perhaps his casual 8 length triumph over Triple Crown winner Assault in a match race.

8. Seabiscuit: 89-33-15-13
What can be said that is not widely known about Seabiscuit. Like John Henry he was a real rags to riches story. He did not start off his career in the fashion one would expect of an all time great, but he did start to turn it around even under the care of Fitzsimmons. He actually won 3 of his last 4 starts for Fitzsimmons and lost 3 of his first 4 starts for Tom Smith. His match race victory over War Admiral and his comeback win over Kayak in the Santa Anita Handicap were his greatest achievements but he also managed a 7 race winning streak and another win in a match race with Ligaroti which oddly enough was worth much more than his match race with War Admiral. The biscuit had an effective range of 8f to 10f but I think he was really at his best nearer 9 furlongs. He was named top handicap horse in 1937 and 38 and was Horse of the Year in 1938 thanks to his showdown with War Admiral.

9. Exterminator: 100-50-17-17
Very few horses record 50 career victories and very few horses with 100 career starts manage to win half their races. Exterminator won the Kentucky Derby as an unknown horse with 4 career starts in 1918 then spent the next 6 years making sure his name would be not only well known but never forgotten. There is some criticism of the level of competition in the early 1920's, especially since he never faced Man O'War but the sheer consistency he showed over such a large amount of races certainly stamps him as a horse of quality. He was the top Handicap horse from 1920 to 1922 but did not get Horse of The Year until 1922.

10. Discovery: 63-27-10-10
Another horse from the mid-thirties, he unfortunately never faced Equipoise. Equipoise's career was already in decline by the time Discovery became prominent. As a 3yo Discovery was blighted by the presence of rival, Calvalcade, who beat him a total of 7 times. The only time Discovery had the beating of Cavalcade was in the Suburban when Calvalcade lost his rider. Discovery is more well known for what he accomplished in 1935. He ran 19 times on 12 different tracks and won 11 of those starts. He even carried 139lbs to victory in a 9.5f stakes race at Saratoga. He also won the Whitney 3 years in a row.

As always your comments are encouraged. Let me know who your top 10 old Warriors would be!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

a great 'old warriors' list/ look at the number of starts/ no wonder there was great interest in horse racing by the public at the time / handicappers came to know these old warriors and appreciate them, because they were not retired at age three/ as impressive, was the tremendous amount of weight they carried, especially kelso// also, john henry's 2nd arlington million win in which he defeated 'the bart' by a head bob is immortalized at arlington park by a statute showing 'the bart' and john henry's last jump // thanks// chicago gerry