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THE SUN SHINES BRIGHT
Frank Deford
April 29, 1974
Shills and hucksters are everywhere as Kentucky gets ready for the 100th running of the Derby, but it hardly matters. The race itself is the important thing, as memories of past years and past triumphs testify
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April 29, 1974

The Sun Shines Bright

Shills and hucksters are everywhere as Kentucky gets ready for the 100th running of the Derby, but it hardly matters. The race itself is the important thing, as memories of past years and past triumphs testify

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" George Smith was a complete failure when Mr. San-ford put him to stud, so nobody ever hears of him. This is a shame. The last race he ever ran was the Bowie Handicap in 1918, the fall he was a 5-year-old. He carried 130, and Omar Khayyam, who had won the Derby the year before, carried 115, and Exterminator, who had won it that year, carried 120, and George Smith beat the both of them. You'd have to check those weights to make sure that's absolutely correct, but that's approximately the way it was. He beat the both of them, giving 10 and 15 pounds.

"But don't listen to me about George Smith. The year he was a 4-year-old Pres Burch had him, and he still says, 'He's the best horse I ever trained.' The best. That's all right, you go ahead and quote him. You don't have to go see Pres. He's told me that enough. 'The best horse I ever trained.' He had George Smith that year because I was in the Army. I was in what they called a Field Resort Squadron, which meant that we were supposed to go out in the middle of the battle and replace horses that had been shot.

"Well, the last night out before we landed at Le Havre, we stayed up playing poker all night. You couldn't open any windows, and with all the smoke, what a headache I had in the morning when we docked. So I get off the boat in Le Havre feeling like hell, and all the people in town are running around shouting, 'Fin la guerre, fin la guerre.' And I said, 'What does that mean?' And they said, 'The war just ended.' And I said, 'That suits me.' I had landed the day the war ended.

"But before that, the Derby year. It was a beautiful day, the 13th. The center field was full of people then, too, although nothing was so organized then. Nobody was looking out for me just because I had a horse in the Derby, but this tobacco man had a box, and he saw me standing there. I think he knew I had a horse. He said, 'Where you gonna sit?' I hadn't thought of that. I guess I thought I was going to stand, and I said so. And he said, 'Well, why don't you sit with me?' And I said, 'I'll accept your invitation.' So that was where I saw the Derby.

"We had Johnny Loftus up and there was no better rider. He had been on George Smith down at Lexington, too, so he knew the horse. I told Loftus not to make much use of him early, and then to let him go along from about the three-eighths pole. Now you don't pin a rider like Loftus down, but that was just about what happened. George Smith was near the outside, and he came out of the webbing and settled in easily and came to the lead around the three-eighths pole.

"Now the Macomber horse was coming from far back and was closing on George Smith down the stretch. But here's the thing. Loftus had so much confidence, he was just sitting on my horse. He knew the horse he had under him. George Smith only won by a neck, but that didn't mean anything, because Loftus was just so confident he was only sitting on him.

"When I got down to the track, the first man I spoke to was Charles Grainger, who was the president of Churchill Downs, and I believe he had been mayor of Louisville, too. You can look that up. And Mr. Grainger said to me, 'If Loftus had gotten this horse beaten today, he never would have ridden another race.'

"Mr. Grainger could see that George Smith was so much the better horse. And he was right. The Macomber horse never amounted to anything after that. But make no mistake, horsewise, it took just as much of a horse to win the Derby then as now. Horsewise.

"Then we had the presentation. George Smith won $9,750, and I got 10% of that. Ten percent of $9,750 was a lot of money to me then. It doesn't sound like much but it was a lot of money at that time.

"I never was in another Derby. The year George Smith went to stud I was down in Lexington—I had some mares over there—and I came over to see the Derby with my old friend, Snapper Garrison.-It was the last one I ever saw.

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