Who said that? I just did. With a mid-summer deadline on a book I'm writing about the history of Bay Meadows, what's slowing me down is all the other stuff in the archives. Here I am, in the middle of reading about Bay Meadows' third year of operation--the year that jockey Ralph Neves was pronounced dead on the track, but lived to tell about it--when I'm hit between the eyes with the 1936 Kentucky Derby.
The 62nd Derby looked like a casting call for "Ben-Hur." Three of the 14 jockeys in the race were suspended 15 days apiece, including Ira "Babe" Hanford, who by the way rode Bold Venture to victory by a head over Brevity, the 4-5 favorite. Hanford, in his 90th year, is the oldest winning Derby jockey still alive. He visited Louisville two years ago, to put his hands in cement outside the Galt House Hotel, and said that he couldn't fathom why he got days then, and he still didn't understand, seven decades later.
The Daily Racing Form chart said that the start was "good and slow." Well, the chart-caller was half-right. Brevity was knocked to his knees leaving the gate. Granville, breaking from a post just outside of Bold Venture, was bumped at the start and his rider, Jimmy Stout, hit the deck. Hanford said that a chain reaction of horses caused the trouble. The Blood-Horse magazine reported that the stewards didn't cite Hanford for that incident, but for "rough riding" when Bold Venture came over sharply as he made the lead going down the backstretch. This running may have been what led to the old saw, "They'll never take down the winner of the Derby."
Turning for home, Charley Kurtsinger and his mount, He Did, were in fourth place on the rail, four lengths behind Bold Venture. As He Did raced by, a tall, long-armed spectator, standing on the fence, reached out and swiped the whip from Kurtsinger's left hand. He Did finished seventh, far back, but Kurtsinger said the outcome might have been different if he hadn't lost his stick.
Hanford, an 18-year-old who became the first apprentice to ride a Derby winner, was asked what he would do during his suspension. "I guess I'll go out to the barn and spend 15 days feeding sugar to that horse," he said.
Two weeks later, with Hanford on the shelf, George Woolf took over as Bold Venture nosed out Granville in the Preakness. Bold Venture, who had a bowed tendon, never raced again. Granville won the Belmont and the Travers, and later on beat older horses to clinch Horse of the Year honors.
Bold Venture's win price in the Derby was $43. He remains a Derby anomaly. After eight starts as a 2-year-old, he won the race off of only one 1936 prep, and no Derby winner since then has been so lightly raced as a 3-year-old. He was the first of trainer Max Hirsch's three Derby winners.
Morton L. Schwartz, who bred and owned Bold Venture, wanted to get out of the business the year before, and tried to sell all of his horses. But he thought Bold Venture was worth at least $20,000, and when the bidding petered out well before that, he bought back the colt for $7,100. Bold Venture's share of the Derby purse was $37,725.
Granville, who also didn't race beyond 1936, was voted into the Racing Hall of Fame, in what was then the horses-of-yesteryear category, in 1997. Bold Venture is not in the Hall of Fame, but perhaps it's in order to revisit his career. He beat Granville three times, once as a 2-year-old besides his wins in the Derby and Preakness. At that time, Bold Venture's six wins and two seconds in 11 starts were considered a sparse career. He was undefeated in three starts as a 3-year-old. In this era, lightly raced horses are routinely considered viable Hall of Fame candidates. Sunday Silence had 15 starts. A.P. Indy, who didn't win the Derby, ran 11 times. Tiznow, who's on this year's ballot, was retired after 15 races. Invasor and Ghostzapper, who eventually will land on the ballot after their five-year waiting period is up, ran 23 times combined.
One other thing about Bold Venture, he sired two Kentucky Derby winners--Assault in 1946 and Middleground in 1950--something no other stallion has done. Assault swept the Triple Crown and Middleground also won the Belmont. Max Hirsch trained them all. Only four studs have sired more winners of Triple Crown races than Bold Venture. Should Hall of Fame voters extrapolate a horse's record as a sire? I've always thought so.
So what does all of this have to do with the book about Bay Meadows? Zilch. And what's the rest of the Ralph Neves story? Read the book.