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The Mighty Citation
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Sixty-five years ago, Citation unleashed the greatest three-year-old season in the annals of thoroughbred racing. Blessed with genuine speed, staying power and a seemingly endless desire to win, Citation inspired his handler Jimmy Jones to boldly say: "My horse could beat anything with hair on it.”
Citation won 19 of 20 races in 1948. He won at every distance, won at ten different tracks, and won in seven different states travelling the countryside in dusty trucks and sweltering rail cars. He won his races by a total of 66 lengths, and swept the Triple Crown races by a total of 17 lengths. The victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes were part of his 16-race win streak.
Citation represented the vaunted Calumet Farm and the Jones boys, its private trainers. Natives of Purnell, Missouri, they captured eight Kentucky Derbys, creating a dynasty that has never been matched. Famed trainer Ben Jones, big, beefy and a feared salon brawler, told his son the evening before the 1948 Kentucky Derby: "Jimmy, you can sleep well tonight, and you can take this as gospel: any horse Citation can see, he can catch. And he's got perfect eyesight."
Citation was the product of a splendid bloodlines pairing by Warren Wright’s Calumet Farm in the rolling green hills of Fayette County, Ky. Wright matched two relatively undistinguished racehorses. The sire was Bull Lea, who finished a disappointing eighth as a 3-1 second choice in the 1938 Kentucky Derby. Deciding to try a little foreign blood, he purchased Citation's dam, Hydroplane II, from Lord Derby in the spring of 1941.
That was the easy part. But getting her to the United States at the onset of World War II was a dilemma. To avoid wartime torpedoes from a U-boat in the Atlantic, Wright had Hydroplane II shipped via a time-consuming Pacific route in 1941. Eventually, Bull Lea and Hydroplane II got together, and on April 11, 1945, they produced a bay colt. Wright sent him as a yearling to the Jones' stable in Florida to learn his racing lessons. Then it was off to Maryland to start racing in 1947.
Proving to be classic material from the start, Citation ran nine times as a two-year-old, scoring eight victories and a runner-up. He was named champion two-year old. The colt wintered at Hialeah Park where he rattled off four victories in a row. After winning the Flamingo Stakes, Citation’s regular jockey, Al Snider, tragically drowned off the Florida coast in a fishing accident. Trainer Jones replaced Snider with Eddie Arcaro, one of Snider’s best friends.
In Arcaro’s first ride, Citation finished second to Saggy in the Chesapeake Trail Stakes over a muddy track.
“I could have caught him, “Arcaro declared after the race, “but I wasn’t about to burn up that horse for a $8300 pot with all those $100,000 races laying ahead of us.”
Five days later the loss was avenged, as Citation won the Chesapeake Stakes whipping Saggy by eleven lengths. He won the Derby Trials a week before the Kentucky Derby, but the buzz at Churchill Downs centered on another Calumet contender, Coaltown, who had smashed the track record in the Bluegrass Stakes the previous week. He was trained by Ben Jones.
On Derby Day an inch of rain fell. It was going to be a sloppy 1 1/4 miles. When the gates sprung open Coaltown rocketed to the lead and at the half mile mark the colt was cruising by six lengths. Then Arcaro signaled Citation who rolled past his stablemate with ease for a three and a half length victory. Even though the good-natured Jimmy Jones was Citation's trainer, the colt ran in the Derby under Ben Jones' name, allowing him to tie trainer H. J. "Derby Dick" Thompson's record of four Kentucky Derby winners. Arcaro gave the widow of his friend Snider a share of the purse.
When the Preakness rolled around Coaltown took a pass. The Big Cy had the race all to himself sprinting to the front and cantering to a five and a half length score over Vulcan's Forge. After an eleven length romp in the Jersey Stakes Citation headed to the Belmont Stakes, his sights set on the final jewel of the Triple Crown.
On June 12 over a fast track at Belmont Park, as Citation rounded the far turn Arcaro clung to the colt’s flying mane while they accelerated down the stretch to post an eight length victory over Better Self. Citation tied Count Fleet's stakes record of 2:28 1/5 and became racing's eighth (and Calumet's second) Triple Crown winner.
"Citation was the best ever. He was so fast he scared me," said Arcaro.
Wrote legendary turf writer Joe Palmer in Blood-Horse: “I could not see Arcaro move. But with some slight dropping of the hands, he released the swelling energy of the great racer beneath him. Citation opened away. He was three-sixteenths away but he was home. The Belmont crowd began to roar, before he hit the furlong-pole. This observer dropped his glasses, climbed over assorted cameramen, and went downstairs to get into the champagne.”
Citation would win nine more starts in 1948. He won 19 of 20 starts, from six furlong sprints to 16 furlong marathons. After two years of racing Citation’s resume was stunning: 29 starts, 27 victories, two runner-ups and world record earnings of $865,150.
He won 1948 Horse of the Year. But an osselet on his left front ankle and tendon injuries kept him out of racing in 1949. On January 11, 1950, Citation won in his first race in exactly 13 months, taking an allowance race by 1-1/2 lengths to extend his winning streak to a record 16 races. The five-year-old made eight more starts in 1950, winning once and finishing second the other seven times. The losses included four to the talented Noor, several of them heartbreaking. In the Santa Anita Handicap Citation lost to Noor by 1-1/4 lengths while carrying 132 pounds, 22 more than his vanquisher.
When Warren Wright died in 1950 his will stipulated that the Jones boys keep Citation in training long enough to break the $1 million mark. At the start of the year, Citation had $938,630 in earnings, but his first three starts netted the aging legend just $830.
He ran third twice, then in the Hollywood Premiere Handicap Citation finished out of the money for the first time in his career. On July 14, 1951, Citation went out a winner with a victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup in Inglewood taking him to $1,085,760 and it signaled the end of his racing career.
The losses Citation suffered at the end of his career tarnished his stellar reputation. Still, Citation’s two-year and three-year old accomplishments (27 victories and two seconds in 29 starts), arguably the mightiest American racing has ever produced, will probably never be matched.
In 1951 Citation was sent home to his birthplace of Calumet Farm. His stud career never came close to rivaling his racing prowess though he sired a champion filly in Silver Spoon and 1956 Preakness winner and Derby runner-up Fabius.
Citation died on Aug. 8, 1970 at age 25 and was buried near his sire and dam in Calumet’s famous horse cemetery. Jimmy Jones’ Hall of Fame contemporaries, James Fitzpatrick and Max Hirsch, regarded Citation as the best they had ever seen—and in their early days they had seen Man o’ War.
Citation was inducted into the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame in 1959 and was voted #3 in Blood Horse’s Top 100 racehorses of the 20th century.
Writer & Historian
Terry Conway has been a regular contributor to The Blood-Horse magazine since 2003 where a fair share of his stories have been about racing history. He started writing historical racing articles for ESPN.com in 2010 that also have been featured on premier racing sites such as the Paulick Report.com and Equidaily.com. In addition, Terry has written numerous historical stories on the art world, business entrepreneurs, musicians and land preservation for a variety of national and regional magazines and prominent daily newspapers over the past 15 years. He is also a member of the Turf Writers of America.
One of the most familiar sounds at a racetrack is the bugle call, universally known as the call to the post. The catchy melody is performed as the jockeys parade their horses to the track. It also alerts spectators that another race is forthcoming. Prior to the advent of the starting gates, the call to the post would signal horses to circle around and line up at a starting line and were off and running at the signal of the starter's flag.
The origin of the call to the post goes back to military traditions. Buglers and their horns were a key part of the art of warfare sending signals over a chaotic battlefield and on board warships. "First call" reveries signal the start of a new day, while Taps is the haunting strain sounded nightly by the U.S. military to indicate "lights out." Sometimes known as "Butterfield's Lullaby," it is also played during flag ceremonies and funerals, generally on a bugle or trumpet.
Kelso is the only Five Time “Horse of the Year honoree. That feat will never be duplicated. Kelso dominated American racing like no other horse before or since setting a string of records and endearing himself to millions of fans. He was a homebred of Mrs. Allaire du Pont and raced in her canary yellow and gray silks. No horse raced so well and did it so long as Kelso. He is buried in a lovely equine cemetery at Mrs. du Pont’s Woodstock Farm in Chesapeake City, Md. A quote at the base of Kelso’s granite marker simply says: “Where he gallops the earth sings.” For my money, longevity-wise, there has never been a greater American thoroughbred.