February 8, 2010

Remembering ... Gallant Man

Generally in the Remembering Series, I write about horses that I followed and saw run in person. Today will not be one of those days. Gallant Man was one of the horses in American racing history that especially interests me. Remembered best for a rider’s mistake, he was also truly an excellent horse. Born in the year 1954, Gallant Man was an important member of one of the greatest crops ever. An English bred son of Migoli and Majideh, both champions in Europe, Gallant Man was born to be a top race horse. He, however, was not a hot commodity as a youngster because of his smallish size and questionable feet and ankles. When he did make it to the races for trainer Gerald Bloss, he was shown no respect at the windows and ran like it, finishing well back in his first two starts. In his third race, at odds of greater than 50-1, Gallant Man turned things around with a surprising victory. He would improve race by race and by the end of the year he was turned over to trainer John Nerud and was showing real promise, although his three wins in seven starts did not include a stakes win.

Gallant Man turned that around quickly as a sophomore with a win in the six furlong Hibiscus Stakes in Florida. After being well beaten by the brilliant Bold Ruler in the Bahamas, Nerud decided to get Gallant Man out of Florida and away from the more advanced Bold Ruler and Gen. Duke. While those two duked it out in South Florida, Gallant Man was allowed to mature and was now ready for another clash with Bold Ruler. Jamaica’s Wood Memorial was the site, and for the first time, Gallant Man would display the kind of horse he was becoming. In a thrilling stretch duel, Bold Ruler came on again and nipped him by a nose. It was a great race in the last prep for the Kentucky Derby. The two horses broke the track record for nine furlongs and would head to Louisville with obvious momentum.

In the 1957 Kentucky Derby, Gallant Man was shown a great deal of respect by the bettors at just under 4-1. In the field were rivals and future Hall of Famers, Bold Ruler and Round Table. Calumet had lost the brilliant Gen. Duke to an injury and filled his spot with the capable Iron Liege. Iron Liege and Bold Ruler stalked pacesetter Federal Hill until the field hit the quarter pole. Iron Liege surged to the lead as Federal Hill and Bold Ruler could not keep up. The Calumet runner gained a clear lead, but Gallant Man was coming up fast on the outside. Gallant Man had Iron Liege in his sight for Kentucky Derby glory when something bizarre occurred. Gallant Man’s rider Willie Shoemaker stood up in the irons. He had mistaken the sixteenth pole for the finish line. Shoemaker quickly realized his blunder and went back to work on Gallant Man, but fell agonizingly short at the wire. Iron Liege had held on by a desperate nose, with Round Table 3rd and Bold Ruler 4th. Shoemaker admitted after the race that his mistake cost his horse the Kentucky Derby. Human error had just caused Gallant Man to lose the biggest race a horse could win. Making the incident all the more unbelievable, owner Ralph Lowe had a dream two nights before the race that Gallant Man’s rider would stand up early.

After the disheartening loss in the Derby, Gallant Man refused to become a shrinking violet. Sent back to New York, he prepared for a start in the Belmont Stakes with an impressive win in the Peter Pan Stakes over the same strip. When Belmont Day arrived, Bold Ruler, the Derby favorite and Preakness winner was the star, but it was Gallant Man who stole the show. He ran right by the favored Bold Ruler and drew off in the stretch to an eight length win. In so doing he shattered the American record by running the mile and a half in 2:26 and 3/5. This record would stand for 16 more years until a horse named Secretariat came along. After the Peter Pan and Belmont wins, Gallant Man would continue to dominate in New York. Wins in the Nassau County, Travers, and Jockey Club Gold Cup set him up with an opportunity for a championship. It would not be easy though as Round Table had become a dominant force in California on dirt and turf and was successfully moving east and Bold Ruler was freshened and was coming off sharp victories. The meeting of the three would happen in the Trenton Handicap at Garden State Park. The 10 furlong test would decide the championship. Bold Ruler proved too much that day and easily wired the field on the wet track, with Gallant Man finishing 2nd and Round Table was 3rd. Bold Ruler would be named three-year-old champion and Horse of the Year. Round Table was the turf champ, and Gallant Man, despite his fantastic year was shut out from year end awards.

As a four-year-old, Gallant Man only raced five times. He was beaten by his biggest rival, Bold Ruler in the Carter, but then rebounded to win the Met Mile over Bold Ruler. A trip to the West Coast proved successful, as Gallant Man scored in the Hollywood Gold Cup and Sunset Handicap. He ran fifth in his final career start in the Sysonby Handicap and was retired soon after with a leg injury. Gallant Man finished his career with 14 wins in 26 starts. Quite a record when you consider that his career got off to a slow start, and the level of competition he regularly faced as a foal of 1954. He was a brilliant stakes winner at six furlongs as well as a extraordinary stayer, winning three major stakes at twelve furlongs or more, including the two mile Jockey Club Gold Cup. Gallant Man was truly dynamic with his speed and endurance. He may have been retired from the races at four, but his career was far from over.

Much like the greatest of his peers, Gallant Man was a big success at stud. He produced a total of 52 stakes winners, chief among them was the great race mare Gallant Bloom. He also enjoyed a very successful career as a broodmare sire. Gallant Man was pensioned from stud duty in 1981, and he lived to the ripe old age of 34 years old before passing away at the age of 1988. Would history remember Gallant Man a little differently if Shoemaker had not made the infamous gaff? Yes, but the 1957 Kentucky Derby will always be remembered as one of the more interesting ones in history, because the wrong horse won. Gallant Man will be always remembered for his Derby loss, but he was so much more than that. I remember you Gallant Man.

9 comments:

LDP said...

Had he won the Derby that year I would think he would've won champion 3yr old and HOTY instead of his speeding rival. Thank you for remembering a horse for his victories rather than his heartbreaking loss.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks LDP! I find it interesting that so many times in history, great horses came along at the same time. This crop was incredible, and unfortunately only one horse could be the champion. Sounds a little familiar, don't you think?

Daniel said...

Great and true racehorse was Gallant man . Also am a fan of his mares as he did tend to pass some versatility to his horses

Lynne Veitch said...

What a great story Brian. Thanks for writing so well about such a wonderful horse.

Kevin said...

Great piece...love that '57 class of 3yos. I linked to this over on my site.

Brian Zipse said...

Thanks Lynne and Kevin!

Friends, Kevin is the author of one of my favorite blogs, Colin's Ghost. If you have never seen his site, I urge you to check it out ... http://colinsghost.org/

Anonymous said...

In the late 60s my wife and I stopped at Spendthrift with my idea of maybe getting to see Swaps. The most accomodating groom I ever ran into tells me come on and I'll get him out of the stall and you can get a picture of him. I get the picture but my wife is somewhere else. I find her at Gallant Man's stall with his head hanging over her shoulder looking for one more sugar cube. What a sweetheart he was. She'll never forget him.

RG

Anonymous said...

I'm Glad i came across this website.Added zipseatthetrack.blogspot.com to my bookmark!

Gary Claiser said...

Thanks for the Gallant Man comments. I had the good fortune to see Gallant Man run in the 1958 HPGC. Wow, that was a long time ago and I still have the program. Very well said Brian. Thanks again Gary Claiser