Citation stands as a Triple Crown winner who closed an era. When Citation won the Triple Crown in 1948 it would be many years before America saw another Triple Crown champion. He was also the first horse to earn more than $1 million dollars. While he has largely been overlooked in recent years, the record suggests that Citation could have stood tall against the champions of the modern era.
Citation as a Two-Year-Old
Citation was owned and bred by Calumet Farm. As a two-year-old he made his debut at Pimlico Racecourse in Baltimore, the home of the Preakness Stakes. The effort was a winning won and most of those who witnessed it could bear testimony that the horse was something special. He then went on to Arlington Park in Chicago where he broke a track record at the distance of five furlongs. By this time, most were interested to know what Citation could do at a longer distance.
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Today, most two-year-old horses of Citation’s caliber will only race a handful of times. He raced a total of nine. Eight of these races were victories. It is interesting that his sole defeat at the age of two came at the hands of another horse in trainer Ben Jones’ stable. Bewitch, a filly, defeated Citation on her way to setting a track record in the Washington Park Futurity. One has to accord this filly her own level of greatness when they consider the horse she defeated.
There were other stakes to be won in Citation’s debut year, and his efforts gained him an award for Champion Two Year Old. All of the pieces were in place for Citation to begin his three-year-old year as a legitimate contender for the Triple Crown.
Citation’s Triple Crown Run
Citation’s career is full of things that defy training wisdom today. In his three-year-old season he competed against older horses, something that trainers would not generally do with their three-year-olds today. He even developed a rivalry with Armed, the 1947 Horse of the Year. Citation defeated Armed twice in allowance and handicap races.
Jockey Al Snider led Citation to multiple stakes victories in Florida. Then, tragedy struck. Snider drowned during a fishing trip in the Florida Keys. The connections of Citation were devastated. They had no intention of giving up on the horse, however, and sought the services of veteran rider Eddie Arcaro. The jockey was considered one of the best of his time.
Arcaro’s first time in the irons was less than spectacular. In the Chesapeake Trial Stakes, Citation and Arcaro came up short and lost to Saggy. The loss must have affected them both. It was the last time Citation would lose a race for a period of almost two years. In the Chesapeake Stakes which followed, Citation avenged his loss to Saggy and beat the horse thoroughly. One more prep was given before the Kentucky Derby, and Citation also won that race with ease.
The 1948 Kentucky Derby shaped up as another contest between Ben Jones-trained horses. Citation and Coaltown were the dominant horses, with Citation getting the win. Coaltown would mature into a champion of his own and claim Horse of the Year honors in 1949. In what may have been one of the best gestures ever made by a Kentucky Derby-winning jockey, Eddie Arcaro gave a share of his earnings for the race to the widow of Al Snider.
The next step for Citation was to travel to Baltimore and take the Preakness Stakes. He raced one time before heading to Belmont Park to try the Test of the Champion and complete the Triple Crown. At the time the track record was held by Count Fleet. Citation tied the record.
What is amazing about Citation is that his connections continued to race him through a solid campaign after his win of the Triple Crown. Again, this defies conventional wisdom about how horses are campaigned. When his three-year-old year came to an end, the horse had made a total of 20 lifetime starts. He won 19 of those and made more than $700,000. A new goal emerged for the owners of Citation. They would try to claim the title of racing first million dollar earner.
Citation Earns $1 Million
In the days of Citation, purses were not nearly as high as they are today. Horses regularly run in races like the Dubai World Cup which pay a multi-million dollar purse. When Citation raced, a horse was luck to earn six figures from the most prestigious events in horse racing.
Plans to earn a million dollars in 1949 came to a screeching halt when it was discovered that Citation had what is known as an osselet. An osselet is arthritis which settles in the fetlock of a horse. It causes intense pain and has ended the career of many race horses. It was unclear whether Citation would return to make a run at earning $1 million.
In 1950 the champion colt did indeed return and won his 16th race in a row at Santa Anita park. That record of sixteen wins in a row would stand until Cigar equaled it. While Citation had success in 1950 he still did not reach the $1 million dollar mark, prompting his owners and trainer to bring him back for a final campaign in 1951. He would wind up in the Hollywood Gold Cup against his old nemesis and stablemate, Bewitch. This time, Citation defeated the mare and became the first horse in the history of horse racing to earn more than $1 million dollars.
There were no records left to conquer and Citation retired after his victory in the Hollywood Gold Cup. He entered stud service like most Triple Crown champions and stood at Calumet Farm for his owners. The fierce Citation, such a warrior on the racetrack, found a new rival at Calumet. The owner of the farm had a small Yorkshire Terrier who took delight in nipping at the heels of the great champion. Those who worked on the farm stated that Citation was terrified of the dog.
His statistics as a stud are not remarkable when considered against those of other Triple Crown champion. Citation only produced a few notable offspring. When he passed away in 1970 at the age of 25, Citation was given a place of honor on the Calumet farm grounds. He remains perhaps the greatest horse that was ever bred and owned by the farm.
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