Gallant Fox is one of the Triple Crown winners who often seems to get overlooked in discussions of horse racing’s great champions. Perhaps it is because his career was relatively short compared to other race horses. Maybe it is because the colt was born at the time of a great national crisis. Nevertheless, Gallant Fox was the first to actually be termed as a Triple Crown winner. Before his accomplishment the term was not used. It was invented by a sportswriter in New York to designate a trio of victories in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
The Great Depression and Gallant Fox
The mere misfortune of the timing of Gallant Fox’s birth could explain why the bay colt has been overlooked. Gallant Fox was born on March 23, 1927. By the time he began his racing career in 1929 America was on the verge of a financial disaster. The stock market crashed in October of that year and ushered in the Great Depression.
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Things like horse racing became a luxury that only a small number of people could afford. Yet, poor people also flocked to the track because it was the only place where a $1 wager might turn into food for a week. Gallant Fox was foaled at the famous Claiborne Farm in Kentucky and began his racing training under the supervision of Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons.
The colt’s two-year-old racing season showed flashes of the greatness he would display at age three. Gallant Fox captured the Flash Stakes and Cowdin Stakes and also finished third in the Belmont Futurity. All of the pieces were in place for a major run at the Triple Crown in 1930.
Gallant Fox at Age Three
The Wood Memorial was the first significant test for the colt after turning three. It was a rousing victory under the hands of jockey Earl Sande. The next step was to journey to Pimlico for the Preakness. At that time, the Preakness was the first race in the Triple Crown series. Many believe this structure still makes sense because the Preakness is the shortest of the three races. Gallant Fox roared to the lead at the top of the stretch and was almost caught by Crack Brigade.
Next up was the Kentucky Derby. Race day dawned with heavy rain. Even so, 50,000 people came out to place their wagers. Many of them had little or no money. Their hopes rested on a bay colt who might possibly fill their bellies with food if he managed to win. Gallant Fox did not disappoint. Despite a poor break from the starting gate, Gallant Fox managed to win the race by two lengths. The win gave Sande his third Kentucky Derby victory.
The horse had begun to draw an interesting comparison. Gallant Fox wore bright red blinkers in his races. Some called him the “red-headed” horse but others did not overlook an association with Robin Hood. Like the hero of lore, Gallant Fox was robbing from the rich and giving to the poor in the form of winning bets. He was quickly becoming a popular hero among the poor patrons of the race track.
At Belmont Park the colt completed a sweep of the most important races in the country. The feat prompted a New York sportswriter to describe Gallant Fox as a Triple Crown champion. The series of races now had a name, and the colt was the most recent standard bearer.
Gallant Fox After the Triple Crown
There was more to do for this champion after his victory in the Triple Crown. Fitzsimmons chose to campaign the horse hard for the remainder of 1930. The Dwyer Stakes sent Gallant Fox to the post at mere odds of ten cents on the dollar. Even so, the people bet with gusto and cashed their small tickets.
60,000 people showed up in Chicago to watch Gallant Fox compete in the Arlington Classic at Arlington Park. The colt was assigned the high weight of 126 pounds but still managed to defeat his old rival Gallant Knight.
Every horse has his day, the day when an unknown challenger emerges to topple the champion from his throne. For Gallant Fox this happened in the 1930 running of the Travers Stakes. The 100-1 longshot Jim Dandy took advantage of his preference for a muddy track and stunned the onlookers. Gallant Fox would finish second that day.
After two more stakes wins the Fitzsimmons barn announced that they would be sending Gallant Fox to stud with impressive earnings of more than $300,000. There was no official award for Horse of the Year in those days, but Gallant Fox would certainly have claimed the award.
Breeding and Later Years
Gallant Fox stood at stud for an amazing 22 years. He became the first Triple Crown winner to sire another. His son Omaha would conquer the series in 1935.
The horse lived until November 13, 1954. He was buried at his beloved Claiborne Farm. Three years later the horse was inducted into the National Racing Hall of Fame. This is a great accomplishment, but Gallant Fox was more than a champion to many people. He was a hero of the poor, an equine Robin Hood, who thrilled the masses and gave them a ray of sunshine during a very dark period.
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