Omaha made racing history in many aspects. The colt became the third Triple Crown winner in 1935. He was also the first son of a former Triple Crown winner, Gallant Fox. Omaha had a lengthy career and won many races. Even so, he is often overlooked in the discussion of horse racing’s great champions.
Another Star for Sunny Jim
Omaha was bred in Maryland and foaled at Claiborne farms in Kentucky. He was a chestnut foal who would grow to an impressive height of 16 hands. The good looking colt got the immediate attention of trainer Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons who had trained Omaha’s sire, Gallant Fox. The good looks were somewhat misleading. Omaha was all legs and had an awkward manner of moving. Even so, Fitzsimmons happily agreed to take the horse into training.
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Omaha’s owner had thought about sending him off to England to prepare for the Epsom Derby. This move was postponed in favor of a two-year-old campaign in the United States. It was a wise choice. Omaha only won once at the age of two but Fitzsimmons and others noticed that he finished well in some big races against tough competition.
Omaha began his three-year-old year and quest for the Triple Crown at the frozen Aqueduct in New York. The first order of business was to capture a modest allowance race. From there, Omaha went on to compete in the Wood Memorial. The Wood Memorial is one of the final prep races for the Triple Crown series. Omaha did not win the event but finished third. It was the manner in which he finished which impressed Fitzsimmons.
Horses do not always have to win to put in a good performance. Such was the case with Omaha in the Wood Memorial. Even though he was bested, the horse gained a lot of ground in the stretch. Fitzsimmons compared the horse’s closing stride to a locomotive. While the other horses were getting tired in the later stages, Omaha seemed to be catching his second wind. Perhaps, thought Sunny Jim, the extra distance of the races in the Triple Crown series would do Omaha justice.
The 1935 Triple Crown
The legendary writer Damon Runyon was among those in the crowd for Omaha’s race at the Kentucky Derby. Runyon remarked that the colt always seemed to get himself in trouble and was all legs. Nevertheless, the betting public made Omaha the clear second choice that day. 50,000 fans came out to Churchill Downs despite a cold rain. Most of them were there to see a rare occurrence. A filly would be competing against the males and she was the betting favorite.
It was not to be the filly’s day. Omaha gained the lead on the backstretch and never surrendered it on the way to the finish line. Smokey Saunders, Omaha’s Canadian jockey, never even used his whip on the horse.
The Preakness was next and Omaha once again won in dominating fashion. It was somewhat curious, however, that the horse was still amped up after the race was over. He would not stand still for the trophy presentation as almost all winners do. This could have been a sign of nervousness that would have an impact on the horse’s later career.
At the Belmont Stakes in New York the colt once more faced a sloppy track. It was becoming apparent that Omaha had a fondness for muddy surfaces. He conquered an impressive field of rivals and went on to become the third Triple Crown winner in history. Fitzsimmons became the first trainer to accomplish the feat with two different horses.
Omaha After the Triple Crown
Omaha continued to race after the Triple Crown. He captured the Arlington Classic and Dwyer Stakes. By this time he was being ridden by a new jockey, Wayne Wright. By the end of August the horse had come up lame. The precise nature of his injury was never disclosed, but the truth is that the horse could have been suffering from exhaustion.
When Omaha returned at age four the time was right for the long-awaited trip to England. Cecil Boyd-Rochfort, one of Britain’s top conditioners, took over the training duties of Omaha to prepare him for the Ascot Gold Cup. There would be other races on the way to this important affair, races in which Omaha performed well. Still, the Ascot Gold Cup was the ultimate goal.
Omaha was a favorite when he took the track at Royal Ascot for a race that would be contested over two and a half miles. Never before had the colt attempted such a distance in the presence of such daunting foes. With the crowd reaching almost 150,000, the nerves which had affected Omaha in the wake of the Belmont Stakes once more reared their head. Omaha became fractious and almost tossed his rider before the race began.
Omaha was defeated in the final strides of the race by Quashed. Many still call the race the greatest contest of all time. No one will ever know for sure if Omaha’s nerves cost him the race that day or if it was the grueling distance.
There was every intention to enter Omaha in the Ascot Gold Cup the following year but this never happened. The old ailment suffered by Omaha returned and the horse was permanently retired.
Omaha’s Sad Ending
Hopes were high when the horse was sent to stud at Claiborne Farm. However, he failed to perform. By 1943 it was apparent that Omaha had no future as a prominent thoroughbred stud. He was sent to a breeding farm in New York and tried again for another seven years. The results were also a failure.
By 1950 Omaha was living out his days on a small farm in Nebraska near the Ak-Sar-Ben Racetrack. During his time at the farm he was sometimes taken to the small track and displayed in the winner’s circle before a small crowd. It was a rather sad ending for a horse that had competed before 150,000 people.
When he died, the little racetrack offered to inter his remains at the venue. Omaha’s connections accepted. It was fitting that the horse was now resting in the shadow of his namesake city.
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